A few weeks back I’d mentioned the fantabulous webseries, A Quick Fortune. The series follows Kate (Erin Hunter) and Archie (James Gavigan), two Depression-era characters living in “dire straits” and constantly hunting for the fortune that will put them on Easy Street. If you haven’t watched the series I recommend you do so here. The show’s two stars took time out of their schedule (and called me from their London location!) to discuss the creation of their season, hopes for season two, and what classic films can give us today.
I’m so happy to get to talk to you both. I’m usually skeptical about YouTube series, but I loved what you guys did with A Quick Fortune.
Erin Hunter: Thank you!
James Gavigan: That’s reassuring.
What inspired you to put this out? Why take the plot you have and hearken back to old radio and film?
Erin: I’ve personally been a huge fan of all things vintage since I was a teenager. My grandmother gave me her collection of CDs by Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller, and Duke Ellington. We live in London, and in the beginning of last year they had screenings of screwball comedy films. I’d watched them as a kid and I forgot how hilarious and how relevant they still are.
James: The connection of the whole financial clash where screwball came from was playing on both our minds. Once we sat down and had a think about it, the characters came out very naturally. The first day we sat down to write A Quick Fortune, Kate and Archie’s characters were the first thing – very rounded characters – [we created] within the first day and a half, which rarely happens.
Did you feel a kinship to any particular shows or films? Was there anything you wanted to directly homage?
Erin: I’m a huge I Love Lucy fan which isn’t known over here [in London] at all.
Erin: [laughs] Yeah!
James: I was in the dark about the whole thing.
Erin: We knew screwball comedy was a film genre and I Love Lucy is a sitcom so we tried to fit the film genre into a modern format and pare it down to webisodes. It was a combination, for me, of I Love Lucy and Bringing Up Baby which is one of my favorite screwball comedies.
James: I wasn’t fully aware of screwball until Erin gave me an into the deep-end conversation.
That’s a must for everybody! We need to teach screwball to every film fan.
James: It was difficult because films are so niche and people shy away from niche areas of cinema. Sometimes if you mention movies [people] go “Oh, I know that movie. I love that movie. It’s screwball.” In some ways it’s a good thing to say to people, and sometimes people run away in the other direction.
I definitely saw a lot of Katharine Hepburn with Kate’s character which I’m assuming was intentional.
Erin: I’m not gonna lie, I did use a kind of Katharine Hepburn persona based on a few of the screwball films she was in.
The vocal inflections were really Katharine Hepburn. So many people try to mimic her cadence that it almost becomes the Bane voice, the go-to accent, and there are so many poor imitations.
Erin: I spent a lot of time watching her films.
What was the production and shooting like? This all looks so put together despite the theme song saying they live in “dire straits.” What did it take to create a typical episode?
James: From conception to delivery you’re talking two years for the entire production; that was script, research/development, shooting, and post-production. We shot all five episodes in four days, which was an incredibly tight turnaround. We had to do a lot of scenes in one or two takes depending on what they were. There was definitely pressure to get it out there, but it was a fun set to be on because it was so ridiculous. We had a lot of fun.
Kate: The guacamole shot, where we poured it over [a character’s] head was a one-take wonder. Or smashing in a wall in episode one – that had to be patched – was in one take. We did do one reshoot because the weather is never kind to us, so we reshot the gangster scene; it was raining when we shot it the first time and we attempted to paint an outdoor wall inside, and the second time we shot it, it hailed.
James: It was in May.
I’m hoping there are more adventures for Archie and Kate to go on from where it ended?
Erin: That’s our hope as well. That’s why we left it open-ended. But much like the characters, we need to find our own fortunes to make a second season.
James: We have a certain amount of plans and ideas for where it could go, which are many and all over the place. Until we get a bigger production we have to wait and see what happens.
I know some YouTube series use crowd-funding. Is that something you’ve considered or looked into?
Erin: We went down that route for season one, so we are very familiar with crowd funding.
James: It’s a fickle mistress, crowd funding. Getting to that point can be quite difficult, and season one was starting from scratch to create a fanbase and it was purely family and friends. As you can imagine, shooting a period piece on a low budget is never an easy decision to make. We could shoot it for a lot cheaper if it was set in 2014, but it wouldn’t be half the fun; it has to look like the 1940s. We want it to look of the era, and we wouldn’t want to do a second series just for the sake of doing one.
Crowd funding is great, but can really come off like a popularity contest.
James: When you think about how much time and effort people put into these crowd funding campaigns; the classic one is the guy who raised money for scrambled eggs?
James: Potato salad! And he made $50,000 or something like that. Point proven, I think.
Erin: Horror films do really well with crowdfunding, too.
It is a shame because my blog caters to classic films and so many people are surprised that classic films are on the rise with the TCM Film Festival and studios putting out their older titles. I put the link for A Quick Fortune on my blog and people were surprised to hear about it.
James: It’s funny you mention that because we’ve worked hard to put it out there. It’s been very difficult. People who aren’t well-versed in a certain area don’t try to engage with it. It’s about trying to find where the audience is and try to engage with it.
Erin: The Artist winning Best Picture shows you there’s an audience or big demographic for films that hearken back to the more classic time.
James: I think there’s a demographic for simple stories that are overlooked today. Scripts have to have a lot of plot twists when there are scripts with simple stories that people enjoy, too.
To go off that, why do you think people are so eager to return to classic films and television?
James: I think it’s comfort, like comfort food. Times, internationally, are crazy – there’s war, there’s Ebola – and you can return to something that’s traditional, that’s homely. It’s all hearkening back to a simpler time, simpler lives.
Erin: Possibly, the pendulum swinging back, in terms of filmmaking. There’s so many films reliant on CGI and big action, blowing things up. There’s something really nice to paring that down and going back to what James was saying, simpler storytelling. You don’t need shock tactics or hot sex scenes to keep people entertained.
James: And that you can watch with your whole family, something that’s lost in the entertainment world. Not that I’m an old grandpa, but that was me in the 80s and 90s. There’s really massive definition in what you can watch with certain age groups.
I always ask this question: Any favorite classic films?
Erin: Oh, gosh. Some Like It Hot.
James: Mine is completely random but it’s my childhood all over, Ben-Hur. I’m an epic movie guy. At Easter time in Ireland they’d show these epic movies and I could sit for four-hours.
I don’t know if I can devote all that time to a movie.
James: I suppose it’s contradictory producing a webseries you can watch in four minutes and recommending Ben-Hur.
Thank you so much for taking time to chat with me.
James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us at all!
Erin: Thank you!
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.