Brains behind web series VTV enlist Caton, Jacobson for new VOD project

06 July, 2016 by Harry Windsor



Earlier this year, Australian comedy web series VTV won the Best Comedy Award (Outstanding Comedy) at LA WebFest. 

Since then it's been selected to screen at KWeb Fest, Korea's largest web fest. 

KWeb Fest has offered the series an exclusive distribution deal, making it available on some of Korea and China's leading mobile and VOD platforms. 

VTV was directed by Nir Shelter and co-written by Shelter, Tai Scrivener and Courtney Powell. 

Shelter describes it as the story of "a TV executive and his quest to drive his successful station into the ground."

Needless to say, his attempts backfire. "The [station's] shows are more popular than ever. [So the series is] The Producers meets 30 Rock, essentially." 

Courtney Powell, one of the lead actors as well as writer, touts the show's "broad comedy appeal. Most people can relate to the increase of piss-weak television shows – reality TV is not just an Australian problem."

The series runs for thirteen episodes, a total of fifty-five minutes screentime.

Shelter, Powell and Scrivener have known each other for years, meeting around Sydney's theatre circuit and short theatre fests like Short and Sweet.

They set about producing a web series at the beginning of 2015, spending six months writing the scripts.

The shoot consisted of fifteen days spread over two months, with Shelter and Scrivener stumping up the budget themselves, at $13,000 apiece.

Shelter's day job as a DIT/data wrangler on the likes of The Great Gatsby, The Water Diviner and Top of the Lake helped when it came to finding a location, which had to convincingly double as a television broadcast station.

"I've done a lot of work with Soundfirm in Sydney, and I approached them and said, I'm doing this project and we need a location. I didn't even have a chance to finish the sentence before they offered us Soundfirm."

Shelter chose to shoot in "a format I knew I could manipulate later because we couldn't afford fancy camera and lighting packages." 

"So I didn't want to use a C100, which was offered to us, or anything that would have too-low a bit rate. And that's why I settled on a Red Scarlet, which could accommodate situations where I would have to make up for things in post." 

The DP for most of the shoot was Ben Dray, who "did a great job handling the very low resources we could afford for him," says Shelter. 

Also coming in for blocks were Rupert Brown, who lit and shot a visual effects-heavy episode, and Richard Wilmot, who worked as a steadicam operator as well as DOP.

To date VTV has been accepted into 14 international festivals and won 7 awards out of a total of 13 nominations, though its life after the festival circuit is up in the air.

Says Shelter: "The tricky position we're in right now is that we have people attached to another concept of ours, which is a series we're developing for VOD platforms. And that series draws upon similar characters, and we don't want to have one clash with the other. So we're hesitant about releasing it, even though it's got a completely different flavour, look and style." 

So the $26,00 was an investment rather than something you thought you'd see back? 

"Well no, originally we did want to put it out there but we just didn't have the money to publicise it. We did a bit of research and spoke to a few producers who had released successful web series over the last two years, and they all told us unequivocally: you need a budget for publicity. You can't go out without at least $20,000 or $30,000 for publicity alone. We were flabbergasted."

That investment might still pay off. The project the team is currently developing for VOD has The Chaser's Charles Firth and producer Kristen Hodges on board, and Shane Jacobson, Kate Ritchie and Michael Caton attached.

"That would definitely be for a bigger budget. The VOD series is a more mature series [than VTV] and aims to appeal to a much wider audience."