Visuals / Irregulars
Positive Feedback -
A Chat with the Creators of Feedback
Words and interview by James Lynch
Photos by Sam Harding
Stills supplied by Feedback
Friday 14th June, 2019
Last month, we had the pleasure of meeting up with the minds behind Feedback, a new webseries that invites viewers into the hilariously shambolic lives of struggling artists Edmund and Levi. Set to a backdrop of chaotic Melbourne and soundtracked by some of our best local music, Feedback shines with its ability to feel real and relevant while simultaneously playing up the absurd going-ons that make Melbourne how it is, seamlessly blurring the lines between sitcom, black comedy and surrealist cinema.

Speaking with writer/director Dylan Murphy, producer Michelle Melky and actor James Morris who plays failing rockstar Levi, we discuss the project’s inception, Australian cinema and the Melbourne community, setting you up with a handy introduction before you binge watch the entire series later tonight.
“let’s make a really long series that’s going to take ages”

TJ: Tell us how this all come together.

Dylan: Me, Michelle and Tom (who plays Edmund) went to university together, and Tom and I wrote the show together. We did creative writing at RMIT and became really close friends during the course. In our last year we really wanted to make something together, and another friend had messaged me saying “let’s make something, let’s work on a script together”, and I instantly said “let’s make a really long series that’s going to take ages”, and then Tom and I got really excited - we started writing all these scripts and we brought Michelle in to produce it, and we scared our other friend away a little bit… he’s really busy.

He’s a great musician, so we kind of made the characters based on him and Tom, a writer and a musician. And then when he left we thought maybe we wouldn’t do this show, but then I remembered James Morris [who plays Levi]. We brought Morris in and kind of shifted the focus a bit, but it was important to us that it was an actual writer and an actual musician in the show.

Michelle: But I hadn’t made anything for the screen before - Dylan had made Youtube sketches in high school, Tom had done a lot of theatre and acting, and writing, but not for the screen, and I hadn’t done anything for the screen before.

D: The stuff I had done was very homemade, like a Youtube channel. This was the first thing I directed properly. For all of us, we were learning how to make a series.

Michelle: First timers for everything.

TJ: And it was a creative writing degree, so you weren’t really learning film techniques.

M: We didn’t learn any film making techniques at all, and we barely did screenwriting. Our majors were in screenwriting, but that course is really focused on novels, long form fiction, prose poetry, so the screen writing department is really small. I wrote one pilot the whole time, amongst a lot of other writing but I’d only done one full pilot, so we hadn’t really done that much screenwriting.

D: We really threw ourselves into the deep end.

TJ: When you say you wanted to make something - did you intend to make a TV show?

D: Yeah for sure. And we weren’t really super aware of the web series community, we were just all obsessed with television which meant we were drawn to write something that was more TV length, or series length.

TJ: Was it always a webseries or was there a plan to make it a television show?

James: There was a plan for it to be everything.

M: The whole idea of it was ‘what does that [a webseries] even mean?’ A Netflix original you could call a web series, or they might call it a web-television show or web-based TV. So we just made whatever these guys had written, which was something really long - but I don’t think we ever called it at web series.

D: It’s functionally a web series because it exists online, because we don’t own televisions. The goal was always to make something that felt like a TV show, because that was the form that we were excited about.

M: And web series have the connotation of being independently made, so it’s not like produced by ABC iView or anything like that. It just kinda is a long show. It’s a show.

“there’s a new generation of content creators coming through”

TJ: Something that is instantly noticeable about Feedback is that it was actually funny. I’m not quite sure what it is and it might not even be just an Australian thing, but it feels like we have a tendency to only laugh once we’re satisfied that something will be funny, which must be hard for an emerging show.

D: Yeah, you’ve got your guard up.

J: ‘You make me laugh’.

TJ: But there is something naturally funny about Feedback that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to hard, maybe because it’s so realistic I suppose. Was there a part of you going into it thinking you wanted to make something that wasn’t like that in Australian TV?

D: Kinda. I think initially my pitch to Tom was that it would be like Black Books meets a David Lynch film. So it would kinda have that energy of Bernard Black with all this absurd stuff going on - which I suppose I haven’t seen much out of Australia that goes to that place, where you have a lot of interesting visuals going on.

I love Australian comedy but a lot of it is kinda samey I suppose. We were trying to find interesting visual ways of getting comedy and concepts across... I guess we were consciously trying to present things in ways that we hadn’t seen before.

TJ: On that note, something that is kind of interesting is that Australia rivals a lot of other places in the world artistically in other formats - Australia is globally recognised as being strong in music for example. It’s strange that film and TV doesn’t seem to rival other countries as much - we just don’t have the platform, I suppose.

M: That’s something I get really worked up about. We’ve had a few people say that this doesn’t feel like Australian TV - but we’re all Australian. This is what Australian comedy is like, because there are content creators out there doing work like this - which is totally influenced by American and Britain and also Australian comedy and drama. But it’s just that the film industry in Australia relies so heavily on funding from the government, and the funding tends to go to a safer place. Not a bad place, or a place that’s not worthy of it.

J: They’re not taking chances on a lot of stuff. They always want to put it into something that’s long standing, I feel like they’re not putting that money towards something that’s new and innovative. It’s getting better but isn’t that the whole thing - you’re saying it’s not an Australian comedy, but what exactly is an Australian comedy. Maybe everyone think it's something like Puberty Blues or something that’s inherently Australian.

D: Going back to the question - with the writing, we just wanted to make something that felt true to our experience, rather than try to copy a style or something we’d seen before.

M: And to make something that we’d want to watch. The number one rule in any kind of content, make something you’d want to watch.

J: It did also change like so many times. Over three years, we’d have these nights where you’d explain the whole concept to me and I’d be like “I get it now” and then the next day you’d be off on a new tangent.

D: I also think… we spent so long writing, trying to figure out what the show was about, and we’re young - Tom and I had only just finished uni and were still developing and figuring out what our style was. So any time we watched a new movie or episode, it’d be like “oh maybe more like this”.

“there’s no point trying to make it look or sound Australian... it just sounds how it is”

TJ: Maybe this is also a different beast from Australian comedy, but the show feels exactly like Melbourne - although maybe it feels like that because we know what people in Melbourne look like and we know what people in Melbourne are like. I guess, what’s special about Melbourne to you and the show?

M: That was something I was really conscious of as we were making it. Having talked to Dylan afterwards, I know it wasn’t super on your mind, but it was very much on mine.

D: I remember you kept calling it a very Melbourne webseries, and I was like “is it?” But I guess we were just trying to make something that was true to our experience and we’ve both grown up in Melbourne.

M: And with the huge music element - we go to gigs, our mates are in bands, and especially when I was a bit younger, going to a gig on a Wednesday night was something I would do. That’s what Melbourne sounds like to me. And that’s why I wanted Gamjee's music in it, and Tram Cops' music in it… I wanted it to be exclusively Australian, if not exclusively Melbourne. The same thing with writers - we had some writers do readings [in Episode 5] and they were just people we met at reading nights in Melbourne, writers who live here and read their own pieces on camera for us. It just felt like obviously the thing you should do, there’s no point trying to make it look or sound Australian, or American or British... it just sounds how it is.

D: It’s an easy trap to fall into, to try and make something that feels like something you’ve seen, which is probably American or English - but with Australian characters that doesn’t feel like anything, it just feels generic, or cliched storytelling and characters.

M: It was also easy to make it look like Melbourne because we’re here, so we could film in the CBD, or in La Mama theatre, or at the Workers Club - places that young artists go to. Dylan and Tom would write a scene, so we’d just do it in the place where you’d actually do what was happening anyway. And most of these locations and the artists as well were so generous with their time or work - most people were like “use our song for free!”, people were on board with that.

TJ: You also had Sam [Drew-Rumoro] from Pseudo Mind Hive work on a lot of the music for the show too.

M: Sam is a good mate of ours, so we just used people we knew.

D: He composed the western score that bookends the second episode, and was also in the show [in Epidode 4]. We wanted to use a bunch of musicians and we ended up including Gamjee, Pseudo, Uncle Bobby, Pup Tentacle...

“people were excited to be involved, to do something a bit different from what they’re used to”

TJ: It seems like the show built a community around it quite easily - was that already there from the beginning or did it build around you as the show was made?

M: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we are friends with musicians, and we play instruments and love music. Music’s a really big part of my life and the same for Dylan, going to see bands is where you hang out with your friends, when you go see them play. When that is part of what you do all the time, it’s really easy to build up that culture. In terms of getting people on screen, I think people want to do stuff, creatives want to be involved.

D: And we had the first episode out from 2016, so people knew that we were serious about making something. I’m speaking on behalf of everyone that worked with us, but especially from the music side of things, people were excited to be involved to do something a bit different from what they’re used to.

M: And I know Sam from Pseudo was just keen to do a score. We asked him if we wanted to make a western piece of music for the show and he was like “I’d love to do that” - it’s something that he can then use, and something that the band gets credit for.

Sam Harding (who also helped with music and happened to be there when the interview took place): It’s really good with that scene where Levi is freaking out trying to compose that song blindfolded - did that go in the final?

D: We cut that down dramatically.

S: But that was so exciting to work on, we worked on that and then Sam [Drew-Rumoro] ended up doing pretty much all of it. But even just working on the concept of it was so cool, because that actual music concepts were really vague, so the ideas only came from visual cues provided, with those shots of the piano or instruments or a stuffed animal - a stuffed fox.

M: Sam Harding and Sam Drew Rumoro worked on a piece together, and Sam also wrote a whole other piece for the start of episode 3 that goes for about 3 minutes.

D: And Sam wrote the lyrics to the ‘Sneezy Dog’ song [from Episode 4].

S: All that stuff was so easy to do, because everyone that was involved was living their reality in the show. It was easy to write that song and give it to Morris with the chords and everything, because I know what you’re like and what you were doing already. You could just bang it out.

M: We have enough music made for the show that we could release a little EP. For me that’s the dopest thing, I was really stoked to have any original music.

“since releasing, the feedback has been great... it has ruined that word for us”

TJ: Finally, it came out a few weeks ago - how has the release been so far?

D: It’s been really good. We did a bunch of screenings before we released it - we screened each episode around Melbourne which was a really fun experience to watch it in a live setting with a group of people.

J: Just intensely watching them.

D: Desperate for approval. But it was a hugely positive reaction which was really encouraging.

M: And a lot of people said it was so Melbourne, which was awesome, so gratifying.

D: And since releasing, the feedback has been great… it has ruined that word for us. That time was an accident.

M: I’ve been focused on getting people to see it who I think would generally be interested in the content. So I haven’t been watching the views tick over, I’ve been just wanting to know that people I would want to watch it like it. And they do, we’ve been getting really good feedback and reactions.

D: I don’t think we ever thought it was going to be a show that was going to be insanely successful, purely for the length of it. Not that it’s unreasonably long, but to sit on Youtube and watch something like that, not everyone is going to care to do that.

But everyone who has watched it all the way through has had lovely things to say to us - and at the end of the day, we like the show and we’re happy that we made it. We’re able to watch it and say that’s true, this exists. And that’s satisfying.

Feedback is available to watch here.