Alex Moreland talks to Fraser Coull about Cops and Monsters…
Inspired by popular programmes like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Being Human, Cops and Monsters is an innovative spin on the hallmarks of a much-loved genre, updating them for a new era – and setting it all in Scotland. Conceived and spearheaded by writer/producer Fraser Coull, the series was an entirely independent venture, crowdfunded via Kickstarter – the show found a home on YouTube, was met with much critical acclaim, and has now been picked up by Amazon. The supernatural police thriller is now exclusively available on Amazon Prime, which will be the home of any potential future instalments…
So, could you tell us a little bit about how the project got started?
I was at a Comic Con in Glasgow in 2014 and I realised that there was no Scottish shows being represented, and then I realised that there hasn’t actually been a sci-fi or supernatural show from Scotland in quite some time. I then bumped into a friend who asked why I hadn’t made anything for a while (the last being my short film “One Year Later”) and I told her I had nothing in the pipeline. She told me to “just f**king do something!” and that gave me a right kick up the bottom to come up with an idea. From there I chatted to a few different people about potential shows that could work as a web-series. Being a fan of Taggart, Being Human, Angel and Torchwood… it all kind of merged together but with a Scottish twist.
The first series was made across two years – how do you think the scope and ambition of the project changed across that time?
Initially we just had 1 episode, an 8 minute trailer essentially, for over a year. We wrote it in the hope that it would help us raise around £30,000 to shoot 6 x 30 minute episodes, but it kept stalling and stalling. It wasn’t until 2015 that we stripped it all back to just 3 x 15 minutes, bringing our budget down to £8,000. But then people kept asking us for more, when would they see more, the crowdfunding campaign goals were easier to hit, actors from well known TV shows kept showing an interest and it just fuelled us to do better. Cast and crew changed behind the scenes a bit and as soon as James T Harding came on board as script editor, but in 2015, everything changed and we had a goal to tell one particular story over these 6 episodes. It just got more and more ambitious, which is great. We’ve got even bigger plans… if we can fund a 2nd series.
Did any particular challenges arise across the course of production?
All of them. Whether it’s the availability of an actor, or a location falls through, and scheduling around 20-30 people around weekends to make sure you get everything shot. You’re always waiting on the crowdfunding money to come in so you can pay for things and make sure the cast and crew get paid for their work. Nothing runs to plan 100% of the time. But we’re professional, we keep our heads down and work our way out of any problems we face. Hopefully by the time the final episode goes out, people won’t notice any problems we had.
How do you think Cops and Monsters fits into the wider supernatural genre? What do you think makes it stand out?
At this stage, all of the genre shows are about vampires or werewolves or zombies. Not all 3. Not since Buffy and Angel anyway, so I think that helps us stand out. It’s a police supernatural thriller, set in Scotland. I’m hoping our unique accent and language will help make us a draw for people across the pond. I’d say in terms of being a web-series we’re different because of our guest stars and professional writers, it helps draw in our audience and I think people can tell the difference between what we’re doing and other web-series. I’m not saying that we’re any better or worse than those shows, but I do think it helps us stand out a bit more.
Obviously, the move to Amazon is a great opportunity – what do you think that represents for the series? What do you think the impact of platforms like Amazon Prime will be on the indie film industry?
All you can really hope with these things is that you get noticed by someone who has a cheque book and pen, who likes your ideas, or your way or working, and invites you to do something bigger. I never set out to have Cops and Monsters on Amazon or Netflix, or to make money from it. I just wanted a unique Scottish sci-fi/supernatural webseries that people could enjoy. It’s a total bonus that we’ve been accepted and now available on Amazon Prime.
You can spend years making short films or webseries or features, hoping that the BBC or some big production company will take you on, but in reality, that doesn’t happen. I don’t know what the secret is, but with Amazon we can circumvent these companies and get our work seen by a wider audience off the back of our own hard work. It’s got to be inspiring for those who want to make films etc, that they can actually get to a stage were their work is on a bigger platform.
How did you first get into filmmaking?
I have always had an overactive imagination, writing stories about superheroes or talking cats (don’t ask), so when I was looking for a “career” after abandoning a course in IT at college, I saw that James Watt College had a TV production course and it sounded right up my street. I studied there for a year, then left and made my first short film – based on my superhero idea. It kind of rolled from there, I started my own company making corporate videos and then a web series, then a feature, and then I got taken on at the BBC, which I still do, but I make Cops and Monsters in my “spare” time.
Who would you say your influences are as a filmmaker?
Initially, it was Quentin Tarantino. I loved his style of filmmaking and storytelling. I loved his characters and how cool it was. But then I fell in love with Buffy and Angel and I felt that I could do so much more telling a story over 13 or 22 episodes, than in a 2-hour movie. So I’d say I’m more of a producer/writer than a filmmaker. I’ve not made a short film since 2013!
Do you have any advice for people hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Just do it. Go out there and make films, make mistakes, learn how to do them better, make new mistakes and repeat. It’s all about experience. No one can stop you from telling your stories.
What are your plans for a second series of Cops and Monsters?
I had a meeting with James T Harding (who wrote “Revolution in a Teacup”, and script edits all of our episodes) and Laura A Anderson (who wrote my favourite episode of C&M, “Fight the Bite”) and we discussed what we liked about series 1, what worked for us, what didn’t, what we’d do better. We started talking about doing a show set just as PITS were formed, or 5 years AFTER series 1, or how we’d carry on the story from series 1 and just wrote lots, and lots of notes.
We’ve got 10 or so talented scriptwriters who have been shortlisted from around 300, who want to write for series 2, and lots of actors from Wolfblood, Doctor Who and Star Wars who want to appear in it – so it’s all on our side. But we CAN’T do a thing until we know there is money in place. The stress of relying on the kindness of strangers on the internet funding each of our episodes, and having to spread it across 2 years, is something I can’t go through again.
We’ve got BIG plans, and we want to do another run of 6 x 20-minute episodes, each with their own story, but with an overlaying arc throughout. But somebody needs to put the money up front first.
Have you got any other projects you’re working on at the moment?
Nothing at all. I’m doing a “day” job for the BBC to pay my bills and I’m going to take some time out to write a new spec script to send out to potential agents. I love Cops and Monsters and I really, really hope we can find money for series 2, but I’ve got to focus on me for a few months to try and get some regular work as a writer.
Finally, then, what would you most like audiences to take away from watching Cops and Monsters?
I just want to tell entertaining stories, I want people to enjoy our goodies and hate our baddies and desperately click on the next episode to see how it all ends.
Fraser Coull, thank you very much!
Check back tomorrow for another exciting Cops and Monsters interview…
Image credits – Sonja Blietschau