Last week Turtle Canyon Comedy launched their brand new Web series called Content. The show is made up of six 10 minute sitcom episodes and each of them runs alongside spin off material such as a podcast, sketches and vlog episodes. To me this sounded like such an interesting concept and a brand new approach to online comedy that I had to find out more. I caught up with Creator Yiannis Vassilakis to find out all about it.
Hello Yiannis, tell us about yourself and three random facts about yourself? How did you get into writing a web series?
Hello Phoenix Remix! I have to say, it’s been a while since I’ve been asked for random facts about myself, so if you’ll forgive a lazy throwback to my GCSE French oral here: I have brown eyes, I have 2 sisters, and I have a cat who has the hair ginger and white.
I got into writing a web series by (sorry, I should mention: the cat has since died) having worked in internet video production, and deciding that if I were to draw on that for a show, an online sitcom would probably be the most appropriate way to marry form and, well, ‘Content’.
Who are your comedy inspirations?
So many British and American sitcoms that it would take up far too much of the readers’ time but for this particular show, I think there was a conscious awareness of the possibilities to draw from (while hoping to avoid unfavourable comparisons to) workplace comedies like The Thick of It, 30 Rock, and much of Mike Schur’s work, especially Parks and Recreation.
Tell us about some of your other projects?
Some years ago, I joined the writing team for a show called Knighthood & Decoy, which I eventually produced, getting to write episodes around fun guest stars like Robert Llewellyn and Chris O’ Dowd. I’ve also been working on a film sequel called Ashens and the Polybius Heist alongside Stuart Ashen, Jarred Christmas and many others. I’ve written, produced and/or popped up in various comedies on BBC, E4 etc., but am currently working on a project with more of a Hal Ashby feel.
Tell us about your latest project Content?
It’s about the people and places around a thing called ‘Content Content’: a badly run video content agency trying to achieve (some definition of) success, in spite of the many and ridiculous obstacles in their way: namely, the unpredictable caprice of the internet, the constant threat from a powerful rival agency, and their own severe ineptitude.
It is not just a web series is it? There is a lot more to it than meets the eye?
We like to think so. For one thing, it also meets the ear in the form of a podcast series called Girly Boss (featuring wonderful guest stars like Evelyn Mok and Harriet Kemsley) to accompany the main episodes, spin-off episodes and vlogs. That means a release schedule of 4 episodes a week for 6 weeks, which, by my mathematical calculations (just to return to my GCSE’s for a second) works out at “beaucoup de content”.
What made you decide to create a project that was more than a web series?
Stuart Laws: our extraordinarily ambitious producer/director/co-star[…]driver/stuntman (honestly). The fact he seems incapable of biting off more than he can chew says less about the restraint of his creative appetite and more about his sheer (but still figurative) mandibular ferocity.
It is a very clever idea – especially in a world where technology and the way we interact with it is ever changing.
Thank you! Although, to balance out that clever idea, I realise we have knowingly named an online show ‘Content’, and thus cursed it with all the SEO chances and general discoverability of the disastrously-named agency ‘Content Content’ it depicts. (I regret nothing.)
I have sat, and I am sure many people have, in meetings very similar to this one that is depicted in episode 1 – did you pull from real life experiences to write this?
I did, but only to the extent that I reimagined them through a filter of extreme incompetence. In truth, I’ve been lucky to work with lots of smart, talented and creative people thankfully quite dissimilar to those in the show.
The writing of the web series is very clever – especially the play on the way to say Content Content – how did this come about?
I don’t mean to be a stickler but it’s actually ‘Content Content’.
You also have many comedians that are guest starring in the series – who can people expect to pop up?
People can expect comedians like Lou Sanders, Joel Dommett, James Acaster and Evelyn Mok; and also comedians unlike Lou Sanders, Joel Dommett, James Acaster and Evelyn Mok.
I feel the show is very forward thinking in both its writing and it’s editing style whilst also quite complex as you are delving between different areas of the podcast – the planning, the promotion around it and the responses from others. Was this hard to construct?
That’s very nice of you to say, and while I’d love to take the credit, I’d have to pass it straight onto our producer Stuart again. If there’s any complexity at all to be constructed, he’s the one managing it all with Kevin Feige-like levels of narrative oversight, so we writers can focus on the simpler, more immediate story tasks at hand.
What have been some of your favourite sketch and comedy series you have found this year?
Sketchually, I really enjoyed I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson; and sitcomically, the latest season of Stath Lets Flats has made me laugh out loud in public (‘lolip’?) more than any other series in a while.
How do you get inspirations when you write?
Generally, I don’t really know; but with Content I didn’t have to look too far, as I was really lucky to work with a brilliant team of writers (Rhiannon Shaw, Lorna Woolfson, Sadia Azmat, Kenagh Babcock, Stuart Laws and Al Clayton) each of whom brought their own individual tastes, influences and approaches, were never short of ideas, and were always keen to test them out thoroughly before we committed them to the scripts.
What challenges do you face?
Despite the nature of my job, I’ve never been particularly comfortable with social media (see ‘lolip’ above) but am gradually making attempts to rectify that, not least to do my bit to share the hard work and talent of my collaborators on projects like this. #selfless
What are your future plans for the show?
There seem to be some exciting talks happening, but for the moment it’s all TBD. I don’t know what to expect, but for now just hope people enjoy the show!
In three words why should people check out Content?
I’ve recently started using my (previously pretty dormant) Twitter account: @YGVassilakis, where I can stealthily work around restrictive word limits by using hashtags like #peopleshoudlwatchcontentbecauseit’sasillybuthopefullyquitefunnyshowtheymightenjoy