Today, I am very lucky to talk to Jack Jewers, the director of Night School: The Web Series and the man who has helped with these Night School Saturdays. I owe a lot to him (He's the one who got everyone answering my questions over "What was that like?", "How did you film that?" and other kinda geeky questions I asked and bit my tongue over [if you know me, you know I like to know more about what happened behind the camera...).And I am thrilled that when I asked Jack if he fancied answering some questions, he said yes.
Now, before I go any further and give you the usual "You can follow him on Twitter at" info, I want to say something real quick. I asked Jack these questions around the time when episode 2 "The Other One" was aired so if the answers feel out of date, that was because I decided that I wanted this to be one of the last things to air on my Night School Saturdays!
Ok, the Twitter jam. If you want to follow Jack on Twitter, you can do so at @JackJewers or you can follow TrailerMade Films at @trailer_made. Right over to Jack to answer some questions. And me not bouncing in my chair over one of the last few questions...
Jack, thank you so much for having time to answer a few questions about Night School: The Web Series. I (as many fans) would love to know where did the idea of turning Night School into a web series come from? Did the author, CJ Daugherty, come to you with this idea? Did you go to her or did you both come to the same conclusion together?
The idea sort of evolved over time. The Night School book trailers had grown a bit of a cult following alongside the books since we started making them in 2012. When we shot the trailer for book 4, Resistance, in May 2014, we ended up with enough extra material to form a couple of teasers in addition to the main trailer. These were quite fun and went down well, so we had the idea to come back over the summer and build on that by doing some extra ones. Not full episodes, just snippets of action featuring different characters, of between 30 seconds and a minute in length. (We actually completed one of them featuring Nathaniel, which will never be released now, although much of the footage was re-used in Power).
Then one day we were having a long discussion about all this, and it suddenly dawned on us that there was this huge opportunity just staring us in the face – why not turn it into a web series instead?
So the TL;DR on that is that we were out walking the dog and had a brainwave!
You directed the book trailers for all the Night School books. How big a change was it to go from filming a book trailer that lasted only a few minutes to film a series of six episodes, each under 10 minutes long?
Actually it was less of a change than you might think. For a start, scripted drama is my comfort zone. It’s definitely more challenging a medium for a director – a whole other level, really – but I absolutely relished taking that step. It felt a little like ‘great, now we can get some real work done.’
However, in practical terms, they weren’t all that different to make. We always pushed the envelope as much as possible in terms of production values with the book trailers. The web series was shot with largely the same crews, so we were used to working with each other. And they were also made on similar schedules. It took 2 days to shoot the book trailers for Fracture and Resistance, which is actually more time than we had for some of the web series episodes!
That said the web series was certainly a bigger production by far.
CJ wrote the scripts for this series. Was there any time you read the script and thought "How are we going to film this?" or were you excited for the challenge?
I constantly wondered that while reading the scripts! But CJ and I have a very symbiotic way of working, which really helps.
The episodes are also very different, with different sets of challenges. Sometimes all I had to go on was the dialogue – that was the case on the three ‘character’ episodes, The Other One, The Gilmore Girl and Bang. I then had to build a visual story to go alongside her words, and I had pretty free reign with that.
The more action-focussed episodes were closer to conventional drama scripts, with basic action outlined too – in which case my job was to interpret them visually. That means hundreds of little decisions – everything from where to put the camera, to using a particular lens, and of course working with the actors and all that entails. Every single one of those can end up having a huge impact on the end result.
Now, what was the process you went through to find the right actors for the roles? Were they any surprise castings that surprised CJ and you?
We always knew that we wanted the main actors from the book trailers – Jess Sargent, Campbell Challis, Louis Clarke-Clare and Danny Carmel – to reprise their roles in the web series. For the other parts I put out castings through professional industry channels and then auditioned a shortlist.
As to whether there were any surprises – yes! The casting for Jo threw us some real curve balls. Jodie Hirst was the first person we saw of about six actresses who read for that part. She impressed us hugely – not only with her performance but also by looking so uncannily like Jo is described in the books that I think CJ felt a little spooked by the experience!
It all felt like a done deal until the final person to audition walked in, who happened to be Grace Parry. She was absolutely brilliant, and while we still went with Jodie for that part, we ended up offering Grace the role of Katie without ever seeing anyone else for it. I just knew she’d make an amazing Katie.
The way Grace tells the story ends with ‘and given that Katie’s such a bitch I’m not sure that’s a compliment’ but I can assure you it is!
With each episode having a different leads (Allie was the series main lead, but we had an episode told from Carter's point of view, another from Katie) and each with their own unique feels (in Power, we have Nathaniel being questioned in a Newsnight-style and in All the Pretty Killers, we are in a dream where we see Allie's friendship of Jo after the terrible events of Legacy). Was this a decision you made very early on when CJ was writing the scripts or was it something organic that happened when you saw the scripts?
Definitely the latter. Our concept for the series evolved as we went along. At one stage the idea was to do most episodes from the point of view of a different character. Initially it was only going to be Power and All the Pretty Killers that were done as full action episodes. But they were such strong scripts that we felt it was better to do the episodes half and half in terms of style – and besides, we wanted a really awesome opener that a casual viewer could see and instantly get what Night School was about, with no prior knowledge. So Flashback happened!
Now, with web series and podcasts becoming popular (for example, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, Emma Approved, Welcome to Night Vale, Serial, etc), why do you think this is the case?
I think in some ways it’s the inevitable result of the explosion of web content. I read recently that more than 50% of everything is now watched on YouTube. But also it’s because they offer a huge freedom to writers and directors – with good scripts and a good team you can shoot, edit and distribute your own work relatively cheaply, and retain creative control. There’s no middleman. It’s a very democratising thing.
Once the series was filmed and edited, the news was unveiled to the fans. Were you surprised on how positive the reactions were to the news with people tweeting the news, blogging/vlogging and news article being released in The Bookseller and CJ being interviewed on London Live?
It’s been phenomenal. I couldn’t have dreamed that episode one would make the cover of the Guardian. We were completely thrilled. Being the first web series based on a YA novel outside the USA helped us get attention, but most of it is down to the fact that we just had such a talented crew and cast, making something genuinely innovative and new. We’re all very proud of it.
What was your reactions when you released the trailer and the first episode and both got views of over 12,000 within a short period of time? Did it take you by surprise?
Yes! The Night School YouTube channel has gained over 100,000 views in just a few months. We’re creeping slowly towards half a million now, and that’s mostly organic – the trailers and webisodes have had almost nothing in the way of paid promotion. People are discovering it for themselves.
With Night School: The Web Series having such a positive reaction with fans and critics, would you consider filming an original web series if you thought of an idea that would grip viewers?
Of course! I’d love to. In fact I have a few ideas... *narrows eyes; rubs hands*
Last question: speaking of future web series, will there be a second series on Night School?
A second series has certainly been talked about but no decisions have been made yet. It partly depends on how well the rest of series one goes down – if people want a series two it would really help if we were to get as many views as possible! But we’ve got some awesome ideas about what we could do with a series two. We’ll decide either way by about early February. Promise!