We asked sketch group Seldom Differ why they, like an increasing number of comedy groups, are using crowdfunding to get their ideas off the ground. The group's director and co-writer James Lord explains:
Okay - so it's sort of obvious; no one else would give us the money.
But there are other reasons...!
We decided to try crowdfunding a while back after having a crack at negotiating our way around the twists and turns of television commissioning; an occasionally bruising process that started in 2012 and came to an end two years later.
It would be invidious to mull on the reasons for our eventual defeat, so to speak; not least because of the brilliant people we met along the way and the fierce competition we faced from a myriad of talented comedians who were also eager to make their own show.
However, during the process, one thing became crystal clear; the people who sign off these TV programmes want to see something that shows them you can do what you say you can do. We had figured this much out before, to be fair, which is why we made a short taster video in the first place. A 9 minute sketch show called Don't Tape Over.
And that worked, to a certain extent. We had meetings with production companies, met a few of our comedy heroes and had the chance to pitch our ideas to the broadcasters. But that's where the fairy-tale took a frustrating twist...
We didn't have enough proof that we could make a funny show. We knew we could make a great show - but, of course, we would say that. In reality, even the backing of some respected industry names made no difference in the end. We simply couldn't convince them that the funny ideas we had written down on paper would turn out funny on video.
Also - there seemed to be so much confusion about what the broadcaster wanted. One piece of correspondence suggested we make...
"... a short series of videos, each of which needs to be able to work on its own and then when seen together in a playlist there could be a theme or structure to it. It might be a good idea if they could look at, say, the way audiences consume content on YouTube and treat that as the template."
But another said....
"The current plan is to look at giving you a sketch show series."
We just wanted to make a show that we thought was good - not spend an age investigating how audiences consume content online, as if there's some magic formula we could apply. Over time we were encouraged to move further and further away from our original idea - towards something that the channel thought would work (even if we didn't). We tweaked and bent our idea into a Frankenstein-version of its original self - but that seemed only to fuel the doubt the broadcaster was having.
So what were we to do? To their credit the broadcaster gave us some money to make an example sketch - the idea being that whatever we made would serve as proof of our potential. That was great - but also led to a lot of over-intellectualising on our end... do you make sure it's a relatable sketch? A broad sketch? Or an esoteric sketch? The thing that makes sketch so appealing in the first place is its variety - if you don't like one sketch, no matter, another one starts right away... how could we represent this in one sketch.
In the end we stretched the money, made a couple of sketches and tried our luck.
The broadcaster politely passed.
The official response was:
"The group really enjoyed the sketches and the performances but struggled to see what a series might look like. There was a strong feeling this works very well as short form content, but perhaps less well in a longer sketch show."
So that was that.
And of course we disagree.
We believe there is a sketch show format that will work in 2016. It just needs innovating - and while we have a good idea what it's going to look like, even we aren't 100% sure how it will turn out. That's how making something new is supposed to be. If you feel absolutely certain about what you're making - you're bound to fail, or at the very least make something unoriginal (and probably boring). And that's where the broadcaster went wrong; they were looking for watertight answers - stuff that was guaranteed to work. In other words - they were looking for something that doesn't exist.
So now we're looking to our friends, family, and whoever else wants to support us, to help us fund a longer version of our original idea. To give us a chance to take risks and experiment on our own terms.
Don't Tape Over is on Kickstarter until Thursday 15th September. Kickstarter page