Interview: Syd2030’s Tatjana Alexis
When I hear the term “webisode” I feel like I’m watching a babyboomer’s powerpoint presentation on the future of multimedia. Unless I feel like being skullfucked by 3D at the cinema, everything I watch is web-delivered. But this is just me cringing at a shitty compound noun, these short episode series have the potential to change our small-screen viewing habits in the way that the rise of the short film festival changed big-screen viewing.
I had a chat to writer/star/director/lawyer/babe Tatjana Alexis (pictured, below) about her web series SYD2030, which won the award for Best Directing, Best Ensemble Cast and Best Producing at LA Webfest and the Bronze Award for Online Excellence at the Telly Awards. It’s truly inspiring what they’ve achieved:
Congratulations on your awards and getting picked up by ABC iView. I was initially interested in this interview when I saw the name SYD2030 and I figured it for near-future Sci Fi… I had a good chuckle when I realised its title was a reference to the postcode of the suburb I grew up in. Were you concerned about making the lives of the privileged interesting to a wide audience? Was there a key to making the audience care?
Yes, I was a little bit concerned… but then again I was a little bit concerned about everything! The most important thing for a film-maker to do is to make their audience worry. However, considering the nature of the genre that I chose to write within, I knew getting my audience to sympathise with the privileged and perfect characters I had created wasn’t going to be easy. Slowly, episode-by-episode, I exposed each character’s flaws and weaknesses, each of which being fairly relatable or at the very least understandable by the general public. Most people can sympathise with being overtired and stressed as a result of university or work, most people can relate to the uncontrollable jealousy one may feel when their loved one moves on to someone else, most people understand the feeling of frustration when a parent tells you to do something you don’t want to or feel strongly about. I think the key was making the seemingly unreachable and unattainable characters, human again.
To what extent was it based on personal experiences? Were you worried about people you know being offended, or were you worried that they wouldn’t be?
Certain aspects of the series were entirely based on personal experience. As a law student myself I’ve witnessed first hand the way in which Law students study their asses off and then reward themselves by letting loose. The structure of the semester was directly based on the structure I follow at UNSW, the law parties, the law ball, the exams, the assessments, internships, were all drawn from my own experiences at Law school.
The characters, on the other hand, were loose caricatures of people I have met and know.
Is there a particular group of people it’s resonated with or alienated? Has anything stood out in the range of responses you’ve had?
Initially the series really hit home with our target audience as we had hoped – that was 16 to 25 year old students with 5/10 minutes to spare every week. Unsurprisingly the show most resonated with university students, particularly, Law students. However, as the series gained popularity we saw an increase in older fans saying how the show made them nostalgic about their university days, younger fans swooning over the boys and overseas fans saying the show made them feel homesick!
You’ve received USA based awards. Did you intentionally do anything to make it approachable to international audiences?
Using YouTube as our primary distribution platform certainly made us conscious of an international audience in that we always knew our audience would not be geographically limited to Australia. With this in mind, it was always our intention to showcase the beautiful city we live in throughout the series, whether it was to remind locals of just how beautiful it is or show the world what they are missing out on. This is evidenced through our location choices such as the Sydney Opera House, Martin Place and Doyles.
Although it’s fun to watch in short instalments this story could have been a film or TV series. Was it always intended as webisodes?
Having just finished film school, we were all relatively new to the industry and looking to make our mark on our own – we just wanted to put ourselves out there ASAP. Whilst a film or TV series would have been nice, the webseries format allowed us to make the series entirely on our own, on our own terms. It allowed us to create something from beginning to end and then put up on the internet for everyone to see. The webisode format also allowed us to establish a fan following that returned each week for more, engage easily with our social media campaign and could watch the series anywhere and on any screen in the world. Finally, it allowed us to explore and exploit a virtually untouched territory that has since exploded!
Your episodes are being offered by the ABC on iView alongside projects that had a traditional TV broadcast (awesome). Given this convergence do you think the idea of a “webisode” is going to be short-lived?
Absolutely not! I believe this is just the very beginning for webseries. In my opinion webseries will continue to grow and grow and evolve until they become something else entirely. What that will be – I don’t know – I just know that this it is a fantastic platform, which hosts endless possibilities and was a natural progression from traditional television.
What’s the premiere moment for a webisode when you realise it’s out there? Is it the cast screening, or a certain milestone while you’re sitting hitting refresh on youtube?
Hahaha unfortunately I’ve read hitting refresh does not in fact allow you to accumulate views so I stopped doing that a while ago
I think the premiere moment for SYD2030 was (funnily enough) episode 3. That was when people became invested. They starting coming up to me or writing on the facebook/twitter asking about the rest of the series, the characters and what they thought should happen. I think that episode really hooked people so for me that was when I thought to myself… It’s on.
When did you feel like it was a success?
I think we had multiple levels of success. (1) On the simplest level, I think making the series considering all of the adversity we had to face was a huge success! (2) Being nominated and winning international awards was also a winning moment for us – flying out to America and living like rock stars also helped the feeling of success. (3) Being picked up ABC was a huge moment when I thought to myself, now we’ve gone beyond anything I could have hoped for! But I truly think that (4) holding a screening of the entire series at a packed-out Events Cinema was the moment where I looked around at the 300+ faces in the audience and thought to myself… this was a success.
The project looked very polished, but I imagine it was a tight budget. Were there varying levels of experience in the cast and crew? Did you need to call on many people from outside the video industry to help?
We called on everyone and anyone who wanted to be involved! The project very much had a community feel about it in that no matter how much experience you had – we had a place on set for you. We could not have done it without the generosity of so many and for that I will be forever grateful.
I didn’t see any mention of funding in the credits, was it something you applied for? What was your approach to funding the project?
The advice I was given by a film professor was to just go and do it. Go and make it. Stop waiting around for money or sponsorship and just do it yourselves. So we did and it’s the best thing we ever did.
How do you feel when you watch it? Is it hard to watch something you’re so close to? It must be doubly hard when you’re in it also?
I feel so proud when I watch it. Nothing is perfect and sure I watch the series and think “oh I wish we didn’t do that” or “I wish that was different”. But knowing where we started and where we’ve ended up… it’s just such an achievement and an amazing testament to all the hard work that everyone put into the project.
What’s next? Are the screen production gatekeepers answering your calls now? Do all your exes want to get back with you now that you’re famous?
Haha, it has definitely opened a lot of doors for myself personally and the production company as a whole… but unfortunately I can’t say MGM are knocking on our door just yet! Right now we are focusing on Season 2 of the series which we hope will, much like first season, challenge and rock the webseries world!
Interview by Oliver Heath