Indie filmmaker, co-creator of Humdrum, Connor Webb talks about his dark comedy

 Connor Webb_indieactivity

Connor Webb is an independent filmmaker from Dorset in the South of England. Connor and his friends are part of a filmmaking collective called ‘Greenhorn Production Films’ and their current project is a dark comedy web series called ‘Humdrum’. Three episodes have been produced which are now available to you to watch on YouTube, Stream Now TV and Stream Now Pro. “It’s our intention to make more episodes of Humdrum as we feel that it’s a story that can grow and develop and we have some ambitious plans for its future.” says Connor Webb

Did you study what you do
At school (Thomas Hardye School in Dorchester) I found I always leaned towards the more creative classes such as Art & Design and Media Studies. Those Media Studies classes introduced me to practical filmmaking and it’s something I immediately found very interesting and most of all incredibly fun. After graduating school I took a 2-year college course in Film and Television at Weymouth College. This course taught me most of the practical lessons needed to make films; everything from shooting techniques to how to use editing software. I learned a lot from the course and became certain that I wanted to make a living in the world of film-making. After completing the course I enrolled on a Television Production course at Bournemouth University though only attended for one semester as I found the course quite limiting. I was adamant that I wanted to continue filmmaking on my own terms and knew that I wanted to create my own original content. I’m very lucky as I have a group of good friends with similar interests who are all very talented in different and inspiring ways who were willing to join me.

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What is your filmmaking process
I don’t tend to spend an awful lot of time physically writing but I do spend a lot of time running through ideas in my head, imagining various scenarios and how they might be interesting or funny or seeing how various story elements might fit together and how they would progress. Once I’ve got something figured out I write it down and even then that first draft will usually go through a lot of changes before the finished product. Even though I spend a lot of time on the scripts I always encourage actors to improvise and go off-script if the moment takes them as I feel that this can help things feel spontaneous and natural and can also result in some unexpected and funny ad-libs that couldn’t have been predicted or foreseen. We usually have at least one essential story element that we need to get across in any given scene but apart from that we play around with it and experiment a bit.

The filming itself can be tricky to organise as everyone has quite hectic schedules and day jobs. Once we’ve arranged a day though the filming itself is usually a very enjoyable experience as we hope to create a stress-free and fun environment for everyone. I usually find filming slightly stressful however as I’m often running through things in my mind, worrying whether we have all the shots we need and whether it’s shaping up well.

Once we have filmed I always feel compelled to start editing immediately. I do what we have termed the ‘practical edit’; putting the shots and audio together and putting them all in order. Once I’ve done that I hand the edit over to Shaun to do the ‘technical edit’, which includes colour-grading, audio-mixing and general fine-tuning and improvements until he deems it to be finished at which point we upload it online!

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Tell us about the work you have produced
We’ve been making films for quite a long time before we made Humdrum, ever since Media Studies class at school so it’s always been something that we’ve enjoyed. Before Humdrum we made a very loose and fast sketch show called ‘Greenhorn’, which we didn’t take too seriously in terms of production quality but I think had some solid comedic moments and a fair few interesting ideas behind it. It also allowed us to become more comfortable both in front of and behind the camera. Before Greenhorn I had always insisted on being behind the camera and never in front of it, but Greenhorn inspired me to join in the fun, wearing bizarre outfits and silly wigs and putting on different accents to represent various absurd characters that appeared in the sketches. Having gained a bit of experience and confidence as a performer I knew that I wanted to explore that side of things further in our next project. When Greenhorn came to a natural close I immediately started to think of the next project. I knew that I wanted to take the production more seriously and step-up to a more professional level so invested in some new equipment such as proper sound recording equipment. I knew that I wanted the new project to be more story-driven and character based and decided that myself and Shay would play the lead characters, who would be very much based on ourselves (hence us using our own names for the characters). I wanted to put more of myself and my own life experience (being a young, generally quite frustrated and unfulfilled person growing up in a very pleasant but unexciting part of the world) into it and hoped that people would be able to relate to this. Having established these two characters I thought it would be interesting and fun to take them out of their malaise and thrust them into a very foreign world of action with life and death scenarios involving drug-deals, kidnappings and hostage situations. Everything else grew up from around that idea.

Shay Ruddick, and Connor Webb in Humdrum

Who stars in it, what characters do they play, could you provide biographical info about them?
Myself, Shay Ruddick and Shaun Ward play characters very much based on ourselves (named after ourselves). Shay has been a mainstay of our film-making for a long time, being an energetic, unpredictable and always very funny performer. Shay is also a talented drummer, which I wanted to show in our first episode and also incorporate into the soundtrack.

Shaun has always been part of our production team behind the camera but has also appeared in front of the camera when called upon. I had the idea for Shaun to play a bizarre version of himself, which he jumped into performing with some very funny results. Shaun has a multitude of talents which have proved essential in the creation of Humdrum as Shaun also does Cinematography, Colour-grading, Audio-mixing and has also contributed to the sound-track playing bass guitar.

Femi Oriogun-Williams plays the character ‘Vic’; Aaron’s henchman and right-hand man. This was a part very underwritten in the script (simply referred to as ‘the sidekick’) but brought to life quite brilliantly by Femi who gave the character a name, motivation and back-story. Femi studied English Literature at Cambridge University and has since taught English to students in both Japan and France. Femi is also a talented singer/ songwriter and wrote and recorded 2 songs that have been used on the soundtrack in our first season. Femi also has some acting experience and has appeared in a production of ‘Elektra’ Directed by Ellie Kendrick.

Daisy Porter is an actor who studied Theatre and Performance at the University of Leeds and went of to be enrolled at the East 15 Acting School. She has since appeared in an advertising campaign for Virgin, portrayed the character ‘Nina’ in a production of Chekov’s ‘The Seagull’ at the London Theatre as well as
appearing in several music videos for artists such as Sun Arcana and Veridian. Her next project is an independent horror film called ‘The Bear’. In Humdrum she plays ‘Riley’; the scam artist who tricks Connor
and Shay into ripping off some drug-dealers in the Pilot episode. Although she fulfils an essentially villainous role in the pilot I wanted to bring the character back and explore her further; even giving her a chance to redeem herself. Daisy proved able to portray both sides of the character brilliantly; showing both the ultra-confident manipulative front she puts on and also the softer, more uncertain and truthful self she hides behind the facade.

James Viller is an actor who has appeared in ‘UKIP! The Musical’ with the Hell Bent Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has also toured Italy in 2016 with Action Theatre in a production of ‘In The Web’. In Humdrum James plays ‘Aaron’; the intimidating drug dealer who takes Connor and Shay hostage at the end of the first episode. In the script Aaron was entirely serious and villainous but James brought a comedic touch to the character while also fulfilling the mission statement of being scary. This allowed the character to become more fleshed-out and interesting than he was on the page.

Daisy Porter in Humdrum

What inspires you as an actor of filmmaker
I’m mostly inspired by writers and directors who create their own unique stories that you feel could only have come from their mind. Things that are original but also relatable. Humdrum is inspired and informed by many of my favourite comedy series such as Peep Show, The Office, Spaced, Community, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Simpsons and Futurama. The earlier episodes of Breaking Bad, when it’s tone was more of a dark comedy were also a big inspiration. Everyone involved in Humdrum is a huge fan and lover of comedy. I find a lot of people in the comedy scene here in the UK comedy scene particularly inspiring such as Chris Morris, Stewart Lee, Charlie Brooker, Armando Iannucci, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. I think that the best comedies have moments of depth and pathos in addition to being funny. A most expert example of this is the scene in the original Office where the normally comical and cringe-worthy David Brent tears up while begging to keep his job. It’s a powerful moment made more powerful by the fact that its a serious moment played completely straight in the middle of what’s normally a very funny show. Conversely I think that the best dramas also have comedic elements. People tend to forget that acclaimed dramas such as The Sopranos and The Wire had a lot of humour in them. I’d also count Edgar Wright, Shane Meadows, Martin Scorsese, Vince Gilligan, Danny Boyle and Ben Wheatley among my favourite film-makers. There are quite a few references and nods to various TV series and Movies in each episode of Humdrum; see if you can spot them!

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What movies/TV series/web series would you compare HUMDRUM to? What audiences are you trying
to reach through your show?

I would probably compare Humdrum to some of the TV series that inspired it in the first place. The character dynamic between Connor and Shay is quite similar to that of Mark and Jeremy in Peep Show. It has a bit of an anarchic spirit informed by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The characters getting out of their depth in the world of crime is perhaps reminiscent of earlier episodes of Breaking Bad. In terms of target audience I don’t think we have a particular demographic or age-range in mind but I think fans of comedy might appreciate it. I think it will probably resonate mostly with young people who can relate to the character’s situation at the beginning; being unfulfilled, frustrated and bored.

Besides the fact that each episode runs the length of a traditional sitcom, what else sets HUMDRUM
apart from other web series, including comedies and other similarly themed shows?

Although I have a great respect for many web-series (and people expressing themselves creatively in general) I found that many web-series I watched tended to have episodes that felt quite vague, nondescript and lacking in solid story-telling beats. This is likely because most web-series have episodes typically between 5 – 15 minutes in length and it is presumably very difficult to explore narrative and characters in that short amount of time. I wanted Humdrum to have individual episodes that felt substantial and for each episode to have a solid beginning, middle and end. This has resulted in us having quite long episodes, the first episode clocking in at 33 minutes. This was perhaps a bit too long so I was determined that the 2nd episode would be less than 30 minutes (it came in a 29 minutes 50 seconds!) So I think the main thing that Humdrum can offer that most other comedy web-series can’t is that it can make you laugh while also telling a dramatic and substantial story that grows and develops with each episode.

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What are your hopes and goals for the show’s success?
For now it’s just my hope that Humdrum continues to grow and find more of an audience online. I’d really like to make a more ambitious 2nd season to show people what we’re capable of and take the show into a direction that I don’t think people will be expecting. That’s as far ahead as I’ve planned thus far. In the long-term my goal is to one day make a living as a screenwriter or film-maker and it would be my intention to create some really unique, unusual and interesting things!

How would you describe the overall theme of HUMDRUM? What message, if any, do you hope to send
viewers through the show?

I think that friendship and particularly friendship in the face of adversity is a major theme in Humdrum as well as temptation, desire and the fear that your life isn’t going nearly as well as it could or should be. That’s where our main characters are when we first meet them.

Something that I wanted to explore with Humdrum is the notion of ordinary people being put in extraordinary circumstances and then looking at how they deal with that situation. What could an ordinary person be tempted into doing? Our characters are going to be tested and there will be consequences to their actions.

Part of my plan for the 2nd season is to venture into some darker story-telling, especially in the finale episode where the consequences of the character’s actions will be realised. Not all of the characters will make it out alive. I like the idea that comedy and tragedy can exist within the same space and that one can very easily become the other at a moment’s notice.

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For any web series creator/actor who wishes to have their content featured on a network like Stream
Now TV, what advice would you give them (citing your experience making HUMDRUM) about pursuing such a goal?

I would probably echo the advice given by the brilliant Armando Iannucci (creator of The Thick of It, Veep and co-creator of Alan Partridge). In an interview he said “Don’t try to write stuff that you think other people, especially commissioners will like, always write what you like, what will make you laugh.” So essentially, don’t try to second guess what other people will like. Create something that you yourself would like to watch in your own voice. If you’re honest people will hopefully connect with it and relate to it. Also, just keep creating stuff, write, act, direct, etc; just keep doing it, you’ll only improve and learn as you go. The best way to learn is to just do it. Buy a camera, go out and film something and edit it together. Even if it isn’t brilliant, perhaps your next attempt will be.

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