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In today’s episode, Bonnie and Aaron discuss the comedy writing process, filming in two different states in Australia at the height of COVID, and the inspiration behind their chaotic comedy web series.

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[Introduction – 00:00]

Voice Over:

You’re listening to In Conversation with Screenwest. Screenwest Development and Production Executive Franziska Wagenfeld joins two of the creatives of the comedy web series, Hug the Sun: Bonnie Davies and Aaron McCann. They discuss the comedy writing process, filming in two states in the height of COVID and some of the inspiration and nuances of Hug the Sun. From Screenwest this is In Conversation.

Franziska:

Hi, I’m Franziska Wagenfeld, Development and Production Executive at Screenwest. My guests today are the creative team behind the Screenwest, Lotterywest and Screen Australia supported comedy series, Hug the Sun.

Aaron McCann has worn many hats including producer, director, writer, first AD, camera operator, actor, and editor on a variety of projects. Most recently he’s worked on the mockumentary Top Knot Detective and the documentary feature Koko: A Red Dog Story.

Bonnie Davies is the CEO and creative director of The Gelo Company and a multi-award-winning theatre producer and comedian. She’s probably most well-known for performing as her alter ego, Famous Sharron.

Welcome to you both and may Oxtos be with you.

[Creating an Absurdist Comedy – 01:17]

Franziska:

Hug the Sun is amazing. Congratulations, first of all. Really, really enjoyed it.

It’s made in the absurdist comedy style, and for me absurdist comedy’s a bit like abstract art. It looks really, really easy but no doubt it’s really complex. Would you like to talk a little bit about creating an absurdist comedy web series?

Aaron:

Sure. I guess the start, it’s sort of like a non-sequitur so it’s very much like yeah, taking these big giant leaps — and I gravitate towards that sort of comedy, and I know the Aunty Donna guys gravitate towards that — but it is very written and structured out so we do spend a lot of time in the writing room figuring out where we’re going to go with each of the sketches and always having fun with it that way. But for me it’s about taking those big chances and that’s where that style comes from. I know it’s absurd, but we find it just to be what comedy is now.

Bonnie:

I think it’s evolved from people who just love comedy so much, and if you really love comedy… It’s like watching a movie and seeing how it’s broken down. You know what the characters are going to do, you know the punchline’s going to come here, and then after a while you want more.

And so absurdist is almost just twisting it. It’s almost like the surrealist painting of comedy. It’s like, “Yeah sure, we can paint a realistic clock but what about one that’s melting?” So, it’s just still based on things that you recognise and understand but then slowly pulling you away or just really flipping the script on you when you don’t expect it, so that’s really fun, I think, for people who are comedy nerds as well.

Aaron:

Yeah.

[Concept Development – 02:51]

Franziska:

So where did the idea for Hug the Sun come from?

Aaron:

Well, the idea started with Ben Russell and Xavier Michelides.

Bonnie:

There were from Perth originally, they started here, and they moved to Melbourne.

Aaron:

Yeah, they moved to Melbourne, they decided to start a little-

Bonnie:

Now they are dead to me.

Aaron:

How dare you? No, it started with them-

Bonnie:

Their brains were born here.

Aaron:

Xavier saw this show called Sing Me a Rainbow back in the eighties and it was a religious half hour variety show.

Bonnie:

Kids’ educational but also themes of, “Don’t cross God, God will get you!”

Aaron:

Very religious sort of show, but he very much grew up with that and he pitched it to Aunty Donna being like, “Wouldn’t it be fun to parody this type of show that existed? How could we go around it in that way?”

And then they were saying, it was based in Perth, “Who could we get in Perth to do it?” And then they mentioned me, and I already had a relationship with Aunty Donna, so we jumped onboard that way, and that’s how it started.

Bonnie:

Yeah, and then you knew Andrea, from working, and then me, from different writing stuff.

Aaron:

And then we just all got together and, “Okay, let’s try to figure this thing out in a room please.” It was like, “What is this show?”

[Character Development – 03:59)

Franziska:

Do you want to talk a bit about character development? You’ve got a number of characters in the show, and you’ve got Famous Sharron, do you want to talk a bit about character development?

Bonnie:

It’s funny, her account just got messaged the other day with a screenshot of Trina going, “I see you.” I was like, “No!” because Famous Sharron’s not in this at all and it’s probably the first thing I’ve done that’s not Famous Sharron for about eight years, which is pretty exciting, aside from live stuff.

Yeah, the character development was really interesting because Linda and Trina — which is Andrea Gibson’s character and my character — Linda was a little bit of a feature but more of a co-host and Trina was really a bit part; she was just a throwaway sidekick.

But then when we were looking at the storyline and really I think character can really drive a narrative, and if you just set the characters up with their truths and their intentions and then put them into situations, they will create funny and they will create drama, and you can just take them to the extreme and it’s really fun to see where that goes.

And when we started digging into, “Why is Linda there? Why is Trina part of this? What are their roles in this?” Because the boys really had a strong evolution already and Linda, she’s been around for a while.

I actually wrote a whole backstory for Trina and brought it to the second scripting session because I was like, “Who is she?” And Trina has been a little forgotten country town girl for years and then she tries to put herself into the Bunbury mayoral elections and loses terribly but buys sausage rolls for everyone thinking she’s going to win and runs into the Hug the Sun team right after the big camp where Gary’s been arrested.

Bonnie (05:30):

So, she meets them… Do you know when something’s peaked and then it starts really declining? She meets them just at the end of the peak, so Trina the whole time just wants to be back at camp. She’s like, “Come on, it’s amazing,” whereas everyone else is on the way out, and Linda is really starting to question, “Do I really want to be part of this?” And Trina is ready to take over and also wants Linda to still be part of it all.

So that’s really simple backstory that I wrote up, but that defines Trina throughout the series and how she responds to Linda, and then same for Linda, it makes that storyline really easy. You know what Linda’s going to do in the scene. If something goes wrong she’s not going to power through, she’s going to question that moment, whereas if something goes wrong for Trina she’s like, “It’s okay, I’ll do it, I’ll get through it,” because Trina wants it to work whereas Linda is on her way out.

[Writing Comedy That Works – 06:20]

Franziska:

Look, that’s really fascinating, and it brings me to my next question, which is… Comedy works really well in the web space, so do you want to talk a little bit about what makes comedy work? What is comedy really and how do you make it work? How do you make something funny?

Aaron:

What is comedy is the age-old question. I don’t know. It’s such a really personal thing because comedy is really subjective, so what’s funny for me might not be funny for someone else, and in a shorter space it can be really short and sharp and defined, and there’s some great comedy on TikTok right now that’s only eight seconds long, and then there’s some amazing long form comedy that also exists on TV and on the web. It’s really hard to define what comedy is because it is such a personal choice.

Bonnie:

Yeah, I think… I mean for me, just for my own personal perspective, I feel like comedy is popular on the web because we need a break. Life is so relentless, and you have so many emails and texts and things, and the web is so easy to find something that is of light relief, but then if there’s a bit more to it, if there’s a bit of truth I find the really big YouTube vloggers or just even Instagrammers and stuff that are actually funny. They’re usually just saying things that are real.

Even Jimmy Rees who’s blowing up right now, he’s just talking about real stuff. This is what the states are really doing. He’s doing that mockery of each state and making them personas, which is just how we feel. We feel like Sydney looks down at us all the time. They look down on everyone, do you know? Of course, everybody ignores Tasmania, but to make Tasmania a person and be like, “Guys, guys, oh please,” to make WA so like, “Yes, we are a really independent state and we are like, “We’ve got it, we’ll sort it. We’re so far away, whatever, we’re basically our own country.”

And that’s just truth, and I think truth just hits so hard. I’ve always said when a whole room laughs we’re all on the same page. How amazing is that? Because it’s so rare that a whole room of people is on the same page. There’s a real power in comedy to really pull people into a moment and that’s just really fun.

[Working with Aunty Donna – 08:24]

Franziska:

Great answer. I agree, that is really amazing. So, you worked with anti-Donna, I believe, on this project?

Bonnie:

Anti-Donna, yeah. (laughs). There’s an anti-Donna movement. Can we start an anti-Donna?

Franziska:

(laughs) Aunty Donna. Do you want to talk about how Aunty Donna got involved.

Aaron:

Yeah, so…

Bonnie:

They are obsessed with me.

Aaron:

Yes, they’re obsessed with Bonnie.

Bonnie:

They will not stop stalking my little 1,000-person account. Is that right?

Aaron:

Yeah, that is right. That’s absolutely right. (aside) Zack, stop messaging Bonnie.

Bonnie:

Stop DMing me, yeah.

Aaron:

Xavier Michilides pitched the show to Aunty Donna because they both work in the same building.

Bonnie:

They have Stupid Old Studios in Melbourne, which is an amazing place. Can I just say something off the side of that?

Aaron:

Yeah, yeah.

Bonnie:

I think there’s such a power to having a space where people are in it together, even if they’re working on their own stuff, because humans connecting and sharing ideas, they can go so many different ways.

Aaron:

And so many different percolations of comedy and different styles of comedy that are made within the-

Bonnie:

Yeah, less that formal introduction and you meet this person, and you do this, and I meet you at a function, actually just creating around each other, and that’s where the magic happened with this.

Aaron:

Yeah, and because they were in the same place I think Aunty Donna’s production company, which is Haven’t You Done Well, they were like, “Well look, we’re trying to build this new thing, if people want to pitch me out some ideas, that’d be great.”

Xav had this idea of like, “Hey, this religious show I used to watch back in Perth, could we do something like that?” And they were like, “We’d be absolutely interested in that and we’d be part of it as well if you want, just build it out.”

And it was a two-year process of them going back and forth and really finding out who these characters were, what the show was, making a little proof of concept and getting it to the stage that people could become interested in it. We always knew it was going to be called Hug the Sun because it was just a ridiculous title.

Bonnie:

Which by itself is so funny.

Aaron:

Because you can’t do it!

Bonnie:

Why would you ever tell someone to do that?

Aaron:

But that’s in short how they got involved, and then from there it’s really been about leveraging off their following as well, because they do have this really rabid fan base and it comes from them doing live performances and working in different mediums. They’ve done shows on Stan, they’ve done shows on YouTube, they’ve done shows on ABC.

Bonnie:

Netflix.

Aaron:

Yeah, Netflix, which that Netflix show dropped as we were shooting so it just gave them another big push along the way. And their fans are so willing to engage with them and are really there, really supportive for all the characters that they have in the show. So, once we created this it was this little side shoot project-

Bonnie:

It’s like a spin-off.

Aaron:

-and all their fans came on to that and started getting involved, which was fantastic.

[Audience Engagement – 11:05]

Bonnie:

It was quite an amazing launch actually, watching the comments. Straight away people just got into it immediately and were like, “I watched this when I was five,” and “I remember Mom used to put this on when she was cooking me baked beans.” It’s quite rare just to hit the momentum and I think it’s a little bit because like a spin-off show, it’s a series that’s done really well and it has a spinoff but it’s actually a good spinoff.

Aaron:

Yeah. And so, Aunty Donna-

Bonnie:

And so, there’s still that energy behind, so it’s been a real-

Aaron:

And they’ve been feeding into that, being like, “We found the show, and Xavier brought us this completed show and we just bought the rights to restore this old VHS,” so I was like, “Oh, that’s very funny.”

Bonnie:

Yeah, there’s a great YouTube react video where this American guy is looking at the top five, or top six or whatever-

Aaron:

Trending.

Bonnie:

… Trending on Australian YouTube. He’s like, “Someone told me to check out Australian YouTube trending. What’s this?” And he just spends the first ten minutes going, “What is this show?” And he’s pausing it and going, “Oh my god, Australian TV, you’re whack. Oh my god.” But then right near the end he starts realising that it’s not real, but he totally thought it was real. He absolutely thought it was a real show.

Aaron:

Yeah. You sent me that video, didn’t you?

Bonnie:

Yeah, I sent it.

[Cross-country collaboration during COVID – 12:14]

Franziska:

That is hilarious, that is hilarious. I mean, there are two things that are really interesting, what you’re talking about. The first one that it took you two years to get this show together.

Bonnie:

By the way, I just came in at the last six months.

Aaron:

You swooped right in.

Franziska:

But that’s a really long development process for what seems something that is short and sharp and sweet, and so that’s, I think, something that for people who are looking to develop something, to know how long it actually really takes to get something like this off the ground, I think is really fascinating.

But the other thing that’s really interesting is that you shot in Melbourne as well as in Perth, so do you want to talk a little bit about that production process? Because that’s during COVID, I have to say.

Aaron:

Yeah.

Bonnie:

Peak COVID.

Aaron:

Peak COVID. The original intention was to shoot all in WA. It was set in Perth, that was the idea. Let’s shoot it all in WA. We would only fly over the Aunty Donna guys and Ben and Xav, and everyone would be based here, and we’d do the whole production here. That was always going to be the methodology, that was part of the original funding application.

And then this little virus hit the world and we all were freaking out. And at that point the arts shut down and we didn’t really know if this show would get up, but then a few other shows started doing remote shooting and being able to send out crews in other states but then link in by Zoom at the time.

Aaron (13:32):

So, I started contacting those other crews and was like, “How did that methodology work? How was it like directing via Zoom?” And they were like, “It’s sketchy but you can make it work.”

So, we pitched that to the guys in Melbourne being like, “Look, you can’t fly here, and I can’t fly there because of the hard border that’s in place in WA. And we set it up that we’d split the production in half, so what was initially going to be six days in WA became three days in WA, three days in Melbourne and we would just make that work in that time space.

We were originally going to shoot in Perth first to set up the style and tone, and then we were going to shoot in Melbourne, then Melbourne went through a second lockdown so we had to switch over the times again so Melbourne would show up first and then Perth.

It was definitely something that wasn’t ideal, but we made it work because if you don’t laugh you’re going to cry, so you have to just make comedy as much as you can.

Bonnie:

We had to rewrite a lot of the script as well and rework. I definitely remember there was a last scene where we really wanted Greg, we wanted him to be the prophet Gary because he’s so good and he’s just perfect for that role, but then Trina had to do a live cross with him, but that’s me in Perth so I couldn’t be there, so then we had to figure out, “Does it feel real for Trina to do a cross from the studio?” Because you can’t just change things and expect the audience to go along with it if it’s really out of character or out of context, so we had to rework that to make sure it still felt like it was in the tone of the show but also solve the problem of Trina and Gary not being able to be in the same space, or Xav or Linda-

Aaron:

Yeah. There were originally scenes that have Linda, Andrea’s character, and Ben’s character in the same room and there was sometimes Xav’s character and Bonnie’s character were in the same room, and that ended up being, in the writing process we had to change out those characters and be like, “Well, this is the Perth side of the shoot and this is the Melbourne side of the shoot.” And within the scripting we had to really highlight that like, “This scene will be shot in Perth, this scene will be shot in Melbourne.” So, we knew at least in that last pass of the scripting what was going to be shot where so we could jigsaw it all together. And there was definitely sometimes where we had to green screen and join people in a scene, so they all looked like they were in the same room.

Bonnie:

The New Zealander and Trina are not really there, no?

Aaron:

Yeah. So, there was a bit of magic trickery going on, but it was all part of the parcel, and we knew what we were doing when we got into it.

Bonnie:

It put a lot of pressure on the writing, and it put a lot of pressure on production. There was pressure everywhere.

Franziska:

Wow.

Aaron:

Yeah, a lot of pressure.

Bonnie:

A lot of pressure.

Aaron:

Under pressure.

Bonnie:

Rewarding.

Franziska:

Sounds like a song.

[High-Tech vs Lo-Fi Production – 15:56]

Franziska:

For the people listening who are interested in creating comedy, do you think that you need an experienced crew around you to make something like Hug the Sun? Do you need an experienced cinematographer, or could you just get your iPhone and a few lights and maybe a mic and could you create something on a smaller budget? Or do you think it has to be as professional as what you’ve done?

Aaron:

I think to do our particular show we definitely needed an experienced crew. You couldn’t really set up to do livestreaming between two states and two different time zones with the amount of content we had to shoot in a very short amount of time without an experienced crew.

But there is also, and it really depends on the content you’re making, there’s a benefit in naivety as well.

You have a 4K camera on your phone so you can just go out and make stuff, and usually to get the idea across, especially if it’s a weird idea like this, just go out and shoot something and then present that because it’s easier just to go out and shoot it then go, “Hey look, this is the style and the tone that we’re looking for.” Which is what we did on this show as well, we made a little proof of concept just on our own and then presented that, although we made the proof of concept before COVID was a thing. With our show there was VHS involved and there’s a lot of really weird trickery.

Bonnie:

I also think that, because I actually have just watched a little shoot that someone did do on their phone, and they just did it in a carpark and it was a bit absurdist and it’s a really great concept, but they missed a few moments. They missed a few close ups, they missed a few, when you’re in the edit suite when you’re actually pulling everything together, to pull the cast back in and re shoot is a lot or just impossible.

And so, I think that’s where the experience and the people that are really good at what they’re doing really comes into it, because comedy has to be so on point or you really feel it as an audience member, that you can really miss a really good close up or an angle or a moment, or with the directing, being able to get something out of someone just so that they get that right take can totally change the outcome.

But I think that you can get that experience just by testing and failing, and this team that I just watched their little short of, they totally knew what they’d stuffed up, but if you don’t do it you don’t know.

Aaron:

Aunty Donna started out just making little videos on their own and they grew from that, so again-

Bonnie:

Funny first.

Aaron:

Funny first.

Bonnie:

Just be funny.

Aaron:

Funny first and then all the tech side afterwards.

Bonnie:

Because also I find that you can have a small budget and still have problems, and if you get a bigger budget those problems just escalate. If you’re not organised in how you approach a script, if you’re not good at working with people, any issues that you come across on a small scale, I think sometimes people feel like, “Oh, if I have a bigger budget it will just all be solved,” which that’s not the case. You just have those problems on a larger scale which can actually end up being tougher.

Aaron:

That said, a bigger budget is great. I do like a bigger budget.

Bonnie:

But that’s just saying work with what you have, but also when you have a bigger budget you’re still going to have to solve problems and work together.

Aaron:

Are you saying, “more money, more problems?”

Bonnie:

Yeah. And I think we saw that on set with the multiple productions, and having to work under pressure, and the makeup artists even having to have so many different kits and things. If you’re a makeup artist and you’re not organised with one kit, when you have six different kits because of COVID, life’s not going to be better for you.

Franziska:

Yeah, no.

Bonnie:

That kind of stuff is interesting, I think.

Franziska:

Yeah, no, I think that’s really fascinating, the fact that once you know what you’re doing, then you can actually expand to a bigger budget, but the fact that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re just going to be importing your projects into-

Bonnie:

Budget’s not going to help you, yeah.

[Local References and Global Appeal – 19:19]

Franziska:

The web series makes quite a lot of Perth references, such as the Joondalup shopping centre, how do you think that will play to a national, let alone an international, audience? And was that a deliberate decision?

Aaron:

Yeah, it was absolutely a deliberate decision to mention Perth and Perth places. It came down to, I guess… I can tell you that there’s five boroughs in New York and I can tell you lots of suburbs in the US, and that’s just from watching TV. If we just did that in Australia more, just mention our suburbs and mention places, people get it. The audience is smart enough to understand that, “Oh yeah, Four’n Twenty Pies, it’s a food,” or, “a Toyota Corolla, I get it.”

Bonnie:

Ford versus Holden.

Aaron:

Yeah, Ford versus Holden. It’s just like, “Oh yeah, I get they’re vehicles and I guess you have these teams.” You can be super specific, and comedy is a lot about specificity, so we’ve just leaned right into that and just made it very Perth-centric.

Bonnie:

Something to hang onto.

And also, I think as a WA person it’s exciting and it’s funny to see. I mean, Famous Sharron, my character, I intentionally when I first created her was that she would be Australian, but only that but she would be from a suburb in Perth, and she is from Morley and Morley Galleria is her home ground. And that is her point of difference because everyone else at the time when I created her, most people if you got them to do a character, they’d be French, they’d be American, they’d be anything except from suburban Australia, and that is a real strength and also it’s just really funny because if people don’t know where Morley Galleria is or what that life is then it’s new content for them. It’s your point of difference and it’s a niche and you can create your own hilarious in-jokes.

Aaron:

And I think Broden Kelly from Aunty Donna talked about it a bit. When those guys used to tour the US, they used to localise a lot of their references, thinking it’ll be easier, the audience will get it if we localise it a little bit more. Then they found that the audience just don’t care and it’s easier for you to remember what’s personal to you instead of worrying if you’re changing it for the town you’re in or making just a reference that only these people get. They’ll get it, you’ve just got to put it out there, and you do feel like you’re part of an in-joke if not only you know it.

Bonnie:

And also, let’s stop trying to be like everyone else.

Aaron:

Yeah.

Bonnie:

Let’s just own who we are.

Aaron:

Yes.

Bonnie:

This is very WA, be proud of myself. It’s like Jimmy Rees, yeah, he’s right. But actually, our independence, I think you can go anywhere in the world and see a H&M, you can go anywhere in the world and get McDonald’s. I think one of the special things about WA is there’s so much independent stuff here in the theatre scene, in the film world, in breweries.

Aaron:

They have Chicken Treat.

Bonnie:

Yeah. Oh, come on. Rosie’s Chicken downtown? Let’s go.

Aaron:

Rosie’s Chicken, Alfred’s Kitchen.

Bonnie:

Do you know those unique experiences are what we’re hungry for now? Because we want our lives to be special. We want to have great memories, I think, because actually we have everything else. We all have computers in our hands, we have access to clothing and shelter, a lot of us do. So, if you’re someone who isn’t in a position where you’ve got a lot of great stuff in your life, really you just want a really great life, and the unique experiences means you’re not having a cookie cutter experience, and that’s where us talking about who we are and how different we are and how funny that is, is great. Let’s all just embrace that.

Aaron:

And people from those suburbs are like, “They mentioned me.”

Bonnie:

Yeah.

Aaron:

They mentioned Gosnells. Yes, I did.

Bonnie:

People get so proud of it.

Aaron:

Yes.

Bonnie:

They love it.

[Finding Your Audience – 22:32]

Franziska:

Talking about the audience, so considering how much content gets uploaded to YouTube every minute, how does the audience find you or how do you find your audience? How do you connect? How does that work?

Bonnie:

Well, we’re going to create Anti-Donna.

Aaron:

That’ll really rile them up.

Bonnie:

Get a scandal going.

Aaron:

It’s a little bit of algorithmic. It’s a lot of luck as well. I mean, each of the episodes we push out online and we push it out through all the Reddit-spheres, but it’s really about getting it to taste makers or other individuals who will then share it organically with their friends, because the organic growth of the show means more than an algorithmic growth to it, because algorithmic growth is great, it’ll get seen by more people but do they actually engage in it? And the organic growth, there’s usually a lot more people engaging in it even if it’s less views.

Bonnie:

Yeah, and I think obviously Aunty Donna’s involvement was a huge leverage for this show and then it’s about feeding the audience what they want. And it’s great, in the comments section you can see they just get on board straight away with, “Oh yeah, I used to watch this when I was a kid,” and all that kind of stuff means that it’s hitting the mark for them, because they are ready to buy into the absurdist stuff. They’re ready to talk about phantom cousin syndrome and how hard it was for them when they had it when they were a kid.

Aaron:

Great taste of dog milk.

Bonnie:

Yeah, and then I think it’s about feeding that audience.

And I think from my own personal experience with the Famous Sharron world, I find it so shocking how many people will just ignore their audience. Do you know? They’ll put something out and then they won’t reply to the comments. They won’t follow people back or they won’t message people, and actually just that simple act… I was saying to Aaron earlier, Sharron did a red carpet with Emma Booth who’s a brilliant actress and there was a super hardcore fan that had created a fan account for her, so she saw Famous Sharron on Emma Booth’s thing and then she followed Famous Sharron, and then Famous Sharron messaged her back saying, “Thank you for following.” Now two years later, three years later she’s a super hardcore fan of Sharron and she creates memes for me for Famous Sharron. She does my job for me and she’s just a fan that I just gave love back to because she was giving me Sharron love.

Aaron:

So, when are you putting her on the payroll?

Bonnie:

No, never. Do you know, but that’s the beautiful thing, is the momentum. Fans can take things so much further than you ever could, and so actually just giving them love, and I’m actually recreating, Famous Sharron’s new website will be a Famous Sharron fan club, she’s the president, but it’s all about feeding the fans. Giving them a treasure trove of information which I think is was Aaron is building out in the back of Hug the Sun now, is these extra videos, the outtakes, the green screen, because when you’re a fan you just want more. You want the behind the scenes, you want to know how it was made, you want to know everything.

Aaron:

And fans or stans can definitely create this world around it. There’s this roleplaying aspect.

Bonnie:

Yeah, they add to it. They build their own fanfiction.

Aaron:

Yeah, they build their own fan base, they build their own fanfiction, they make their own memes. We had Reddit pages created for us and Wikipedia entries created for us, memes and gifs and we had nothing to do with that. We didn’t create that on our own.

Franziska:

That’s amazing.

Aaron:

Everyone just gravitated towards it and made their own mythology because there’s a lot of vagueness there that you can latch onto and make your own little journey to it, so just let people go with it and have fun with it and engage them, and that yes and kind of improv. “Yes, of course we did that. And then what happened? You tell me.”

[Tips for Getting Started in Comedy – 25:51]

Franziska:

That’s amazing. That’s really extraordinary. So, do you have any advice for screen practitioners who are starting out in the comedy scene?

Bonnie:

I mean, my advice would be to draft, draft, draft and ship it, ship it, ship it.

Franziska:

So draft, is that another word for saying write, write, write?

Bonnie:

Yeah, I guess so.

Franziska:

And what does ship it stand for?

Bonnie:

Ship it means put it out.

Franziska:

Right.

Aaron:

On a ship?

Bonnie:

I will sell you a tiny ship. I sell tiny ships.

Aaron:

Down the Fremantle port.

Bonnie:

It’s a specific ship and then you ship it.

Yeah, I think I see a lot of really talented people get stuck in making exactly what they want to make or having it perfect, and actually Famous Sharron for me is my hit song. She’s very famous for nothing at all. She’s a zeitgeist. I am a full time WA comedian, that’s pretty amazing. She’s gone to Hollywood, she’s incredible. But if you look at early Sharron she’s embarrassing, you know?

I failed fast and I failed often with her. I took her out and I did not know how to do makeup, I didn’t know how to do character work, I had no idea. Aaron knows, he met her very early on.

Aaron:

Yeah, I met her very, very early on.

Bonnie:

She was terrifying.

Aaron:

Yeah. It was like, “Oh my god.”

Bonnie:

Yeah. And if I look back at old photos of her, oh my goodness I would never go out like that now.

But actually, I didn’t try to make her perfect, I just tried. I just kept trying. And I think people always tell you failure’s really good for you, but they don’t tell you how much it hurts.

Aaron:

Yeah.

Bonnie:

And it really hurts. So, find ways to look after yourself when it hurts. When you get rejected, find a way to look after yourself. What do you need? Do you need to talk to a friend?

But keep drafting, because I think the draft is always the worst one and then you can edit it and edit it and edit it.

Aaron:

Yeah, and finishing something. It’s the same with screen… Yeah.

Bonnie:

Oh yeah, focus on completion. Yeah.

Aaron:

Same with screen stuff, there’s so many unfinished screenplays, unfinished things of like, “I just need to get it right.” It’s like, “Just finish it.”

Writing is in the rewriting or the writing it also in the editing. You can do so much with it, but you have to finish it, and you really do have to take a chance on yourself and just put something out there.

We’ve always just leaned into the funny or the stupid and just done it and then we’ll have the recourse to that later. Was it bad? Did we shoot it terrible? What did we learn?

There’s stuff even in Hug the Sun where we weirdly crossed the line in one thing and I was like, “Oh, I shouldn’t have placed that actor there,” but lean into it, it’s funny. That’s how they shot it back in the nineties and that’s what it is.

Bonnie:

I might add too that I have been shocked at how long things take. I’ve been doing Sharron for eight years and I said to someone the other day, “I’m two years away from an overnight success,” and you usually only see the overnight success. And I am really patient now with her because actually, and with any projects, this took two years to get off the ground.

Aaron:

On and off. It was really about two weeks’ work, but it was over two years.

Bonnie:

It was spread out over… Yeah.

Aaron:

It was spread out.

Bonnie:

Things take time, but in the meantime you can get funnier and faster, and for Sharron she gets more famous, more funny, more fabulous, and so that’s okay.

The longer it takes the better position you’ll be in to really take that opportunity and run with it, so just keep working hard.

Aaron:

Even where Linda and Trina started, they started as an idea and it was just part of a proof of concept of like, “Hey look, we know you guys are funny and you’re in WA right now, can you just come and do this tiny little spot for us? We don’t know what the character is.” And over a year we developed those characters, and then even in the shooting of it they changed, and in the editing of it they changed.

You can’t reach for perfection right away, you have to just let stuff grow, and even then they can have a life beyond them. Frankie Yabbiebait, Zack’s character, was just this… He’s a clean comedian, it was like, “What is that?” It was like, “Yeah, I do clean comedy.”

Bonnie:

Zack is so brilliant.

Aaron:

Yeah.

Bonnie:

All the Aunty Donna boys really brought their own chutzpah to it.

[Tips for Getting Started in the Screen Industry – 29:36]

Franziska:

Great. So, Aaron, would you have any advice for people wanting to enter the screen industry?

Aaron:

I’d love some advice about entering the screen industry.

There’s always this perception, and I know a lot of younger crews that are starting up, of not reaching out to other professionals that are in the industry. There’s this trepidation of like, “I can never afford them. They won’t come on.” I’m open, just ask any of us.

Bonnie:

We’ll say no if we can’t but often-

Aaron:

Yeah, yeah. I’ll usually say no.

Bonnie:

Yeah.

Aaron:

No, go and ask people because there are many times that… I mean, I first worked with a professional cinematographer very early on in my career.

Bonnie:

Bragging.

Aaron:

Yeah, really bragging.

Bonnie:

I was five.

Aaron:

Yeah, I was five and now he’s doing Oscar winning stuff, whatever.

But initially I didn’t want to ask. It was like, “They’ll never, ever say yes to this crazy little silly ad idea,” and then they did, and it’s been amazing.

Just ask people. If you’re going to get into the industry, ask people.

Bonnie:

If you try something and it doesn’t work, you ask someone, and they say no.

Aaron:

Yeah.

Bonnie:

You’re in exactly the same spot that you were before, but if something comes of it… You just never know. Yeah, and I think you can learn so much from people around you. To just actually be interested in people is really valuable.

Aaron:

Yeah.

Bonnie:

I’ve always been super interested in people, and I haven’t realised what an asset that is until way further down in my career.

I think often people approach networking as, “I’ve got to network.” It’s like, “Nah, you’ve just got to be interested in people. Learn as much as you can.” And do you know what? I love attention, so does Aaron. I think we all do. If you want to ask me about my life I’ll tell you everything. I’ll tell you all my secrets.

Aaron:

This was a five-hour podcast that has been cut down to whatever you’re listening to right now.

Bonnie:

If you’re just interested in people… Someone said to me once, “Networking is really just being the first person someone thinks of.” And that doesn’t mean giving them a business card, it just means sharing an interest with them or being excited or seeing them at the same stuff, and they get to know you and then all sorts of things can come out of it. I mean, I think you asked me to write on something years ago, was it Top Knot Detective was the first thing?

Aaron:

Yeah. I think so, yeah.

Bonnie:

That’s how Aaron and I started working together, and it was purely-

Aaron:

We were working together on Super Dingo. We made that.

Bonnie:

Oh my gosh, yeah. Super Dingo. But I was a bit part extra in that.

Aaron:

Still memorable. But it’s also “find your tribe” as well. Work with your friends and just create stuff together, and then from that you will create your own little brand, and then people will eventually gravitate towards that but at least you’ve got a cohort of people that you’ve worked with that you can be like, “Hey look, this is the content that we’ve all made together.” Aunty Donna’s a group of six people who all work together. No one is telling them how to do it, but they just made stuff.

Bonnie:

It’s interesting, when I was in my early twenties I was working festivals, but I had a friend who — my high school friends are Briony Stewart, she’s an award-winning author and illustrator, Campbell Whyte, first graphic novel, and then Ofa Fotu, who’s an amazing singer, Lucy Peach — there’s just incredible people around me and I’m like, “Wow.” I was thinking the other day I’d be so envious of me if I saw me. I’d be like, “How did you get all those friends?” But we’ve all been working on our stuff for a long time, and we’ve all known each other and supported each other through the early days of things, and it’s amazing that it’s just coming to fruition now 10, 15 years down the track.

That’s what people are seeing but actually what it is is a whole lot of people giving each other feedback. Briony actually said, “I want to try and do something in illustrating, I think about Campbell,” and Campbell said, “That’s funny, because when I’m trying to push myself further I think about ‘what would Briony do?’”

There’s a reason people cycle up together and it’s because we’re not dragging each other down, we’re supporting each other, cheering each other on, but also keeping each other accountable to be good at what we’re doing, and it’s really awesome to have a crew like that around you.

Aaron:

Yeah, like a rising tide of tall ships.

Bonnie:

Which also means you will let people go as well. There are definitely some people who don’t want your feedback.

Aaron:

They all move to Melbourne and start the hoo ha over there like Dan and Xav. They’re just leaving their roots behind.

Bonnie:

Yeah. Don’t worry, they will leave you.

Aaron:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bonnie:

But yeah, things take time and just enjoy the ride because you’re going to be in it for a long time.

Aaron:

Yeah.

Bonnie:

It’s going to take you forever.

Aaron:

Years. Years.

[Tips for Securing Funding Grants – 33:47]

Franziska:

So, you’ve got funding for this project from Screen Australia and Screenwest.

Aaron:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Franziska:

From an applicant’s perspective, what is the magic source to getting state and federal support?

Aaron:

When you get rejected, don’t take the no. Just go to a different funding body, get a yes and then go back to your original funding body and turn that no back into a yes. That is the magic sauce.

Bonnie:

Playing people off against each other.

Aaron:

Playing people off against each other using other people’s money. I mean, go in early.

Bonnie:

Super early, super early.

Aaron:

Even with this project, in this project we started in 1991 back when it was Film Australia.

No, we went in early to talk about Hug the Sun back in 2018, the end of 2018, and we sort of developed it in 2019 and still people at Screenwest knew about it at that point. And it wasn’t until we went to Screen Aus and got their digital funding through Lee Naimo there that it was like, “Okay, well this could be a real thing,” and because of that funding going back to Screenwest was like, “Hey, we’ve got this little chunk now, could we work together and make something here?”

There will be so many rejections when it comes to funding and I’ve been rejected more times than I’ve been accepted for funding, so it is like never take the no as being something bad, it’s like we all get rejected from funding, we all get rejected from doing shows constantly, but it’s not taking that to heart and just going, “Okay, I’m just going to push through.” Because if you believe in the idea, the idea will come to fruition regardless so it’s just leaning in and going with that. Start early.

Bonnie:

I definitely think… I had a meeting with Screen Australia a few months ago for a Famous Sharron concept and it’s years away. I said to them, “I’m thinking one to two years,” and they said, “This is so refreshing,” because they’re so used to talking to people six weeks before they want to go onto production, but I wanted to see is it even viable, is it something they’re interested in? Because I think it’s also important to stay true to who you are as a creative and not bend to, “Here’s what funding bodies want so I’m just going to create work that funding bodies want.” It’s like, “Well, what projects am I working on that cross over with what the funding bodies want? And how can that align more strongly?” Having that conversation early means you really know if it is going to, or it’s viable or not.

There’s a Famous Sharron pop song that is not really fundable by anyone, but I have to be realistic that I’m going to self-fund that project myself, really, because it’s not going to align. But that’s a really important project to me.

Aaron:

But also get in before the end of the financial year because they just want to get the money out the door.

Bonnie:

But it’s okay if some things cross over and some things don’t, but when you find the right project that really aligns and you start that conversation early, they want you to win. They want you to get the money. They’re trying to give you the money. It’s not a, “Ha ha ha, we have a pot of gold, and you don’t get to see the pot of gold,” they’re like, “How do we give it to you?” Which could be you have a great idea, but you need to really proof this out, you need a better team, you need a stronger pitch.

Rather than taking it personally, being like, “Okay, well how do I win this then? How do I get this project across?” And keep taking that feedback onboard.

Aaron:

And sometimes it’s a numbers game as well. There are so many people applying for different funding rounds-

Bonnie:

And I’m not experienced in screen either, so I’ve never had any screen funding, just FYI.

Aaron:

-but I guess there are so many people applying for it, there’s only so much in a pot, so not everyone’s going to get it that first year, but you might be able to get it the next year or the next year, going through. A good idea will stay around for ages.

Bonnie:

Yeah, and also if they’re saying, “Well, you need more experience,” and you’re like, “Well, I need funding to get more experience,” then can you get funding from somewhere else like a local council who often will fund off-the-wall projects? Then you can do that little demo reel, build up that experience to then come back and go, “Look at this body of work that I have and look how well it was received.” There are other ways around it, yeah.

[Follow Hug the Sun – 37:42]

Franziska:

So where can we find you? Where can we find Hug the Sun?

Aaron:

You can find Hug the Sun on YouTube right now on Grouse House TV.

Bonnie:

@GrouseHouseTV on Instagram.

Aaron:

There’s also a Hug the Sun Reddit @HugTheSun, there’s a Twitter account @GrouseHouseTV.

Bonnie:

Probably a Wikipedia by now.

Aaron:

There is a Wikipedia, it’s on a fandom Wikipedia page.

Bonnie:

There’s probably a therapy support group starting up for all the kids that watched it as five-year-olds.

Aaron:

There’s a TikTok account. You can find Aunty Donna by their Aunty Donna page.

Bonnie:

You can find Anti-Donna on Twitter in moments from now (laughs).

Aaron:

In moments from now. Ben Russell you can find on his Twitch account on BonMember, Xav you can find in a hospital, his wife’s about to give birth.

Bonnie:

Is she?

Aaron:

Yes she is.

Bonnie:

Oh my goodness, didn’t know that.

Aaron:

Yeah, that’s a news exclusive.

Bonnie:

If you want to find Famous Sharron, she’s very different to Hug the Sun, but it’s FamousSharron. Two Rs, one of them silent.

Aaron:

And you’ll just find me wandering around the streets of Perth.

Franziska:

Okay, well you can watch Hug the Sun on the Grouse House YouTube channel, and thank you so much for coming into Screenwest to talk about this fabulous comedic web series that you’ve created.

Bonnie:

Thanks for having us.

Aaron:

Thanks for having us.

Bonnie:

Thanks for the funding.

Aaron:

Yeah, thanks for helping.

[Outro – 38:54]

Voice Over:

This has been In Conversation with Screenwest, featuring Bonnie Davies and Aaron McCann of Hug the Sun.

This podcast was brought to you by Screenwest. Screenwest wishes to thank Lotterywest for their continuing support of the WA screen industry.

Today’s episode was edited by XB Studios with music by Andrew Wright and produced by Franziska Wagenfeld for Screenwest.

[Transcript Ends]

Watch Hug The Sun

Binge all six episodes of Hug the Sun on the Grouse House YouTube Channel.

In Conversation is a Screenwest production.

Screenwest is a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing strategic leadership and assistance to the film and television industry in Western Australia.

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