Getting Improvisers into TV & Film

Getting Improvisers into TV & Film

At our last improv networking event I made an announcement that I was keen to bridge the gap between the live improv scene and TV and Film.

At the moment in London it feels like there is a certain limitation on the career of a performing improviser, they get into a regular team, perform lots, but the highest career point can feel still feel like a small fringe theatre or pub venue. This is still lots of fun, and is the core of great improv, but I think there is more that performers can do.

I was talking to Rhiannon Vivian (from Music Box and The Maydays) who has recently got back from a couple of months in New York, performing and studying with places like UCB, The Pit and The Magnet Theatre. She said that in New York  there is a stronger link between the live improv scene and the Film and TV industries. Agents, Talent Scouts and Producers regularly come to live improv shows there and cast for actors directly from the improv theatres. Apparently this does have the side effect that the improv scene can feel more competitive than here, but it also means that improv feels more like a valid career rather than a naughty hobby.

Also in America and Canada shows comedy shows have a long history of using improvisers as the actors, writers, directors and show-runners. In fact improv skills can be seen as the grounding of many great comedy shows like Saturday Night Live, Portlandia, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Parks & Recreation, Community, Louie and more. Improv is cool. I’ve never been cool so that sounds really naff to say. But improv inspired comedy on American TV is awesome. And I haven’t even mentioned the movies.

One thing those shows have in common is they don’t feel the need to call themselves an improv show, and maybe that’s something we could learn from here when trying to get improv inspired things on British TV and Film. Those shows use improvisers, they have heavily improvised dialogue and situations, but they call themselves comedy shows first and foremost. Maybe relentless trying to get improv on TV as ‘an improv show’ is what actually limits the possibilities. Perhaps it’s like trying to put on a play at the theatre and calling it ‘The Method Acting Show’.

This is already changing in London, there are quite a few improvisers now appearing regularly on TV in this country, so it feels like a good time to go for it.

After making the announcement at the networking event there’s been lots of people getting in touch, I’ve even been slightly overwhelmed actually, but it’s really exciting.

And a plan is starting to form.

What I’m personally doing at the moment is writing loads and loads of sketches and situations to improvise around, and I’m planning to film them over August when we’ve got time off from our improv courses, working with a variety of cast and crew from the improv scene. I’m going to be casting improvisers in them and the sketches will be heavily improvised on camera, around a given situation.

Then I’m going to be launching a Hoopla youtube channel and comedy videos website, a bit like funny or die but without the die bit, and a bit like the ucbcomedy website. I think there’s some good comedy on youtube but it can be hard to find among the billions of videos. So I’m going to build a separate website that hand selects the best stuff and points to videos, both videos we’ve made and other peoples stuff (with their permission). So let me know if you have videos you’d like to appear on that.

After experimenting with that, and what works with youtube and other online audiences, I’m going to be promoting the best videos and building up subscribers. After that I’m going to be spreading word with TV and Film companies regularly and
building up a relationship with them, basically saying ‘Hey, look at this!’

In the meantime I’ve also started building up a contact list of TV and Film people, to keep an ongoing relationship about the improv scene and send them a monthly email newsletter of what’s going on in the improv scene, videos to watch (not just mine but anyone’s), hot shows, and actors to watch out for. This is to build up awareness of talent in the improv scene so that when they are casting or looking for actors they’ll look for improvisers. I think sometimes not using improvisers in the UK is just due to lack of awareness, rather than a deliberate choice.

So improvisers it’s time to stop being coy and be bold!

If you’re interested in getting involved here’s what I’m especially looking for at the moment (casting for our videos isn’t happening until later in the summer):

– People who work in TV or Film or Online Content and would like to be kept up to date with what’s happening in the UK improv scene (top shows, top videos, actor actress recommendations).

– Professional actors and actresses from the improv scene who would like to be included in our newsletter to TV and Film Industry (especially if you have a Casting Call Pro, Spotlight Link, online showreel).

– People who are also making comedy videos and would like us to help boost audience by having us point to them from our new website.

Email address is [email protected] (it might take us a couple of days to properly reply at the moment).

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