Matilda Brown: Making short form comedy for an on demand generation.
Matilda Brown's 10-part short form series Let’s Talk About demonstrates how short form content is evolving to meet audiences’ desires in a new screening landscape. The series, which was made exclusively to Presto TV and Presto Entertainment bundle subscribers to stream on demand premiered last week. Watch the first episode here!
Can you tell us a little bit about Let’s Talk About?
Let’s Talk About is a 10 x 3-6 minute show about a couple that get pregnant very early on in their relationship. Claire wants to keep it. Ben doesn’t. Set over nine months, it goes through their ups and downs as they navigate their way through pregnancy. I guess its kind of an intimate view inside a couple’s relationship. Each episode takes a look at a new theme around pregnancy and relationships, be it love, sex, money, work, meeting the parents, ultrasounds, birthing group, baby names etc. It’s drama and comedy with some poignant moments.
You take on the role of writer-director-actor in this series, how has it been balancing all three roles?
I’ve stopped seeing them as entirely seperate things. I feel like titles get in the way sometimes. Personally it helps me to see it as a process, or small steps to a big picture. I come up with an idea that I want to make tangible and work towards it bit by bit. I start with writing the scripts, and then once the scripts are written, I’m in another part of the process. Acting and directing at the same time is where the challenge can arise because you don't have someone to give your performance a nudge here or there. I can usually feel when my performance is off or could be better but if I'm unsure I’ll take a moment to check the takes. I always learn a lot in the edit about my directing and acting and that’s where I make mental notes for next time. I don't think you ever stop self-critiquing and learning from your mistakes.
This is your second web series, after two series of Lessons from the Grave. Can you tell us if the presence of social media has changed how you’re looking to create entertainment and how it has influenced your projects?
I think social media is a huge part of most people’s lives these days. So it’s insane to think it doesn't influence us on a daily basis. I guess our addiction to phones and computers is also something I'm aware of. I know myself how much more content I view on my devices these days than on the TV and it’s probably influenced me as a storyteller. Maybe subliminally we’re all learning to tell stories in a shorter, sharper way to fit with our fast paced lives and limited attention spans. That’s not to say I’m not interested in longer format or traditional film making, nor do I think it should go by the way side. I think different stories work for different mediums and platforms and social media is a way to connect and reach out to an audience. It’s all so new and constantly changing. I haven't figured it all out yet but I think it’s a good thing.
There has been definitive emergence of short form content on Australian websites and video on demand services, do you feel there is a growing audience and who do you think they are?
Yes I do. I think they are the people of my generation and younger - people who grew up with smart phones and good wifi. It’s the ‘I want it now generation’. I guess that’s why it’s called ‘on demand’.
The series is a first exclusive-to-Presto series – this is a unique publicity and marketing strategy. Can you tell us a bit about it?
It's the first time I've been in a situation where I haven't had to try and market and push the project on my own. It's been amazing. I think it's a combination of good timing and mutual appreciation from both sides. We came to Presto at a time when they hadn't yet commissioned a show and we're looking to do so it was really a matter of if they liked the scripts they didn't have to think too much about coming on board. As it turned out they loved the idea and the scripts and got back to us two days later with a yes! What's more they bought my first web series Lessons From The Grave. It helps that Presto is owned jointly by channel 7 and Foxtel so although they're still finding their feet as an on demand service they've already got a huge network of people to reach out to not to mention a very experienced and professional group of people working at the helm of it. Having Eleven, the PR agency behind me setting up interviews and really pushing the publicity was exciting and a huge relief after working so hard on it.
Would you use this platform for another project?
Absolutely. Presto have been amazing to work with. To the viewers and subscribers they’re a business, but to me they’re a bunch of great people who love what they do and are excited by creativity and want to make the product as good as possible for the people using it. I couldn't have asked for a more supportive team. Presto is still establishing itself as an on demand platform and I understand that. It might take time to get to the level where Netflix is but that’s expected. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have my show on this platform and I’d be honoured to work with them again.
Let’s Talk About follows a couple’s journey through the trials and tribulations of pregnancy, from the day of announcement to the day of delivery. How did you come up with the script?
I’m at the age where lots of my friends are getting pregnant or having babies. One particular friend met her partner and fell pregnant shortly after. They were my main inspiration for the base of the idea although the characters are nothing like them. As far as the situations Ben and Claire find themselves in, I researched and talked to people to get as much knowledge on the process as possible. And I always draw on my own experiences and situations. I think there are a few of my ex boyfriends rolled into Ben and probably a bit of me too.
Can you tell the readers about the process of filming a web series?
Sure. It was shot over six days. That was two episodes a day. I directed five episodes and Matthew Jenkin directed the other five. Because of the limited budget we didn’t have the luxury of having director's blocks, so some scenes we'd literally be swapping then swapping back for the next simply because it was quicker to schedule based on location proximity. We had to move quick, only two or three takes for each set up. Rick (who plays Ben) and I spent the weekend before hanging out and slowly getting into character, talking about the scripts and familiarising ourselves with the set and the space. I'm so glad we took the time to do that, it really made us on top of it when it came to shooting. We didn't over rehearse because we're both strong believers in keeping the scenes fresh but we knew our lines backward. We've known each other so many years, which allowed for playfulness between Claire and Ben. The team was small, thirteen key crew, and even though we were shooting quickly we maintained a stress free environment. I've had some bad experiences in the past and now I really make a point to work with people who don't have attitude or give off bad energy, it makes the shoot so much more enjoyable and helps the end product. There were a few times when shit hit the fan and I had to re-write an entire scene five minutes before shooting it (the hen's party was originally a kid's party) but everything always works out for the better.
For this series you have adopted the use of hand held camera movements. Can you tell us why you used this technique?
I wanted it to be as personal and intimate as possible and to me there’s something about hand held that feels very unforced and unaware of itself. I don't like complete stillness in a scene because it feels staged. I didn't want this to be ‘cinematic’ because it’s about a relationship not the locations. I didn't care about how epic it looked or how incredible the cinematography was. It wasn't about that. It was about Claire and Ben and what they were going through. We didn't have time to get fancy on camera moves so we decided to keep it simple and consistent. I really like the feel of it and how it’s turned out. It also meant we could block out the scenes, talk about coverage, not have huge set ups and not waste our valuable shooting time.
The LTA Instagram is letstalkabout_theseries
Presto website - https://www.presto.com.au
And its hashtag is #letstalkabout