In 2014, I wrote and directed the short film, Miss Moneypenny. It’s a comedy set just after a gay afternoon hook-up. Around that time I was watching a lot of different web series: Day Drunk Gays, The Outs, Eastsiders, High Maintenance, Broad City, The Slope, F to 7th (to name a few). I loved the variety of these shows, the more niche audiences that they could cater to, but also how innovative they could be. I wanted to make one.
With a stronger leaning towards directing, I wanted to find a creative partner and writer with whom to work. I was introduced to Matthew Hurt, who had had several successful plays performed, but was interested in moving into screenwriting. We spent a while developing a web series version of the short I’d made, continuing the theme of gay dating in London. Whilst we never produced that series, it accidentally won me a job creating content for Gaydar.
We both wanted to flex a breadth of skills as writer and director and were drawn to anthology series as a way to achieve that. Matthew was hit by inspiration in spring 2016, “How about we tell stories of different people moving homes around London? Comedies, dramas, tragedies… The emotional and physical baggage that goes with it.” And so, UnPacking was unpacked.
We aimed to produce five films, believing that would be achievable on a shoestring budget while also being a big enough body of work to distribute. We funded the production between us, calling in favours and shooting on my own Canon 5Dmk3. We brought in the wonderful DoP Magda Kowalczyk to work across most of the series (having already worked with her on my short film, Away With Me). We begged friends to lend us their homes to film in. We shot two in my flat, one in Matthew’s. Matthew trained as an actor at Drama Centre and knows a lot of brilliant actors. Half of the talent on-screen are his friends who generously gave up their time to work with us.
I edited the five films myself in Premiere, Matthew gave feedback in person and via the online service Frameio. We won a grant from the Stefan Allesch-Taylor short film fund for post production costs. That went towards Facebook advertising, website costs, festival and competition entries, and a screening party. We distributed the films on Vimeo as we felt the style and quality of the series was better suited to that filmmaker environment. Our biggest PR machine has been Suanne Braun – star of the episode I am a Seagull – she has tweeted the hell out of it with great success.
My advice to other web series creators is: see what other people have done and how they did it; call in every favour you can; work with the best people you can get access to; and try different things. You never know where it may lead you. Matthew Hurt is now writing for EastEnders and I’m currently freelancing as a video editor for Vice.