With their Brian Grazer and Ron Howard funded films premiering at Buffer Festival in Toronto this week, TenEighty caught up with PJ Liguori, Tim Hautekiet and Bertie Gilbert to find out the creative process behind the films and what working with New Form Digital was like. Oh, and Benjamin Cook about Becoming YouTube 2.
It’s been just over three months since New Form Digital, an online studio venture set up by world-renowned film directors Brian Grazer and Ron Howard in partnership with Discovery Communications, announced the 14 YouTubers they’d be funding to make short films.
The list includes a wealth of YouTube’s finest: Craig Benzine, Joe Penna, Anna Akana, The Riedell Brothers, Joey Graceffa, Sawyer Hartman, Meghan Camarena, Tony Velenzuela, Yulin Kuang, Poykpac and 5 Second Films, and of course our home-grown stars PJ Liguori, Tim Hautekiet and Bertie Gilbert.
The New Form Incubator (as it’s been coined) is the first project of its kind to fund online stars, and a proud moment for the YouTube community. We are finally witnessing mainstream media take a direct interest in the creativity of YouTuber content creators.
Oscar’s Hotel by PJ Liguori
“It took me a while to work out what I wanted to make,” says PJ, “and for a while I was hitting a wall of ideas that didn’t grab me.”
It was through working closely with his crew – Sophie Newton, Louis Grant and Jamie Swarbrick – that PJ eventually came up with the core concept for Oscar’s Hotel.
“I loved the concept of having a hotel that caters to mystical beings and so the story flourished from there,” he says. Oscar’s Hotel tells the story of a hotel where mystical creature from across the vast universe come to stay, for either a leisurely weekend or, in some cases, a permanent residency.
On the same night Oscar’s nephew Oliver comes to visit, a terrifying rustic creature finds its way in. This leaves the duo no choice but to assemble the finest team of creatures they can muster.
Discussing the creative process behind the film, PJ reveals that the project went through many changes. “The theme changed, the tone changed, Oliver’s job description kept changing,” he says. “The first script had pages and pages of exposition that wasn’t working for me, so we got brutal and slashed the script in half.”
When it came to casting PJ says Oliver was written for Chris Kendall. “He fits the role of Oliver perfectly, we wrote it with his mannerisms and comedic timing in mind,” he says.
The character of Oscar is aged 173-years old, and thus casting him could have been tricky. PJ wanted to find someone who looks ageless and he found that man in the improvised comedy trio The RH Experience. “Conor Jatter not only had the look I wanted, but I was really keen to bring his improvisational skills to the film,” he says. “It’s resulted in hundreds of hilarious outtakes and some of my favourite in-takes.
“The reason I love to work with YouTube creators is because they bring something very special to the roles, and I love putting them in crazy situations,” he continues. “Emma Blackery and a bucket of slime, need I say more?”
Most of his projects before this have focused on only one part of a wider story or a singular character, but the funding from New Form Digital allowed PJ to develop an entire narrative with fully realised characters. When considering the size of his crew and the length of the project, this proved to be one of his biggest challenges, but one none of them shied away from.
“I’ve been working nonstop on this since July, which makes this my longest production ever,” he says. “There’s been so much to do and I’m really impressed with how hard the other three have worked to get it all done.”
The funding also allowed PJ to take his visions to new locations. “My usual answer to everything is to build it all out of cardboard, however I’ve been able to think of the story first and then the aesthetic afterwards,” he reveals. “I’ve taken the film outside of a sound stage, and put my strange visions and characters into some incredible locations that Sophie dressed.”
Having an entire building to themselves was PJ’s highlight making this film. “When we weren’t shooting we’d kick our shoes off, rehearse the scenes and wait for the sun to set,” he says. “There’s something really nice about directing without shoes on. I would recommend it.”
For PJ, New Form Digital’s involvement really helped nourish Oscar’s Hotel to become what it is. “They have given incredible feedback in the film at several stages, which has helped us to sculpt the script and ultimately the final film,” he says.
Looking back on an intense 3-month project, PJ can’t wait to screen it. “I hope to meet a lot of people who appreciate making films and telling stories,” he says. “It’s going to be insane!”
Bad Burglars by Tim Hautekiet
Tim’s film with New Form Digital is actually the third in his Bad Burglars series. It follows Tim and Hazel Hayes on their biggest heist yet and when left in Tim’s hands it of course goes wrong. With the help of getaway driver Paul Neafcy, the three burglars have to escape the authorities.
“I just loved the idea of making this an action comedy short film,” says Tim. “What if they spend most of the film on the run? How would Hazel react? What about Paul? Is Tim’s clumsiness going to slow them down?
“I’ve had a chance to play around with these characters before,” he continues. “I’ve always made sure each story works as a stand-alone piece and doesn’t require the audience to have seen the previous sketch to understand the new one. But there are fun elements of an ongoing narrative to be spotted for those who have seen every video.”
Hazel and Paul return to their roles, as well as Alice Ann Stacey and Luke Spillane as police officers, and this time they’re accompanied by Evan Edinger too. However, that’s not the only new cast member. “I’m tremendously excited for everyone to see Hedy Clark’s little role in this film,” he teases.
When TenEighty interviewed Tim back in April he’d just found out he’d been accepted on Peter Stark’s Producing Programme at the University of Southern California. His move to the US, paired with the schedule of his director of photography, Ciaran O’Brien, was going to make creating Bad Burglars tough.
“The biggest challenge for this film was time,” he explains, “Ciaran was only available on very specific days, so we needed to make the schedule work and confirm locations on time. I was moving to LA approximately a week after production, so there was no room for error.
“In the post-production process I needed to liaise with my team from LA to finish the edit, record additional dialogue and finish the sound design,” he continues. “You’re often battling with deadlines as a creative person. It’s part of the job, you need to be able to produce good creative content whilst meeting deadlines.
“It’s all a bit crazy when I look back, but I’m glad we pulled it off. I’m very proud of my crew.”
Having previously worked on Project: Library and What Have We Done, Tim has had to handle financing creative visions he’s had. However this time the budget allowed him to be a bit more adventurous. “This film features stunts, car chases, police cars… you can’t do that on a shoe-string,” he says.
Either way, he emphasises that the story and the characters came first. “You can’t spend money for the sake of spending money. It’s all about the story, that’s something I try to never lose sight of,” Tim affirms. “Although, I’ll admit shooting my first real car chase felt pretty badass.”
Teasing even more but making sure he doesn’t spoil anything, Tim says his favourite moment involved a rather dangerous stunt. “I fall backwards off a fire escape,” he says. “Everyone on the crew, including the stunt supervisor, was a little worried for my safety. But we got it in one take!”
Tim has found working with New Form Digital a joy. “They’ve been incredibly supportive and, most importantly, collaborative. They care about the project and want it to be the best it can possibly be,” he says.
Looking forward to Buffer Festival, he’s hoping people will enjoy the finished film. “It sounds like a different experience from your usual YouTube event. It’s all about screenings and discussing the videos themselves,” he says. “I’m tremendously exited.”
Killed The Cat by Bertie Gilbert
Bertie provides Buffer Festival with Killed The Cat, his most experimental film so far. “It’s about three escaped mental patients roaming the wilderness,” says Bertie. “But the film is about much more than the plot. It’s more about its ideas and intentions.”
He developed the concept for the film with his life-long friend Alia Hassan, and wrote the first script by winter 2013. “Looking back at that original script now we cringe, but at the time we were really proud of it,” he says.
“We dropped the idea for a while until New Form Digital appeared,” he continues. “Since then we’ve been hashing and re-hashing edits and music and so on for three months. It feels good to finally have a finished product!”
Much like many of his other films Bertie kept the cast small, with himself and Alia both portraying characters. When TenEighty UK interviewed Bertie in July, he’d just completed his third film Tick Where It Hurts. It was through Archie Redford, who played Eric, that they found Killed The Cat’s real protagonist. “Hannah [Nanton] was perfect for the role,” he says. “She captures a strange mix of complexity and naivety.”
The funding allowed Bertie to take his films out of locations familiar to him, such as his house, and travel down to Looe in Cornwall. “The beautiful landscapes through this film are almost another character entirely,” he says. “Without the budget we wouldn’t have been able to travel down there with the crew, which was way bigger than I’d ever had before.”
Killed The Cat was a lot more work than he had previously anticipated but as always he embraced it. “The whole experience was fraught with hard work,” says Bertie. “From shooting in the blazing sun of Cornwall, to having to send edits through with abysmal wi-fi.
“I like feeling like I’m actually putting my back into it,” he continues. “We overcame everything by pushing on and working hard.”
Recalling his favourite scene to shoot, Bertie tells TenEighty UK of a “very surreal party scene” which is laced throughout the film. “It’s supposed to feel trippy and euphoric when you watch it,” he says, “and that’s sort of how I felt when we shot it.
“It was quite late, we were shooting on some rocks right by the sea. The tide was coming in fast, so in a rush we orchestrated this bizarre party scene,” he says.
“The mixture of how tired I was after a day’s shooting, the environment I was in and the scene we were staging, it all felt a bit funny that night,” Bertie continues. “Weird, but cool. I think that’d probably be my favourite moment.”
Expressing how lovely the journey has been with New Form Digital, he hopes their creative relationship can continue. “You always assume with fancy companies such as this that it’d be like talking to a robot,” he says. “You’d get no artistic nourishment. Just pencil-pushers shoving dates in your face.
“With New Form, it was quite the opposite,” he explains. “The guys were so knowledgeable about film and so understanding about the choices made in our piece. Every time you’d send a cut in, you’d get a beautifully constructed and thought-through response.”
Buffer Festival is an opportunity for Bertie to finally meet creators he’s not had the chance of meeting yet, and see everyone else’s films. “I know next to nothing about everyone else’s films,” he says. “But from what I can tell they all seem incredibly different.”
All 14 funded shorts will premiere at Buffer Festival from the October 16 to 19 2014 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, Canada, with each short featuring a cameo from Mitchell Davis.
The festival will feature screenings, panels and meet-and-greets, with the likes of Jack and Finn Harries, Charlie McDonnell, Louis Cole, Jack Howard and Dean Dobbs, Liam Dryden, Khyan Mansley, Will Darbyshire and Benjamin Cook all in attendance. The latter of whom will be showing the first ever trailer of Becoming YouTube 2 at the British Invasion screening.
“I like the idea of Buffer Festival. I liked it from the moment Corey [Vidal, organiser] invited me,” says Ben. “It’s less about screaming fangirls, YouTubers twerking on stage and seven-hour meet-ups, and more about screenings, red carpets and the art of online filmmaking. Because yes, it’s an art, and I’ve always said so.”
Ben won’t budge in revealing much about Becoming YouTube 2 or its trailer, but he does give us a significant number. “There are 26 in all – interviewees, not episodes (that would kill me!) – 17 of whom have never been interviewed in Becoming YouTube before,” he says.
“I can’t say who,” he teases. “I’ll upload the trailer – and some extra clips – to my YouTube channel a week or so after Buffer. But Buffer gets the exclusive.”
Ben also mentions that he’s never been to Canada before. “Canada gave us Michael Bublé, right? And Justin Bieber. But on the other hand… Wolverine and Jake Bass. So I’ll forgive Canada a lot,” he says. “I bet two-thirds of your readers are now googling Jake Bass.”
New Form Digital
Chief Creative Officer of New Form Digital, Kathleen Grace told TenEighty UK that their mission is to tell cinematic stories on digital platforms. “In my role I shape the creative vision for the company: developing our series, identifying talent we want to invest in and ultimately, produce the stories we believe in,” she says.
Kathleen believes that filmmaking is a community building experience, noting that online media gives everyone instant access to an audience. “It’s a real conversation and leads to a new kind of story being told,” she says. “The YouTube generation of filmmakers innately understand the importance of that relationship: the one with your audience.”
When it came to choosing the creators to fund, New Form Digital were looking for filmmakers who had demonstrated that ability to find their audience and an interest in cinematic storytelling. Her previous experience as the Creative Development Manager at the YouTube Creator Space in LA meant she already had some favourites.
“There is an incredible amount of talented people online,”says Kathleen. “We wanted to move quickly and invest in talent, so it was a pretty straight-forward process. The filmmakers were enthusiastic and we were ready to go.”
Buffer Festival sees a lot of Kathleen’s hard work coming to ahead, and she’s excited to finally see videos on the big screen. “It’ll be very different from my usual laptop viewing sessions,” she says. “Plus there are some great YouTubers attending that I’ve never met.”
Nonetheless, this isn’t the end of a project, but the start of a further relationship between YouTube content creators and New Form Digital. “We’re hoping to do another round of shorts as well as invest in some series,” she reveals. “We plan to be very busy in 2015.”
Want to read more about our homegrown filmmakers? Check out our exclusive interviews:
- Bertie Gilbert: Wiser Than His Years
- Tim H: Leading with Integrity
- Ben Cook: Becoming youTube and Beyond
Also read about PJ Liguori’s “Well Versed Project” collaboration or his artwork in What Weebl Means To Us or his entry in our Five Of The Best: Draw My Life.
For feature interviews with Jack Howard and Dean Dobbs, Louise Pentland and more, check out the first 64 page physical edition of TenEighty Magazine. Get more information and purchase a copy on the TenEighty BigCartel page by clicking here.
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