Filmtrip and The Beat Hotel
Producer Gawain Morrison is a fan of crowdsourcing and some seriously sinister puppets
The world of adult puppet shows has really exploded in the last few years. Theatrical productions such as Avenue Q have found a mass audience, and television shows like BBC3’s Mongrels and MTV’s Fur TV have taken this traditionally child-centred medium and turned it on its head.
Adding to this list is Filmtrip and their latest concoction, The Beat Hotel. Set in a seedy, run down American hotel, the show charts the adventures of hippy landlady Sherri Martini and her tussles with Alvin Feinstein, a hotel inspector sent to try and shut her down.
Ahead of what is certain to be an arduous and hopefully rewarding promotional campaign, producer Gawain Morrison explains the origins of this decidedly un-Northern Irish production.
'A number of years ago, I was at a conference trying to think of new things to do with the music industry,' he explains. 'I was trying to come up with a multi-platform concept, and that was where the Beat Hotel was born.
'It started out with myself and three other folks: Anna McCaughtry, Dave Kinghan, and Brian Phillip Davis. We brainstormed and wrote, and then came up with the pilot and virals. Since then, we've spent the last six months building the online noise and community around that in peroration for the Kickstarter campaign.'
Filmptrip are utilising the services of New York based crowdsourcing website Kickstarter to get the project produced. Through an online pledge system, the public are invited to donate money to the production, with the enticement of certain rewards, depending on how much they donate.
'There's a movement towards finding new ways to raise money to do productions and art forms at the moment, and crowdsourcing is coming to the rescue for that.
'Kickstarter would be the pre-eminent site for posting projects, and it's really because it's an “all or nothing” concept. If you don't reach the target you set, there's no financial transaction whatsoever.
'There will be a number of different donation amounts people can pledge, and for the different amounts, there's different rewards.
'Myself and one of the other guys that own Filmtrip have been making electronic music since 1997. We've just finished an album, and we're giving it away for free as part of the rewards. For $5 you get three tracks, for $10 you get six, and for $15 you get the whole album. It's a 30 day campaign running from October 3'.
It’s a potentially lucrative but nerve-wracking process, and there’s always the chance that Filmtrip could walk away with nothing. Despite the dangers, Morrison remains buoyant about their prospects, and clearly identifies crowdsourcing strategies as the way forward.
'Outside of just finance, this is what crowdsourcing should be. You're creating an audience, and they can, with all the tools out there, be part of what you're doing, and bring a lot to it.
'The intention and format of the show is that we'll have our own show and our own characters, but woven through the episode, we want people who've created their own puppets or animation to be part of the show, operating as a platform to get the stuff out. We want no humans on screen!'
It all stands as an interesting proposition, where the road to financing could almost be seen as an art project in itself (there are opportunities to create your own mash-ups of footage from the programme, as well as the chance to be turned into a puppet which will appear in the show).
If successful, it points towards a future where production companies can avoid the traditional methods of funding –as well as editorial interference from outside sources. This is something Filmtrip are keen to do.
'We were in the process of pitching to a number of different broadcasters at the time [when other adult puppet shows were first gaining prominence] and we were getting the door closed in our face.
'Not from lack of quality – we were outshining most other productions, and in terms of its uniqueness, we were getting a big thumbs up – but we were getting told that the market was saturated with all this puppet stuff!
'At the same time, we were being told that it was fantastic. We've never had a bad word said about it. We pitched it to LA, to the UK, and the single comment that kept coming back was, "I don't know what slot to put this in!"
'Naturally, this lead us to think that we knew it would have an audience, and that we should just go online. It wouldn't have to have a timeslot, and we wouldn't have to go through commissioning editor discussions. It's been a frustrating experience, but also a gratifying one. We know we're on the money, let's just keep on trucking.'
The pilot episode of The Beat Hotel confirms these assertions. Sinister, unsettling, and hilarious, the high production values and scope are evident from the seven minute long short film.
Occupying a unfamiliar netherworld between childhood memories of Jim Henson’s Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, whilst dealing with very adult situations, the show succeeds by subverting our expectations, and throwing in plenty of twists and turns to keep us guessing.
'I would cook dinner and invite the others to spend the evening,' explains Morrison of the creative process. 'They'd be broken by the end of it as I bombarded them with, "What about this, what about that?" They'd be holding their heads in their hands and wanting to go home!
'I've got a big bugbear about a lot of productions that come from Northern Ireland that are very Northern Ireland-centric. A lot of that has to do with opportunities here, the safeness of broadcast here, and the same old guard.
'We wanted our characters to come from different parts of the world. Some of it's just stereotypes, but it's very easy to craft a character from that. We kind of just pointed at a map and said, "Who would come from there?" Then we'd invent back story, what music would they like…'
Whilst the pilot only hints at the possibilities offered by The Beat Hotel, Filmtrip are thinking big, hoping to develop the concept into something that works as a cross between social networking site, art gallery, interactive production site, and bawdy puppet show.
It’s an unusual concept, to say the least, but one that appears to have already started capturing attention, and points the way forward for web based entertainment shows.
With its innovative funding plan, and opportunities to get involved, there’s every likelihood that The Beat Hotel will find the audience it so dearly deserves.
'In the present climate and gloom, people are playing it safer and safer, and no one wants to be the one that rocks the boat. I think the era of the web series, even though it's already started to find its own place, is about to shift into another gear.'
And as for the residents of the Beat Hotel, who knows what the future might hold for them. In a sense, that all depends on you.
'I got an email back from a UK Comedy Central commissioner, and he said, "It's a little bit grubby. If you could maybe gloss it up a bit for an American audience, we’d be interested, but maybe you guys in the UK prefer it grubby?" I think online is where we were going to have to end up, no matter what!'
The Beat Hotel's Kickstarter campaign goes live on October 3. Go to the Kickstarter website to support them.