This blog, it is a-changin’

Not necessarily in a dramatic way, but it is a-changin’. For a start, I’ve finally filled in the “About” page and added a “Projects” page which provides easy access to all the creative stuff I’ve done that is currently available on the internet. This includes a few new projects which I will mention here in case you can’t be bothered tiring out your finger clicking all the way over to the new page I spent ages working on.

Rainy Day Adventure ClubFirstly, I haven’t properly talked about it here yet, but in September of 2014 I created a new podcast called Rainy Day Adventure Club, which I’d describe as a cross between a Dungeons and Dragons game, an audio version of Knightmare, a Choose Your Own Adventure book and something very silly indeed. There are nine episodes already, with more to come in the not too distant future. I’m rather proud of what my friends and I have done with it so far – it’s even family-friendly-ish, which is unlike us. If you’re interested, go and listen to some episodes in the archive to see if it’s your sort of thing.

ScarecrowSecondly, late last year I helped some of my more talented friends make a finger puppet version of the Wizard of Oz. It’s quite delightful, though decidedly NOT family-friendly. Definitely worth watching if you’re into irreverent and satirical twists on innocent subject matter. You can find the whole thing on YouTube here.

And there is more going on with my creative projects too, a lot more – an exciting whirlwind of stuff! – but I’ll save that for later posts. Hopefully there will be plenty of those in the near future, as I’m going to start using this blog as a hub for pretty much everything I’m doing. That will almost certainly still include complete garbage like this though, so don’t worry. Things won’t change too much around here.

Ho ho ho! We did it!

And by “we” I mean me and a group of my friends. Mostly me and Gavin. Okay, me and Gavin and Euan and James. Okay, a whole bunch of people, including some lovely people who I don’t even know that well, but who got roped in to help us out. Thank you, all of you, for helping us get it done.

And by “it” I mean the Beyond Studios Advent Calendar, a collection of 25 comedy sketches we made for the first 25 days of December 2012. I’ve mentioned it before; it was Project Ho Ho Ho, one of the eleven projects mentioned in the very first post on this blog. Which means it is the first of those projects to be definitively finished. Hooray! If there’s one thing that can make absolutely anything feel worthwhile, it’s scoring a big line through it on your To-Do list.

But before I do that, I want to take a quick look back at it. For all my self-ascribed creativity there aren’t many things I’ve done that have produced a complete, publicly accessible end product, and this is one of even fewer that I’m really quite proud of. It was also quite an intense experience in that Gavin and I spent pretty much a whole month working on and thinking about nothing else but the advent calendar. There was a fair amount of stress about filming during the days and an unfair amount of staying up into the small hours of the morning to get sketches edited in time. But it was worth it. For someone who’s been unemployed for far too long, there is something refreshing and necessary in tearing yourself out of bed at 5am and setting out into the cold pre-dawn to catch a train to Glasgow and help film a guy running around in only boxer shorts and clown make-up.

Which reminds me, here’s a sketch I wrote:

There! Preserved for future generations to enjoy. Something you might have noticed about that was that it was a bit weird. I seem to have trouble writing normal sketches – the sort where someone walks into a shop and has an amusing conversation with someone else – so most of the ideas I came up with for the advent calendar (many of which didn’t get past the ideas stage) were what you might call “gimmicky”. Here’s another example, based on the constant stream of thoughts inside my head in various social situations:

That sketch is one I wasn’t quite sure about when we were making it. I had the idea for a while but didn’t write it until a couple of days before we had to film it. I kept rewriting the ending but couldn’t work out how to make it punchy, and I started to want to shelf the idea until after the advent calendar to give myself more time to do it justice. But we needed all the sketches we could get, and the filming was already partially arranged, so we bit the bullet and went ahead with the best version I had. Ultimately, I think the actors are great and make it work, so I’m glad we did it. It’s easy to keep all your precious ideas locked away, never fully developing them in case they don’t turn out the way you imagine. The advent calendar provided just the right amount of pressure to make us release some of our ideas into the world, regardless of whether they were perfect. I think that’s a valuable thing sometimes, especially in terms of learning to do better next time. And it clears some space on your shelf for new ideas.

Anyway, let me link to a few others not written by me, to show I’m not entirely self-centred:

  • Hilarious Pranks! is probably my favourite of all the sketches, though some would say we went too far with it.
  • This spot-on Masked Magician parody was written by my brother.
  • Jesus: The Teenage Years has been received well by those who don’t mind a bit of light sacrilege.
  • People also seem to like Royal Pregnancy, our most topical sketch – written, filmed and edited overnight after the announcement of the royal baby on the 3rd of December.
  • Though I hesitate to link to it, this terribly vulgar Singing Kettle parody is our most viewed video and one of the few that seems to be continuing to accumulate views. People are disgusting, and clearly I can’t exclude myself from that statement.

And that’s just a scattering of the sketches we made. If you enjoy these, please do go and watch the others (and delve into the older videos on our YouTube channel if you feel like it). One of the most interesting things about this whole project was seeing other people’s reactions to what we did. Even though we weren’t sure of some of them, I’ve heard almost every sketch being singled out by someone as one of the highlights. Which suggests to me not only that we didn’t make too many irredeemably bad sketches, but that we made quite a variety of them to appeal to different tastes. That may be the thing I’m most proud of, and reassured by. 🙂

Festive funsies / We’re all going to die

Quick update on Project Ho Ho Ho, the silly video advent calendar I talked about a while ago.

We’ve already had more contributions than I was afraid we might – we’re on $1,311 as I write this. But unless we get some major new momentum going in the 3 weeks we have left, we’re not gonna reach our target of $4,000.

This doesn’t matter on Indiegogo as much as it would on Kickstarter, as we still get the money we raise even if we fall short of our target; Indiegogo just takes a bigger cut for itself. Still, it would be nice to get there. If anyone reading this wants to chip in or share the project with others using their preferred medium of interaction, all us Beyonders would be most grateful.

What I really want to mention, though, are the video updates we’ve been doing. In particular, the one below. (It’ll make more sense if you’ve already watched the main campaign video here.)

I’m mostly posting it here because I’m worried all the links posted to it on Facebook, Twitter, etc. will quickly get buried, whereas this blog feels a little more permanent. (Not sure what makes me think that, but I do.) And I’m quite proud of it, so I don’t want it to just disappear.

It was basically made by three people. Me, who wrote it, and held the microphone during filming. Lynn, who acted in it and brought it exactly the kind of intensity it needed. And Gavin, who gets the credit for pretty much everything else about it, including the swirling HUD elements, gunshots and wavy tentacles. Oh, and the giant octopus laser pigeons were his idea.

The day we shot it was fun, but since I’m much better at talking about pain and strife than about fun, I’ll focus on the writing. Basically, we (the advent team) were trying to think up ideas for updates, little nuggets of video we could release at intervals to encourage people to give, or at least give us an excuse to further badger our Facebook friends for money. (If you’re interested, here is another example, with me dressed as a woman.)

Since this campaign sort of depends on convincing people we’re funny, the emphasis in these updates was supposed to be on comedy. But I have trouble with comedy. “We’ve noticed!” you heckle. “I… um… shut up,” is my cutting put-down. Trying to write a pure comedy script is, to me, like trying to row a boat using only one oar: technically possible, I guess, but only to someone more talented than me. Same goes for pure drama – what is life without humour? I can’t seem to be entirely silly or entirely serious. They’re two sides of the same coin, totally dependent on each other. In my view, there’s nothing that can’t be joked about, because joking about something doesn’t necessarily imply that it’s not serious or that you don’t care about it. Likewise, I can’t turn the serious side of my brain off even when thinking about the silliest or most trivial subjects. Put simply, I’m not a very versatile writer.

So I came up with the message from the future idea as a way to combine silliness and seriousness: an update treating something inherently ridiculous and trivial – the Advent Calendar – as if it were the most important, profound and life-changing thing in the world. When you watch Lynn’s performance, it’s actually pretty dramatic – it’s only when she reminds you of the utterly ridiculous context, as she does at points throughout the video, that it becomes funny.

Of course, it’s also a parody of various tropes from popular culture – post-apocalyptic survival, time travel, earnest monologues to camera. Some of this was probably because I’d been watching too much Battlestar Galactica, though I did ultimately resist putting in a nerd-pandering line about frakking toasters. Parodies are another way of being funny without just being funny; they can be fairly dramatic scenes in the style of some genre or specific text, but with one subversive element thrown in that makes the whole thing absurd.

Now I’m thinking up sketch ideas for the actual advent calendar, and my favourite idea so far – while it will hopefully be funny – is also quite philosophical and potentially melancholic, to the point that I’ve actually felt kinda haunted since I came up with it. But I also have an idea that’s about someone sitting on a toilet so, y’know, it all balances out.

Webseries hopes and fears

Before I opened up the edit again yesterday, it’d been a while since I’d really thought about Project Chippy, though I’d been peripherally aware of it gnawing away on my mind like a hamster on the bars of its cage. I haven’t been able to make much progress with it lately, partly because of university but mostly because of some stuff we/I messed up last year.

Some weird people in Project Chippy.

All I’ll say about Chippy for now is that it’s a webseries, starring me as a detective, Heather as a mysterious girl, and Euan as a mysterious guy. I’ve written three episodes of it, and we filmed most of what we need for them last summer.

I’ve referred to the webseries as a comedy-drama, though this isn’t an ideal fit as it’s not aiming to be laugh-out-loud funny – the “comedy” tag is mostly there so we can get away with being vaguely absurd and pleasantly quirky. (There really aren’t enough genre labels to cover the whole spectrum of possible tones, but I might get into that in a later post.) From what we have so far, I’m happy that we seem to have captured the tone we were going for rather well.

However, we weren’t so good at capturing Heather before she moved to Canada, so we’ve only filmed episodes one and three, leaving a big hole where most of episode two should be. This was silly of us.

Another thing I regret is that in writing the first three episodes I was probably too focused on setting stuff up for later in the series. As I’ve mentioned, I have trouble keeping projects from becoming overly ambitious, and even though this one was specifically designed to be manageable, following the patently unmanageable project I’d been working on previously (which turned into Project Mirror), it still got a bit out of hand. Even if we do end up filming loads more episodes and playing out all the storylines I’ve set up, I’ll still feel that the first few are not as strong as they could have been, had they been written with more of a focus on being entertaining in their own right, rather than setting up every little character detail for later.

A scary young man in Project Chippy.

Ah well. The series was always going to be a learning experience, and I decided early on that we should embrace that and carry on rather than go back and try to fix every mistake. So carry on we shall!

When Heather returns, albeit briefly, I’m hoping we can get episode two filmed – possibly her parts of episode four as well, if I’ve written that by then. That’ll give us a nice 3-4 episode taster, which should help us decide just how appetising the series as a whole looks, and whether we want to continue it when we get the chance.

In some ways I’d love to. Heather’s character is one of my favourite characters I’ve ever written, and has a lot of backstory that I’d like to get out there. Of course, the cast and crew are made up of my favourite people and working with them on silly stuff always makes me feel like I’ve somehow swapped my life for that of someone luckier.

I’m also excited about some of the insane ideas I have for later episodes, though I’m currently in the awkward position of not quite knowing how I’m going to get the story from where it is at the end of episode three to where it needs to be to incorporate those plots. That’s the sort of thing I’ll inevitably end up working out when I’m supposed to be doing something else. Apologies in advance to the Beyond Studios Advent Calendar!

Anyway, one way or another you’ll probably see the first few episodes of Project Chippy later this year. Please don’t stare at my bald head.

Ho ho ho! Oh god, it’s only April. Ho ho ho!

The first project I’m gonna talk about is the Beyond Studios Advent Calendar. Beyond Studios are my film-makey friends, who used to make silly video advent calendars for each other. Now we’re making a silly video advent calendar for the world. Watch this thing:

I referred to this project in my earlier post as Project Ho Ho Ho. This vaguely ominous naming convention is actually something my friends and I used in order to keep secrets from each other when we were working on videos for our old advent calendars. Every day of December we’d watch a new one of these videos and we’d go “Oh, that’s what Project Monkey on a Tricycle was about! I would never have guessed!” It was one of the best things about Christmas.

So in some ways I regret the fact that we’re making this year’s advent calendar public. It means our whole group will know about every project in advance, and they won’t be so in-jokey and personal. But change is good, and if it turns out not to be good then you can always run away from it and go and cry until it changes back.

Anyway, we’re giving it a shot! People seem to like the pitch video, which gives me hope that they’ll like at least some of the final sketches, even if we don’t reach our funding target of $4000.

My main worry is that we already have so many funny ideas for sketches – none of them mine – that I won’t be able to come up with anything good enough to make it to the calendar. I’m hoping that this insecurity will spur me on to work harder, rather than make me afraid to share my ideas. The more I work on an idea, of course, the more confident I’ll be in it, but I’ll also be more protective.

I also have a problem where the more I work on something, the bigger and more daunting it becomes. Short films become features, stories become novels, and being realistic about the scope of my idea becomes compromising my glorious vision of an epic twelve-volume science fiction cycle centering around a space fisherman called Bob. I fully expect that at least one of my sketch ideas will get so out of control that I’ll quietly slip it into my jacket and smuggle it out of the advent calendar project, hoping to one day adapt it into a six-season HBO series starring my actor friends Heather and Euan. See, that’s why this blog is helpful! If I’m aware of these dangerous urges, maybe I can control them.

Speaking of which, I could easily spend the rest of the day making this blog post even ramblier and more self-indulgent, but I have lots to do (as I mentioned earlier today). I’ll speak to myself – and any of you random onlookers – again later!