Published on July 27th, 2017 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: VanChan July 2017 Feature
BizBooks.net is pleased to support the VanChan Web Series Society.
New to VanChan? Here’s how it works.
Once a month, VanChan screen 10 short webisodes in front of a live audience, who vote on their favourite five webisode shows. The five shows with the most votes become the new VanChan primetime shows and are presented as such on the front page of the VanChan.ca website, and each primetime show is invited to make a follow-up episode for VanChan’s next screening on the following months. BUT these five primetime shows must compete for audience votes against five brand new pilots. Ten webisodes enter. Only five may leave. Every month.
In advance of the next VanChan screening on July 29th, we spoke to competing filmmakers Zia Marashi (How to Pick Up Women), Edward Bull (Shock Value), Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns (Budz) , John McCourt (Arrivals), and Zlatina Pacheva (Dear Diary) about their respective projects.
Can you start by telling us a little bit about you and your VanChan project?
Zia Marashi: My current project is a comedic web series entitled How to Pick-Up Women (H2PUW) – which tells the story of two lonely, single men and their journey to help one another find happiness. H2PUW is my third series entry into the VanChan competition.
Edward Bull: Hey, my name is Edward Bull. I’m a Director/Editor from Vancouver, BC and I’m here to present my labour of love, Shock Value IV: The Quickening. No relation to Highlander unfortunately. Shock Value is a series about a ’90s TV host named Daunch Newbeck, who essentially goes around and does the most shocking shit anyone can do – this goes on for about four or five minutes before the end credits hit the screen. That’s it. It’s a dose of insanity with a childlike innocence from the main character. The first one, he invaded a film set, ate someone’s puke, licked hair grease off a piece of plexiglass, before smoking crack and overdosing. It’s pretty tame compared to the rest of them, which says a lot.
Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns: Rachel and Sarah are the dream team behind Life’s A Trip Productions, which also has two other series under its umbrella: At Your Feet about two young women who shine shoes, and Mom & Me (and everyone online) about a mother and daughter’s trials and tribulations in the online dating world. Most recently they are in post production for their first short film Esmerelda’s Castle that will premiere at the Reel World Film Festival this autumn.
John McCourt: Hello, I’m John and I’m an alcoho- Oopsie, wrong crowd. So, um, I’m still John, but I’m a writer. Also I make films. Which is kind of the point of this Q&A, I suppose.My project for VanChan is called Arrivals and it’s about very ordinary people who have been snatched up by some unknown force from different eras of history and plonked back down in the present day with no memory of what’s happened to them. Through a series of interviews we learn who they were, and who they are now.
Zlatina Pacheva: My name is Zlatina and I’m a Writer/Director/Producer and sometimes publicist in Vancouver. Dear Diary is a dramatic reading of my childhood diaries by my good friend and very talented actor Kris McRonney.
What was the inspiration for making it?
Zia Marashi: H2PUW was originally created to play in the ‘Jameson Irish Whiskey – Tales Behind the Bar’ competition, were filmmakers where challenged to make short films set in the local bars of Vancouver. I have always been a fan of surrealist humorist and filmmaker David Wain, so I created H2PUW as an attempt to emulating his style of “courtship comedy” while doing my best not to imitate it entirely. H2PUW eventually went on to win Best Director at the Tales Behind the Bar competition.
Edward Bull: There is such a saturated market of safe content right now that nothing seems to stand out or take any risks. Everyone is just trying to grab the broadest audience they can, that usually means going with safe storylines that are predictable, tiresome and boring. Back in the 90s there was a wave of counter-culture that gave birth to some truly great content. Kids in the Hall, Mr. Show, South Park and even The Simpsons was against the grain at the time, that’s to name a few. While I don’t see that too much now, I do see it coming back in the not-too-distant future. Being on the forefront of that next wave is important to me.
Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns: Rachel and Sarah are friends in real life, and also actresses in real life. They began writing down all the funny stuff that happens to them on the day to day because they thought, “Hey, if Broad City can do it”… so they started filming sketches and Budz was born.
John McCourt: My own alienation, if I’m being brutally honest. And a desire to comment on various aspects of our less-than-perfect society through the lens of a true outsider, someone displaced in time as well as location. Topics I try to cover in various episodes are things like gender issues, xenophobia, the absurdity of the West both provoking and arming its supposed enemies, and how milkshakes are possibly the most delicious things ever invented but they will kill you first chance they get.
Zlatina Pacheva: I filled notebook upon notebook with dramatic retellings of my adolescent life as a teen, and I never thought I’d actually do anything with them. I can only imagine what my 16 year old self would be writing about me if she knew….
Dear Diary was inspired by two things: 1) Michael Shannon’s Funny or Die Dramatic Reading of a Sorority Letter (found here). 2) My boyfriend stumbling on my diary late last year and reading aloud from it.
Shock Value IV: The Quickening
What has been the most rewarding part of making it?
Zia Marashi: Making new episodes every month. I find the exercise of filmmaking to be very therapeutic. I use each new episode as encouragement for free self-expression. I won’t be surprised when VanChan turns into an official Art Therapy clinic.
Edward Bull: The audience reaction. Plain and simple. The laughs, gasps, groans. Having people say “I’ve never seen that before”. Taking the risk and having it pay off. In Shock Value 2, he cuts his penis off, puts it in a blender and drinks it. It’s all shown on camera. I had no idea how the audience would react. I knew they had never seen that before, but I had no idea how it was going to be received. It turned out to be the biggest laugh/groan/overall positive reaction that I’ve gotten for one of my projects.
Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns: The catharsis of turning the disappointment and pain in their lives into art and having a laugh about it.
John McCourt: Meeting and working with some amazingly talented people, and then quite often getting drunk with them. I came to this filmmaking lark a little later in life than most but the vast majority of the people I’ve met and worked with have been the most incredibly welcoming, helpful, supportive and unselfish folks I’ve ever been lucky enough to meet.
Zlatina Pacheva: Hearing that people connected with Dear Diary on an emotional level. The teenager trapped inside of me always gets warm and fuzzy hearing that other people struggled with the same things I did growing up. That’s the only reason I ever really have the impetus to make things anyways – to connect with people and relate to them emotionally.
What has been the biggest challenge and how have you handled it?
Zia Marashi: Schedules & Locations. Everyone filmmaker and actor are so busy in the Vancouver that its hard to schedule people to the same day and it is very difficult to find a location that will let you shoot there for free. This is the downside to the film boom in the city.
Edward Bull: The first three went pretty smoothly. The last one however, we were having a tough time finding actors willing to do it, due to the shocking content. While audiences and actors like the end result, convincing them to film it is another thing. I think more than a dozen actors passed on Shock Value 4. Which is fine by me, because the actor that did take the role, Dahlia Raphael Kerr, was exactly what I had in mind for the role.
Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns: Money. We’re poor. We make this series out of love, shoe strings and favours. Yes, it is challenging, but where’s there’s a will, there’s a way and you can expect more Budz down the pipeline.
John McCourt: Time. There’s never enough time. My cast and crew all volunteer their time and talent but we all have jobs and other projects that take their toll, especially on our time. And money: we have no money. Please give us money.
Zlatina Pacheva: Honestly, Dear Diary was one of the smoothest projects I’ve ever worked on. We had a small crew of people who knew exactly what they were doing. We shot season 1 in one day and our Cinematographer Ian MacDonald provided all the gear. We borrowed sound gear from a friend and just sat down for a few hours and shot it with a teleprompter. The signature pink lighting is thanks to the amazing Aly Berube.
The biggest challenge at this point is finding time to make Season 2!
How to Pick Up Women
What other web series do you enjoy as a viewer?
Zia Marashi: I am a big fan of Wainy Days, Half in the Bag, Gigabots, You Suck at Photoshop, Ozzyman Reviews… Web Series have definitely evolved its hard to say what a web series is anymore…
Edward Bull: I’m a big fan of Tim & Eric and the various shows they do. Seems like I go for comedy when it comes to watching a web series. With short-form episodes, comedy packs the most punch. To get someone to laugh, you need a few seconds. To get someone to cry, you need a little longer. I need a bit of time to get invested in a drama.
Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns: Whatever Linda, That’s My DJ, Bar Belle.
John McCourt: Does Alan Tudyk’s ConMan count? Because with the number of projects I have on the go at any one time I barely have time to go to my day job these days, sorry.
Zlatina Pacheva: From VanChan I love anything Bitchpop does, as well as Shock Value. I also really love Inconceivable – Joel Ashton McCarthy and his team are great at telling stories!
What are the three most important elements for an effective web series?
Zia Marashi: The three most important elements are: Good Sound. Charismatic Performances and a strong Social Media presences. In regards to the last one, the world is bombarded with shitty content all over the Internet that ‘the bar’ has been lowered significantly. Have you seen YouTube lately? We need more people to know about the quality of work there is out there.
Edward Bull: A lot of us who make web series’ don’t have the money or the resources to make something that can go against the mainstream competition. In order to stand out you have to get creative. Diversify yourself with a unique visual style, for example; Shock Value looks like a VHS tape. Make something high concept, you may only have a few seconds to engage your audience. If the concept is more engaging then you have a better chance at audience retention. TAKE RISKS, if it’s a bizarre idea that you aren’t sure of, shoot it anyway, there is enough room online for your risky shorts.
Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns: 1. Makes you laugh 2. Quick bite size goodness 3.Good writing/execution be that production through to performance.
John McCourt: What are the three most important elements for an effective web series? Not just for an effective web series, but for any dramatic art: story, emotion and, for me at least, humour.
Zlatina Pacheva: In my opinion (this may differ for others): 1) Short. 2) Simple. 3) Good sound (even if the picture quality isn’t 100%, good sound always goes a long way).
“Don’t become obsessed with perfect. Sometimes great is good enough. .”
What books and authors have been influential to your career so far?
Zia Marashi: J.R.R. Tolkien, Douglas Adams, John Swartzwelder, Chuck Palahniuk, Woody Allen, Masashi Kishimoto & Bryan Lee O’Malley.
Edward Bull: This one is going to be pretty obvious, but I read Rebel Without A Crew in 2008 and loved it. That book still sits on my shelf. Rodriguez is just the proof that you can make an awesome feature without a huge pool of resources.
Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns: All the power house ladies: Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Broad City Gals, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig. We pray at the altar of Jill Soloway and her entire empire.
John McCourt: My incredibly short career as a writer/filmmaker? The usual suspects, I suppose: Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Douglas Adams with both his H2G2 series and the Dirk Gently novels. Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels have certainly been an influence too, Cheradenine Zakalwe’s journey in particular being an important touchstone for me.
Zlatina Pacheva: Can I say Harry Potter? Those books have influenced everything I do…
But in all seriousness, I’ve learned a lot from reading Syd Field’s screenwriting books and absolutely love Directing Actors by Judith Weston. A cinematographer friend once lent me the book Master Shots which is a great resource as well!
What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned in your career to date?
Zia Marashi: Don’t become obsessed with perfect. Sometimes great is good enough. Also, personal relationships are more important than the art we devote our time too.
Edward Bull: Don’t stop making stuff. I direct and edit at least one short a week. Are they all amazing? No, but some are good. You never know. When I stop consistently making stuff, I’m in a rut and I stop for years. It sucks. Trust the ideas in your head and MAKE THEM!
Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Patience is a virtue. And have a life and other pursuits that bring you pleasure and happiness. We strive to be well rounded people who can talk to our partners about other stuff than our work over dinner.
John McCourt: Trust your instincts, but be able to justify them. And not just to yourself – as the three-hatted writer/producer/director of Arrivals, if something’s not immediately clear on the page or whatever, I need to be able to explain to cast and crew why such a thing is a thing in the first place. I’m sorry, that was incredibly vague, wasn’t it? Luckily they usually know what I mean. Usually.
Zlatina Pacheva: My career thus far has been quite short, but the main thing I’ve learned is to work with people you like on things you’re excited about. It’s easy to get caught up in want to be a part of everything, but sometimes you really need to prioritize and only say yes to things that give you butterflies of excitement (I guess filmmaking is a lot like dating in that respect).
What advice would you have for anyone who wants to create a web series?
Zia Marashi: Challenge yourself to be small & different. Use one location, one-two actors and make it as far away from your view of the world as possible. Don’t be afraid to be entertaining.
Edward Bull: Online tutorials about filmmaking won’t help you much, there is no quick way to get good except to go and do it. Get out there and film. Know cinematography. Know editing. Know it all and practice it.
Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns: Just do it.
John McCourt: Do it. Get it clear in your head what you want to do, what you want to say, find kindred spirits, and do it. Beg, borrow or steal what you need and do it.
Zlatina Pacheva: Just do it! Cliche, I know, but find some people who are interested in doing indie work (Vancouver is brimming with these types of humans), write your script, and you’re golden! Don’t be afraid that it may not be as good as things you’ve seen – you always have to start somewhere.
Where can we find out more about you and your project?
Zia Marashi: We are mostly hosted on vanchan.ca – we haven’t really expanded to social media yet.
Edward Bull: Every Tuesday we release a new short on our Youtube page: Barebone Pictures. Myself, Parker Thompson and Ryan Scramstad started a production company a few months ago and have made over twenty-five shorts since then, including Shock Value IV: The Quickening. We have a website: barebonepictures.com. Our Facebook page is: Barebone Pictures. Follow our twitter @BareboneTweets. Our bizarre shorts are on youtube, and as I mentioned, the channel is Barebone Pictures.
Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns: www.rachelcairns.ca /http://atyourfeet.show/ /http://momandme.show/ / http://yourbudz.com/ Facebook: @atyourfeetshow / @momandmeandeveryoneonline Instagram: @the.rachel.cairns @sarahhemp @momandme.series
John McCourt: You can follow me on Instagram at @ThatGuyMcCourt where I post various random pictures of what I’m working on. Arrivals itself has a Vimeo page and of course the ubiquitous Facebook page.
Thanks to Zia Marashi, Edward Bull, Sarah Hempinstall and Rachel Cairns, John McCourt, and Zlatina Pacheva for speaking with us!
Check out the next VanChan event on July 29th at TABU at The Waldorf in Vancouver. Doors are at 7PM. Screening begins at 8PM.
Tickets are $8 in advance on Eventbrite or $10 at the door or $ for Students (with Student ID).
Interested filmmakers are encouraged to enter VanChan through Film Freeway!