‘When a 20-something artist is accused of being ‘date racist’ by her long-suffering best friend she launches ineptly into the world of cross-cultural romance in an attempt to prove her wrong.
Come watch the making of your new favorite show as the creators work out how to make their sitcom about race and relationships right in front of you!
It’s a playful deconstruction of the TV Show Table Read. It’s the latest phase of the Writers Room X project, which uses the structural trappings of TV to devise the kind of stories and characters that TV doesn’t do enough.’
It’s been a year since the beginning of Writer’s Room X, the experimental group-devised indie screenwriting collective that I originally dreamed up for the 2016 Noted Festival. One year since the 1-week locked-room intensive that saw six writers (Tasnim Hossain, Khalid Warsame, Linda Chen, Chiara Grassia, Emma MacManus and me) create full scripts for a six-part web-based sitcom called Drunk White Friend. One year since I committed to produce Drunk White Friend and started the awkward process of working out how to actually go about that.
The film industry, even at the indie level, is glutted with participants to the point of being utterly broken. The world of experimental art festivals is tiny by comparison and so can’t help but make more sense. It’s also a world that makes sense to me and where I have a little track record. Plus experiments in form are my whole thing, as WRX to date suggests. So of course my approach to producing a relatively conventional web series (I mean sure it’s trying to break new ground in terms of content and representation but it’s doing it within a clearly identified form, the sitcom) is to create a model whereby every stage of the development takes place at an arts festival and involves a live audience event. I can hear you groaning and you are right to.
In the same way that our initial writing process was structured around the conventions of a TV writers room, this one was conceived as a ‘Table Read’ in the classic TV production style. Really this was a spur to tackle what we knew would be one of our biggest challenges, nailing the casting of the show. Drunk White Friend only has four principles but the cultural backgrounds of the characters are specific, so we knew we’d have to look a little wider than our local networks. Sydney is still close enough that the meager artist fees we could offer for this stage wouldn’t be eaten up by travel costs, and so three of our wonderful cast (Toks Ogundare, Jemwel Danao and Hannah Goodwin) were sourced from there. Our fourth actor, Jim Nguyen, is a Canberran who I’d been looking to use in something since he auditioned for The Real a few years back.
That said, the casting decisions were thankfully not up to me. The not-so-secret edge of WRX is that every one of the writers is also extremely skilled and experienced in at least one other arts discipline. Emma and Tasnim are both in-demand theatre-makers and the only reason this iteration of the project went well (spoiler warning- it went well) is that they made time in their insane schedules to act as director and AD respectively.
Emma was the one who whipped my half-baked Table Read concept into an effective audience event. What she created was essentially a moved reading that made a virtue of super-minimalism, an old couch and a desk acting effectively as our five different story locations. Before we even got to that point Em and Tas worked for months on the audition process and their efforts were evident in the killer roster of actors that we ended up with.
As a thoughtless jerk I thought it would be a great logistical approach to mush the entire development into one day, including initial team meetings, rehearsal, script revisions and the final live performance. I also thought it would be a ‘fun’ twist for the whole thing to happen in a public space, which turned out to be the You Are Here festival Hub Space. This was a gross error in judgement for which Emma and the rest of the Drunk White Friend team should have rightly cut all ties with me and walked from the project. Instead they pushed heroically through the quite frankly fucked limitations of our noise-y chaotic working space. Who knows what our actors made of the insane working format, but they nailed everything we asked from them and it was a true thrill to finally see or characters made flesh-and-blood. Special thanks also to the other WRX writers for filling the variety of production, performance, songwriting and script-supervision roles that popped up along the way. Thanks to everyone but me the final performance was assured and clear, and the audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive (as well as full of constructive feedback for our next development stage).
WRX are some of my favorite people in the whole world and my belief in the merit of Drunk White Friend is total. The only possible weak link in the chain is me, so expect future blogs on the subject to be full of angst and misadventure as I do whatever it takes to Get This One Actually Made. Photos courtesy of You Are Here (I have to check whether Adam or Sarah took them then edit this post)