For all the non-UK readers out there, how about you guys start by introducing yourselves?
Ben: Um… Pleased to meet you? My name’s Ben Slotover and I make and show comedy shorts with my friend Paul. Say hello, Paul.
Your work mainly consists of offbeat humour and other related madness – what drew you to this particular genre?
Paul: I like getting involved in the process of creating other worlds and characters. I think for most film-makers they are acting out certain subconscious dreams and desires. The real truth is I haven’t got a clue (except that I really enjoy it).
Ben: I got into making comedy by default, really. I tried my hand at proper drama but failed due to not putting enough work in because I wasn’t very interested in proper drama and not really knowing enough about proper drama anyway. We don’t set out to be offbeat but we do love to discover humour lurking in odd places.
Much of your work has been broadcast on British television, such as your work for the show Raw TV – how did you get your start, and what advice could you give to any readers hoping to break into the TV industry?
Ben: Most of our big breaks have come about thanks to one or two people who happened to like our stuff and had the power to put us on TV. If your stuff is going to reach one of those people you need to get it out there as much as possible. As well as getting your stuff shown all over (and even starting your own film show) you have to get it seen or read by the right TV people. This means hours of research, making tapes and DVDs, writing letters, constructing your website, stuffing jiffy bags and forking out for postage. Then there’s the cold calls you have to make, websites to watch, Monday’s Guardian media section to scan, script calls to send stuff to. It’s sheer drudgery but it’s also really important. You don’t know whose desk your material will fall on, but remember today’s junior researcher is tomorrow’s commissioning editor.
Paul: You can do all the stuff Ben just mentioned but without strong material you’re not going to gather anybodies interest. Write and prepare. Try to produce the best you can on what ever limitations you have. Again write and prepare.
One of your most notable works was the sci-fi comedy Captain V, which aired under the Comedy Lab banner in November. Please tell us more about this show – and will we be seeing more work like this in the future?
Ben: Captain V started as a low budget sketch to demonstrate a home made laser gun prop for a show called ‘Bob’s D.I.Y. Film Club’ (BBC Scotland 2000) ‘Bob’ being Bob Monkhouse of all people. We wanted to do sci-fi on the cheap and because cheap spaceship sets look terrible we decided to make the show about a cheap, incompetent spaceship captain with a rubbish ship and crew that wouldn’t find work anywhere else because they were so useless. The crapness of the design and budget was mirrored by equally crappy special effects. Basically it set out to show people bickering in a confined space and screwing up any opportunity that comes their way. Sounds a bit like the Blunt office.
Paul: More Comedy Lab stuff? I don’t think so. We nearly had another Comedy Lab starring one of our regular Blunt characters (Mick Roads: Ilford cab driver) but these things just tend to fall apart without anybody at the television channels telling you why.
Compared to your earlier works (which are famously made for basically no budget whatsoever), Captain V was filmed with a relatively high budget. Do you find that this funding creates further pressure on those involved? If so, how did you cope?
Ben: Channel four assigned an experienced production company to handle the actual planning and filming of the show so the only pressure on us was to keep rewriting and rewriting the script to try and make it funnier and cheaper. We basically just did what we were told and let them worry about the budget. It seemed astronomical to us but we were told it was actually a tiny budget for sci-fi which called for huge sets and state of the art effects. We told them it would be a lot cheaper to shoot it in a boiler room and have crappy effects but they weren’t too keen on the idea.
Paul: Erm… The whole process was very different to way we work. Personally we would have done it very differently and ended up perhaps with a whole series of Captain V for the same price. It’s nothing to do with the high budget but the way it’s spent. We’re used to getting the most out of limited budgets and resources. The moment you start building sets you need to hire somewhere to build them, hire people to make them, hire large lights to light them, lots of people to film them etc. etc. Before you know it you’ve spent your whole budget. Our other approach would have been to try and do something a bit like Sin City and perform the whole thing against a blue screen. The last thing I’m going to say is that Ben and Myself are much more hands on with our material both performing and directing. Having somebody else direct and perform our material meant it was watered down from an early stage.
Captain V hosts the illustrious Matt Lucas (Little Britain, Shooting Stars) amongst its cast – what was it like working with him? Any stories to tell?
Ben: His character had about two lines in our script but once they had the camera on him he just extemporized a whole persona complete with funny monologue. I had lunch with him after. It was just as ‘Little Britain’ had been given the nod to move from radio to TV and he was very excited. He did a whole Vicky Pollard routine for me which I didn’t think was very funny. Still, he was a nice guy. We talked about our favourite ‘Seinfeld’ episodes, as comedy geeks will.
Paul: I didn’t meet him. I think I had to go and collect an award.
Have there been any times when your ideas have been rejected for being too controversial / strange / just plain weird? Do you find that working in TV holds back your creative ideas at all?
Paul: We’ve done a lot more trying to get stuff onto television than actual television. We’ve never tried to guess what television producers want otherwise I think we’d always be self censoring. We were told by the BBC that Mick Roads (Ilford Cab Driver) was a bit too offensive.
Ben: We once did something called ‘Zero Budget Travel Tips’ for Raw TV which basically showed how to circumvent airport security at Heathrow and for some reason they didn’t want to show it (this was in 1999). We’ve been trying to get people interested in something called ‘Scum of the earth’ for the last five years but it only makes one in every 50 people laugh, and that one person goes hysterical, nearly has a seizure. It’s very odd… we’re still studying it. If there’s something too hot for TV, well, that’s what ‘The Blunt Club’ is for.
One thing that impressed me was your live ‘The Blunt Club’ shows, which involve a number of blue screen and various other fancy looking gizmos. Please tell our readers more.
Ben: We wanted to use the new technology available now at affordable prices as a tool to deliver live comedy. It’s quite common now to have stand-ups interacting with previously recorded material, but we still like to mess around with what you can do in a live setting with a video projector, screen and computer. We’ve had Elvis emerge from a video picture and complete a song live that he began on film. We also try and get the audience involved without embarrassing them by having an art contest and something called ‘saucy bingo’
Paul: Don’t forget our 3D movies Ben. We’ve made a collection of 3D movies about everything from fishermen to zombies.
When & where will the next Blunt Club show take place, and how can our UK readers take part?
Ben: 29th April at The Pullens Centre, 184 Crampton st, London and 7th July at the Horsebridge Centre, Whitstable. Go to www.bluntproductions.com for more details. Instructions for taking part will be given on the night.
Paul: We want films. If you have something that is either funny, weird or horror (all shorts) send it to us. If it’s good we’ll put it on.
How well do you feel technologies like blue screen, CGI etc help the comedy you guys produce? Are there any instances where certain technologies have allowed you to achieve previously unobtainable results?
Ben: Sure. Look at ‘Cucumber man’. The whole last minute of that film relies on blue screens and Adobe After Effects, and without that stuff it would have been a lot more expensive and not as funny. Believe it or not, Kenny Everett was one of the first to explore new technology as an aid to comedy. OK, Hal Roach if you want to go back for enough.
Paul: Apart from obvious stuff like space battles etc. we use new technology to create moving storyboards that help understand what a finished film might look like. I also like the fact that it’s really easy to create animation now.
Some of your new works are being produced in 3D (which look very snazzy with my funky new 3D glasses by the way) – how do you go about producing this effect, and what kind of reaction has it received?
Ben: It’s twice the work, really. We use two cameras, capture the footage twice, run every single shot through Adobe After Effects, render the lot in 3D and only then start to edit. Then to show the films we have to get hold of glasses and hand them out, we have to run the film off a computer… we made a film of how to do 3D cheaply and it’s on the website (www.bluntproductions.com ) We keep doing it because of the brilliant response we’ve had, even though it’s a big pain in the arse.
Paul: I let Ben do all the 3D editing. Usually I have to go out to buy some stamps at that point.
A film you mentioned earlier called ‘Cucumber Man’ was selected for the Commonwealth Film Festival – what did you pick up from this experience, and can we expect to see more Blunt works in festivals in the future?
Paul: We’re trying to get our films into as many festivals as possible but all the applying takes time (which we haven’t got much of) so we tend to do it in bursts.
Ben: It’s great getting your film into a film festival, though many charge an entrance fee which is shit. It’s nice to know, in the case of the Commonwealth Film Festival, that your film is being shown to totally different cultures. I think that festival toured India; I’d love to have seen the reaction to it. We’ve got a couple of films currently under consideration with some other festivals. Two good places to find out about festivals are www.withoutabox.com and www.britfilms.com
I heard recently you guys won the ‘Vauxhall VX Auteur Award’ for your film The Electric Bull Riding Contest – how does it feel to finally get awarded for your work?
Ben: I was convinced something had gone wrong somewhere that had resulted in one of our films getting an award. I didn’t even tell anyone I had been nominated, so when I had to make a speech holding this statue it was to a room full of strangers. I thanked my computer.
Paul: I wasn’t there. I think I’d gone to meet Matt Lucas.
I read somewhere the prize was a hefty £200. What are you guys going to spend the money on?
Ben: we haven’t spent it yet. When the time is right we’re going to make ten zombie films.
Paul: 10 feature length zombie films.
Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap things up?
Paul: Send your films. Check our address at: http://www.bluntproductions.com
Ben: Buy our DVDs! on sale now at http://www.bluntproductions.com!!