The Newcastle based comedy trio, Hot Gulp, Patrick Low, Sean McKenna and Hal Branson have been working together for the last four years. They came to everyone’s attention for their Sainsbury’s Advert Parody last Christmas and since then have been gathering pace both on screen and stage. Northern Film & Media introduced the threesome to TV production company BonaFide Films who supported them in their bid for Channel 4 Alpha Funding (script development) for their latest project, Storydweller. The application was successful. With filming, funded by NFM about to start, we chatted to Hal Branson about Crowdfunding, ‘that Christmas Parody’ and their exciting cast announcements for Storydweller.
How did Hot Gulp come to be Hot Gulp?
Sean and I used to do a radio show on Culture Lab FM that sometimes had upwards of 9 listeners, then a mutual friend suggested we met a guy called Paddy who was apparently nearly as funny as us. We met at a beach party for a good friend and got on like a fireworks factory on fire. The rest is horrible history.
For people who haven’t seen your work, how would describe what you do?
Someone once described it as a mixture of Reeves and Mortimer and League of Gentlemen which is a frankly ridiculous comment and a very flattering comparison.
I guess we do verge towards the surreal and slightly darker side of things. We all work in TV and film production and have similar comedic sensibilities and influences and also a lot of very different ones and it’s this creative melting pot that we cook up our work in. In short - Paddy and Sean are clever and I’m a bumbling show off. And definitely the funniest one. Definitely.
Last Christmas you made waves with your Christmas Video - Sainsbury’s Advert Parody, were you surprised by the reaction?
It was like all our Christmases had come at once, and with our combined age that’s 106 Christmases. We thought it would be popular and we were confident it was one of our strongest and funniest works to date but if you’d told me it prior to shooting that it would clock up 500,000 hits on YouTube, be featured in the national press and have Janet Ellis from Blue Peter tweeting that it had ‘made her day’, I’d retrospectively realise that you were a bonafide psychic. And its success certainly got us noticed and is a good calling card to approach industry professionals.
You all recently did a Hot Gulp live show and you did a separate show at The Edinburgh Fringe. How did it go and do you think this has informed your work on screen?
If anything it was the opposite! As our background is in filmed sketches it was a big leap to get on a stage and perform without the safety net of second takes and editing. The narrative of our live show was a mixture of camera trickery (every time one of us left the stage we appeared on screen, although these inserts where actually pre-filmed) and we made light of the fact we had made a viral hit and yet we hadn’t secured a major TV deal yet. Also we play on the dynamics of a three person sketch group which, whilst no means original, is unique to each group.
The stand-up run I did was tough. Real tough. People describe doing the Fringe as ‘character building’ but so is charity work in Africa and at least someone gets a school at the end of that.
Overall it was a great experience and I grew as a solo performer and developed my material but also the connections I made up there with commissioners, producers and performers were worth the near mental breakdown alone.
You are about to shoot your latest project, Storydweller how did the piece come about? Where did the ideas come from?
We came up with it ages ago and entered the live pitch competition with it at CoFilmic in 2012. Did we win? Yeah, we won. Which was bizarre as all the other pitches were really slick and they all talked about audience demographic and target viewers and stuff. Our presentation was compromised of Paddy (who had been up all night with the shits) and me (who had slept beautifully and just had 1 x normal poo) bumbling out onto the stage and acting out a scene from it. I guess the good guys won this time. As myopic pop chick Gabrielle once sang 'Dreams can come true, look at me babe I’m with you’. We then spent last summer developing it into a full series proposal with script editor Andrew Ellard (The IT Crowd / Red Dwarf / Cardinal Burns). We shoot on 12th and 13th October, which is looming like a bad uncle in the night.
You’ve just made some exciting announcements about the cast and crew of StoryDewller, revealing that Steve Oram (Sightseers and Aaaaaaaah!), Gabby Best (BBC3's Top Coppers and winner of Funny Woman 2012), Greig Johnson (Eclectic Shock and Browzer), Director Jacqueline Wright (Jackal Films) would all be involved. You kept that quiet! How did the relationships come about?
We kept it quiet by simply not telling anyone. Which was harder than it sounds. I think we all felt that we might curse it if we announced it and given that everyone has agreed to give up their time and skills for next to nothing we couldn’t really complain if they got a paid job in. But now it’s been tweeted that’s pretty much legally binding. Is it? I think it is.
You’ve just done your first script read through, how did it go?
Really well. This is all very new territory for us as it’s usually just us starring and directing so at points it felt like we’d snuck in to the real world and any minute someone was going to come in and rumble us like a bouncer discovering you have fake ID and ejecting you from a club. But to hear work we’d written being performed by actors was amazing and it was great to an incredible experience and gave us faith that what we are making has the potential to be a strong piece of work. And funny. Christ, it better be funny.
Once the project is complete what will be the next steps for the project?
Once we’ve had some sleep and spent some time with our loved ones, our first step will to be to approach commissioning editors at the major channels most likely via a production company to see if we can secure funding to shoot a full pilot episode.
You recently decided to opt for the Crowdfunding method to get some extra cash for Storydweller, would the pilot not have gone into production if you hadn’t been able to raise this money or how would you have to have scaled it back without the extra money?
It still would have gone ahead thanks to the generous support of Northern Film & Media but most likely a scaled down version. We’ve been bowled over by the incredible generosity of everyone involved in the project. We are working on the notion that people want to be involved as they know it will be a fun shoot but also has the potential to go further than being consigned to YouTube amongst the cat and road rage videos. Who is Ronnie Pickering by the way?
So your Crowdfunding campaign reached your target and then some, was this the reaction you expected? Do you feel that this has pushed you forward to deliver more?
Much like the Christmas video we had no real expectations, we knew friends and family would chuck in a few quid but halfway through we were still a long way off the target. Towards the end donations increased exponentially as people wanted to get money in before the deadline.
It’s like when you end up buying a painting of horse on a skateboard off eBay, less because you want it but more because of the thrill of winning the auction.
What are your thoughts on the development of the television and film industry within the North East?
I think the region is in a great position at the moment, not just for local output but also programmes being filmed here that are not necessarily set in the North East. There’s a plethora of beautiful locations, talented cast, crew and broadcast standard production equipment from Picture Canning North and the added support of Northern Film and Media which can only be a good thing.
There’s obviously still a London-centric bias which will never truly go away but the closer we get to proportional representation of what’s on offer up here, the more people sit up and take notice. In terms of where the industry is headed, it’s undeniable that the rise of online distribution platforms, VOD and the democratisation of filming through cheaper equipment is a good thing for getting your work seen by a wider audience. The audience can experience it as and when they want to but television will continue to have the budgets and credibility for a while yet. I think Hot Gulp will hopefully take advantage of all this and you will continue to see our work across all platforms!
What’s next for Hot Gulp?
Rest. And a live Christmas special show.
Hot Gulp’s latest project, Storydweller has been funded through Northern Film and Media’s Development Programme. You can keep up-to-date with all Hot Gulp’s news via their website, Facebook and Twitter.