I recently had the opportunity to interview Tom Melia, who’s the writer, director, and editor behind the web series “The Art Of Awkward Conversation” which is a mini-mini series celebrating the bizarre, insipid, or just plain painful chats in which we have all found ourselves as unwitting participants. You can watch episode 1 below, then read what Tom had to say about his team’s project in our interesting Q and A.
1. What’s the story behind you wanting to develop “The Art Of Awkward Conversation” into a web series?
Originally I wanted to make a series of sketches, each one with a different cast and location. My strongest suit writing-wise has always been dialogue, so I thought it was an interesting (or lazy) way for me to write conversations without having the added complication of story lines and characters arcs and all that pesky stuff. But after filming the first episode, I fell in love with the Paul & Claire characters and specifically what the actors did with them. So I scrapped the idea of making each episode as random sketches and made it more of a scattershot look at the lives of these two people. There still isn’t much in the way of story, but hopefully the situations become funnier the more you get to know the characters.
2. Who is involved with the series?
I write, direct and edit the series but the process is definitely collaborative. I run ideas past the two leads Jack and Charlotte and have used the same DOP and cameraman on all of them. Me taking on the majority of the work is more about ease then ego, everyone is giving up their precious time for free, so I try and take up as little of it as possible. I’m actually looking for a Producer to take some of the work off my hands and help me to grow the project (don’t all offer at once!).
3. What are your core goals for the series?
I started with the simple goal of doing something creative, meeting some like minded people and having a platform for my scripts. Now it’s grown into something more. I thought we might get a couple of hundred views for each one, as we don’t have sponsors or a marketing budget. But we’re up to about 40,000 views now, but suddenly that’s not good enough either, you always want more. My core goal is just to get more people to watch it. My pie in the sky goal is to get a production company or broadcaster interested in developing it.
4. What have been your biggest project challenges and struggles to date?
Budget and time, which I think is the same whether you’re making a web series or a Hollywood blockbuster, we never have enough money to get the locations we want, or pay people to give up their time on days when we need them. Before now I’ve had to write episodes, cast extra parts and find locations with only a couple of days to spare, because everyone’s suddenly free on a particular date.
5. How do you manage each episode’s project work flow?
This question already suggests a much more organized process then the one in place. I don’t manage it particularly well, which is why there isn’t more episodes. I have a day job, so I do what I can, sometimes I can edit in one (long) day, sometimes I have to do it in ten minute bursts here and there spread across weeks. Each episode is different. The latest episode for instance, The Dance Class, had 5 large parts that needed to be cast other than the Paul and Claire characters, that was a monster undertaking compared to say The Pub, where there was just one other person to find (and I wrote the part for him anyway!). I manage it as best I can – to do lists, bursts of productivity and an undercurrent of mild to middling panic.
6. Since releasing the series, what has been the biggest surprise?
People’s reactions, I’m not sure we’re an appointment to watch for anyone yet, but if you read the comments on YouTube, the people that find it seem to really like it. It’s very strange to hear lines you’ve written quoted back to you in comments. We had a letter from a writing teacher in Adelaide saying that he devoted a lesson to the series which was a lovely compliment. Other then that, I’ll never cease to be amazed by actors and crew who are willing to work for free if they like the material.
7. Where do you see the web series industry in 5 years from now?
I honestly think the web is the future of TV. I don’t know anyone who is watching in the same way we all did 5 years ago – where you make your cup of tea and sit down at 10pm on the dot and watch your favourite show adverts and all. Now it’s all catch up on demand, iPlayer, streaming or Netflix. More then that, I think people’s tolerance for boredom has shrunk. I can’t remember the last time I just stood at a bus stop and waited. There is so much entertainment at our fingertips now, why would you waste that 10 minute journey to work by not watching an episode of something. And if it’s funny and puts you in a good mood – even better. Plus, in the same way we had ‘watercooler TV’ where you discuss last nights episode of “The X-Files’ or whatever, you can now share a link and say “watch this – you’ll love it” and that’s addictive. America is really embracing the medium now, the UK just needs to catch up. After all, if David Fincher is making a series that can only be watched on a web based channel, then I think that’s a fair sign that this isn’t just a fad.
8. Do you have any tips for creating and producing a web series?
I’ve been asked this a few times, and I always feel eggy about dishing out advice. After all, we’re only on our 6th episode, and although we’re doing better then most fledgling series’ we’ve hardly gone viral. Having said that, the one thing I always react against is people who say “just go out and do it, grab your camera phone, grab a few friends and get out there!”. Technology does mean everyone has the capabilities and video submission channels means that everyone has the platform, but I think you should aim higher then that. Production value is always the difference between something looking amateurish or not, so try and get your hands on a good camera, try and light it well, your friends are probably terrible actors, reach out to people who aren’t.
9. Where can we watch your series?
We thank Tom for his insightful answers for web series creators/producers, filmmakers, screenwriters, directors, and actors to learn from! And wish him and his team all the best with The Art Of Awkward Conversation going forward.
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