UK Web Series Corner: Interview with Chloe Seddon and Phillip Whiteman, Writers of the Brilliant UK Web Series: The Vessel

thevessel2British web series The Vessel, captures the hilarity, awkwardness, confusion and joy of what happens when you ask your best friend to be your surrogate.

Rory and Mike are a gay couple ready to have a family, and they ask their best friend Kim to help them out. This may sound like a familiar TV show set up (I’m happy to say – go 2012), but with the expertly dry British wit of the show, the fact that all the characters speak directly to the camera, (Kim, the surrogate is the camera), and the choice to move through all nine months in ten short episodes, The Vessel tackles this modern fairy tale in a very different way than The New Normal, and perhaps one you’ll prefer

I spoke with producer/writer Chloe Seddon and producer/writer/co-star Phillip Whiteman about writing and producing the show as well as what the web series world is like across the pond.

What is the web series scene like in the UK? 

There is small group of Independent creators over here mainly brought together by Elisar Cabrera at britishwebseries.com.  Before that there were only a few that we were aware of. Of course the high profile series from people like Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais and David Mitchell get a lot of coverage, but my feeling is they don’t get the coverage that you’d get in the States, which is probably why David Mitchell chose Blip as a platform.  Blip is only just setting up over here so it hasn’t really caught the people’s attention yet but within the small UK web series network we are aware of it and its potentials.

I would say that there are currently fewer web platforms for UK online content compared to the US and Netflix is still a fairly new service over here. As such, I think the UK isn’t viewing content online as much as the US. TV is still going strong over here – there is some criticism about risk taking and budget cuts  effecting comedy/drama output – but on the whole viewers are contented. Creatives though are starting to make the most of online and webseries are becoming more prolific. But British web series are not necessarily seeking a UK audience – this is the beauty of the web! I think as awareness of online possibilities increases though, the UK audience will follow, as will major producers and actors.

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Where did your idea for the story of The Vessel come from and why did you decide to make it a web series instead of a short film or a TV pilot?

The first time I heard of a web series was a couple of years back when a friend told me to watch SHAKABOOT, which is a brilliant Lebanese series. It sparked ideas in my head as to the potential for feature film ideas to be broken up in to episodes executed with a low budget but building a very loyal audience. It seemed perfect, as you have an easy, free distribution platform. I have always had a creative impulse and so ideas were always floating around.

Where did your idea for The Vessel come from and why did you decide to make it a web series instead of a short film or a TV pilot?

Then Giovanni and I were asked to improvise an audition (around any subject/scenario) for an E-casting for a film in the States. We were messing around, but nothing really stuck until we broke the rules and did a two shot, but also used the camera as a character. We chose the scenario of a gay couple asking their best friend to be the surrogate. This idea was inspired by a gay friend of mine debating with me about whether he should donate his sperm to his lesbian best friends. It just seems like an emotionally complex situation (potentially) which we were keen to explore.

How did you go about writing the series and choosing which events of this story to make into episodes?

We thought about the journey of the surrogate and what she would be going through during this period. How would she tell her parents? How would it effect her dating relationships if the gay couple became more and more protective and controlling.  Of course there is a huge amount of comedy potential in certain situations but really it’s quite emotional and hopefully as the series develops you get a real sense of the difficulties and attachments of being a surrogate.

Once we’d divided up the most dramatic or comedic scenarios we thought it best to present them as snapshots, but (from the e-casting) we already had the idea to shoot each episode as a single continuous take.  To keep the ball up in the air in one take, we chose to improvise the dialogue, so a predetermined structure and relationship history was decided and we let the actors play!

Are there any web series in England or abroad that you like or inspired you?

Aside from the previously mentioned Shankaboot,  Bunnyhug. WEB THERAPY is a great idea and very well executed. And Blood and Bone China is an excellent British series!

What is the origin of the term “Peep Show style” that you use to explain using the camera as a person?

Peep Show is a UK sitcom and one of the elements they use is a POV of the character in which the audience hears what they’re really thinking. It’s very funny and I think they’re onto the 8th season. We say Peep Show as a comparable for people to relate to as it’s POV, although you don’t hear the characters thoughts you do see and hear her reactions. We want the audience to be placed in her shoes and experience the journey of surrogacy through her eyes. Maybe we’ve coined a new “TV” term.

Could you explain to my US audience what the Raindance Festival is?

raindance-logoRaindance Film Festival is Europe’s leading independent film festival. Started in 1993 and celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2012. Raindance is listed by Variety as one of the world’s top 50 ‘unmissable film festivals’. Elliot Grove (founder of Raindance) is a pioneer of Independent Film and is BRILLIANT at imparting information (and choosing workshop practitioners) and giving you the courage to go out there and make it happen.

I think last year they held the first UK web series competition and possibly still the only one. They set it up to encourage and educate people into the world of web series, as creators aren’t anywhere near as prolific as across the pond. At the competition we were all a bit unsure of what to expect, but having people like Susan Miller (Anyone But Me series creator) made it very exciting. It spurred us into action to make the pilot and now we’re knee deep and feel we’re at the forefront of something in the UK.

What has it been like promoting the show and building an audience?

It takes up a lot of time and hard work and is an on going process. I had no idea what I was doing but with sound advice from a couple of PR friends I am slowly learning how to become online PR “specialist”. It really is exhausting and can be a little demoralising as you knock knock knock to no response, but your project keeps you going. The journalists over here are nosing around but aren’t quite sure how to cover it.  It really is having the patience to let your audience build, after all it’s on the web so people can access it anytime. I now only check our stats once a day and soon it will hopefully be once a week. It’s easy to become obsessed and keep asking why stats aren’t growing faster. If you produce, it they will view!!!

Are you planning any future projects?

Yes! A couple of films are in development. We’re also thinking about ideas for new web series and you never know may be even a Season 2 of The Vessel!

Visit www.TheVesselSeries.com to see all released episodes. I highly recommend it.

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