Exit 6 alumni Michael Beddoes and Ben. S Hyland join forces to produce and direct Zoom-based comedy web series Angry Quiz Guy, starring Nick Helm and Rachel Stubbings. We chat to both about the making of the series while in lockdown and how it all came together.
Hello guys, thanks for talking to us. Congratulations on the release of Angry Quiz Guy. Can you tell us what it’s about and where the idea came from?
B: I suppose it does exactly what it says on the tin with it being a show about an angry quiz guy. We’d seen a lot of people doing lockdown quizzes on video chat apps, and we wanted to do something fun and funny.
M: Ben and myself were developing both a short and a sitcom, which is currently with a UK broadcaster, but as lockdown started to happen things slowed up on those projects a little. We had chatted about anything else we could do in isolation and I said, ‘as long as it’s not a Zoom based thing because we’re about to see an influx of them’, haha.
B: Then I had this nugget of an idea that wouldn’t go away, so I called Mike.
M: And I heard the pitch for the idea and did a massive U-turn on not wanting to do a Zoom thing. And here we are.
Through necessity of the lockdown, a lot of content has been made using video-conferencing software like Zoom. How did you approach making your own from a writing point of view?
B: From my point of view, from the initial idea to scripting, it was about having things that were short, snappy and bite-sized. There are a lot of projects out there using video chatting and my one criticism is often, they are too long.
M: I’d agree on the length. It’s also a reason we went episodic, so we could explore different things but keep the run times punchy.
B: And with that in mind we decided to form a sort of virtual writers’ room. I was starting to discuss co-writing feature with Amy Clarke, so invited her to join the Angry Quiz Guy team.
M: And between the three of us we chatted over things. It almost felt like an American sitcom writers’ room, where we’d all pitch ideas, lines and jokes, and then we allocated scripts so we could go off individually and write them. But even then, we all worked on giving notes on each other’s scripts. And the finale Ben and I wrote it by throwing the idea around, then passing the script back and forth.
B: You are limited by some of the parts of using Zoom but having nine people on screen always means there is somewhere narratively to go with it.
How did you approach it from a technical point of view, both in the recording and the post-production?
M: From a technical recording point of view our biggest headache was the unknown questions about how good everyone’s internet was, would we experience sound or visual dropouts and how good would the final quality be?
B: We did everything we could to try and limit that though.
M: Yeah, that’s true. We got a group of friends to come onto a Zoom call for a tech rehearsal, so we could see how things worked and what level of control the admin had in terms of moving boxes around to the place where each character is meant to be.
B: On post-production it was a doddle. Because they are short, succinct episodes, only two to three pages long it didn’t matter because the edit was just picking our best take and then a small amount of sound work.
M: I’d also say creatively we wanted to make episodes one, uninterrupted take, because people who use Zoom don’t get to make cuts, so the second we use an edit it could take people out of the storytelling.
You’ve got a great cast, with Nick Helm fronting the series as the titular Angry Quiz Guy. How did he get involved and how did you work together to create the character?
B: When I had the idea, the only person I had in my head was Nick Helm. And I told Mike this fact, and from that point, it’s all about Mike working his producer magic to get him.
M: I’d been lucky enough to direct Nick in a small film for an Edinburgh show many years ago, and Ben and myself had also wanted to use amazing comedian Katie Pritchard in Angry Quiz Guy, who works regularly with Nick. So, when I offered Katie the role I mentioned Nick to her and she was more than happy to send him the idea and scripts.
There’s a great support cast of 8 other actors, notably Rachel Stubbings who is a great foil for Nick’s character, and some other faces familiar to Exit 6 audiences including Amit Shah (Quiet Carriage) and Richard Soames (Bungee). Can you tell us how they got involved?
B: Initially for that role I wanted Rachel Stubbings. She was the only person. I’d never met her, and I love all the stuff she’s in. I thought, she’s perfect for this role, because the project soon evolved from just an angry quiz guy, to be an interesting arc with their relationship between these two characters. She in my mind was always perfect to play against Nick and become the antagonist. And I just said to Mike, I’d like you to try and get Rachel Stubbings, and he once again, went out and got Rachel Stubbings!
M: I approached Rachel and she read the scripts and said she was in.
B: I think that’s the really lovely thing about this whole project and getting our cast. We were mailing out scripts to people we wanted and them saying yes. I think that’s a combination of us proudly saying that the scripts are good and also being in the perfect storm of being in lockdown and funny, creative people want the chance to be funny and creative.
M: I’ll just add that on this project there was no cast list. We spoke about the people we loved working with previously or wanted to work with, asked them, and they said yes! We got our first choices for everyone.
B: What about Penny?
M: The casting of Nick’s Mum was slightly more difficult. But I contacted casting agent Belinda Norcliffe who I’ve worked with loads over the years, and she read the scripts and suggested Penny Ryder straight away. And it was an awesome suggestion!
What were some of the challenges producing and directing a piece of work remotely, and how did you overcome them?
B: The honest answer, which I was thinking about just today, is that it was really surreal. I hadn’t met seven of the cast members before the day. Mike and I did a quick video intro and hello, then we disappeared so they could only hear our voices between takes. Then returned at the end to do a video goodbye. For two hours fifty minutes of a three-hour shoot, we were just voices.
M: It was really odd.
B: And for most of it, it was like watching a piece of content on a computer screen and laughing. You wonder what the challenges of directing something like this are, but 99% of the issues disappeared due to casting. There were very few notes throughout. You don’t hire very funny people and then tell them how to be funny.
M: From a producing point of view, it was walking everyone through the unknowns of group Zoom filming. Also making sure all characters were displayed in the right order, as Ben and myself creatively thought that it was important that they remained in the same squares for every episode to create familiarity.
You both write and both direct. What prompted the collaboration and how did you find working together?
M: We were working together on a sitcom, with me producing and Ben writing and directing.
B: Actually, we were working together on a short film first. Then that evolved and we started working on the sitcom.
M: Yeah, that’s true, the short was first.
B: I also feel that collaboration is about spending time with people you like. It’s that simple. I mean personally, I’m not a producer and I never want to be a producer, and Mike’s a great producer.
M: Aw, thanks. Well you’re a great writer and director.
B: But he’s also a writer who I loved working with. So, I’m hoping beyond this we can keep working on things together.
M: One hundred percent. I’ve really enjoyed working with Ben as his producer. And before I was directing, I was a producer first and I’ve done it for longer. In fact, directing made me better as a producer as I have full understanding and sympathy for what a director is dealing with and going through on a project.
B: The great thing about writing short, snappy stuff with Mike and Amy as a group is all you’re trying to achieve is to make the other people laugh, which is a great use of time.
M: The sign of a good collaboration is trust, and we all trusted each other to go off to bring the best to our scripts and it worked.
Have you been partaking in online quizzes during lockdown, either hosting or playing?
M: I haven’t actually. But there are so many people I know who do and they’ve told me some brilliant stories, which helped me to know that Zoom quizzes was the right situation for our little sitcom.
B: The idea actually came to me because on our family WhatsApp group we started doing House Party. And I used to love it because you’d be chatting and then someone would just randomly start a Pictionary thing or a quiz thing. Playing those with kids in the family is hilarious.