Web Series Wednesday: Summer School

Summer School

Written and Directed by Joel Stephen Fleming
Starring Matthew French, Reshael Sirputh, Gabriel Stoltz, Sam Sidhu, Candice Hill, Paul Tucker, Jake Doak, Gerick Thomsen and Will Kelly

Summer School is the hilarious new multi-cultural comedy web-series created by emerging filmmaker Joel Stephen Fleming (13th Street Films). The show centres on a group of inept educators begrudgingly working through their summer holiday under the dictatorship of a controlling and obsessive Principal. The comedy features an ensemble cast of Brisbane based actors including: Will Kelly, Gabriel Stoltz, Matthew James French, Candice Hill, Sam Sidhu, Gerick Leota, Paul Tucker and Jake Doak, as well as newcomer and former Bachelor contestant Reshael Sirputh. 

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Article written by Joel Stephen Fleming

Summer School is based on my personal experience working in summer school’s in Europe whilst living abroad. During this time, I was fascinated with the melting pot of classes, cultures and personalities that are forced together in this temporary work environment. Many of the characters and storylines of Summer School are based on these experiences. The show features an ensemble of larger than life characters who have been thrust together working in the close proximity of a rural school environment.

The premise sounds simple enough, bringing the series to life however, would prove to be a challenge. My usual process is pretty standard: take the idea out of your head and start to put it on paper. What I like to do is use Post-It’s, I write all the character’s names out, one on each Post-It, then attached to that is the character’s traits, quirks etc. Then under that ‘heading’ I’ll put a bunch of ideas for the character e.g. dialogue, talisman props, ‘bits’ (jokes) and plot lines etc. This is all colour coded.

This gets stuck up on my apartment wall and it slowly grows and expands as the process goes on. With Summer School it took up a lot of space and was very complex due to the amount of characters. I found giving each character enough depth and screen time the biggest challenge, especially in the pilot episode.

Once my masterpiece on the lounge room wall was complete I was ready to write a first draft, but as Hemingway so elegantly put it ‘the first draft of anything is shit’. That’s where a network of colleagues came in. I take all my drafts to a wide array of people to get different feedback and opinions; from the cinefile to the average film fan and everything in between. Actors are a great source of feedback for example as they read a lot of scripts, therefore they know when they read a good one.

After I was happy (enough) with the drafts I moved into pre-production with my 13th Street Films team. In order for this story to really work and the comedy to play-out as intended it needed the perfect cast. I set about finding the nine unique characters that make up the Summer School cast and after many trials and tribulations, as well as one deportation, they were ready to start the rehearsal process.

The way I like to create is very collaborative, once I have the script I take it to the actors and we workshop it. This was done through a series of table reads which helped the cast bond and develop their characters. It’s so much fun watching the actors laugh along as they read the script for the first time. As the weeks of pre-production went on the cast grew eager for the next episodes that were still being written at the time. I would record each table read and from there I would adjust the scripts, each time doing a revised draft slowly inching toward the shooting scripts that would be used that January.

We then began crowdfunding on Indiegogo, this entailed writing and directing a sketch in which we pitched the concept and appealed for funding by using our actors in character. The promotion took the form of a staff meeting. People responded really well to the characters and the concept and by the time we were ready to begin shooting we had exceeded our goal of $2,500. This gave us the belief and confidence heading into what would be an arduous shoot.

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Locations are another big issue for an indie filmmaker and we had an extensive search on our hands trying to find the school. After about 20 rejections from state and private schools around Brisbane we stumbled upon Laravale which is a former State School near Beaudesert. The current owners, the Lohmann family, graciously allowed us to shoot there and their daughter, Kate, became part of our crew and they ended up becoming extras in the parent teacher night scenes.

So, we now had the space, the cast, the cash, and the crew all we had to do was shoot the damn thing. We decided the best way to showcase Summer School was to shoot a pilot episode in full and then shoot a bunch of key scenes and moments as sort of a giant trailer, which we dubbed the ‘sizzle reel’. This meant the cast and crew were constantly questioning ‘is this in the pilot or the reel?’ by the end of production I think I was the only one who knew which scene was going to fit where.

During the shooting, we had a fantastic time. I was very impressed by the resilience of the cast and their ability to adapt and improvise when I called upon them. The great thing about making a comedy is it’s a natural stress reliever. The cast, crew and myself were constantly cracking up between takes at the ridiculousness of some of the dialogue and the brilliant performances from the actors.

We shot an astounding amount of content over the four-day shoot, finishing with 30 minutes of material. I have always believed that people are capable of more, and some of them just need to be pushed. I push my crew and cast to give all they have and I was so impressed with the result on set. Everyone was exhausted by the end of the fourth day but ecstatic with what we had achieved.

Summer School is now online at 13th Street Films Channel youtube.com/c/13thstreetfilms. The 13th Street Films crew are seeking to garner interest from online platforms and Australian Television networks to secure funding or co-production.  The team have already attracted thousands of fans to their Facebook page and thousands of views on the content they have released so far. To see the pilot episode on YouTube, go to https://youtu.be/NZQpFr2IPN0

To keep up-to-date with Summer School, check out their Facebook page where you can see sneak-peeks, bonus content and behind the scenes footage as well as announcements about online and festival screenings: https://www.facebook.com/SummerSchoolseries/ 

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