There is nothing better than observational comedy, especially when done well. Official selection series Other People’s Children (USA), The Circle (AUS), and Small Talk (CAN) have this genre down-pat when it comes to seeing ordinary life played out through a looking glass.
Brad Riddell and Anna Maria Hozian, creators of Other People’s Children are both screenwriting professors at DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts in Chicago, and parents with young children in a suburban school district.
Riddell has written four Hollywood studio films, and Hozian has been recognised by a number of prominent contests and fellowships, including Meryl Streep’s Women in Film and Television Writer’s Lab.
The pair say that through their experience they couldn’t help but observe how children bring out qualities in people, especially when it comes to their education. “Parent – teacher conferences seemed like the perfect little window into all of that craziness,” they say.
The creators both acknowledge the benefits from a web-series platform, “we wanted to discuss big issues in a small, controlled venue, and the web series format allowed for that.
We are currently developing a half-hour pilot for the show that expands both the world and the character, but as a proof of concept, a web series was the perfect starting point.”
Each series maintain authenticity through shooting location and set, which has seen a big part of the visions come to life.
Lots of us are repelled immensely from the very thought of returning for a reunion at a school, let alone shooting a web-series there. The creators Other People’s Children felt entirely opposite to this.
“We had a very hard time securing an elementary school, but once we did, it was a blast. We shot during Thanksgiving and Christmas break, so it felt like going back to school for our cast and crew.
We ate in the lunchroom, played basketball in the gym, sat at tiny desks and on tiny toilets – it was a lot of fun. Using a real classroom was essential to the look and feel of the show,” they say.
Felix Williamson, writer, producer and actor of The Circle, was inspired by the real-life experience of his sister moving to the sunny coast of Queensland for the series.
“I was interested in the dynamic of moving to a small coastal town, a satellite city and making it your home. Noosa is physically idyllic but the demographic is much older. I have so many relatives in Noosa, I thought it would be an interesting place to explore.”
Filming in Noosa may sound like it could lend itself to all manners of unpredictable delays, however, Williamson says the weather was bestowed by the web series gods.
“Strangely enough it was the most perfect weather, the council was lovely, the people excellent and we got everything except one quarter page shot. Crazy. I put that down to the web series gods, Hamish and the cast and crew being such pros.”
Williamson says that the theme of the show is fairly gentle along the path of diversity and tolerance, harboring the simple message “home is where you make it.”
“I hope it makes [the audience] laugh, and they see themselves and friends in the characters. Also, I want them to recognise the real Noosa,” Williamson says.
Director of Small Talk, Nolan Sarner, and co-creator/host of the series, Dave Keystone say that the show’s inspiration came from that of an 11-year-old boy.
Keystone met a small camper when he worked at a summer camp in Northern Ontario, Canada.
“He would sit at his lunch table every day where they spent a fair amount of time talking about life, the world, and their various feelings on these subjects. This 11-year-old had opinions and thoughts that were insightful, funny and thought-provoking well beyond his years.”
When asked if the themes or messages were important the co-creators replied with a resounding – very, it’s very important.
“This series is all about connecting to themes and messages that people can relate to on a personal and emotional level. The show doesn’t try to take a stance on any subject, we listen to the kids and craft each episode to ensure we accurately portray their thoughts,” they say.
You might think working with kids on set would be more challenging, not for the Small Talk crew.
In casting, their checklist covered ensuring kids were a good fit for the show, that they could handle being on set, and focus on a conversation with a lot of people around.
“We’ve found that kids on set tend to lighten people up, which rubs off on the crew. Our sets end up with good positive energy!”
Catch these endearing series and more at Melbourne WebFest 2018.