They learned their trade by writing and directing YouTube videos in their bedrooms. Now Paul Neafcy and Drew Casson are working on their first mainstream TV series, respectively writing and directing a production for Netflix.
The series is a 10-part family sci-fi adventure called The Last Bus, an “eco fable” about machine intelligence and how humans can save the planet by working together.
Neafcy and Casson were discovered by Wildseed Studios, an award-winning British company specialising in live action and animation, which was seeking out “bedroom creators with ideas”. They were impressed by the pair’s YouTube videos and mentored them on further internet shorts.
Jesse Cleverly, creative director and co-founder of Wildseed, said digital media was enabling “a whole new bunch of currently inaccessible voices to make extraordinary work”.
Wildseed’s approach is inspired partly by Cleverly’s experience of working at the Royal Court theatre in the 1990s when its then artistic director Stephen Daldry took plays written by complete unknowns in their bedrooms. They included Jez Butterworth and Martin McDonagh, among today’s most acclaimed writers.
Cleverly recalled that they staged Butterworth’s Soho gangland play, Mojo, in 1995: “London theatres were empty that summer because it was boiling, but we had queues round the block. That told me that, if you find the right talent with the right idea, it doesn’t matter if no one’s heard of them, the average age of the audience dropped by 20 years. Now look at Jez, one of the most successful writers.”
In working with new film-makers, Wildseed has opened up “the equivalent for television”, Cleverly said. “Younger audiences demand younger stories, and younger stories arguably demand younger writers because they understand the experience of that audience.”
Neafcy, who was brought up by working-class parents in Lancashire, dropped out of his university film course after nine months when it became “financially untenable”. He worked in call centres and as a runner and driver in entertainment television. In his spare time he made “short silly videos” for YouTube, some based on recordings of his spoken-word performances in pubs.
They impressed Wildseed, who saw his “instinctive grasp of the complexities of character”. They asked him to create a short digital series, which convinced Netflix that this new creator deserved a full original commission.
For Neafcy, it was a dream come true. He said that when he was making videos in his bedroom he used to dream of a film career, “but the possibility of that happening always seemed so distant.”
Casson, who grew up in a modest home in Hungerford, Berkshire, and started making videos on his father’s camcorder, is now one of the directors on The Last Bus. He has gone “from making films in my back garden and bedroom … into the bigger system, but with a lot of nurture and guidance.”
He said: “I eat, sleep and breathe film-making. I was making videos on YouTube from the age of 12. I began teaching myself special effects … slowly but surely, the special effects got better. I recreated a Harry Potter wand fight in my school hall. Stunt guys who were working on Harry Potter at the time found it on YouTube and thought it was their own guys playing around with special effects – and realised it was a 15-year-old. The video is now over a million views. I was doing my GCSEs at the time.”
Alexi Wheeler, Netflix’s head of kids and family originals for the UK and Europe, said: “There’s so much software available now that people can sit in their bedrooms with a bit of footage they’ve got and create all sorts of incredible effects … We’re bringing that quality … of special effects and storytelling to a younger audience.”