With COVID shutting down our traditional creative venues, artists have been turning more and more to other mediums in truly inspirational ways. Whether Zoom, YouTube, radio plays or other forums and formats, artists are embracing their natural instincts to entertain and giving voice regardless of circumstances.
Bringing her original web series, Little Shits, to viewers this month, actor and comedienne, Hannah Camilleri, is no different.
Little Shits is made up of six scenes exploring the dynamics of three housemates, and the newest addition to the house, interacting in and around their share house in Melbourne.
It’s comprised of conflicts and how they’re resolved. Housemates have unique relationships; you know them more intimately than your friends but it’s doesn’t seem possible to discuss issues with them like you would a family member or a partner. It’s a battle of who is more mature than who. The show includes comedian David Quirk.
Camilleri was eager to write something that she would be interested in performing.
“The plays I had read were tiring; quite heavy content, excessive in length and overflowing with stage directions,” she says. “I wanted to write a scene with lots of dialogue – something you could read and have fun with immediately.”
Other criteria involved the dialogue to be conversational in tone, the characters to be interchangeable and the humour to lie in the overall sense of the scene as opposed to particular lines. It was important that the characters were interchangeable so actors could swap around and enjoy playing both sides of the story. “The lines also have a very tight cause and effect relationship with one other, like a screwball comedy without the wit,” she says, citing an exercise conducted by George Rideout while she studied writing in Canada. “A sheet of paper was passed around and we were invited to add one line of dialogue as either character and as you only have the previous line to work with, your contribution is quite connected to the previous line. It’s similar to improv – each offer presents new information to respond to and/or is informed by the previous line.”
In casting, Camilleri was looking for actors who were familiar with comedy or comedians who also enjoyed acting. “Either way, the stage element is important to me,” she says. “When you’re in front of an audience you must be sensitive to them where as in film you won’t suffer as much if you’re not.” She praises David Quirk’s comedy as well-rounded saying that she always feels like he’s telling us a funny story without every single line having to be a gag.
As seen in his preview MICF show for 2020, Astonishing Obscurity, David works at building a humorous atmosphere where he can say almost anything and it will be funny.
At the time of casting, Camilleri was also rehearsing her 2020 Melbourne International Comedy Festival show, Coming, which is full of characters, with Nat Harris who was making Under The Influence. “Nat’s show is full of characters too, so I knew that she enjoyed acting as well as stand-up comedy,” says Camilleri. After David and Nat, there was one more role to fill.
Camilleri met Jordan Prosser briefly a handful of times but it was when she saw his comedic Melbourne Fringe Festival show that she thought that his nuanced performance would translate well to the screen. “Of course, all of these performers are professionals that work across many mediums, and I certainly didn’t uncover hidden talents, but it was certainly fun to choose who would eventually bring the lines to life,” she says.
Camilleri also praises Pat Mooney, who co-directed and wrote the music for the series, as an inspiring filmmaker. “Pat along with Mitch Goldberg (the editor) and Thom Neal (the Director of Photography), are PlexGoldwin who make fanciful and refreshing films exclusively on film,” she says. It is not a PlexGoldwin production, however, Camilleri is grateful for their expertise on this. “I was on set for their latest short, Jeannette Is The Dog, and it felt like I was in the theatre again; everyone had fun and that was what is was like on Little Shits. It’s really uplifting to know everyone on set.”
As far as some of the difficulties of shooting: “Being an actor on set is very straight forward; be ready to go and give generous, and a variety of, performances while maintaining a sense of continuity. This time I was more involved with the shoot so the difficulty lay in knowing when to speak up. I wasn’t directing the action but I had written, produced and was performing it, so I felt very connected to how the comedy would land. There are so many professionals involved and it’s important to respect their roles, because they bring their own piece of the puzzle, but it was difficult to know when it was appropriate to share my feedback.”
“The other difficulty I had I actually discovered in post-production where I realised what would’ve been helpful in hindsight. ‘The downlight on that actor is harsh’ or, ‘Is there a close-up of this actor?’ Ryan Granger, and Talia Raso, from Dead On Sound, explained that the actor making a cup of tea could pretend to turn the kettle on so that the sound effect of the kettle could be added in post-production to avoid the kettle sounding disjointed when flicking between shots of the actors. Next time I will start with the end in mind and chat to the editor, sound designer and colourist and find out what is helpful to do on the days of filming to ensure these post-production personnel have what they need.”
But, for Camilleri, the biggest joy of creating the series was witnessing the scenes come to life by all the professionals working in the moment, and after the fact. She was also able to see the performers shine and experience the different ways they would deliver the lines and moments. “I really enjoyed the improvisation they injected into the scenes; in the end their ideas and impulses made the situations more believable,” she says. “I appreciate being asked to perform in a production so it was gratifying to be able to pay it forward and invite actors, without auditioning, to be in this. For Camilleri, project managing is fun too – organising all the moving parts from beginning to end. “I worked with a colourist, sound designers, an FX specialist and a web designer for the first time and without the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grant I would not had the opportunity to finish the project professionally,” she says.
A dynamic and exciting series for all, but particularly aimed at those who’ve lived in a share house with friends/strangers whose behaviour as perhaps confused, surprised and astounded.
“In the beginning of an interaction you’re surprised and incredulous,” explains Camilleri. “You respond by exercising compassion and patience, and you’re even accommodating, but when there is no vulnerability in return you seek justice and you want to make the other see the truth/your perspective. You feel the need to set a boundary but you notice that it has no effect so you need to be stronger. It can be tiring having to constantly assert yourself in your own home!”
Camilleri hopes Little Shits is living proof that Australian comedy can be nuanced. The six scenes were selected from a larger group of scenes she’s written and, says Camilleri, it would be really satisfying to make a longer version and/or a version where she’d hire the same cast and crew to make it. “I hope too that this material is a positive addition to the actors’ credits and that it leads to more work,” she adds.
This is Camilleri’s first official creation for the screen, but she has been in other people’s TV Shows and short films. Her roots, however, are in the theatre, having performed in musicals and plays. With a penchant for comedy, too, she has explored improv, clown, stand-up, citing a huge desire to have these subjects heavily influence her scripted ideas in her solo comedy shows. After all, no-one wants to see something you’ve rehearsed to a turn in your bedroom,” she says. “That’s my one predicament with theatre plays and performances. They’re incredible projects but the dilemma for me was being so hung up on the reception of opening night because we hadn’t had anyone in to witness it before we opened.” Camilleri wants to change with every new audience stating there’s more of an opportunity to change when you’re in charge of your own material.
Like all performers struggling to find work since late February (and worse still for performers in Victoria) Camilleri says auditions are scarce, and voiceovers are few and far between. However, for Camilleri the bright side is the privilege to be able to pursue her desires to perform on screen and stage so the very thought has her feeling grateful. “There will always be work; it may not be exactly what I’ve set my heart on but there will always be something,” she says pragmatically. “I can always find a way to create my own things. too.”
Camilleri tells me that the night before the trial of her Melbourne International Comedy Festival show it was announced that the festival was cancelled because of COVID, BUT, her preview the following night was full to the brim. “It was one of the most exciting performances I’ve ever done,” she says, gratefully. “Festivals are incredible things to be part of, but I realised that I didn’t need the structure of one to legitimise my work.” And the rest, as they say, is history!
The exciting and dynamic, Little Shits, will be available here: www.littleshits.com.au
Scenes released every second day from August 10, 2020
Follow Hannah on the Gram www.instagram/camillerihannah
Images: Thom Neal