A Journey Through Time – Part 4 – The Village Episode 4

I was originally going to put this one out next Friday, but I had the urge to write something and needed to do something other than a Trent Samuels script – it’s all I’ve been working on all weekend, with more to continue shortly after I’ve written this entry. So, moving on to the final chapter of The Village (until I go back and watch them again).

This is the last of the Village episodes we recorded and the DVD release of this episode saw the closure of the project, wrapping just over 9 years after the initial idea for the series and four years after the previous episode was completed! The original plan was to release 6 episodes in total, but due to time constraints and the urge to move on to something new we finished with this one. Most of the material for this episode had been shot in 2003-2004, the majority of which was just me and Dan. As it happens, most of the originally planned episode was finished in 2003. Quite a productive year all round, inspired I think by the Village website that was receiving regular updates at that time. 2003 also saw the last contributions from Pete to the project – on a related note I’d just like to take time and say that I loved Pete’s writing and it’s a shame he hasn’t stayed in contact. Pete had (and probably still has – he’s not dead) an interesting view of the world that led to some inspired material. Given the chance I’d gladly write more material with him at some point, whether sketch show material or otherwise.

From what I can recall we only had one filming day in 2004, but at that time we were mixing up The Village with planning a film called Normality – incidentally we did shoot about 95% of the script but again it’s not suitable for public release. I’m working on a new story at the moment that should simplify the plot and look a lot more professional than that initial effort – it was made during the “point camera, press record” era, so it’s quite basic. I’ll no doubt do a blog about that soon enough, plenty for me to discuss there. The filming in 2004 saw us shoot another B-Movie sketch (The Man With One Head), which thanks to the power of PC non-linear editing ended up being above and beyond our original expectations. That day we also shot “It’s A River” (Ronseal sketch) and an attempt at scrolling credits using an actual roll of paper run in front of the camera, before panning up and seeing the four of us (Dan, Adam, Tez and myself) all running away like escaped mental patients.

By 2005 I’d bought a new PC for video editing. This was a complete waste of time as it crashed any time you looked at funny. It could cope with a bit of editing but you had to be quick on the save button after any change as it could switch off and emit a high pitched alarm and shut down at any time. We managed to start work on converting The Village to DVD but ultimately because of the inherent instability of the PC, as well as an issue with the episode audio gradually going out of sync with the video (happened on every DVD disc we made, I still have no idea what the cause was), that was essentially put on hold until 2006 when we were finally able to start handing out copies of the DVD sets to the cast.

This episode also saw more location shooting than we’d ever contemplated before. The new David Attenborough sketch was shot in Aberystwyth on a group holiday down there, for which we built a very poor human dummy, made of party balloons, to throw off the cliff. It must have looked pretty realistic from a distance (if you were a child) as on the raw footage you can clearly hear a kid say “They’re throwing him off!” to their mostly unconcerned parent. It was also quite hilarious seeing the “body” hit the floor, so much so it was very difficult to keep the camera level as Adam popped up from out of shot to do his opening spiel. As Village sketches go, and despite my technical incompetency when editing the sketch on the PC (I could make it look 10 times better now), it was a triumph. Tez even braved the crowds to shoot Camp Saturday Night Fever on the sea front as no-doubt bemused locals and students looked on. Then again as it’s a university town they’re probably used to that sort of thing…

Moving onto 2006, Dan, Rich and myself popped down to Arrow Valley Park (where else?) to film a couple more sketches, but we didn’t hit our filming targets due to a persistent level of rain and general damp. The next filming date came in 2007, whilst we were wrapping up the project, where we filmed the Alpen sketch (the story of rock and roll, essentially, as performed by a box of Alpen). I even recorded a song, for want of a better term, to dub over the footage. Combining my basic guitar skills with a drum loop, the sketch was completed pretty quickly and came together quite nicely in the edit. Then by October 2007 I returned to the place where the series had started – Winyates Hill (or did people call it Winyates Mountain?!) overlooking Safeway/Morrisons, where I played the Man Who Runs Down Hill. It would have been nice getting Pete for this as it would have rounded the series off even better, but you can’t have it all.

Looking at the sketch list for the episode it’s clear that we’d pulled material in from a variety of filming sessions, and also from the sheer number of them I would say either our writing had improved (40 sketches into a 30 minute show) or we had loads of ideas for quick “sting” sketches and hadn’t got round to filming the longer, somewhat more complex ideas. Either way, I actually think the episode holds up quite well with the sole exception of the “Political Leaders Trapped In A Dark Room” sketch. It is essentially a radio sketch (nothing on screen, just black) as Dan and me do bad impersonations of William Hague, Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown – already out of date when we recorded it. Hardly our finest hour and given the choice I’d re-release the episode without that stuck in the middle. Other than that, I’m happy with it.

One more thing of note with this episode was the return of some of our favourite characters from previous episodes – most notably Cockchurch was back with a new set, the Lancastrian Poet from Episode 1 came back for another amalgamated poem; Don’t Touch My Pen…icillin; and the lacklustre return of Adolf Schmirrnoff. Again, some of the material is a bit hit and miss but then they say that about all sketch shows. You never know, the next sketch show I make might end up being filled with strong material that everyone likes, but somehow I doubt it…

The DVD set we put together was another comprehensive set – absolutely everything we recorded after completing Episode 3. In a change from previous releases there wasn’t an original episode to remaster, so there’s only the one version of Episode 4 available, again with commentary from me and Dan. Discs 2-4 are all of the raw footage from the various filming days, with Disc 5 covering the “official” Behind The Scenes footage and Discs 6-7 covering everything else we were doing in and around those years. The final disc saw us do something a bit different again – a “Best Of” The Village episode, compiling our favourite sketches into a 31 minute compilation. The final extra feature has me and Dan, once again, talking at camera in a run through of everything we have previously done and going through our many folders of leaflets, scripts and related memorabilia. Using a two camera approach for the first time ever, it’s a nice stroll down memory lane, as is the rest of the set.

It feels a bit strange that we finished these DVDs over 4 years ago now, it certainly doesn’t feel as though that much time has passed. Saying that, I didn’t do any video editing or indeed any writing of any description (as far as I can remember) between finishing these DVDs and mid-2009 when I got back into it all again. A couple of projects reared up in those years but it was nothing really substantial. I still have plans for another sketch show that have been fermenting for a few years, and a load of pages of material ready to be recorded. I’m even tempted to go back and revisit the very best material from The Village and get that out to the masses – the originals aren’t really suitable for public consumption but I think recording some of the better material again would still be worthwhile. That’s one to decide further down the line, probably once I’ve finished writing all of Trent Samuels. And on that note, I think I’ll go off and carry on with it…

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