Everybody needs good neighbro's,
Just an L&P each morning,
Helps to make it sweet as, aye?
Live in units near each other,
That's when good neighbro's become best mates."
Part 1 of 6 - Inspiration.
To: cession | chaordic team
Subject: Next round of services
Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2011 17:21:30 +1200
Sunday 15 – 29 May – Neighbours series – an exhortation to serve, share and sacrifice for the community in which we are placed
Yes, we will do the Aussie Soap series as a rip off!
The day after the above email we had a meeting to plan the creative content of the church's upcoming series, to be entitled 'Neighbours'.
Since the creative content of previous series had arguably been inspired by such retro media franchises as Indiana Jones, Miami Vice, and Fraggle Rock, there really wasn't any discussion as to what a series concerning how we relate to our neighbours should be themed around.
Back in the 1980s, for a while there, I was watching Neighbours enthusiastically. I still maintain that the first nine months on Channel 7 had featured some excellent long-term plotting, and the next three months of its life on Channel 9 had seen it soar ever higher as more of a daily sitcom.
But then the rot had set in. Characters would forget the events of earlier episodes. Characters would get recast, despite the availability of the original actors. Characters would get replaced by identical characterisations with different names. The residents of Ramsay Street were behaving less like people, but more like TV characters.
When they made little Lucy grow several years older so that they could start using her for puberty storylines, I stopped watching.
I have always had an axe to grind about all of that.
"So," I asked at the meeting, "are we talking current Neighbours, or classic Neighbours?"
The three-word answer that emerged from the room was "cricket match Neighbours".
Almost immediately Nigel was showing us all the opening credits to the very first episode from YouTube, and straight away I was picking them apart. No no no, I protested, that's not the first episode, that's the second series on Channel 9, not Channel 7. And anyway, Tom didn't join until later when he replaced his brother Max, taking over his house, his family, and his current attempts to take up golf.
Like I said, still with an axe to grind. And yet, I didn't know if I still wanted to go on grinding it after all these years. So when the call went out for someone to author three video-sketches to shoot and screen before the congregation as ice-breakers, I kept quiet, and let Jon take it.
It didn't work - I just kept on getting ideas and emailing them to him.
Well, Jon knew an easy route out of more work when he saw it…
Part 2 of 6 - Writing.
So I started to type.
Flatmate Dave's old laptop, which five years earlier I'd used extensively for this blog, was now a little old. It was slow. It took a while to boot up. Word was no longer installed, so I had to make do with Google Documents. The net result of all this was my spending a couple of evenings typing agonisingly slowly, as the amount of time between my pressing the keys and actually seeing the letters come up on the screen rose to over 30 seconds.
It was strange - watching myself half a minute in the past typing something, and forming an opinion of him for all those typos that he kept making.
Still, I had three episodes to compose, each one of which had to not only parody a series that I seemed to remember more clearly than anyone else, but more importantly support the message of that week's sermon.
Trying to understand the intended message of each week, let alone dressing it up in a script, was something that I found a huge challenge. One of the best pieces of advice had come from Jon - "The message of the sketch is always the opposite of the message of the sermon."
So I absolutely scrutinised every last word of that planning document:
"Week 1 – Thinking Missionally – The Incarnation Principle – God Came to be with us – we do the same – challenging thinking about church and understanding where cession|community sits within the possibilities – Frank Ritchie speaking"
So in part one, Grundy Street is a metaphor for the church, with Lame Brain SuperJane seeing new members as a threat to the old order.
"Week 2 – Thinking Neighbourly – what does it mean to live as neighbours to people in our worlds and to love them – practical application – Brett Jones"
So in part two, Lame Brain SuperJane and Kylie, through indifference, are really bad neighbours to Jason.
"Week 3 - Thinking Synergistically – When the church does incarnation and neighbourliness well as a BODY – the community of faith, the body of Christ, the priesthood of all believers – tying this to what we are doing in Community Engagement through the trust and other initiatives – Rob Reynolds"
So in part three, when Jason can't help Kylie, another resident from the street steps in to help instead, but for the wrong reasons.
After much brainstorming, I made the mistake of sending an early draft round to friends for feedback. I say 'mistake' because it seems that, unless a person is used to offering feedback, no matter how many times you use the words 'early' and 'draft' together, people will still think that you think that it is your finished masterpiece.
But you know what? A lot of that is just my own insecurity. By the following month's meeting I knew exactly what I wanted to do, exactly who I wanted for which tasks, and even who I hoped would sing the opening music.
But I couldn't express any of that. At the next meeting I kept torturing myself that everyone would think that I was taking it too seriously. To me it was a creative project, but to everyone else they were quick sketches for church. As my paranoia became a self-fulfilling prophesy, I watched helplessly as my vision slowly began to unravel through others' hands, with barely a peep of an objection from me.
The following morning I agonised to Josh about it on the way into work. I told him how much I'd been punishing myself for not standing up for the creative choices that I wanted. Josh seemed to chuckle at this, and spoke words so deep that they might just stay with me for the rest of my life.
"And there's the irony. You berate yourself."
Part 3 of 6 - Shooting.
On Saturday 7th May, Scott shot the opening credits. I didn't have the confidence to say that I wanted a slightly different version for episode three, to incorporate new character Darius.
Picking my battles, I did however stand my ground over the presence of a character in two locations at once. I didn't like the idea of someone in the street simultaneously watching themselves from indoors behind a window. Such an event was impossible, which I felt was crossing a line. Scott on the other hand saw its value as an extra joke, and one which we were compelled to include because there were no other actors available to stand behind the window and react. In the end we compromised, and Scott himself played the extra neighbour behind the window.
Another instance was the parody of the final aerial shot of Ramsay Street. Scott had some perfect aerial footage that he'd shot recently in Christchurch, but I wanted it to actually be Howick - the same town in which the viewers at church live. Scott conceded the battle but won the war, as I later decided that, although I hadn't seen his Chch material, he was probably right.
With the opening credits in the can, that night was Jon's karaoke birthday party, so I went off to that instead of learning my lines.
The following afternoon we began shooting the scenes. Originally I had anticipated two shoots for these, and accordingly written the script to exploit two locations. By now however I'd reset all the coffee shop material - in fact the entire series - into the one room of the one house. There was no greater practicality about this, it just appeared more doable on paper. At least one person told me that they expected to get all three episodes in the can that afternoon. I made it clear that I only expected to get half of the series done. In the event we got two-thirds completed - right up to the end of episode two!
So I arrived carrying various props including two wigs that I'd bought, but found Kate and Carmel enthusiastically having their hair done 80s-style.
They looked great! I just didn't have the heart to explain that I'd bought wigs, so I let it go. After all, when you compromise the fun, you're losing sight of a large part of the reason. Nobody had got the joke yesterday during the credits about Carmel's rainbow wig anyway, so I had already decided to drop that.
One of the most disappointing compromises was losing the dog Barker. He/she (there were to have been contradictory references) was to have represented the good neighbour, the only one who stayed behind with Jason, and hopefully elicited a serious "Aww" factor from the viewers. Yes, there was to have been a serious moment, and Barker was it. Still, we got his/her name in.
Pleased to have exceeded my expectations of how far we had got with shooting, various factors had to be juggled afterwards to find a final filming date for episode three. This was the bit that I was glad to have let go into DaNae's hands - phoning around everyone trying to get things organised. In the end, rather than lose any castmembers, we had to let the unavailable house go, and shot the final part over at DaNae's flat instead!
The closing shots, in which Kylie's long-lost half-cousin Katie shows up, were to have ideally featured whoever extra was available, but in the end we just asked Carmel to play a dual role.
When Katie shoots Kylie, the final line was going to be Darius exclaiming that old chestnut "One nun dead and Katie!" However Jon didn't get the darts reference, and so I supposed that other Kiwis might not either. So instead we went with my back-up line "Time for you to shoot-through, Kylie!"
This however meant that the character did not now need to be called Katie, so I wanted to change it to Terri, for reasons that Neighbours fans will understand. With all the rush to finish and go home though, somehow her name remained Katie, although now I think about it I suppose it should really have been Maxine.
Anyway, to dress up Carmel as her identical twin half-cousin Katie, I finally opened the packet containing the wig that I'd originally bought for Jane. My heart hit the floor as I realised that it had been a perfect 'Kylie wig' all along… and the character called Kylie hadn't been wearing it! Oh, big gag lost there. Big gag. Sad face.
The next day at home I cleared a lot of furniture to one side to take some additional shots to drop in of Jason's deserted house. Yup, that room was played by three different buildings. I briefly considered trying to work flatmate Dave's cat Jade in in place of the dog Barker, but heaved myself back. I also took a couple of photos of a house and street for the closing credits.
Part 4 of 6 - Editing.
Then it was time to start editing by watching the rushes, and I discovered how backlit some of the first two episodes had come out. It looked like we were filming in a real house, as opposed to on a set. Dang.
Similarly, right from the off I'd been aware that using the built-in mic on the camcorder would catch the reverb off the walls and give the same roomy effect, so at time of shooting DaNae had recorded all of the dialogue separately on a flash mic from my work. This was much nearer to the actors, and gave them much greater presence, most of the time. Anyway, plenty of syncing up to be done.
However, in episode three, at one point while Kylie and Darius are on the phone to each other, I somehow messed-up and accidentally used the feed from the camera's mic for one of them. The result made no descernable drop in quality, but did nonetheless sound different. As we had shot both halves of the conversation in the same room, the different mic-feed was a great enhancement to the sense that Darius was indeed speaking in a different location to Kylie. Result!
One of the more long-winded editing jokes comes during the same exchange. Darius is listening to Kylie on the phone, and as well as via the crackly handset, we can also hear Kylie 'over on the next set'. It's a minor point, and probably sounds like a error, but that's the intention!
In fact, the flash-mic's proximity to the actors turned out to have often been a little too close, as evidenced by its ubiquitous appearances on the edge of the frame. Now I know what you're thinking - I could have just left the microphone in shot and it would have served as an extra 'deliberate mistake' gag, at the expense of the TV series that it was parodying. However, I think most of the audience sees it for what it is - a genuine error. They can tell those a mile off. In fact, if there's any ambiguity as to whether a mistake is accidental or intentional, nine times out of ten I think they'll assume it's the former.
So this was where my cropping the widescreen footage down to 1980s TV's 4:3 really came into its own - I could cut out every single instance of the mic appearing on camera, and nobody would ever suspect a thing.
The irony here would be the mute opening credits, which Scott had edited himself. These looked absolutely fantastic, and were already in 4:3, but had somehow wound up with the caption "Neighbours" superimposed over the top left hand corner, instead of "Neighbro's". So I actually cropped that down to widescreen in order to clip the end of the word.
I've never liked widescreen TV (always feels like I'm wearing a visor), so now I felt dirty.
There was one other visual effect that the editing package - Sony Vegas - was able to help me out with. As part three had been shot in a different house to the preceding instalments, the geography wasn't quite consistent. In parts one and two, off camera-left, there had been a patio door. Now in part three Kylie was exiting in the same direction and we were cutting to an exterior shot of her emerging from a regular door. What to do?
After seeking advice from Rob about how to get the software to do it, in the end I gritted my teeth and horizontally flipped almost every shot in the whole episode, like a mirror. Now Carmel was exiting through a regular door camera-right, which was no contradiction at all.
It also transformed Jon's wedding ring into just a ring, and made some of the other geography make more sense too, although the shots of the final cliffhanger were a little more of a challenge. No-one queried with me why the left-handed phone had, between episodes, changed into a right-handed one!
The push-back was my gut instinct that, right-to-left, it just didn't look as funny as left-to-right. I'm serious - that's how I felt about it. I could remember how everything had been positioned at time of filming, so to now see it all the other way around, well, of course it felt wrong… it WAS! Using logic to overcome feeling when deciding how funny a thing is went right against my convictions, and I'll have to give some thought as to how this impacts my understanding of free will.
The theme music was an unreserved disaster, and yet again it was all because of my paranoia that when asking for help, people might think I'm a sad idiot. I had nobody to sing it. There were people I knew, at the same church, who were astounding singers, but I just couldn't pluck up the courage to ask any of them. It's a measure of how deep my emotional paralysis runs that, rather than ask any one of a number of people, I instead sang it myself, knowing just how grating the whole nightmare was. I also just didn't have enough confidence if flatmates David or Cathy were in while I was doing this. In the end this theme song ruined the fun tone of the whole series, and this was a shame, given how much trouble Brett had gone to to record the underscore.
Finally, there were other editing gags that had to go, as I just didn't have enough time or discipline. I'd written some spoof credits to flash up over the themes. I rather fancied hearing Morris Minor And The Majors performing on the radio in the background behind Darius, so that the line they'd sampled from the original Neighbours theme could either be replaced by my grating "Neighbro's", or sync with the start of the theme at the end of the episode. And I wanted some more shots of houses for the closing credits.
Nonetheless, a deadline is a wonderful discipline.
Part 5 of 6 - Projection.
On Sunday 15th May, I headed into church with my hard drive and copied the first two episodes - I hadn't edited the third at that point - across onto the church's laptop. I advised Richard to clear-out the cache before projecting it, as they were big files, and I didn't want any chance of them freezing up during playback. We also made sure that the video-projector was set to the correct aspect-ratio.
The service (podcast here) got going, and then the moment came.
I watched the whole thing from the corridor - as far behind everyone as possible. Throughout production, DaNae had repeatedly referred to me as the one with the vision for the whole thing, and inevitably I felt that this series would reflect upon me personally.
And it's always an awe-inspiring moment to watch your filmic creation up on a big screen in front of an endarkened audience. The way the bass was bouncing off of the walls took me back to the actual 1980s when I had worked in a cinema. For me, the slow moments are the ones that seem to command a greater attention from the audience, who are still looking at the screen between stronger reasons to.
There was laughter at the start as Kate and I were pulling silly expressions at each other to cheap-sounding synth music. A bigger ripple when my character ran through all the 1980s merchandise that he'd had stolen. Then the revelation that it hadn't been stolen after all because the burglars had thought it wasn't worth anything - that got a good one.
I wished now that I'd left a longer beat there before the next line. It sounds trivial, but that's the sort of intense scrutiny that one puts one's own work under. Even the line about the bailiffs got a laugh. Was that supposed to be a joke? Oh well, I'm not turning it down.
Five minutes later the episode ended, with my morose 'singing' again. It really did just sound quite spectacularly miserable. Literally - straight afterwards I actually heard two people describing it with the word "miserable". It truly was the anti-Neighbours theme - swapping bubbly optimism for sheer hatred of self. I worried that, if it turned out to be as relentlessly catchy as the original, then in the coming weeks some of our congregation might just compel themselves to jump off the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Brett, beginning his sermon straight afterwards: "Lesson to myself: Do not let Steve Goble loose with popular culture - he will destroy everything."
Still, there was little I could do about the credits, as the next day I was fleeing the country to Australia for a week. While I was away, Jon tried to rerecord it, but quickly discovered just how hard this was. Had he been successful, then I'd have wanted to justify it creatively by featuring a third voice on the final episode. But the alternative was that my repeated self-loathing scrapes might at least become annoying in the same way as the original.
Come episode two, which I had just made it back from Oz in time for, they faded down the closing music very early, and this time I had no wish to argue. That cliffhanger though - I love my church for letting me show that.
Over the next week I edited episode three, running things so tight that it was actually still being copied onto the church's computer while Brett was introducing it! This time as they all watched it for the first time, I did too…
Right at the start DaNae came up to me with a look of absolute betrayal on her face. Under her breath she whimpered. "Why did you do that? Why did you take our living room and reverse it? It's not like that in real life. It's the other way around. Why would you do that? Why? WHY? Dear God man, WHY?????"
Really, her expression said all of these things, some of them even in sync with her voice. Well, I guess that's how a person feels when you sneakily turn all their furniture around while they're not looking.
I had rather assumed that everyone had found the first two episodes to be just plain weird, but episode three was without doubt the one that they all understood. Mind you, I didn't get why they were now laughing so much at the same opening credits that they had seen twice before.
I suppose it helped that - shot in the evening - this episode wasn't so backlit as the earlier editions.
The biggest laugh of the series surprisingly came on Jon's line "I'm Jason's brother Darius." Kylie's rendition of the Rick Astley lyrics got laughter too, although the instrumental break garnered nothing.
The joke that I think it'll be remembered for though is the reveal that Kylie and Darius are in the same room. It didn't get the biggest laugh, but I like to think that it wrenched people's brains a bit, especially since we cut to it from Darius' perspective, giving the initial impression that Kylie is in his house, as opposed to him being where she is. I'm quietly proud of the direction of the rest of that scene too - we just get on with the rest of the conversation because we credit the audience with enough intelligence to understand this nonsensical situation.
After the final credits had rolled - including a photo of a monkey house that I'd now taken actually in Australia - Brett stood up again and said "I think a cliffhanger like that demands a second series!" Well, I'm not always sure when Brett is joking. Later in his sermon about God being in us, he remarked "which there were rife references to throughout Steve's script," and I still couldn't tell if he was serious.
Anyway, with the intentionally unresolved cliffhanger left hanging, that was that. Neighbro's was no more.
Part 6 of 6 - Tweaking.
And yet, a few things still bugged me.
Well, one thing really.
Everyone was brilliant in this, except for that guy droning the flipping theme song. It was the biggest killer of laughs in the whole series, and would spoil any screening I might give of these episodes to friends. For example, Jamie had asked to see them.
Still, that was the theme that we had used.
So if I were to rerecord it, was there a way in which I could improve the track without it contradicting anyone's memories?
So I tried rerecording myself in the same low voice, but going for a happier 'lumberjack song' delivery. Then I remixed it as best I could.
Finally, I got out my old battery-operated cassette recorder and transferred it in pieces onto a really gunky old tape, and back again. I was inspired by the abysmal amount of wow and flutter we had suffered in the UK on the theme tune to The Young Doctors during the same era.
The result was still pretty bad, but I was reasonably sure that this version didn't run the risk of driving anyone to slit their wrists afterwards. It also enabled me to fix the captions on the credits, and throw in some additional pictures of houses at the end.
Today I finally have a copy that I don't feel quite so self-conscious about.
Thank you so much Jon, Rachel, Carmel, Tes, Kate, Scott, Brett, DaNae, Caleb and Daniel.
You're a totally excellent bunch of neighbro's.
For Neighbro's episode one, click here.
For Neighbro's episode two, click here.
For Neighbro's episode three, click here.