There is a brand new web series in town – well, in Hamilton – that offers a whole new view of towing and family businesses. We had an opportunity to do some Q & A with the creators of Bill And Sons Towing, Mark De Angelis and Charles Ketchabaw from Toronto-based indie production company Ready Set Panic.
New episodes of Bill And Sons air every Thursday – however, be cautioned that this show is not safe for work or within hearing range of younger children due to language – it is, however, funny. Having grown up in a family that has operated a towing service for 50 years (this September), there are so many idiosyncrasies I can relate to, and I imagine it’s only going to get worse…better? Let’s go with better.
Episode One aired on April 26th, and Episode Two aired yesterday. But wait, that’s not all. Check out Dave’s secret podcasts when he takes on Twitter challenges (Bill And Sons Towing is rather active on the Twittersphere) and shares behind-the-scenes secrets. You can catch all of the videos either on the Bill And Sons Towing web site or on their YouTube and Blip Channels. You can also keep up with the show on Twitter and Facebook. Now, on to the Q & A:
Could you have done this series without funding from the Independent Production Fund?
Charles Ketchabaw: We probably would have tried, but we couldn’t have done it without the Fund and the OMDC tax credit. The spark was that there was this fund available, so we started to put our heads together and we thought about how to do a project with the Imponderables. Wanted to work with them for as long as Mark and I have known them and known each other, we talked about how we wished we could do something bigger than one-offs with them.
Mark De Angelis: [For a web series] it was pretty ambitious to fund independently, especially since we were going after the talent through ACTRA and WGC. If we hadn’t gotten IPF, we would have either needed some sort of “internet broadcaster” or a network to sign on.
What were some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced so far?
MDA: I still think one of the big challenges is the marketing. We’ve been very lucky to get great press and that’s certainly helping. With our budget, the IPF sat down with us and said, “Make sure to leave enough money to cross the finish line at the end.” So much of the success of web series is after the execution and getting it out to people beyond your immediate circle of friends and industry.
From a production standpoint, we didn’t have any real challenges. We’re both very familiar and comfortable with working in TV, film and web. What’s new to us is this big marketing push that’s required.
CK: Most productions, they always provide a few new challenges, but for the most part, it’s the marketing and trying to get as many people to see it as possible. It’s also about doing the right marketing and finding the right channels since there are so many different outlets for this project. The primary channel is of course online — people will read how great something is and will be compelled to watch the first episode.
MDA: Print press is a huge advantage. We were on the front page of the National Post Arts section on May 3. So that’s traditional print, but the same article is appearing online as well. People reading on their iPads can just as easily click on the link and watch the show. We want to reach both those audiences as much as possible.
M: One of the coolest things that’s happened — which we had nothing to do with at all — we were featured on the homepage of Jest.com, an offshoot of CollegeHumor. We just got the Google alert that the pilot episode was featured there for a week, and they gave a nice write-up. The show has only been out there for a week so it’s early days, but it’s been interesting to see how people are coming to the project beyond our immediate circle.
CK: We’ve been doing podcasts leading up to the series launch and we’re continuing to release them throughout the run of the series. They’re getting some traction and we’re trying to push it out as much as possible.
You’ve recruited top Canadian talent for Bill & Sons. Has it been a different experience doing that versus other traditional TV or film projects?
CK: The Imponderables (series protagonists) wanted to do something like this with us, so they were on board immediately. Some of the other talent took convincing, but once people read the script and understood what we were doing, it was a pretty easy sell.
MDA: We made the project look as professional as possible on all levels: polished scripts, a clear shooting schedule, a director (Vivieno Caldinelli) who has a lot of great experience in TV, and a series bible so everyone could see that we had our stuff together. The fact that we were selected as a finalist by the IPF really legitimized the project. It was like an initial screening, upward of 100+ applied and only a few got it, so that certainly helped. Going through ACTRA and WGC for our talent also lent more credibility to the project.
We put our best foot forward, it wasn’t even a question: people would want to say yes.
CK: And we’re pretty charming.
MDA: In episode seven, there’s something we shot that we all knew was going to be super cool. But when we watched it in post, it surpassed our wildest dreams. I don’t know how to say anything else without giving it all away, so you’ll just have to wait and see!
C: It’s better than anything in The Avengers.
MDA: We knew that the Imps have an undeniable chemistry together, but seeing them with Nicholas Campbell (Da Vinci’s Inquest) was a real joy to watch. He’s never worked with any of them before and he hasn’t done much comedy before this, so it was interesting to see how that would translate.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from working on Bill & Sons?
MDA: While attitudes are changing around what a web series can be, I think there’s still a perception that it’s amateur and not up to professional levels of TV. It’s almost viewed as this tiny little sandbox. What i would say to producers and creators, if you’re going to go out to pitch, have your stuff together: create your scripts, create a bible, get commitments from crew and actors so you’re presenting a top-down package to show that you’re really know what you’re doing.
Would you do it again?
CK: For sure.
MDA: I totally would. The creative freedom is just amazing on all levels. You’re not tied to any hard times like you are on TV. The episode doesn’t have to be 22 minutes, it can be as long and short as you want and that really releases you to write whatever you want to write. Some episodes are served better longer and some are better shorter.
We also didn’t really have any network meddling in terms of notes and that can be a real challenge on some projects. That can prove to be a real challenge where producers/creators and broadcasters really butt heads.
People are going to be surprised by the narrative storytelling we’re doing over the ten episodes of Bill and Sons. There are some really interesting stories going on that are carrying over the entire season. And episode four is absolutely batshit crazy.
All photos courtesy of Ready Set Panic, used with permission.