You may have come across them on YouTube. Real life stories of experiences with the Tinder dating app, re-enacted by puppets.
talesfromtinder.tv is by Australian television producer Emma Watts, who has spent 10 years working on everything from Masterchef and The Voice to ABC’s Arts Nation and SBS documentaries. She produced the first series of Tales from Tinder for the web with her own production company, and now she’s looking for more real-life dating stories for season two.
We caught up with Watts to talk about the origin of the series, the challenges of making two puppets kiss and what sort of stories she is looking for this time.
Broadsheet: You’ve got a lot of experience producing network TV. What inspired you to create a completely independent series for the web?
Emma Watts: I started watching web series from the US like Blue, starring Julia Stiles, and Brian Singer's H Plus, and I realised that web series aren't about making B-grade television. There are some stunning series out there that easily match the quality of high-budget films. Working in television, it's also easy to see where our audiences are going. Every year, our ratings are dropping and it's pretty obvious that people are heading online for their content. It's also clear that Australia is starting to produce some really high quality web series (The Katering Show, Bondi Hipsters) so I really wanted to be part of that first big push towards quality series made here in Australia.
Web series are also an exciting genre to be part of at the moment – there is a real energy and excitement around the many web festivals popping up all over the world. It feels like they are really starting to break through into the mainstream.
BS: How did the team who created it come together?
EW: The first season was made completely on a shoestring budget with people working for beer and the love of getting to do something a little bit different. Lisa Kovacevic (the producer) and I studied media together at university. She now works in kids' animation. Our puppeteers (Mischa Long and Lachlan McLeod) work for the world-renowned puppetry ensemble Polyglot, so they loved the creative challenge of having their puppets work with adult content. Well, they loved it most of the time. When you're shooting in summer with two grown men hiding under a kids' sized doona, trying to shoot two puppets making out (it's actually surprisingly hard to make two puppets kiss – they often miss each other's mouths) it can take a long time to get it right. There were some unique challenges for our puppeteers. We also have a hardworking team of editors, cameramen, researchers and writing assistants.
We have grand plans for season two. We want to increase the production values across the board, starting with the stories which we are currently collecting. We really want to find the most surprising, engaging and enthralling stories to take season two to a whole new level.
BS: Why puppets? Did you look into different types of animation, or have you always just really loved Meet The Feebles?
EW: I do love Meet the Feebles, Crank Yankers and the Muppets, but the reason we chose to use puppets was actually about conducting the very best and most revealing interviews. The minute you bring out a camera and film someone for television they tend to tense up and become a little guarded about their answers, especially if they are talking about topics like dating, falling in love and the many things that can go wrong on a one night stand. We found that by offering the subjects anonymity and recording only their audio, they sat down with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and were completely relaxed and far more candid and open in the way they told the story.
BS: The first series had stories from people all over the world. Was this a conscious decision to appeal to an international audience? Are you hoping to focus more on Australian stories with the next season?
EW: When we first started collecting stories, we were simply looking for the most surprising, shocking, silly or strange. But it turned out that many of the people who provided stories happened to have accents from all over the world, which we soon realised might be an advantage when looking for an international audience. Online dating is something that people do all everywhere so we realised that the subject matter could be appealing to a really wide audience.
In season two we want to continue finding engaging Australian stories about using dating apps. This time we want to include more gay and lesbian stories and potentially more culturally diverse stories. So as well as hunting for Tinder stories we'd now like to open it up and hear from people who are using Grindr, Brenda, Coffee Meets Bagel, Muz Match (A Muslim hook-up App), J-Date (A Jewish hook-up App) and whatever other apps people are using to meet up.
BS: With shows like Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me and others finding a lot of fans in the States, do you feel there’s more interest in Australian-produced series, or on the web do you feel it genuinely does not matter where a show originates? EW: We didn't actively seek a US audience – none of our marketing was done in the States – but it was surprising to see that soon after we launched, a large portion of our audience was from America. It seems like they really like to seek out underground and non-mainstream content. I think that's the great thing about web series, they seem to break down old barriers about where your content comes from and what you have access to.
BS: You’re now based in the States. How will this impact on production of the next series?
EW: Although I've recently moved to NYC, we plan to keep making Tales From Tinder out of a warehouse in Brunswick. We have a really fantastic team who dedicate themselves to putting the show together and we are really looking forward to making season two. So, we're currently collecting stories in four locations – Melbourne, Sydney, New York City and San Fransisco – searching high and low for great online dating stories from all over the globe.
To watch season one of Tales from Tinder, or get in touch with your own story, head to talesfromtinder.tv.