A Journey Through Time – Part 1 – The Village Episode 1

As briefly discussed in my blog last week, there were a few projects we started many, many years ago that have not been released for public consumption as they are, to be frank, a bit pants. The main project that occupied many years throughout high school, 6th Form and for some of us the first couple of years at university, was The Village. The project began at the end of October 1998 in an English lesson (classroom E3, if I recall correctly) and was officially laid to rest with Episode 4 in 2004/2005. At the beginning of the project we were all very influenced by sketch shows, the most popular at the time being The Fast Show, and for whatever reason we decided we would go out and make our own sketch show. Bit random, you might think, but for about 2 years we worked on releasing our first episode. My plan at some point is to go back through the episodes again and shoot them properly, using “modern production techniques, so from 2 hours of material I think we’ll be able to re-use… probably about 15 minutes at best, but we’ll see.

It’s a strange feeling when I look back and realise we finished the episode over 11 years ago. There’s been plenty of change since then, most notably the fact everyone has jobs now whereas in 2000 we were all, for the most part, available for going out filming almost every day of the week, at least until we started 6th Form. At the same time I continuously use this time and the episode to compare with what I have made recently, and I’m happy with the progress that has been made. It’s worth bearing in mind that 99% of the material I wrote at that time was awful. These days I would only rate about 60% of my work, so it’s progress at least. Another thing to consider is there wasn’t widespread use of YouTube back then, so unsurprisingly not many people got to see the series as and when we released an episode. Compare that to now, where I can edit a clip and upload it within a day or two of filming it, and comparatively speaking there are more people online now with more and more devices on which they can watch videos – it would have fried my tiny little mind to imagine I could watch videos on YouTube using my mobile phone less than a decade after we filmed the episode. Of course, mobile phones were cumbersome beasts at that time (compared to today, slimline if compared to the 80s) and YouTube wouldn’t be around for another 4 or 5 years, but you get the point.

Along the way we debated with literally creating a village of characters around which we’d write sketches (hence the name for the show). And then The League of Gentlemen came out and, realising they’d done it much better than we ever could, we changed tack and returned to the standard sketch show format. Several drafts of the first episode were written (including a total script re-write halfway down the line), and a number of name changes were considered (including “Good, Good, Good… It’s Comic!” in honour of our GCSE English teacher Mr Toolan, it was one of his many catchphrases. That was dropped in favour of “Crinkley Bottom Revisited” which appears to be a reference to Noel’s House Party, but how that links into a sketch show I don’t know. There was another prominent name in the form of “I Smell…” with a new smell for each episode. Ultimately we went back to using The Village because we all liked it, it was easy to remember and none of the other names were really that good.

There’s a “lost” script from around this time (March 1999-ish) where we wrote around six scenes, the best of which is Constipated Colin, who emerges from the toilet and says “Errrgggh! Me bum’s like a dry flannel in a desert!” Why we never incorporated him into an episode, I don’t know.

Dan threatens "David Attenborough" with a gun. A toy gun.

After deciding on a shooting script, we planned a number of filming days, only a fraction of which took place. We had at least one day of filming in 1999 which, interestingly enough, we shot out of order for editing later. If I’m honest I can’t remember much of this day, but it did involve a cast member who was subsequently removed from the project. Mostly because his idea of being funny was to arrive with green hair. Needless to say, after a few minutes of footage was committed to tape he left for the day and was never invited back.

The script was re-jigged again after this filming day, and another day of filming was set for December 1999. We shot about another 6 scenes of the new script, including the Attenborough sketch seen in the photo above, but as one of the cast didn’t turn up (this was in historical terms mere MINUTES before mobile phones became popular) and the weather was particularly cold and unpleasant we gave up for the day. Filming didn’t resume again until sometime after February 2000 (when Dan had recovered from a school ski-trip related bout of pneumonia), which again saw us try shooting the episode from the beginning again, once more finishing a few scenes and then giving up. Looking back I wish we’d had the technology we have now as we’d have been much more productive with our time and not had to keep going back to the beginning of the script and starting again.

Then, finally, shortly after completing our GCSE exams we spent three days filming in July, and managed to put the whole episode together, shot in sketch order on the tape. To allow for any corpsing (industry-speak for “laughing”), flubs and mistakes, we always left a few seconds of editing space at the end of the sketch – when moving onto the next sketch on the list we’d wind to the correct point on the tape so there was no gap between each sketch and start acting (I use the term loosely) as soon as the red light came on. For the “Adolf Schmirrnoff” sketch – he’s German and hates everyone and everything except for Lemon Curd – we almost had to go back and reshoot the whole of the previous sketch (a history of the pressed meat Spam) due to me messing up my lines, the phone ringing etc. On the 6th take I think we got it, although we did in fact have to go back and reshoot the final section of the history of Spam, which thankfully we could do in Dan’s back garden with the viewer being none the wiser – the magic of television, people!

The wallpaper table was a necessary part of the 5 News sketch.

It was a great moment finally finishing the episode after that amount of time, even if Dan’s video camera died literally 2 sketches from the end. I dashed home and retrieved my video camera for the last couple of skits. As far as promotional materials go, there’s a lot of non-computer related stuff still around, but there’s not much additional footage due to the way we shot it and most of the photos taken were lost when my PC died (quite a common occurrence in those days). The episode was released on its own on VHS (yes, they existed once) and we started making plans for our second episode.

And that was that. Until 29 and 30 December 2004 when Dan, Adam and myself got together to reshoot some material and “re-master” the episode to bring it more in line with what we originally wanted to do. The fact we’d recently invested in a new video editing PC also played a part in that decision. We added a few “stings” to break up the sketches (which were originally going to be used in every episode but forgot to use them in subsequent releases), added some new graphics and moved material around a bit so it worked better than it did originally. Thankfully we didn’t “do a George Lucas” and erase the original from history – the DVD set we made for the episode has both versions, the original episode and the new, re-mastered edition, plus literally all the remaining footage we have. A pretty comprehensive collection, but I’m not letting anyone outside of the cast and our immediate circle watch it, not until we’ve shot them again and put them in Reddite Insania… I have very fond memories of the whole “Episode 1” period, and is pretty much the definitive point at which I decided I wanted to write and make films, TV-style series and so on. It was also something a bit different for all of us to be involved in, and despite wishing we’d used our time more productively, for me at least it’s been the stepping stone for my more recent output.

There's a reason why I'm flying into shot... and that's because I put the camera on delay, realised it wasn't long enough for me to sit down, and promptly threw myself into shot, just in time. My head impacted with Pete's knee a fraction of a second later.

There are still a lot of memories from this time period that I’ve not included for reasons of time and blog length, so I’ll return to the subject at some point in the future.

Next week – The Village Episode 2!

On that note, if I get any requests to upload the original or remastered episodes I’ll give it some consideration. But don’t expect anything that’s worth seeing.

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