Who you gonna call if your car is haunted or a werewolf is giving you grief?
With the continued success of horror at the cinema and TV, it’s no surprise that filmmakers are also turning to YouTube to bring their vision to life.
Scottish web series Demonologist for Hire combines the horrific and the humorous to bring a Demonologist (Bryn Owen) to life in four episodes.
As the creators plan for a second series, they explain how Demonologist for Hire came to be and where it might be headed.
First up, can you all introduce yourselves and explain a little about your career to date or other recent projects?
Bryn – My name is Bryn Owen and I’m the creator/writer of Demonologist For Hire. I’ve been writing film and television projects for years for a variety of different producers and production companies. I’ve worked with Uisdean before on a drama for BBC Alba among others.
Ronni – My name is Ronni Menzies-Stirling, and actor by trade, and I’ve been “at it” for some 20 years now. My career has just recently begun to take off, which has led to me featuring in advertisements for Irn-Bru, Tennent’s Lager, Historic Scotland, and many film and TV projects such as River City, Outlander, M.I.High, Outpost III and, of course, Demonologist For Hire!
Uisdean – My name is Uisdean Murray and I’ve been writing and directing independent films and music videos for almost 20 years. My work includes the horror Jemima Trilogy, time-travelling fantasy Siubhlachan (The Traveller) and several music videos / short films for A Band Called Quinn and Dawnings. My work has screened and popular genre film festivals such as the Fantasia Film Festival and BiFan. I’m currently in production with a short drama inspired by selkie folklore called Mara: The Seal Wife and developing Demonologist For Hire alongside Bryn and Ron.
How did you all meet and what led you to work together?
Bryn – It has honestly been so long since I first met Uisdean and Ron I have no idea how long we’ve actually known each, 15 years? Uisdean and I had mutual friends and I think we first met when we were working on a shoot someone had organised. We have a similar drive to get things done, Ron is the same. It’s rare to meet one person that you connect with in a business like this but I’ve met two!
Ronni – I first met Uisdean and Bryn in March 2001 when we were shooting a music video for Rab Noakes and the Varaflames, called “Spin”. It was shot across two days in Blackfriars pub in Glasgow, with myself and Bryn playing party-goers at a school reunion. Uisdean was the camera operator, and we got to talking about future projects he was involved in, such as the Jemima Trilogy, Just Around The Corner, and other things. We stayed in touch, worked together many times, and are now all best friends (I’m filling up!).
Uisdean – Yes I believe I bet Bryn around 2000 and Ron in 2001. It’s great to work with them both again, especially on a continuous project like this that appeals to us all.
What was the inspiration behind Demonologist for Hire and are you all fans of horror and fantasy?
Bryn – I’m not a horror fan in the slightest, Ron and Uisdean prefer the gory stuff, but I really love the ‘world building’ that something like Demonologist affords me.
For me it’s all about what I haven’t seen before, there’s a quote from the team that made Independence Day that goes something like “We go to the cinema on a Friday night, if the film we fee like seeing isn’t playing we go out and make it,” that’s sort of how I feel about this.
What if the supernatural was part of our everyday lives… but it no longer held any mystery or awe? The idea of vampires living among us is as routine as catching a train or bus. There’s no mystery in the supernatural because everyone has lived with it for so long. So rather than being a superhero the Demonologist is probably closer to a ‘white van man’. Someone doing odds jobs that happen to be supernatural in nature.
Ronni – Demonologist For Hire is entirely a product of Bryn’s rather unique mind, although myself and Uisdean do have input during the production process, which is great. I grew up watching horror movies, ever since a very young age – thank my dad for that! There’s nothing I love more than a good gory action flick, so Demonologist was a Godsend for me. In the first series, I got to play a different character in every episode, which really was wonderful. In the second series, however, we’re hoping to up the gore and action levels, so it’ll have a bit more of a grindhouse feel to it, whilst maintaining the humour and bizarre storylines.
Uisdean – Yeah Bryn doesn’t join our horror binge movie nights so when you see certain scenes in season 2 you may have an idea who was influencing the story! I’m a fan of most movie genres but nothing is more satisfying than a good fantasy or horror movie. One of my first movie watching experiences was The Neverending Story and I believe than film baptised my imagination at an early age.
What did the writing process look like?
Ronni – I believe Bryn has a typewriter so old that it runs on paraffin… or is that Bryn himself?
Bryn – Writing an episode for a web series is different from anything else as you have a limited amount of time to tell your story so it becomes how efficient can you be, sometimes being forced to work with a pared down narrative is a good thing. It forces you to be focused.
While a feature script will have a contained story a web series episode basically has to work towards an immediate pay-off like a reveal or a joke. In many ways they are like sketches with returning characters. Though some will disagree, I feel like a web series should run to less than ten minutes. Any longer and you risk boring the viewer or simply having people hesitate to jump in at all as they search through Youtube for something to watch.
A web series isn’t television and it definitely isn’t film, it is it’s own thing entirely and I feel that when people blur the lines that’s when the wheels come off for them. If you want to make your own web series you should embrace the limitations of the format and try something new, something they can’t get anywhere else.
Uisdean – Bryn comes up with most of our storylines but is happy to develop a script based on a concept from myself or Ron if he think it works. Bryn passes an early draft of the script on to me and we start developing the shooting script from there.
The scripts so far are usually focused on what sort of locations we have access to – this is so we can work to our low budget as we have been self-financing the project so far. It would be nice to have some backing for the series as this would open doors to creating special effect shots, creature makeup, etc.
Was it always going to be a web series and what are some of the pros and cons of the short form format?
Bryn – I’ve been wanting to produce a web series for years. The problem wasn’t getting the thing off the ground, it was finding the right idea. Too many web series try and do television, but with the limited budget and time it ends up being neither fish not fowl. I needed an idea that felt fresh and allowed the format to expand outward to other characters.
From there it was all about finding the right execution. I sent the first script to Uisdean and basically set out the rules for the series. Each episode would be less than ten minutes long and would be something that we could shoot in a day, maybe two. I wrote the taxi driver role in the pilot especially for Ron and from there we were shooting a month later.
Of course it helps having someone as talented behind the camera as Uisdean. He brings a level of technical polish that many other web series can’t match. We wanted this to look unlike anything else out there, it’s time consuming but it’s totally worth it. The results speak for themselves.
Too many web series make a first episode without giving any thought to bringing everything back together again for subsequent instalments. If you spend ‘y’ number of days and ‘x’ amount of money making your first episode with a big cast it becomes all the harder to get everyone back to work on the second episode. The more moving parts your production has the more problems you’ll have making sure you bring back for subsequent episodes.
We work with a small crew who have known each other for years. It’s not just about experience, it’s about knowing how each other works and trusting in their abilities. That kind of shorthand takes years to garner but makes for a smooth, efficient production.
Ronni – It was always intended to start as a web series, but it has grown during the creative process and other things have developed, such as Ask The Demonologist – where viewers can actually submit questions to the Demonologist, to be answers via short videos. There are some other short videos we are currently working on which are also branching out from the Demonologist series – so stay tuned for those!
Uisdean – For me I like to stay creative and Demonologist For Hire is a perfect outlet. As well as being my favourite genre it allows me to work with Bryn and Ron and experiment with a different medium. It is a fun project to be involved in and one that I believe has a lot of legs. The web series has allowed us to create and develop many characters which themselves are an inspiration for further episodes and extra mini-episodes that we are currently working on.
You play with the series format in episode three – where did the idea for telling the story in voiceover come from?
Bryn – Being a ‘modest’ (self-financed) production with a small unit we’re able to try different things. When you’re working with limited funds and limited time you have to be able to move faster and be more flexible owing to the constraints placed upon you. While a big crew would be nice sometimes larger productions are like oil tankers, they take too long to turn around and change direction, we need to be able adjust and change faster than that.
While that way of working has limitations it also has benefits as we’re able to try different things within the concept of the series such as the episode that’s told through voice over you mentioned. We had a location (the factory) for a limited period of time so the episode had to be some different to accommodate that time constraint. That isn’t something we could have done if this were a web series with 20 minute episodes or a production with a huge crew.
Ronni – When it came to the third episode, we all turned out our pockets to discover lint, chewing gum wrappers, and a handbag-sized copy of Italian Vogue (Bryn). So we had to film that episode on the cheap. It was always designed that way anyway, still great writing and very funny, but we needed an episode we could film quickly and effectively – and cheaply!
Uisdean – For me episode three seemed to come out of nowhere. Bryn and Ron turned up on my doorstep one afternoon with a blanket and told me we are shooting tonight. I thought I would be brushing this one under the carpet but it actually turned out to be one of my favourite episodes. The cherry on top was when we were looking for someone to do the voiceover for Mr Broomielaw and Ron unexpectedly sent me his audio recording.
What’s next for the series, do you have big plans for the Demonologist?
Bryn – I have already written a pilot episode for a thirty minute television series based on Demonologist For Hire which, ideally, might interest a broadcaster or a streaming service at some point.
The pilot script opens the series out making it less about ‘the case of the week’ which the web series is about and more about the wider world the show inhabits. Also the genre allows us to explore other social issues such as immigration and bigotry using the different character and settings as metaphors like most of the best sci-fi and horror writing does.
For example, are there larger creatures in this world? What do they look like and how does everyone try and accommodate them in their everyday lives? What’s it like being a werewolf who has to hold down a steady job and pay bills? Do people accept them? We aren’t talking huge Hollywood style budgets because Demonologist is all about exploring the bigger ideas rather than the bigger budgets.
Ronni – I think I can safely say that Series Two is about to enter pre-production, and we are currently running an Indiegogo fundraiser to help finance that – as I said, we are really going for it in Series 2 with the gore and action, and that takes money, so please give us some! There’s loads of brilliant perks available, hell, you could even decide which monster we battle next!
Uisdean – We have many ideas of where we want to take Demonologist For Hire as Bryn mentioned. For now my task is to focus on the challenges of Series Two.
Visit Ronni’s website for more on the series.