SIDES is a new web series, with a difference. Improvised and raw, the series pushes the limit on the traditional online series format.

The show, directed by Grae Burton and Natalie Beran, features a huge cast of Auckland talent and is a hilarious black comedy about actors auditioning for the role of a lifetime.
We asked Grae to tell us more about SIDES.

What was the inspiration for the web series? How did it all come about? And why a web series format?

Natalie and I had separate ideas about doing a series about auditions and casting and when we initially got together over a Belgian beer in Ponsonby we realised that we both had pretty much the same idea and the whole inspiration for the series grew from there.
Very soon we realised that this was a unique prospect that meant we could throw the creative ball entirely into the actors’ court to do with it what they wanted. We only scripted the fake audition piece the actors had to perform and we created character profiles and provocations. The actors were told that as soon as they arrived they were in character and being filmed the entire time. They didn’t know who they were working with and we introduced a few “wild card” characters into the mix to really stir things up.
The basic premise is that all the actors are auditioning for the same role of a “Pilot” of a zombie infested airplane about to crash into Houston. Which was misspelt in the script as Huston. It’s all downhill from there… We really always intended to make it for the web. Its accessibility and lack of taboo meant we could really push the limits in terms of content.
The show is improvised and during the shooting, when I saw that an actor was willing to go that extra mile, I could call a time out and invite them to jump off the edge with me. They always did :)

What can audiences expect from the show; and how many episodes in total and what’s the release schedule?

It’s a black comedy, it’s entirely set in one location, a film casting office in central Auckland, it’s improvised, it looks and sounds raw and it’s off the wall. All these things were intended. Think of it as Flight of the Conchords meets The Office and they get on the piss together with a film crew, THEN start filming…
It is eight episodes in total (the first four released November 20, the last four release March 20 in 2016). Episodes are between 12 and 14 minutes generally.
The first four eps have an additional 16 “In_Sides” episodes, which are the uncut auditions of each actor in Eps 1 – 4. These are hilarious and it’s amazing to watch an uncut video and see the “reality” of these actors (who are playing the characters we gave them) desperately trying to win the role with their auditions. They are interactive and audiences can vote and comment on who they think should get the role. Those who do will go in the draw for SIDES merchandise and the like. Those eps are linked into the main eps at the end of each.

“Think of it as Flight of the Conchords meets The Office and they get on the piss together with a film crew, THEN start filming..”

What was the goal of creating the show?

The goal from the outset was to really push the limit of the process for actors. No script, not even knowing who you are working with or what their provocation is and all competing for the same part.
Also we wanted to experiment with how much we could strip out of the usually required elements for film production. There is no crew. No one manning cameras. No one on a boom mic (we probably should have had a person on boom mic :)). There were no rehearsals. There were no additional takes. Everything you see is captured in one take. It was exciting and it wasted not a second of time in its process. The whole shoot took two days and we have ended up with a whole series and about 32 additional episodes.

Can you tell us about timelines; from when the concept evolved through to releasing online?

The initial brief came together at the end of 2013, we shot over two days in May 2014 and editing began immediately. The first three eps took about eight months to complete and the fourth episode proved really problematic so that has meant delays in the process and release. What happened was that we realised the story time was set over one day so we had to intercut a character from the previous end of shoot day one with the characters at the beginning of shoot day two and make it feel like it was lunchtime in the story. On top of that there was some equipment failure, so sound fell over a bit. We needed to do a couple of pick ups for the overall arc of the story too and scheduling that, with the team’s hectic schedules was also an issue. Now that we are over that major hurdle we are set for release in two parts on either side of summer.

How did you get cast/crew involved?

We knew we needed a third party to be involved and be “the hero” of the show, so we invited Simon Ward to join us in a creative capacity and take charge of the audition floor as our shows casting director Sam Freck. I was assigned the casting assistant role of “Sideshow” Bob Gilliam. My character appears in voice only and one of the cameras is his POV which gave me some freedom to monitor the equipment while interacting with the characters. Natalie played Jessica Jones, the manager of Sideshow Casting, the fictional casting agency in which the story takes place, and she was able to set up a lot of the story arc that happens for the casting team in series one.
Everyone else came on through an open call for participation. We had limited spots available so it was first come, first served. There were no auditions. Everyone who signed on was made aware that they may or may not be used in the final edit. Total contact time for performers was generally about an hour so that there could be cross character interaction always flowing through the waiting room and the rest was what they brought with them. All in all about 36 participants on camera.

How was the project funded?

We funded it ourselves. It cost us about $80 in booze for various bribes.

Can you tell us about the equipment used for camera, sound, editing etc?

All sorts. We had a Canon 5D, 650D and a XL1 (?) and a few Panasonic handycams. The Master Wide in the waiting room is filmed on a Sanyo Xacti. Bloody brilliant little camera that. At one stage I didn’t have a camera handy and filmed a bit on my phone. That’s how we roll…

“I’d rather make awesome shows with awesome people and if “big guns” want to take notice that’s great.”

How are you promoting the show and finding an audience?

Social Media. The cheapest way possible. I tweeted Ricky Gervais to take a look. He hasn’t responded 😉 Share share share…

Any funny incidents while filming you can share?

Lots, and they are all on camera. Our behind the scenes ARE the scenes…

What were the highlights of making SIDES? And the challenges?

Working with so many highly talented and mostly undiscovered talents in the acting world in Auckland. More actors should be more famous in this town. They deliver!
Challenges. Having babies. Web series are easy to make compared to those.

What’s next for SIDES?

Season Two is something I’ll be looking to do next. And some more very experimental, cutting edge immersive and top secret squirrel stuff that we have in the works. I don’t know about making money. Maybe someone will teach me. We have tried to squeeze a bit of coin out of the show and it may still happen, but honestly, we are making shows in ways that people aren’t used to and have no experience of and that tends to make investors a little scared. Hell, I’m scared making them half the time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s the juice!
An on demand platform can have my work when they turn up on my doorstep with a big brief case of cash. And I mean big, I’d be sharing it out with every person who got on board with the show!
I’ve never been good at chasing people. I’d rather make awesome shows with awesome people and if “big guns” want to take notice that’s great.  Either way, the next season is just around the corner…

“Web and TV will all just be original and online or it won’t be watched.”

What do you like most about the web series format?

It’s the wild wild west. You can do and say anything and the audience decide if it’s the shit or just shit.
What do you think is the future for consumption of digital content?
Well, I’m moving into fully immersive and augmented reality storytelling. Like Forest Gump said, “that’s all I’ve got to say about that.” Watch this space…

Were you inspired by other web series? What are your favourite web series?

Not really, I don’t get much time to watch anything except my indulgence YouTube shows like sourcefed and nerdist news and the SciChannel and reading comic books. H+ was the original show to really get me excited about the platform. AFK is my favourite Kiwi webseries after SIDES. But I’m biased (and in it).

You call the series an ‘online original’ series – rather than a web series?
I think all series will go that way. Very soon I think there will be no distinction between platforms. Web and TV will all just be original and online or it won’t be watched.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

The show is black and white, and we used a YouTube stabilisation filter in the final processing because we liked the way it shifted the frame between cuts and it makes you feel trippy watching it.
Enjoy, like and share. Our shows survival depends on it!

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