The most under-appreciated and oft-neglected element of any creative production is Clarity. Whilst we often spruke virtues of Tone, Originality, Boldness, Vision, and Cleverness the true hallmark of a project warranting further attention is Clarity.
A friend of mine, producer Ross Grayson-Bell, has become famous for his recounting of the ‘best pitch he ever heard’ which went simply….. “A Balloon falls in Love with a Cactus…”
Now whilst everyone who knows Ross has heard the story 100 times (so much so its become a bit of an in-joke at AFTRS where we both work) the significance of this idea is not to be under-estimated. In 8 words we not only know Who the story is about, but also the central Conflict, the Challenge to be overcome and moreover we are confronted directly with a hard Dramatic Question concerning the High Stakes ramifications of this unrequited love being consummated.
What’s important to recognise is that Clarity is not the enemy of sophistication nor is it the antithesis of complexity. Clarity gives me a ‘way in’ to any potential sophisticated complexness… it allows me a nugget to grab hold of in a very tight and specific way. And by doing so i become ‘engaged’ - I want to know more. “A balloon falls in love with a cactus” is not the whole story nor does it encapsulate the complexities of how such a tragedy might play out, but it does compel to want more, to ask more questions. The clarity of the idea is so acute that my attention has not only been seized but I am compelled to speculate on possible outcomes. And it’s this Speculating that is absolutely crucial. If you have your audience speculating, you have them right where you want them - that goes equally for potential producers as it does for audiences.
I make these observations in the context of the current wave of Crowd-Sourced screen-productions. There are many success stories just as there are many more failures of crowd-sourcing campaigns. Certainly we might break down a whole range of factors as to why certain projects get up and others don’t - social media, genre, form, marketing and branding… But there are two things much more specific that speak to the success of a crowd-sourcing campaign long before, and long after, debate over Facebook-Likes has died away - Crowd funding requires two things Clarity and Credibility.
Clarity of the idea in order to compel me to speculate. Credibility to instill confidence in me that those seeking the crowd-funding have the clout to come up with the goods. No body wants to back a loser and everyone wants to be on the winning team. Making film and TV has always been a Trust game and the very systems and institutions around film and TV development are wholly geared to this idea of trust-capital. Funding agencies and broadcasters look first and foremost to the quality and track record of the ‘team’ pitching a project than they do to the merits of the pitch itself. The traditional path for filmmakers from Festival Short Film to Feature Film is one born on generating trust; ie you make a short to prove you’re trustworthy enough to make something longer and bigger. In the modern digital age, where the short film festival route is somewhat lacking currency, the WebSeries has picked up some of the slack. This is an idea I have written about before in a much cited and argued over article entitled “The short film is dead, time for indie filmmakers to get a new calling card”.
The argument I made there is that a successful WebSeries that can demonstrate it has connected with a significant international audience, and moreover that this audience came back to view multiple episodes in a series, is potentially a ‘better’ calling card than a short film. Why? Because if the game is about Trust we have to ask, does 10,000 people viewing my WebSeries and returning for multiple episodes generate more perceived ‘trust’ than 100 people seeing my short film at a festival? If by ‘generate trust’ we mean a demonstrated ability to connect with an audience, then the answer has to be Yes. Of course there are other factors but the principles of Clarity and Credibility speak directly to the success of a crowd-sourcing campaign for a WebSeries.
Enter HAPPY & CLEAN.
The brainchild of Sydney comedian and director Marty Murphy, the Happy and Clean project demonstrates a very good example of Clarity of idea and Credibility in the creators.
Whilst it’s not quite as succinct as “a balloon falls in love with a cactus”, the one-liner for Happy & Clean cuts right to Character, Concept and Comic Scenario.
“When failed Australian Comedian Marty Murphy chokes on a New York hotdog, he makes a deal with Death to stay alive and make a hit talk show.”
With that line I not only know something about the ill-fated character, the tone and the comic set-up, but I am also compelled to Speculate. “The Devil wants to make a talk show…?” And now I’m asking what does that look like? Who would the guests be? And in truth, Im starting to chuckle already before I’ve heard a punchline.
As for Credibility - rather than the usual line-up of ambitious and enthusiastic, but otherwise over-wrought and over-described, aspiring amateurs; Happy & Clean presents as a very considered and mature proposal by working producers and writers. The creators have made their bones and earned their skills over a good number of years. There is a pragmatism and practicality embedded in the proposal around the very particular mode of humour. The team presents as worthy of trust, that this is a storyworld they know well and a style and form they love. Indeed the project comes directly out of Marty Murphy’s long-running stand-up routines so it feels well developed rather than messy and ill-formed.
And so I present for your consideration for crowd funding HAPPY & CLEAN. A very funny idea, a fresh form of humour and satire, a mature and accomplished creative team and a project with a great deal of clarity.