Having amassed millions of views with their car lipsync videos, female comedy troupe SketchShe decided to take their online work to the next level – with the four-part musical series Traffic Jam the Musical. By Caris Bizzaca.
If every single person in Australia watched the same video, it still wouldn’t reach the number of views for just one SketchShe YouTube clip.
Such is the popularity of the group as well as the potential reach of online storytelling, which doesn’t just stop at opening weekend, but builds and builds over months and months.
For SketchShe their success originally came about out of necessity. Shae-Lee Shackleford, Lana Kington and Madison Lloyd had wanted to create their own female-driven comedy show. But when they ran out of the funds to keep filming sketches, the trio began creating their car videos. The videos – where they lip-sync popular songs with costumes and dance moves – have taken a straight-forward idea and tapped into the imaginations of millions around the world.
For two clips in particular – Mime Through Time and Bohemian Carsody – SketchShe have garnered a staggering 36 million views and 28 million views respectively. Even US talk show host Ellen is a fan, inviting the troupe onto her show in April last year.
But they wanted to push themselves further.
“The car videos took on a whole life of their own but what most people don’t know is that initially what we really wanted – and what we still want – is to create a female driven comedy show,” says Shackleford.
“Obviously music, comedy and choreography had become a big part of what we’d been doing, so we thought the next natural step would be a musical.”
With filmmaker Marc Furmie, they came up with a concept that linked to the car videos, beginning the four-part series driving around a hyper-version of Hollywood, called Hollow City. By the end of the first episode, the trio are in a car accident and the story spins off from there.
“There’s a real Girl Power element to everything we’re doing. As well as us, there’s a whole bunch of other female protagonists in the story and it’s something we’re really proud of,” says Shackleford, who also directs Traffic Jam.
SketchShe were able to get funding with Skip Ahead, a joint initiative between Google and Screen Australia that helps emerging YouTubers build their skills and audiences.
“Once we had a budget suddenly the sky was the limit to be able to make something we’d never done before,” she says.
Screen Australia Investment Manager Mike Cowap says to date SketchShe had been making two kinds of videos with great success – the lipsync car videos, and out-and-out comedy sketches like #InstaFaker Vs #InstaReality.
“Traffic Jam combined both of those things,” he says.
“At this point in SketchShe’s evolution, it was the perfect blend of the kind of music and comedy that they already do so well.”
The problem was, even once SketchShe found out they had the Skip Ahead funding, they soon realised Traffic Jam was much bigger than they first anticipated.
“So we reached out to our fans,” Shackleford says, launching a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $41,000.
“For us, it was a little bit about the money but also about including our fans and giving them the opportunity to be on board with what we were creating.”
For some fans, that meant pledging $5 to access the production diary, while on the other end of the scale, others pledged $4,000 to have SketchShe attend their next Christmas party as Disney princesses and “cause havoc with some seriously impressive dance routines”.
With the extra support, filming took place over five days in a Sydney studio in March.
But it wasn’t just the collaboration with fans that made Traffic Jam happen.
SketchShe teamed up with James Ash and Melinda Appleby from the Rogue Traders to create the original music, and called on a fellow YouTube star to help with choreography.
At YouTube FanFest last year, Kington and Lloyd met Jayden Rodrigues, a choreographer who racks up millions of views with his dance tutorials videos.
“We thought it would be great to do something together at some point. Then when we knew we were going to do Traffic Jam we reached out because we knew he would be perfect as one of the characters,” Shackleford says.
In episode 3 Rodrigues plays one of the characters as well as constructing a Michael Jackson Beat It -inspired dance sequence, while friends and choreographers Motif Dance Productions came on board for the other episodes.
It’s just another example of how SketchShe pride themselves on collaboration and being part of a team – whether it’s the three of them or an entire film set.
“What we’ve been able to do with SketchShe is create our own opportunities. Being able to come up with ideas that we can write and perform as well, we’re really in control of our own destiny in that way,” she says.
“That’s why I’m so grateful to Google, Screen Australia and Mike Cowap, who has been so amazing to work with, because they’ve supported us so completely.
“We’re always encouraged to go bigger and better.”
And if this is just the beginning, there’s no telling what SketchShe will achieve.
Traffic Jam the Musical episodes 1 and 2 are out now, with ep 3 releasing on June 15 and ep 4 on June 27.