Melbourne Web Fest

Over the first weekend in July I went to Melbourne Web Fest. It’s a festival dedicated to all things online video that’s been running now for four years. There were screenings of episodes from 55 web series, professional development workshops for content creators (and aspiring ones like yours truly), a pitching competition, panels on funding and a fantastic keynote speech from John Cabrera (formerly of the cast of Gilmore Girls and creator of the web series H+). Oh yeah, and awards. Can’t have a film festival without awards right?

That was the festival on paper. And it was fantastic from start to finish. But there was an even better festival than what was written in the official program. At that festival I met a heap of fantastic people, had some great conversations about film, web series, VR and just a lot of other random stuff besides. There were some very late nights and yet people were still there in the morning for the start of the next screening block.

Everyone was great. I’ve been to similar events and I have found that once the person you’re talking to finds out that I’m either not involved in things or only aspiring to making stuff their eyes start to glaze. In other words, once they’ve determined that you’re not a connection that they can use to further their own profile or projects they’re done with you.

Not so here. Everyone was amazingly unaffected and welcoming and eager to engage. Who you were didn’t matter. One of the first questions I was asked was always “Do you have a series in the festival?” But there was no one looking for the door when the answer was no.

Perhaps it’s because of the medium. I mean web series are amazing, but they’re not the most glamourous end of the entertainment business. But I think it’s more than that. It’s the notion of community.

John Cabrera summed it up in his keynote speech. He talked about the relative value of content. In and of itself content is worth very little. What matters is the community you build. I think on this the people organising and attending Melbourne Web Fest are well ahead. I am glad to be but a small part of that community, and the festival reaffirmed my desire to contribute to it concretely. As Dog is my witness, I will have a series to submit for consideration for next year’s festival. I have my doubts as to whether what I create will make the official selection, but that’s beside the point.

Speaking of the official selection, the quality was amazingly high. I attended the first festival in 2013, and there were plenty of series in that year’s selection with below average production values and sound. Not so this time around. The humble web series has come a long way. Some of my personal favourites/highlights:

AFK – A NZ series about players of an MMORPG who find themselves inside the world of the game trying to survive (and in some cases cope with being gender swapped). High quality and done on an absolute shoestring, I will definitely be checking out all 12 episodes available thus far (once we get some decent internet at our place, though that’s another matter).

Dafuq? – Aussie comedy presented as a mock newscast by three young hipsters. Commissioned by the ABC and available on iView.

Der Lack ist Ab (The Glory is Gone) – German comedy about a married couple whose marriage and family life have lost their shine. Crisp dialogue, perfectly executed by a great cast that got some of the biggest laughs of anything at any of the screenings. Won Best International Comedy. Unfortunately the link I put up is to the YouTube channel. You can get to the website where the episodes are from there, but there don’t appear to be any subtitles on episodes that are publicly available.

Greenfield – Aussie drama set in country WA. Artistically shot and directed, it pulls no punches. Only the second episode was screened, and in case you are planning on checking it out I should mention that that episode at least should come with a trigger warning for rape. It won Best Australian Drama.

Il Sonnambulo – A dark US series about a photographer famous for his shots of the victims of a serial killer. The killer calls him after each kill to tell him where to find them. Not an easy series to watch I’m sure, but one I am intrigued to know more about.

Ren: The Girl with the Mark – This UK series won the Grand Jury Prize for the whole festival. Fantasy series with incredibly high production values on a meagre budget. From what I’ve seen so far there also seems to have been some impressive world building that’s gone into this.

The Justice Lease: Dorm of Justice – Aussie series that sees Superman, Batman, Aquaman and The Hulk (yeah, I know he’s Marvel, but trust me it works) sharing a house together. Lots of comedy, particularly as each of the heroes complain about how they’re being depicted by Hollywood in the movies. This won Crowd Favourite and Best Director.

The Shapes – Aussie animation. Film clips from a band made up of shapes. As funny as it sounds. Funnier than it sounds if you are confused by my description.

The Wizards of Aus – Jack the wizard decides to migrate from his fantasy realm to Melbourne. This does not appear to go well, and the results are pretty funny. This one won a couple of technical awards (and indeed, the VFX quality is incredible) as well as Best Supporting Actor for Mark Bonanno who is hilariously over the top as Jack’s wizardly nemesis.

Zozo “The Fugitive of The Space” – French animation about a little alien on the run in space, battling his way through. Think somewhere between Futurama and Happy Tree Friends and you’re probably in the ballpark.

This is not to say that there were no other series worthy of attention. There are close to 20 more on my list that I will check out further and there were none that seemed lucky to be there. But the 10 mentioned above for various reasons stood out to me.

Other highlights of the festival included a pitching competition where finalists got two minutes to convince a panel of judges and the crowd that theirs was the best idea for a web series going around. I did submit three entries but alas failed to secure a berth. There was a real mix of interesting ideas that ranged from the sounds-good-but-I’ve-seen-something-similar-on-TV to That-is-batshit-insane-but-awesome and all points in between. Apart from being thoroughly entertaining, the most satisfying part was the fact that the eventual winner wasn’t a film school grad with a network of friends who could probably find a way to start making their series tomorrow. It was a mum of three who was new to the game and armed with a good idea and a target audience.

And that’s fantastic considering the prize: Cash to go towards a trip to Marseille to attend their web series festival and participate in a week long writing residency in order to hone the pitch and bring it back to Australia to pitch to ABC iView.

Which brings me to another thing that came up at the festival, the fact that funding bodies and the like are beginning to take the medium of web series more seriously. ABC are looking to commission web series for iView in an attempt to create content for the 18-35s. Screen Australia now has a couple of initiatives relating to web content. Yes, it is still hard to turn a profit from this type of thing, but at least there is more and more opportunity to make these things on something other than friends, favours and free food. I may never reach this level, but the fact that there are people out there looking to fund this kind of content gives me hope.

There are plenty of other things I could talk about from those amazing three days. I haven’t touched on the workshops from the professional development day or the amount of discussions I got into about how VR could/couldn’t would/wouldn’t be a thing, but I think that’s the best place to leave it, on the idea that the humble web series is growing up, and that there is hope for filmmakers to do something amazing with it as it does.

Project Updates

In the first blog I mentioned four projects that I was tinkering with in some form or other. Here are some specific updates on each:

Audiobook Recordings of Devin Madson’s Two (Soon to Be Three) Novels.

This one is all about the homework. I’ve done a lot of research and prep on the technical side, learning the little things to try and get the best raw recording and to edit it to standard. While I’m not a complete novice at this sort of thing, I’ve found some handy advice out there on the internet from a number of sources, particularly on editing the finished product for the best quality for a listener.

I’ve also done some homework on the performance side of things. While I am an actor and performer there are subtle differences between the way you use your voice when acting for stage or camera, when doing voiceover work or voice acting, and when narrating an audiobook. Audiobooks sit somewhere in the middle. It’s not quite acting and it’s not quite public speaking. It’s a little of both.

Then there’s the homework on the books themselves. I read The Blood of Whisperers over two years ago now and am currently re-reading it, making notes and developing character voices. This is obviously the most crucial of all the prep work, but also the most fun. The book has three first person narrators (unusual I know, but trust me it works) and the major and supporting cast probably brings the total of unique voices up to something like twenty. It’s quite a challenge, especially the need to transition smoothly from voice to voice, but I’m hoping the preparation will pay off in the long run.

Lastly, I’m taking advantage of some shifting around we’ve been doing at home. My son is now seven months old, and while that’s still a bit young to be in his own room, we decided to shift things around and set up his room anyway. Since it’s free, I have about three or four months to exploit it as a recording room where I can leave everything ready to go at the drop of a hat. It should save a bucket of time as well as keeping the recording sessions more consistent.

I think I’ll be ready to start recording in about three weeks. I’m really looking forward to it.

Military Horror Novel Based Around Roman Legionaries

This is something I’ve been developing from a short story I did a couple of years ago. I’m still working on expanding my ideas and the scope of the world. I’ve continued to add to my notes, particularly thinking about the characters in more depth now that they’re playing on the bigger stage of a novel.

I’ve also been interested in looking at how other authors have tackled stories set in the same period. To that end I’ve been using my commute to listen to a bunch of audio books (from Simon Scarrow and Conn Iggulden) that are set in roughly the same period of Roman history as mine. While their books are more historical/military/adventure type books and mine is a military horror, immersing myself in the atmosphere of that world (or at least the two authors’ interpretations) does help keep my thinking on track. There is also the added benefit of the little bits of historical detail that you pick up on the way.

Right now the plan is to let this one gestate a little bit, but I wouldn’t mind starting some writing towards year’s end.

Fictional Podcast

Like many, I have thoroughly enjoyed Welcome to Night Vale (as well as Alice Isn’t Dead, a new podcast from some of the same creative team). So a while back Devin and I began to throw around ideas for one of our own, this one in more of a space opera vein.

However we haven’t gotten too far down the track with this one, and with Devin finishing the final major edit of her third novel, it’ll be on the backburner for a while. But hey, four projects on the go is almost certainly one too many, and something had to give.

Comedy Web Series

I’ve been doing a little writing on this one in recent months, but not as much as I’d like. I’ve partly been stymied by the restriction factor again. I want to keep this down to the fewest possible number of people required to make it work, but some of the episodes I’ve been writing have been calling for a larger cast and more locations and complications than I want to try and manage at this early stage.

So, I’ve decided to use restriction to my advantage and also set myself a challenge. Two cast members only, the simplest possible version of things (even simpler given that I will play both characters). Get moving, get making and get creative. There’ll be a phase two where I try and tell bigger stories, but right now I want to be doing what I can rather than wasting time trying to manage the logistics of something bigger. I had in mind four episode “types” when I developed this idea originally. This reduced version still allows me to do three of them. I think the trade-off is worth it to have something done this year rather than next. Or never.

And the challenge? Starting Friday next week I’m going to write ten episodes in ten days applying this new plan of a minimalist approach. This is in part informed by a workshop I did at Melbourne Web Fest run by Kylie Eddy from Lean Filmmaking on the idea of…well, lean filmmaking.

The episodes I will write don’t have to be perfect. They don’t all have to be ready to shoot. They don’t have to be anything more than raw, first draft level stuff. They just need to be done. That’s the challenge. I’ll report back in a few weeks to let you know how things go.


Bless me Internet for I have sinned. It has been over three months since my last confession. When last I came before you I confessed to a desire to make more time in my life for my creative projects. It would seem that now is as good a time as any to check in.

So how’s progress?

Honestly, not amazing. But there are positives.

I have struggled to find the time to really work at things. I will admit that some of that is my own personal blocks which I have fought against and probably always will. And family life, a newborn and teacher homework (trust me, we have more than the kids) are still there.

On the other hand, those things aren’t going anywhere, so I can’t give myself the excuse.

What I would like to discuss are the positives. Because when you’re trying to achieve momentum from a stationary start, any forward movement is still something.

Positive number 1: My Commute

I mentioned in my previous post that I now spend about three hours a day behind the wheel going to and from work. That’s a restriction on my time but I’ve said I want to use restriction as fuel, not as excuse. I’ve hunted down podcasts and audiobooks that are relevant to my various projects (more on this in another post). More than that, I’ve used the space and time to think, mulling over ideas and problems as I’ve driven (while still maintaining a vigilant watch for suicidal kangaroos). By the time I’ve reached the other end of the journey, I’ve often had more than a few notes to scribble down.

Positive number 2: Feeding My Muse

No one creates in a bubble. We need stimulation in the form of viewing the creative work of others and engaging in dialogue with them (literal and metaphorical). Luck has been with me and I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity.

My partner, an independent author, attended Continuum (Melbourne speculative fiction convention) to speak on panels, meet other authors and sell some books in the dealers’ room. I came along as general support crew for the books and bub, but also took advantage of the opportunity to speak on a few of panels (of the fan discussion variety, but I was still plenty nervous about whether or not I had anything worthwhile to say) and met a great bunch of writers and fans of all things fantasy, sci-fi and geeky.

I also went to Melbourne Web Fest, a festival dedicated to the web series. This was incredible (so much so that I will be posting a separate blog about it)

Finally, this year I decided to be an assessor of the VCE Theatre Studies exam. Since students can write on any two of ten approved plays, it’s necessary for an assessor to see them all. So far I’ve been to six and they have also been amazing and stimulating experiences.

So on the whole that’s been a pretty incredible few months. Certainly a wider variety of creative experiences than I’ve had for some years. And it’s been really good for cementing my desire to flex my creative muscles again. Now comes the next bit. Actually getting stuff done. I have a particular challenge for myself in mind. More on this soon, along with some specific updates on the various projects I talked about in my last blog.