Robin Bell | TWISTED SHOWCASE SERIES 4

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Twisted Showcase began life as a wicked webseries back in 2012, going on to be recognised on The Guardian’s list of 25 web shows that you simply must check out. Created by Robin Bell and Rhys Jones, the series went on to gather a cult following for its dark and demented short tales that have featured the likes of Torchwood’s Gareth David-Lloyd and Red Dwarf’s Norman Lovett. Off the back of two recent eBooks, Twisted Showcase is now back for a fourth series, this time with just Robin Bell at the helm. As the Kickstarter campaign gets underway for Series 4, we were lucky enough to grab some time with Robin to go way in-depth of Twisted Showcase and take a look at what lies ahead for this most delightfully twisted of shows.

STARBURST: You must’ve started to amass quite the impressive fanbase for Twisted Showcase by this point? Has it got to the scary stage yet?

Robin Bell: It’s small but kind of quite dedicated; you put something on Twitter and people are all rooting for it. The first series, the first time we shot with Gareth [David-Lloyd], I put something on Twitter to say that we were shooting. Then the next day I had someone walk up and down outside my house. He asked if Gareth was there, and I said, “Gareth who?”, and he said “Gareth David-Lloyd.” I was just like, “No, we filmed yesterday… and we weren’t even filming here! This is my house!” Then he just wandered off. But he [Gareth] must get that stuff all the time. It was a weird time, because we shot the first episode, Peter and Paul, the same week the Torchwood series, Miracle Day, was just coming out. So anything we posted about Gareth got loads of attention.

That’s kind of half of the fun of Twisted Showcase - it’s so hard to categorise and label.

That’s kind of deliberate, but it is quite tough when you’re trying to get people interested in it. It’s everything [laughs]. It is quite tough. But one of the reasons we set up to do the anthology is so we can do everything, really. We just thought of it initially as something to showcase our writing rather than sending people scripts. We made two or three and then put them online to say that this is our showcase to see what we can do. Then it went a bit mental. We got Gareth attached, we got in The Guardian, and then we were a bit like, “Oh shit, what are we doing?!”

And that Guardian mention, that was alongside names like Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, Seth MacFarlane, and Joss Whedon.

David Lynch as well! The only two British ones were us and Vic and Bob.


One of the rare and hazy pictures of Robin Bell and Rhys Jones 

Did that bring in immediate attention for interviews and whatnot?

Not really. We didn’t really know what to do with it either. The series was out, then this came in a month or two later. By that point I think we were all just arguing over whether to do a Season 2 or not. There was three of us then and we were all pulling in different directions on what to do. So we rushed out Season 2, and now we don’t talk about it [laughs]. It’s a difficult second album. You always think, “That’s bollocks! They’re just making another album. Do something different or the same but better.” But you do; you overthink things too much or just try and do things too quick.

We guess something like that Guardian mention was a curse and a blessing in that sense? It’s recognition and a kick in the arse to do something, but then you run the risk of just rushing something out and not being happy with.

I’m not really keen on Season 2. There’s a couple of good ones in there, but I think the other two series have something holding them together a bit even though they’re kind of a bit weird. The first one we always thought was about making it about modern fears, like Peter and Paul is a fear about having a kid, having a demon child. Then you have Fear of Living, which is someone afraid of being alive. I feel it kind of changed a lot, though. Series 3 was always about people who have done bad things or have the fear of doing something bad. Sarah kills her husband and then replays it over again. Then we’ve got someone who falls into debt and the fear that follows in Payback. I like that one. I remember Gareth turning up and saying he was going to do it in a cockney accent. I said, “Okay, that kind of fits in with the character.” He’s going to kill me for saying this, but he said, “If I veer into the Welsh then just give me a shout.” About four or five takes in, I had to say to him, “I think you hit a bit of Welsh there.” I went through it and he ended up saying, “It’s just because the vowels sound the same in the accents.” As it was, it turned out that Gareth’s accent was flawless. But I think that helps to get bigger names in as they can do something different. He’s known for Ianto and the Welsh accent, so to do that and show a different side is appealing.

And we believe he’s going to be directing something in this new season?

He is. It’s going to be his directing debut. We’ve managed to keep that a secret. He sent me a video to promote it… [this is the point where Robin gets his phone out and shows us the below video]

You must have the Adobe Flash Player installed to view this player.

The last crowdfund we did, we made a video of me and Rhys just dicking about really. Then there were a couple of clips. Rhys took a back step from it anyway, because I think it was getting a bit too serious for him [laughs]. We’ve got a PR company involved this time, so this time it sounds serious. We’ve got a company in who are quite new and really open to ideas.

How many episodes are you planning for this new season then?

We normally do about five. I think we’ve got six scripts this time, but I guess that kind of leaves us with some leeway on what to do.

Did Gareth write his own or did he get to cherry-pick which idea he liked?

I wrote Gareth’s episode. I think we were gonna send him a few to cherry-pick. There were two that we were going to send him to cherry-pick from, but before that I’d said that I’d really like him to direct a particular one. It was one that I thought he’d be good in as one of the characters. I kind of wrote it specifically for him and Mr. X [a huge name that we couldn’t possibly mention at this time] hoping we could get Mr. X in because if Gareth’s directing then it might be more interesting for him. These two characters are called Lucifer and Godfrey, which is really a bit heightened from the normal domestic setting of Twisted Showcase. I thought that Gareth would be directing that one as it’s quite a strange one, like Be My Head, which is an odd episode about wanting to replace your thoughts with more pleasant ones. I sent that to Gareth and he understood all of the psychology behind it and where the characters are coming from. I said, “You’ve got to direct this for me,” and he just said, “Yep, okay.” I think it also helped that a fan tweeted him and asked if he’d ever direct, and I think you might’ve mentioned it to him in your interview with him, and I think those things kind of added up and gave him an idea.

So when did Rhys decide to take a step back for this new season?

He’s still involved – we co-wrote something for the next season, and he’s still involved in a way. I’ll ring him and ask if he wants to be involved and he’ll say, “Well, not really, but I’ll help out.” I think it’s the commitment to it, as even though it’s 5-minute films it seems to be adding more and more work each time. And he kind of drifted away from writing scripts as well, because I think the big aim of Twisted Showcase was that it would kick off some writing things. Then he moved in to writing short stories and stuff like that, and he always insists he’s not very good at writing scripts – which I disagree with. A lot! Look at Toilet Soup; I think that’s a brilliant script. He thought it was too on-the-nose, but that’s the point.

Given that the series has now built up an impressive following, how does that affect your plans for crowdfunding?

This time I think we might be a bit more risky. We went for £1,000 last time, so we’re going for £2,000 this time. I think it’s got to get bigger or there’s no point carrying on. And that’s part of the problem with Season 2 and why I hate it. We’d got Gareth in and got these big episodes because we just wanted to get something out. And we got a bit pedantic too. We were thinking about why it’d got in The Guardian and what people liked about it. Then we decided to not worry about that, and to just do what we do. I think we got a bit cocky, really, because the first episode we put up after The Guardian was Rhys in a balaclava dicking about. It was like, “They won’t expect this. This is an all-out comedy.”


Gareth David-Lloyd in Peter and Paul
 

We guess you’ve got to listen to what the audience likes, but the reason you’ve got this fanbase in the first place is because you went with ideas that felt right to you and were risky.

I think we’ve always kind of done that. I remember when we were coming up to the first season, the first episode with Gareth – what do we have for the second episode, how do we follow that? We had a 3-minute episode that’s from the perspective of someone’s eyeball that’s been possessed by someone that’s dead. So it’s got no characters in it, just an eyeball. That’ll turn everyone off!

Where do you get your inspiration from for all these ideas?

For Eyeball, I just thought about possessions and thought what about if someone’s dick got possessed. Then we realised we couldn’t film that, so I changed it to an eye. It was that simple. But then I did one where a dick ran away in Series 2. I said, “You stopped me from doing it, Rhys, so I’m doing it in Series 2!” That’s why Series 2 is so shit.

Is there anywhere that you draw the line at?

I’ve had so many shit ideas. The best one was an alien who comes down and he gets involved in this webcam chat with a girl who fancies. Somehow he knows deep down that there are these key words that will unlock everything. And the key words were “Arsehole, arsehole, bumhole, backdoor.” So as soon as he heard those words, he’d unlock that he was an alien. Rhys was sitting there, idly just doing nothing, and he was doing this thing where he said “Arsehole, arsehole, bumhole, backdoor” as he was looking out of the window. And I just wondered what those magic words were. So we spent about two weeks writing this thing. We sent it to this guy at the BBC who had said for us to send him some scripts and he’d edit them for us – and we did, we sent it to him. I think he script edited some of the scripts but not that one. I can’t remember what the other ideas were, but that one was probably the lowest point.

And you guys had some eBooks out recently. How did they do in the end?

The first one did pretty well. The second one, not so well. Which was a shame, because when we set up I had quite a lot of short stories and Rhys had two which I thought were quite brilliant. So we put them out, and Rhys said that he really liked writing short stories and was going to write some more. And he wrote loads, but he still kept the quality. I kind of knocked off a few which came out actually quite well, and then we thought we had quite a good collection. So we put it out but then, at the time it came out, we kind of forgot about it. I think we set ourselves a target to put it out, then Rhys put so much effort into finishing them off, I think we were just burnt out by the time it came to promote it.


Norman Lovett in the brilliantly grim Toilet Soup 

So do you have plans for a next season of the webseries after this fourth one or do you just take each one as they come?

Yeah, it’s just take each one at a time. We always say that this one is going to be the last, which then spurs it on to make it.

And what would make it the last one? Is it a case of if something comes up elsewhere?

I was saying to Rhys the other day, we’re always saying it’s the last one but why is it never the last one? It’s just always so much work, so you think why are you doing this again, why are you punishing yourself. I think you just know when it’s the end, really. But as every season has ended, we’ve always thought that we’ve got rid of our ideas, but then by the time we’ve filmed them then we’ve got more ideas. I guess it’s when it gets to the time when we’ve got no ideas or when we don’t want to write in this vein. And I think that is coming round. Twisted Showcase is quite negative at times and a lot of it ends on a downer.

It’s like The Empire Strikes Back of short stories.

There’s part of me that’s thinking maybe I don’t want to be doing that anymore and I just want to try writing something else. I know we tried to say that one of our episodes is like Wes Anderson doing a horror romantic-comedy. That was the one called Press Play, where someone falls in love with a dead body in their bathroom. And it ended up nothing like what we’d described it as! But that was a close as a happy ending as we get. There’s a certain feel to the show, so it’s a case of how long you can sustain that for. There’s going to be a point where it might get too big unless some sort of TV studios come in or radio.

Have you thought going into the audio book realm or trying to take it to some sort of TV platform?

I think we’ve written every possible pitch going. We’ve looked at online content for BBC Online or for iPlayer. The stuff we always get from TV is that they only do anthologies if it’s got a name like Charlie Brooker or someone behind it to take the risk away. Although we’re talking with Sky. We’ve got a couple of ideas to do that. I’ve been thinking about what would link everything together, and I’ve finally got one that works. It’s exciting!

The crowdfunding campaign for Twisted Showcase Series 4 starts today, with full details available here.

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