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In The Spotlight: The Funny Disruptors

Double Yay Productions is a scripted comedy outfit founded and run by Natalie Bray (Producer and Creative Director), Caroline Amer (Producer and Business Director) and Rebecca Tanwen Morgan (Producer and Operations Director). The trio began working together after Bray took the decision to develop her comedy project Nutritiously Nicola!, originally a stage show which she performed herself, into a full-length pilot with which to approach production companies. In Spring 2017, they were offered an option by a leading production company but took the bold decision to turn it down, instead opting to fund and release the project themselves, thus maintaining creative control.

Nutritiously Nicola! tackles the serious topic of body image with intense heart, humour and mischief. Inspired by Bray’s own 15-year battle with an eating disorder, it follows Nicola Woodford who, having spent her early twenties in an NHS eating disorder inpatient facility, is discharged and re-joins the real world. Perhaps not obvious ground for comedy. But, the trio had belief in their project and that there was an audience for a programme tackling this very topical issue with dark humour and authenticity.

So, they embarked upon a Kickstarter campaign, which successfully reached and then exceeded its financial target, raising over £16,000 in total, 75% of which was in the first 24 hours. Fast forward to January 2019 and they have just released the completed seven-part web series.

WFTV caught up with Natalie and Caroline to find out why rebelling against the traditional ‘route to market’ felt like the right thing to do for this project, and what’s next for their ambitious production company…

“If it’s a choice between a safe move and a risky one, we’re going to take the latter.”

Let’s start at the beginning: how did the three of you meet?

Caroline: Natalie and I met in drama school and we lived together for three years as well. I met Rebecca through Natalie when we started running our own acting for camera sessions in the evening.

Natalie: Rebecca and I met whilst working in the box office at the Barbican Centre and bonded over our mutual desire to be doing anything other than selling tickets…

Many writer-performers would have snapped at the chance to have their idea optioned by an established production company early on. How did you reach the important decision to turn it down?

Natalie: The first version of Nutritiously Nicola! was very different to the series that is now on YouTube. It was originally a 30-minute pilot, treatment pitch and taster scenes. Tonally, it was considerably less dark than the webseries, but we knew by the time of pitching that we wanted to expand on that darkness and take it in a riskier, edgier direction.

Caroline: But in one of the option meetings, we realised that the company actually wanted to significantly reduce the more risqué elements of the script. We all had the same instinct. We decided that, crazy though we might be, we would turn down the option and do it ourselves. It was this bold first move that has informed our decision-making process as a company. If it’s a choice between a safe move and a risky one, we’re going to take the latter.

What was it about the format of a web series that particularly appealed to you?

Caroline: In all honesty, the main appeal for us was budget. We knew we would have to self-fund it and we had barely any time, let alone money.

Natalie: So I rewrote Nicola into its current, shorter format. We were pleased with how the content adapted into its new short-form iteration; the fast pace added to the slightly surreal edge to the show.

Caroline: Though we do think that this zippy tempo is indicative of a project that is bursting at the seams to be something bigger, we think there is definitely a place for high quality short form.

Natalie: It’s hard to find the time to watch all the shows you want to watch as it is, so if they were ten minutes long instead of twenty minutes, but with the same quality, why wouldn’t you want that?

Self-distributing a project is no easy task. Were there things you hadn’t expected or necessarily been able to plan for, and what are the key lessons you’ve learnt from the process so far?

Natalie: Definitely not easy! Especially when we’re all working full time jobs at the same time.

Caroline: A key lesson for us was realising how much additional social content we needed, and the extra time we had to commit to photo shoots and the editing and subtitling of clips for social media. We also learned that, even in the age of Instagram, press coverage is key. The spike we saw in our views after appearing on BBC Breakfast was undeniable.

Natalie: We’ve learnt that crowd funding is not just about raising money; you’re building a community of super-supporters. We took the time to keep our supporters involved in the project throughout; sending regular updates and arranging a private screening. When it then came to release, they helped us spread the word, along with our very supportive cast and crew.

Caroline: The biggest lesson has been the energy you need to be prepared to put in after it’s been released. You become your own marketing team, and the focus shifts from getting the project finished to getting it in front of the people who will fall in love with it.

“Women are people. And some women are assholes. We want to be able to make stories about the imperfect reality of women the same as they’ve been making stories about flawed men for ages.”

What advice would you give to other creatives who have perhaps had doors closed on them and are wondering what they can do to get their work made?

Natalie: I think that creating a company really helps. On your own there’s nobody to be accountable to, and you can begin to doubt yourself. Between the three of us, we’ve managed to keep momentum going and doors have slowly started to open.

Caroline: You’ve got to have something to show people. It’s alarmingly expensive to produce a script, but if you believe in the project enough you won’t feel awkward asking the favors you’ll need to ask. You have to back your own creativity – if you don’t want to put the capital and work in to make it a reality, then why should any one else? Once you have something to show, you have a proof point that can get you those first introductions.

Natalie: Keep pushing. Don’t be too polite. And don’t be afraid to say ‘F*** it I’ll do it myself’. It’s not the easy route and it’s exhausting, but we’ve never regretted it for a second.

You’ve talked about being ‘misfits’ and wanting to ‘disrupt’ the current system for new talent trying to break into the industry. Can you tell us a bit more about what you mean by that?

Natalie: This summer we went to the Edinburgh TV Festival for the first time. Michaela Coel’s MacTaggart Lecture struck a chord. She spoke so elegantly about the stagnancy of the big commissioners and production companies saying they’re looking for fresh new talent, but then being seemingly unwilling to take the inevitable risk that comes with this. She spoke of the ‘misfits’ who are being shut out of the industry by this phenomenon, and just like that, she’d pinpointed the frustration we’d been experiencing.

Caroline: I think we’re lucky to be coming up in a time when there are more chances for women, but there’s so much more work to do. It’s not just about getting our own work out there. We want to build Double Yay into a platform to help other misfits. We want to use our access advantage as straight white women to help others get their work made. It’s like Jessica Williams said in her Sundance speech, as white feminists, ‘(we) need to take risks to advocate for other women, so (they) can continue to take risks on us.’

Dark, female-driven, comedy seems to be having a moment, with shows like Fleabag, Catastrophe, and Killing Eve proving to be massive hits. Do you think the landscape is changing for women making this kind of comedy?

Natalie: I remember watching Fleabag at the Soho Theatre years ago, before the TV series, and thinking to myself – oh! People find this funny! Like, other people find this sort of thing funny! I think I’d stopped myself from writing for a long time, because I didn’t have the confidence that the stories I wanted to tell – funny, dark, female-driven stories drawing on my own life and experiences – would be of the remotest interest to anyone. I wonder if that’s the case for many women creating dark comedy at the moment. Maybe it’s kind of a long-overdue outpouring of repressed stories. I worry that commissioners and producers might therefore think it’s a saturated market. I disagree. I think those of us with the appetite for this genre have been starved for so long that we want all we can get.

Caroline: It’s important for us that female identifying characters aren’t prop pieces like the stock ‘wives’ and ‘hot stripper’ characters, but its equally important for us to move beyond the ‘strong female character’ trope being trotted out as standard in any and every interview with Hollywood actresses at the moment. Women are people. And some women are assholes. We want to be able to make stories about the imperfect reality of women the same as they’ve been making stories about flawed men for ages. Equal representation for all asshole characters – that’s the goal.

What are your hopes for Nutritiously Nicola!, and what are your next steps together as a production company?

Natalie: The dream is to work with a commissioner to make series two! Either in its current short form or, even better, as a long form show. We are eager to make it bigger and better with someone who really gets it.

Caroline: We’ve got some other projects on our development slate and we’re in conversations at the moment to find some co-pro partners to help us bring them to life. We know what we can bring to the table, but we’re also aware of the things we lack that more experienced indies can bring with track records. So anyone looking for some exciting fresh talent, hit us up!

You can watch the full series of Nutritiously Nicola on YouTube here. And find out more about Double Yay Productions here.

WFTV would like to thank Natalie and Caroline for taking part in this interview.

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