UnPacking the Pandemic
Luke Eve is a filmmaker who knows how to pivot. In a world that has just spent the past two years in a pandemic flux the writer/director, come actor, has managed to navigate a chaotic wave of rolling lockdowns, COVID-phobia and the sudden cancellation of wedding plans, all while finding himself in a foreign country having to rely on his personal & creative partner, the award winning actor María Albiñana, to navigate their daily lives in pandemic-stricken Spain.
But even while Eve was forced to watch his directorial feature film debut, I Met A Girl starring Brenton Thwaites (DC’s Titans) and Lily Sullivan (Picnic at Hanging Rock), loose it’s theatrical release under mass cinema closures around the globe, the former Tropfest winner recognised the darkly absurd situation he, María and (in a surprise twist) his mother Karen, who had travelled to Spain to attend the couples wedding, had found themselves in; front and centre of a real life dramedy. And so, armed with his iPhone X, and a desire to keep himself creatively busy, Eve along with the two women closest to him (figuratively and literally), created, shot and released a ten-part web series aptly titled Cancelled, which quickly became a runaway surprise hit.
Pulling in over 2.5 million views on Facebook Watch with impressive international engagement numbers, Cancelled became a voice of the pandemic, a raw, honest mix of comedy, angst and an intimate character study of a couple under extraordinary pressures, forced to abandon their wedding plans while dealing the ramifications of a deadly virus in one of Europe’s most devastated regions.
The series went on to win a number of awards and accolades, including Best Screenplay for the couple and the Best Actress gong for María at The British Web Awards. Now, with the backing of a huge international fanbase and new funding arrangements that include not only Screen Australia, (who helped finance Cancelled), but also Un3TV, Visit Valencia, The Spanish Embassy of Australia and The Australian Embassy of Spain, it comes as no surprise that Eve and Albiñana have launched their new sequel series ReCancelled.
A continuation of the couple’s life during the pandemic’s second year, the ReCancelled see’s Luke’s mother Karen having returned to Australia, as the couple decided to once again postpone their wedding plans. And just as Luke makes arrangements to follow his mother back to Australia, the couple unexpectedly find themselves pregnant, unvaccinated and facing a new wave of corona virus variants sweeping Europe.
Operating out of Spain, where Luke and María are currently running promotion for the October 27 ReCancelled launch, Fletcher & Third was granted virtual access to the Sydney born filmmaker to discuss the unexpected success of Cancelled, the difficulty of being pregnant in a pandemic and the challenges of content creation in lockdown.
Fletcher: Obviously the first season tapped into a community sense of frustration and fear during the pandemics first year. Were you surprised that Cancelled was embraced so readily and widely?
Luke Eve: Did it surprise us? A lot. I mean we just told a small story of our lives in lockdown on a mobile phone. But I think people connected with how honest and real it was.
F: The series does have a very authentic feel to it. Was that by design, or was it a by-product of how the show was produced under such a restrictive and limited environment?
LE: I think, the fact that we used our real names created a real sense of intimacy. And the mobile phone was a big factor too I think. It feels voyeuristic to a degree. We purposely kept certain themes, of what was fact or fiction ambiguous, which I think invited people into the story.
F: Launching the series on Facebook Watch certainly creates an open door for your audience to walk through. How has it been having that ability to be one-on-one and really engage with your audience?
LE: People began interacting with us like they knew us. We still receive personal emails and messages from people who watched us, checking in to see how we are doing. It’s weird but lovely at the same time. The line between private and public was completely blurred. My favourite assessment of the first season came from a fan who felt that we held up a mirror to everyone’s lives during the pandemic. People saw themselves in our own struggle. And I thought that was really beautiful.
F: Congratulation on the new addition to family! It seems like a creative gift was dropped in your lap, so to speak, with the pregnancy. As a couple already facing so many life-hurdles due to the pandemic, was a difficult decision delving into such a personal and poignant time in your lives?
LE: Thanks so much. And It’s such a good question. To be honest, it took a little while for us to convince one another to do another round.
Season One was really raw and brutally honest, and it took its toll on us. I felt emotionally drained after the show for many reasons. So we knew that to go again, focusing on such a big moment in our lives, it was going to be potentially very intrusive and revealing.
But I think we learned a lot from the first go around, so we just went back in wholeheartedly.
There are a few more elements that are fictionalised in this season, but the bare bones are there. It was obviously much harder for María who physically changes throughout the series, but she completely trusted me, and my vision for how I wanted to share our story.
But once again, there are some really raw moments in there. Pregnancies are full on but doing so in a pandemic when one partner doesn’t speak the language is a huge challenge. So we felt like we had the engine for a very dramatic story.
F: Can you offer a little insight into the working relationship between yourself and María? Especially as you do touch on some rather provocative, intimate and raw themes.
LE: We work really well together. And fast too. We get together and plot, outline the series and then María will often go away and do a rough first pass. I hate first passes whereas she is great at them.
I’ll then have a pass myself and concentrate mostly on structure and story beats, and I’ll add a few little things. Then I’ll throw it back to her and she’ll flesh it out further and then we back and forth like that for a bit.
We then do a read through to hear how it sounds and feels and we’ll make further changes if needed, but from there on we try to stick to the script as much as possible. But depending on the actors, or if something takes our fancy or doesn’t feel right at the time, or if something has just happened in the news that we want to incorporate, we will.
F: Did the creative process itself add stress to the relationship or was there a catharises in working through these subjects together?
LE: Overall, we are really brutally honest with each other both as a couple and as creators, so we are quite comfortable discussing it and putting it all down on the page. The first season was hard. Our relationship was tested through the lockdown. We did struggle. But we embraced it and explored it truthfully throughout the series. It kind of got us through it.
F: Cancelled was conceived, produced and released online during the Pandemic, which in itself is a credit to your both. But then you commit to a follow up season with ReCancelled. How difficult was it to secure funding, resources and support for the new series while covid was still a very real and present threat within Europe?
LE: Yeah, for sure. I think a lot of people in Australia forget that the pandemic raged over here for 18 months. When we started there were still thousands of cases per day and deaths were in the dozens. And at that time, we were unvaccinated, and María was pregnant, so we had to be really careful.
When we began engaging with Screen Australia, they were obviously very nervous about how we would structure and plan our production. It’s a small show but ReCancelled is really ambitious. We travel outside to a tonne of locations – I think about 30 in total – and there is a lot of scenes with the public, so we had to figure out how to do that cheaply and safely.
Luckily, we got some additional financial partners on board – Tourism Valencia and the Spanish Embassy in Australia and the Australian Embassy in Spain and we then worked out that we could still shoot what we needed with a tiny crew.
In Season One, María, myself and my mum were cast and crew. We were acting in scenes and holding the camera at the same time. It was nuts and I really didn’t want to do that again this season. I wanted to be able to focus more on my directing and acting. As I’d never acted before I needed that extra focus and bandwidth.
So, we got a camera person, a soundy and a production assistant so that we could concentrate on story telling. All up we were only 5 people!
One scene we shot in a public square with 40 extras and us with only 3 crew. I’m amazed at what we were able to pull off. Anyway, I wanted to keep it on the mobile phone because it allowed us to move quickly and with a tiny footprint. We needed to be lean both for budget and for health reasons.
F: The use of mobile phones for shooting content, including film and broadcast series, is becoming more of a trend. Was it an easy choice to shot on an iPhone or was it a decision borne of necessity?
LE: I have to say I was sceptical of the iPhone as a cinematic tool until I used it to shoot Cancelled. And it also took me a while to get my head around it.
We probably shot the first episode of Cancelled three times before I was happy with it. It’s very counter intuitive at first if you’re used to using a traditional camera. The lens is wide and not flattering so you have to get in close, but then that can cause distortion etc so it takes some trial and error. But once you embrace it for what it is it can be really liberating.
It’s so easy and intimate and unobtrusive. I fell in love with how flexible and simple it could be. Obviously it’s not an ALEXA, but if you know that and embrace it for its strengths it can be an incredible tool. Having said all of that, there is still a lot of snobbery around it.
When we were interviewing cinematographers for the project many turned their nose up at the idea of shooting on a mobile phone. And when I mention the idea to Producers, I see that they are a little sceptical … until they see it!
F: And can you give us breakdown of what phones and other tools, equipment you used in the production of the series?
LE: For Season One we used an iPhone X whereas for ReCancelled we used an iPhone 12 which has the additional telephoto lens which we used a lot.
We filmed everything using the FilmicPro app which is fantastic. It allows you to shoot at 4k, 10bit using a cine log. We used a Zoom recorder for sound and would often record back-up sound on our mobile phones just in case. It was extremely minimal.
At the end of each day, I would dump the footage onto a hard drive and upload it to Dropbox. Then our editor, Melanie Annan, who is currently in LA, would download it all at her end and back it up.
She would then edit on Adobe Premier and do handovers via Google Drive to our sound team and colourist in Sydney and our composer, Claire Deak in Melbourne and our visual effects team in Germany and our design and credits team in Argentina.
For workflow purposes we downsized everything from 4k to ProRes but will keep a 4k version for later on.
It was a crazy process – a production in three different languages with a crew spread across five different countries – but the different time zones allowed us to literally work around the clock to meet our schedule.
F: And so with ReCancelled finding its way online as a dedicated web series, and the vaccine roll-out finally offering some reprieve from the uncertainty faced over the past 36 months, do you and María see yourselves tackling a third edition of the series? Or will you be moving on with other projects?
LE: Strangely enough, after Cancelled we had started working on a second season to be called UnCancelled, but then the pandemic dragged on and we had to cancel the wedding, again, and then Maria fell pregnant so we adapted, and it became ReCancelled instead.
I would obviously love to still make a third instalment which finally sees us getting married but let’s see how this one goes first.
At the moment I’m in the process of financing, Mid Life, the third instalment of my mental health short form trilogy which started with Low Life and High Life. That was meant to shoot this year but life sort of got in the way.
I’m also attached to a couple of feature film projects with amazing producers that I’m very excited about. A romantic comedy, a sports love story, an R rated comedy and a psychedelic horror film set in Mexico. All very different but all very marketable with fantastic stories. And then I have a couple of TV series that I’m working on with some great writers, a comedy about an ageing cult couple and a story about sisters who use cooking to put a spell on a small coastal town. So it’s a pretty diverse slate but I’m really excited about all of them.
All ten episodes of Cancelled are currently available online via Facebook Watch
With ReCancelled is now available to stream on Facebook Watch