How did your background as a playwright influence the writing?
Short ‘webisodes’ are obviously very different from stageplays, but they both rely on good plotting, dialogue and structure. When I write a play I make sure I know my characters and I have a sense of structure before I even start writing – I did the same for Wimpole Street.
What web series do you like/what influenced you in the making of the show?
My friend Philip Whiteman made the series The Vessel. I loved the show, and he really inspired me to make a series of my own. He was so passionate about the web world – it was infectious.
How did you get such gorgeous costumes and set design?
My co-producer Rhiannon, who is also an actress, was in a play at the National Theatre (London) when we first started rehearsing and told me that the National also rented out old costumes. Every costume you see was once on the National theatre stage! Liz Evans, our costume supervisor, helped to choose the costumes, and our brilliant costume designer Emily Barratt made some other bits and pieces, and also designed everyone’s hair. Frances White, our production designer, really researched 1870 London and thought about every detail – from the Aspidistra in the background to the Victorian copper pots.
Catherine Skinner and Sam Wilkin as Gertrude and Matthew in Wimpole Street
What was it like acting in the piece as Daisy? How did you get the right accent down?
It was so much fun playing Daisy, she’s so sweetly clueless – so inept, and yet so sure she knows what she’s doing. It was just fun. I didn’t want her accent to be too broad- just enough to suggest that she worked below stairs – a mild cockney.
Would you consider this a full comedy or a comedy/mystery? What influenced the tone and how would you describe it?
I see it predominately as a comedy -with a bit of mystery in the plot. I loved the British version of ‘The Office’ – what impressed me was the subtlety of the comedy – the way the characters gave themselves away without knowing it. I think Wimpole’s tone is softer and less acerbic, but hopefully that subtlety and nuance is still there.
When directing the piece, how did you get all your actors on the same page tonally? Did you use Downton Abbey as a touchstone or other comedies or dramas?
We rehearsed before the shoot days so everyone could meet each other and get on the same page. We certainly discussed Downton as a great point of reference for character research – also Downton’s precursors – the British tv show ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ and the film ‘Gosford Park’.
Writer/Director Caitlin Shannon and Rhiannon Oliver as Daisy and Clarabel
Would you say this a parody or homage to Downton Abbey at all?
I am certainly a Downton Abbey fan, and I’m sure in some ways the show influenced me in writing Wimpole. I love seeing the whole life of a household from the bottom to the top. So, in that way I would say it’s an omage. It takes place about forty years before Downton starts but that’s because I love Victoriana!
Any funny stories stand out from shooting/what happens when you’re on a shoestring budget?
We didn’t have the budget to shoot on a soundstage or in a Victorian museum (as we initially wanted to do ) We shot in a regular London home, – if the frame had been any wider you would have seen a tv and shelves full of CDs. The craziest thing to happen was that the doorbell rang on cue in Ep 2 . Our sound mixer was going to create a doorbell sound in post, but when we came to shoot the moment, the bell actually rang. It was a neighbour returning a set of keys to the homeowners. It was bonkers – that’s when you think there really are movie gods. The dog you see at the end of Ep 3 is there because the homeowners were dog sitting – I thought he made a great Victorian character.
How are web series regarded in England? Big following? People have never heard of them? People watch some?
I think there is a growing audience for web series in the UK. Granted there are still people who don’t know what a web series is, but I think all that will change in the next few years- it’s certainly a growing crowd. And now we have our own web series festival as part of the Raindance film fest in London.
What has been hardest/most surprising about promoting the show: festivals/where to distribute etc.?
I think most web creators will say that growing your audience is the biggest challenge, and I’m certainly no different. It’s been brilliant to see that word of mouth, and on line reviews have helped our audience to grow, but we’ve also had to put in consistent hard work on all social media platforms – it’s so true that when the edit is finished the work has barely begun! On the plus side, I had no idea that the world of web festivals existed when I started making the show. It’s been so fun going to festivals and connecting with other web creators. That was truly a lovely surprise, and a great way to learn from other creators and share ideas.
If you enjoyed this interview, check out the rest of Steph’s LA Weekly Web Series picks of the week HERE.