As series 3 of Redshirt Films’ labour-of-love splatterfest I Am Tim hoves into view, we asked creator/actor/nightmare sufferer Jamie McKeller about the past, present and future of his - and other - web series and his upcoming first feature film.
First up, you can watch the new episode below, then read how the filmmakers suffered and laughed and LOVED through several years of backyard gore and the occasional cracked rib and horse race.
What made you want to make the series?
There’s a weird emotion that I can’t think of the word for when you have a story or a character thrashing about inside your head, and you know that it isn’t going to shut up until you give it some kind of outlet. I toyed with the idea of writing a short story, comic or audiobook but the more I Am Tim evolved the more visual it became. A lot of the jokes in season one relied on seeing how inept and out of his depth Tim Helsing was. There’s something quite satisfying about seeing a large man inelegantly flying through the air or taking a paving slab to the head, something that would lose the punch in written word.
The idea was too grand for theatre, which is where I had spent the last ten years acting, writing and directing so I turned my focus to film. In 2010 it seemed quite unachievable to someone who had never worked behind the lens, the technology and accessibility that we have today was not there seven years ago. Fortunately I had collaborators with more knowledge and skill than I, who had actual degrees in film and TV and a willing cast who pooled various resources together to see us start shooting with the Canon XHA-1 and a microphone taped to a broom handle.
The decision to shoot the story as a web series was due to the structure and ease of platform. The idea of making a ninety minute film seemed ridiculous, but making a dozen eight minute episodes not so much. Less intimidating, I suppose.
Why has it taken so long to release season 3?
Outrageous. It’s hasn’t taken THAT long. We released season one episode one on May 10th 2012, and the last episode of season two came out on Dec 4 2013. That’s only 1155 days.
I guess it took so long because of ambition and exhaustion. Season one was mostly shot in our houses, cars or in single locations. Very much run and gun, shooting long takes with a huge amount of improvisation. We would dance around the words, then end the shot with a whip cut that we would likely stitch to a special effects shot. Average turnaround was a day of filming, maybe two or three days editing. Season two saw us jump to DSLRs, shooting on multiple cameras across a larger number of locations. Episodes took about 3-5 days to shoot, then a couple of weeks in edit.
Season three episode one has a horse chase in it.
With every season I wanted to learn how to shoot something new. A different style or challenge. Tim doesn’t have the biggest audience, although I think it has one of the best. Those that find it, love it and are incredibly passionate about the series which has sustained it over such a long time. For us as a team, we needed to get something more out of it than a video to upload to a very over populated platform.
Somewhere in the creation of season three I completely lost control of it. Too many cooks, too many voices telling us the scripts were great/bad/different. It lost the simple “average idiot battles evil” vibe that season one had, and I wanted to claw that back into it. I took the footage I had, and almost completely rewrote the season. There are episodes coming out created from four scripts, stapled together with new scenes that we shot to make it all work. I think that we scripted sixteen episodes and will be releasing eight.
This year you’re making a movie (the serial killer dark comedy The Book Club). Are you ready?
I am not. Well, I am. On paper. We’re shooting across Summer so it isn’t going to be a chaotic shoot compressed into two or three weeks, but spread pleasantly over twelve. A few years back myself, Stewart Sparke and Cal O’Connell stood in 1331 and vowed to make a film inside the next two years. Stewart did it (actually shooting in the office that I now occupy) and Cal has a fantastic script ready. I have a story and characters that I’m interested in exploring, and the script is coming along.
We’ve made the commitment to shooting our first feature independently, on our own time and rules just so we can study our successes and mistakes. The film will be heading into horror festivals around the world, and then we’ll see what it leads to from there. But I just have to get the first one done, like pulling a dirty plaster off a scabby elbow. Just get it done.
How has the web series industry boom changed since you started?
The internet has changed shape completely. It’s almost all contained within Facebook now and to get people to venture out of their “feeds” is becoming more and more difficult. YouTube is a spluttering hell hole filled with parody videos, tasteless pranks and Marvel fan films. For a filmmaker putting original work out online, it can be incredibly frustrating to see a teenager moaning about what happened in school today reach ten million people, when a lot of fantastic work sits undiscovered. But that’s the platform. YouTube is a great tool that owes not a thing to it’s users, but the audience that now populates it is very young and they want a certain kind of content.
Five years ago, a web series had a good chance of getting out there and seeing a strong response, evolving an audience along the way. Now we see series from industry people with ties to projects like Doctor Who or The Walking Dead and they struggle to break 10,000 views. Something that doesn’t have the weight of Maker Studios behind it will be drowned out which is such a shame. I make a point of looking for new shows, and if I find something I like I will engage with it as much as I can, reaching out to the creators to let them know that what they have put out there is good, has reached and affected me enough to make me let them know.
But it’s tough. The positive thing is that some of the people who do find your show will adore it and invest so much, which can completely recharge your batteries. When we attend conventions, we spend a lot of time explaining who we are and what we do. But one in every hundred people will know us, and tell us how much they love I Am Tim, Nights at the Round Table or The Away Mission. That’s normally when I don’t know what to say and turn a weird shade of pink.
Every web series creator hopes that their idea will be the one that breaks through the ceiling, and I’ve spoken to so many people who are disheartened by low viewing numbers and want to know why people haven’t found their show. But that’s the shape of it now. The internet is the loudest, fastest moving platform you can imagine. I could write ten thousand words on this! I think I almost have…
What I would say is if you’re making a web series, think about what you want from the project. What is the end goal? I’ve worked with people that like us, wanted to educate themselves. People go into it looking to strike up sponsorship or branding deals. Some just have that weird emotion I mentioned earlier, and HAVE to make the thing that is bouncing around in their heads and damn the view count.
We’re not even looking at the viewing figures for season three of I Am Tim. We’re incredibly proud of it, and the fact that we’re stood here at the end about to release such an ambitious project into the world with the resources that we had is nothing short of amazing. To have it all out there, finished but not perfect is the greatest result we can ask for at this stage and I will be forever grateful to every single person out there who gave a moment of their time to the project.
You can watch all of I Am Tim (so far) by clicking below.Redshirt Films YouTube Channel