25/1/2012 – A Webseries in Retrospect

So between 2009-2011, I wrote, directed and produced Compound Fiasco Productions'(then-known as Slobninja Productions) first project, an independent webseries entitled ‘Housemates”. Not too bad, considering only a few months prior, I woke up one day and decided -out of the blue that I wanted to be a filmmaker and such a transition made absolute perfect sense. You know, ignoring all the half-written projects, bad ideas and generally badly-written tales of buddy comedies and man-angst I had compiled to my name by this point.

Like anything that seems to happen under the lenses of rose-tinted glasses, it all started with a girl.

I had been chatting about creative things and the like with a close friend of mine, Diana. Who basically took one look at the first two scripts and told me it was worth a shot. Being platonically whipped and having a thing for Canadian accents, I pondered more, and started fleshing out what would eventually become the eight-episode finished product.

The idea was simple: Write something with minimal locations, could be shot on a low budget, have my friends as cast and crew. I’d shoot it at my place, back in the Southern Highlands, I’d juggle directing and playing a main character and we’d all have a laugh. The addition of Craeg and Corine was due to a long-held promise of “if I do anything awesome, you guys are the first people I’ll call upon”.

And call upon I did. Craeg ended up becoming the assistant director/script editor, while Corine provided us with a house to use, and the possibility of the role of Leanne filled.

…Of course, this didn’t work out as planned. “Housemates” -a name likened by Ozz to a certain show starring Lisa Kudrow became “Hell is Other People” after a small bout of inspiration found on the back of a DVD case. (Sorry, Sartre fans)
Such a decision seemed to cause an avalanche of script changes and character additions/removals (for instance, did you see the episode where Pete is dating an overweight stripper with a sex-drive you can set your watch to? no? Think yourself lucky. that was one of the FIRST ideas I got rid of (and yet, Leanne faking an orgasm to obstruct a house inspection works just fine. My mind works in strange ways sometimes)).

This in turn affected many other things.

We had many laughs, don’t get me wrong. But it became very apparent that shooting in the Australian equivalent to Hoth was unrealistic and hell, who was I kidding? I can’t act! Let alone juggle acting with… you know, directing, editing, writing et. al. The one location increased to multiple and as the writing progressed, the series became something which was going to take a little bit more than just hope and a reasonably-priced camera.

2010 was the first milestone for the series, as I had a meet and greet with the three guys who would eventually fill roles. Brad, Jordan and Michael

First rehearsal/meet and greet. Feb 2010 L-R: Michael, Brad, Jordan.

Honestly, looking back the only person I was keen on from the get-go was Brad. But I eventually warmed to all three of them not only as actors, but guys I’d share a beer with if the need called for it. Brad would eventually become the drinking, smoking arsonist Mark, Jordan would end up becoming the “straight guy” of the series, Peter and Michael flitted between roles as “guy in background” and that of The Cleaner.

Corine as Leanne was an easy choice. Corine as production manager? That led to some on-set scuffles which we could have done without. But let’s face it, with Corine on crew? Shit got done.

You can thank her for this article, in a roundabout way.

Andrew I practically wrote the role of “Mr. Kay” for, as evidenced by the housemates’ derogatory nickname for him, “Mr. Angry”. Originally he was going to sport the mask as well -as would be explained in flashback, resembling a particular scene from Tim Burton’s “Batman”, but dismissed the idea in favour of him going maskless. Andrew’s footage was shot by him and sent to me via the internet -long before I realized I was going to be in Melbourne to shoot the LonelySingles.com promo for episode #4.

Chris and Jason proved the most troublesome. Originally, Jason was going to be played by an professional actor, but said actor bailed. Chris we couldn’t find anyone suitable for as the role is pretty damned unlikeable. Thankfully, someone stepped out from his lofty perch as ad-hoc creative consultant to fill the role of Jason. His name was Ash and sadly (thankfully?), didn’t have a boomstick or a chainsaw in place of a hand.

Craeg ended up finding a Chris for us in Brendon, an old schoolmate, who ended up learning as he went extremely quickly.

Other roles, such as “Sarah”, “Erin” and “Todd”(originally “Kate” in the scripts) we eventually wrote in and thankfully found people at the last minute. So that effectively gave us most of the episodes’ characters sorted out. Any loose ends were pretty much dealt with just before or during shooting. Luis Rojas from the bands “Shanghai” and “Mechanical Black” was brought on to write the score, Melbourne-based comedian Emma Sachsse (better known as the sex/dating advice guru “Mistress M”) playing a spokesperson for a dating site I thought up in an abandoned script during a particularly bad period of man-angst, and Damien Magee, a Canberra-based photographer, was around when available to take production stills.

Filming started on July 17th, 2010. Didn’t officially finish till January 28th 2011. During that time, a lot happened. including camera/other tech issues, having to organize shoot schedules a week beforehand, Jacqui (our long-sufering extras wrangler/”Sarah” in the series) having her phone stolen, extras bailing, shedules being shuffled around to suit everyone, people turning up late to shoots, Myself turning up late to shoots and leaving Craeg with a shit-ton of bored extras in a room with nerf guns, a long period in which nothing was getting done (though Corine and I went and saw Kevin Smith’s Q&A at the opera house. Bonus!), Corine shutting down production due to no communication between me and anybody else, Craeg and I getting into an argument over crew roles, A last minute finale rewrite thanks to a casting flub, Ash having to take over so shit got done. The list goes on and on.

Of course it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Good things happened! Like drawing up a Kevin McCallister-esque battle plan using crayons and markers, being able to work with my friends and acquaintences, having support there when I felt I couldn’t handle the burden, being able to trust the crew with my creative vision when I was indisposed, hours-worth of gut-laughs over silly in-jokes…

…Oh, and we shot a swordfight in the rain. Booyah!

"Just five more takes of this, Ash!"

I can look back at all the angst, the arguments, the disorganized mess of a production schedule, the problems we had, the downtime in both production AND post-production and y’know what? I regret none of it. It wasn’t to plan in the slightest, sure. But we achieved what quickly became a bigger project than I envisioned, one that I’m pretty sure nobody involved expected to complete. I learned a lot about myself, about working with others and how this whole film malarky works in general (at least, I learned you can’t just do it with one guy and a camera. Even on YouTube). I made a shit-ton of mistakes during production, but thankfully -unlike some other mistakes I’ve made along the line in my near-27 years on this planet, they’re ones I’ve learned from. Such as “make sure the microphone is turned on before you go for a take” and “never let the extras do their own facepaint.”

The series -as low-fi as it was, ended up being a lot more than I expected. Not only as a feather in my cap for years to come, but as a framework for my future career. I could write a serious drama if you REALLY wanted me to, but I know deep down -much to the chagrin of my friends, family and mentors I’m sure, that my instincts lie in oddball pop-culture-referencing comedy writing with a hint of silly fanboyish daydreaming in the worlds I create (how’s THAT for wanky film-student talk?).

At the end of the day, I have nothing but the upmost respect for my cast, crew and those who supported us. Without them, none of this would have happened. I’d still be making silly little video blogs about what I ate for breakfast and HiOP would have ended up on the backburner like the rest, wondering -as much as a computer file sitting on a hard-drive can wonder, if it will ever come to fruition.

Truth is, If it weren’t for HiOP -even in the preproduction stage, I probably wouldn’t have survived my first year of film school. Beyond that, I wouldn’t have become closer with existing friends, made new ones and all things considered, my life would be a little less awesome as a result. Even now, one year later, as much as I can look back and shake my head at some of the poorer choices I made, I get a little bit of a snotty tone to my voice when I say “I worked on a web series”…

…And if I had to do it all again? I would.

Happy HiOPVersary, motherfuckers!