Writer, director, actor and visual effects guru Michael Shanks wears many hats. Ahead of his Writing for YouTube workshop, WV intern Nicola Wetzel caught up with him to talk about the pleasures and perils of doing it all yourself.
What has challenged you most while filming your six-part comedy series ‘The Wizards of Aus’?
Probably the main challenge of filming Wizards was the sheer volume of stuff we needed to pull off with such a tiny budget. From the show's conception, we always knew we were punching far above our budget and as such we didn't have the luxuries usually afforded to productions of this scale.
As such, everybody on the crew was usually working multiple jobs in order to deal with the insane workload! For example, my producer Chris Hocking and I ended up working unpaid for 36 weeks to finish all of the show's visual effects - but it was a small sacrifice to make the show we wanted to make!
Do other writers influence your writing, or is it better to work by yourself?
Of course! In the TV/Film world I've felt really influenced by people like Sam Bain & Jesse Armstrong, Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg, Gervais & Merchant all spring to mind. Also showrunners such as Dan Harmon, Tina Fey and Josh Thomas to name a few.
Also the novelised works of people like Spike Milligan and Douglas Adams are strong influences for me. With Wizards I was fortunate enough to work with Nicholas Issell who co-wrote all the scripts with me. He's just a creative dynamo who brought a whole host of his own influences to the show. His greater knowledge of fantasy really helped inform the show's tone, as he brought with him an understanding of the worlds of Pratchett and a whole host of comics, animations and graphic novels.
My most recent project I've been writing by myself, which I've certainly been enjoying - however, particularly with comedy, when you're writing by yourself I've often felt like I was going a little insane - desperately trying to convince myself something is funny with nobody around to bounce jokes off of.
You work as a Writer/Director/Actor/VFX guy/Editor and Composer at the same time. What did you learn about time management and do you have any advice about how to combine so many different roles?
I really enjoy so many different aspects of the filmmaking process which is one of the reasons I try to do as many of them as I can. It's also a wonderfully practical way to work when you're dealing with the lower budget end of the spectrum. Whilst of course writing is such a unique skill, if it's the only skill you develop in the film/tv industry it can make it a lot more difficult to get things done. I've been fortunate enough to have the opportunities to learn about VFX, Composing, Directing etc... which just means that when I've finished a script, It's a whole lot easier for me as I can potentially go out and just make the thing without having to wait years for somebody to come and pick it up.
In terms of time management, there's no such thing. It is a miserable existence and you will grow sad and embittered whilst isolating and resenting all things you once loved. Slowly, yet surely, you heart will freeze and your mind will waver as with each passing day you get a little less joyous and a little more lonely. But it's ok, because one day you will pass away! [We hope Michael is kidding… - eds]
About Michael Shanks
Michael Shanks curates the popular YouTube channel Timtimfed which features a variety of high concept film and comedy content, and has over 35,000,000 online hits. A multi-faceted filmmaker, he is an award-winning writer, director, musician & visual effects artist. Most recently, he created the SBS2 series The Wizards of Aus which he also directed, co-wrote, acted in, composed and VFX’d for.
About Nicola Wetzel
Nicola Wetzel is a Writers Victoria Intern from Heidelberg, Germany. She studies Public Management at Hochschule Kehl and through this internship she wants to gain new experiences in what it’s like to work in a not-for-profit organisation.