After the success of Tales From Tinder, filmmaker Emma Watts and her team were able to put some money behind their next genre-bending web series, No Strings Attached. By Caris Bizzaca.
For most Australians, Monday morning brings with it the kind of feet-dragging that can only signal the beginning of the working week. However, for television producer Emma Watts there was a sense of anticipation.
Because every Monday, she would speak with her colleagues about the events of their weekend. And every Monday, she would be regaled with the most “tell me it’s not true?!” stories from their experiences with dating apps like Tinder.
Watts knew there was a documentary web series in this. But the problem was, no one wanted to put their face, or name, on camera to tell their often embarrassing stories about sex and dating.
Then Watts realised a friend knew a puppeteer – Mischa Long – and reached out for help. He was keen to come on board and created the colourful creatures who would act out these stories in Tales From Tinder. And now, for No Strings Attached.
“It put people at ease when they realised they wouldn’t have to share their name or their face and a puppet would be recreating the story,” Watts says.
“People were really willing to let their guard down.”
Tales From Tinder was made in their spare time, “for the love of it”, as something for friends and family to watch.
“We did it on an absolute shoestring budget, shooting it on the weekends and late at night,” Watts says.
“When we put it out to the world, we were totally surprised (at the response). We were invited to all these web series festivals around the world (winning awards in Berlin, New York and Rome) and we started getting this small but really interested audience.”
And it caught the attention of ABC too, who commissioned a second series called No Strings Attached, for iview – and have since announced it will launch on ABC2 and iview on November 27.
“The great thing about No Strings Attached is we opened it up so now we’ve got stories from Grindr, Scissr, online gamers, and also from Snapchat and Facebook,” she says.
No Strings Attached has stepped it up in other ways too.
Because of the support of Screen Australia and Film Victoria along with ABC (and NBCU who bought the distribution rights), Watts and the team had the budget to invest more into the puppets and props.
Puppet-maker Vanessa Ellis was brought on board to figure out how she and Long could best create 10 puppets within their budget.
“We wanted their hues to be a little bit off in colour or a little bit pastel so they couldn’t be linked with puppets from Sesame Street or The Muppets,” she says,
In the end, the puppets they created could be transformed into two to three characters by swapping out accessories, such as glasses, different hair styles or tattoos, as well as giving them different lips, eyelids, and eyelashes.
So do they look like the person behind the story?
“I didn’t know a lot about the characters, which was a great thing because I didn’t get influenced,” Ellis says. “You probably wouldn’t recognise any of these puppets to the actual people they are.”
No Strings Attached was shot in about 12 days over a period of three weeks, with Watts and the team favouring real locations, filming at real bars young people frequent, cafes or share houses.
Having a bit of money behind the web series meant they could come up with creative ways to tackle one of the biggest challenges of working with puppets – hiding the puppeteers.
“We’ve been so lucky that we do have a small props budget and we can make great things now like couches with holes in the bottom and beds with holes in the mattresses,” Watts says.
“So it’s really fun to be able to take the series up a level and to be able to have that small amount of money to be able to do it properly.”
And they hope to take it even further. Watts says she and producer Lisa Kovacevic of Green Bean Pictures have many more variations on the No Strings Attached and Tales From Tinder theme to mine.
“And we’ve sold the distribution to NBCU, so we’re looking at creating a format with them moving forward,” she says. “So hopefully people overseas will get to see the series as well.”
No Strings Attached will launch with episode 1 on ABC2 on 27 November, with the 10 episodes airing daily. The entire series will be available on ABC iview after the first episode airs.