Jessica Chamberlain, the writer, producer and star of new web series Quick Fix, talks to us about art imitating life, the absurd snobbery often shown to web series production and writing/making the type of work she enjoys and wants to be part of.
When I meet Jessica Chamberlain in a Paddington pub, it's immediately clear she's ready to talk. Not just about the making of new 7-part/35 minute web series Quick Fix that she's written, produced and starred in, but also society and our place in it today.
Quick Fix is a 7-part comedy that follows a week in the life of Suzie after she's fired from her job as a waitress and needs some fast cash to pay her overdue rent. Each day we follow her and all the people she meets along the way as her responsibilities are dodged, white lies snowball and a strange series of events lead her far from where she began - soon seeing exactly how far she will go to make a quick fix.
After we each secure a pint of ale from the bar, I realise too late I should have been recording the interview long before it actually started. The reason for this is? Conversation about people and life in general quickly leads to the inspiration behind Suzie, the main character of the series, and the reality that there are those who float through life without really finding a calling or vocation.
"There's loads of people like that, in every office, in every school. They just find themselves in a job they hate. I have done so many random jobs, but in the back of my mind I had that thing where I was like "I'm bouncing off to this audition or this other thing that I really want to do." I feel guilty or bad for people that don't have that. Then what do they do with their time or energy? I think it's trivialized in lots of show like Girls and this millennial generation and everything, but we have so much availability at our fingertips with all this technology, and that's great, but it can ruin our lives because it's incredibly addictive and there's a correlation between excess use of social media and a deteriation in mental health. It's just misdirection all the time, and I don't think it's anything to do with being millennial, actually. People I know that are way into their 40s and 50s are like that. They just do these jobs and they have this sadness behind their eyes because not everybody can be a heart surgeon, not everyone can be an Oscar winner, not everyone can do those things."
It's at this point in her life we meet protagonist Suzie, who’s just trying to get from one day/situation to the next with goals no more lofty than just hoping whatever that next thing is, it's not that bad? However, luckily for us, it nearly always is.
Jessica - writer, producer and star - couldn't be a further departure from Suzie in terms of drive, vision and goals. Having seen how accomplished the final product is, one would be forgiven for assuming Jessica had a carefully crafted plan not only to write Quick Fix, but also to bring it to life specifically as a web series, rather than a short film or TV pilot. It's an assumption she's quick to dispel.
"No, no, no. I was shit scared the entire way along! I don't really know what possessed me, but I wrote it because in the first episode, Suzie gets fired from a restaurant for no particular reason and that, pretty much verbatim, did happen to me. I was feeling shit. Then I wrote this thing and showed it to people.
I think that process of people tearing your work apart is really, really good. That beginning part of you is terrified and precious, but it was really good. I'm really glad there was some people that were really, genuinely helpful, and there were some people that weren’t so much. I got the "hmm" several times. I initially wrote this as a pilot for TV, then showed it to people and somebody said it might be tricky because there's no money in the industry to get this made, and suggested I just make my own stuff and run with this idea. I sat on it for a bit, and then I kept reading about short-form content and digital content. Then I just decided to chop it up into seven pieces, with each episode based on a deadly sin, and set it in a 12-hour time-frame so you were with her along the way."
Shooting a web-series is something that is both popular, and not, at the same time. Many filmmakers first port of call is to make a short film, and if not that, then a feature. Whereas initial readers of the series may have had opinions on the content, there would always be opinions on whether or not making a web series at all was worth the effort.
"'Web series' has such a dirty word in the industry, and it's like "Fuck you man, I'm not making this for you, I'm making this for me. I'm making this because this is the stuff that I want to do, and I haven't had the chance to do - but look what I can do! Also, it's the kind of thing that I watch." I could die tomorrow. A bus could mow me down on my stupid bike, my little ET basket [laughs]. So I'm just like "If you don't like it, keep on scrolling.”
I also wanted to have some fun, do something outrageous and that was it really. I just kept seeing things and I was just like "Oh, I'm going to do that” or “I want to do that." I remember watching Catastrophe and being like "This is so good, I want to do that." Then I thought there's literally nothing stopping me. I've got all these tools in my kit and I'm just sitting here being lazy and not using them. All these mad things in my life kept happening, so I starting writing about that. Some of the things verbatim did happen, and then a load of other things didn't happen. I remembered reading about one particular topic online years ago which fed my inspiration when writing.
This is where I discover an unusual 'hobby' of I was previously unaware, something all viewers of the series can look forward to near to the series finale.
"Yes, that is a real genre in porn [laughs]. I read an article about years ago in the Sunday Times and I was like "What? This cannot be real."
To prove that it is real, Jessica searches for the relevant images through my Instagram account and gleefully proceeds to 'like' many of them on my behalf (it's all in good fun). Not wanting to spoil/reveal any more of the fun ahead of the series' release, I'll park that subject there. Let's just say not everyone wants to have their cake and eat it.
"I am really excited about everyone seeing it. I had a great time doing it as well. Apart from those tiny hiccups that happen naturally when you are doing anything. I had a great time with it, and you're so buzzed when you hear somebody read your work and then make them laugh. That is insane. When we were filming the sex party, there was a moment when all the crew and some of the extras watched the monitor and the playback and they all laughed. All afternoon I was just like "Oh my God, thank God for that." It's so hard, because I've just been writing it and been like "Yes, ha-ha" [laughs] on my own, like a lonely bastard. I've got to be honest - anything you do, you will look at and be like, “Oh, I can see X, Y and Z wrong with it,” but no one else will see tiny little faults or things you would’ve done again." I think with Quick Fix, I am happy with it. It was the first thing that I've done, but it's hard not to say I can see things in it and think "must try harder." That's quite motivating."
On to the team that made this mini marvel happen. How did a first-time producer go about finding the cast and crew needed to make Quick Fix with the resources available, and to a high quality that has production companies very interested already?
"I met Brad Watson, the director, at a pub through a friend. I sent it to him and then we met up and I was like "Oh I've changed it.” The version he saw I changed because somebody suggested to tone it down as they found it unpalatable. Brad was like "I want you to show me the original because there's this version of you on the paper and then there's the you that I've met and how you talk and how you are." So I showed him the original, and he was he was like "We're doing that." Then I just invaded his life.
I met cinematographer Cristian Mantio while shooting a film called Beneath The Trees, a horror in which I play a witch, and I'd watch tiny playbacks during filming because I've just always been into it all. He was great, Brad and Cris were a perfect match. It was weird at first, because I sat there thinking "I know you and I know you, but do you two get on?" It was like being a third wheel at a speed date. They got on really well and they worked together perfectly. It was great to see them riff off each other. Cris got to flex his muscles and elevated the whole thing. I have so much to thank him for in that sense. Brad as well. I've never met someone so enthusiastic. As an actor, that's what you want. You want somebody who, despite those stressful moments of a split dress, cake on the ceiling, or we've knackered a lens, whatever, still going to be like, "This is the best job I've ever had [laughs]".
Having written the script, assembled the team, and with such a clear vision for the series in her mind, I have to ask why Jessica stopped short of directing the series herself. So much of 'her' is present from top to bottom, and having driven the project to impressive completion, what stopped her slipping into the director's chair?
"I've only got so many hands. I'm not an octopus [laughs] No. I know that I'm going to get to direct and I know I will do that because I have such a clear idea of things. This is the first thing I've done, and I am aware of that a lot. I learned so many different things from every possible point of view, and it's just made me want to waste less time and be really good with writing and acting. I would love to direct.
I love and hate producing. Producing you have to totally be in love with it to do it. It's a nightmare sometimes, right? There are times when things come together and it's really rewarding. We had our restaurant location cancel on us five days before we were to shoot there. I was like, "Right!" [laughs] I did thrive on that. I went out and I just stomped into loads of restaurants and was like, “I want to film here in five days and I've got no money [laughter]." If I do a huge project and I'm writing it, I would love to direct it. And yes, I would like to co-produce or have some kind of involvement. I realize that with Quick Fix I was effectively being the show runner because I was the top of the tree."
Since our chat, the series has had a private screening where it received a great reaction from the audience. It's the culmination of a mammoth undertaking by Jessica and the team she assembled to pull it off. Was there a moment, from writing to now, that stands out in her mind as one where she felt making this series was the best thing ever?
"Yes, actually, it would be the moment where I was down to one dress, which my body has ripped through, I'm sweating so much I didn't even know my body could produce such moisture. I had the sound guy taping me up. I am covered in cake and slipping all over the floor. I have a full crew that’s seen me entirely naked, basically, and all of this has just all come out of my head. Everybody here is saying words out of my head. I didn't realise but every time I sat down to watch a film or TV show or anything, it's from some bastard tapping away at a computer and it's just all out of their mind and that is amazing. That’s better than religion. That makes me want to work more. No doubt, every moment of Quick Fix scared the shit out of me - it still scares the shit out of me, I still can’t watch it - but it’s done now and I wouldn’t change a thing so… yeah... eat it [laughs].