Choosing the format of a web series means being able to write the story that you want to tell.
That’s why when we say that these are drama series, that has a somewhat loose meaning. We look at four Official Selections series all nominated for Best Drama: Jade of Death (AUS), Ink (FRA), Random (FRA) and Patricia Moore (AUS).
Jade of Death, written and directed by Erin Good, follows a protagonist who has the ability to hear when and how people are going to die. Jade begins working in a freak show carnival, calling herself the “Fortune Teller of Death”.
Using supernatural themes inherently means creating a world somewhat removed from our own, and there are many ways to do that.
“The costumes were a really fun way to build on the tone of the world and characters. Because the series is predominantly set at a carnival in a heightened story world it was licence to do interesting things with costume,” says Erin.
Costume also helps develop tone, though there are several other elements that also go into building an atmosphere.
“Obviously I want the audience to feel the emotional rollercoaster that Jade feels throughout season 1 but in terms something specific overall – every day of shoot I wrote ‘sexy, scary, funny’ on the top of my script as reminder to myself that every scene needed to be at least one of those things.”
“Because this was a low budget production I knew I had to find clever ways to build the tone of the world and from very early on I knew that there were two key ways I could achieve that in a cost-efficient way. Firstly through the tone of the characters and secondly through the music.”
Ink director, co-writer, editor, and co-producer Laurent King, also wanted to use the tone of the characters, and therefore the actors, to create an atmosphere.
“We had plenty of time, and very little money. So we had to find patient, dedicated and passionate people to be the characters.”
Ink is about an ex para-trooper turned teamster, a small business owner deep in debt, and a tormented ER surgeon who all lose control under the influence of a designer drug.
When creating Ink, King just wanted to make an entertaining series.
“We’re not trying to change the face of the planet with a message, we just want to make quality entertainment, the kind we would like to watch ourselves, for digital platforms,” he says.
King believes that this kind of philosophy could serve as a message to young filmmakers.
“In this day and age, ANYTHING is possible, if you put your heart into it. We shot the series on photo cameras you can buy on Amazon that fit in my shirt pocket. If you have a story to tell, nothing can stop you from making it happen and putting it out there.”
He credits the changing and evolving digital world for giving him the freedom to create the series that he wanted.
“I had long been a proponent of mobile series, and now that YouTube and such services allowed people to binge watch video content from anywhere (phone, tablet, TV…), we decided the time was now. Screw feature films, series were where it was at!”
For similar reasons, scriptwriter and director of Random, Sullivan Le Corvic, chose to create a web series.
“The freedom of the format and the possibilities we had with the genre. It is an exceptional chance to do what we want and to explore the ‘drama-sci-fi’ which is quite rare in France,” says Le Corvic.
He says that his favourite part of the series is “the evolution of our characters who have to deal with an unexplainable phenomenon and their doubles, their own reflection. Their life was shattered and to survive or to go back to their reality they have to understand what’s going on and fight their own weaknesses.”
Through the unnatural phenomenon in Random, Le Corvic attempts to highlight the humanity in his characters and the realistic way they would make tough decisions.
“We wanted to keep the real aspect of the normal world, we wanted our characters to have emotions or make decisions that we, as human beings, can make too. And the real-life elements give profoundness to the story that the characters are living.”
It is this tension between the real and fantasy that exaggerate both, and add to the whole mystery of the series.
“We loved the mysteries of Lost or Fringe, but we didn’t want to put fantastic elements without resolution. Nothing is gratuitous, we know where we are going and this mystery is a big part, THE big part, of our story!” says Le Corvic .
Patricia Moore, directed by Blake Fraser and produced by Chris Thompson, attempts to focus on something simple, family, but in a completely different way.
The story is about Patricia Moore, a beautiful teenage girl, as she lures young men to feed her cannibal family as they hide in the Australian outback. After a mishap with their food supply, the family seek refuge in a lakeside town.
“While I was working away on another project the character of Patricia snuck its way into my mind and the more I thought about the dynamics of a normal family left with this horrific need enticed me,” says Blake.
Camera techniques can add to tone as well as anything. In Patricia Moore, there are many close ups, many shots of single people who have their backs to others to create a feeling of isolation or unease.
“This family dilemma that made these characters become tragic victims of circumstance forcing them to commit atrocities to keep them alive and together,” says Blake.
Having the family live in a bus allows for varied settings, but also comes with a unique set of challenges to face.
“We were still fitting the bus out while it was on set as a hero prop and were always having to take into consideration what stage the bus would be at when creating our schedules. Not to mention it is a massive school bus that we had to drive all around NSW,” says Chris.
Drama is usually a very stringent genre. Popular shows on television follow a strict formula that can often be picked up by the audience even if they aren’t necessarily trying to look for it.
The freedom that the web has provided to these series has allowed them to break out of this mould, and while they may have some similar elements, they each end up as their own product.
But why not check them out for yourself at Melbourne WebFest 2018?