Robert Hammond and Matt West were the brains behind two of the funniest ever Doctor Who DVD special features: Oh Mummy and Eye on… Blatchford. A few years back when I was running my original website (explanation here) I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to ask them some questions.
How did your working partnership begin?
MW: Purely accidental. Rob used to edit a fanzine called Auton which I started writing for. Rob claims it went downhill from there but it was broken when I got there. We’ve been chums since … at a guess … around 1993 I think. Good god that’s a long time to snigger at the name Koquillion.
How did you both get into short film making?
MW: Actually we’re not in it really. Oh Mummy was the first thing Rob and I worked on. Prior to that I’d gone to BRITS where I did film theory and film and television production. I met a guy called Mark Frost there and we started making short films together. It’s a hobby more than anything else. I work in a school now where I’ve just started a film club for the kids with another guy who teaches IT but also makes short films. We’re going to get them to make short dramatic pieces for use in conjunction with the Citizenship syllabus. Should be interesting. They’re so enthusiastic and they at least DID like Blatchford.
How did the original commission for Oh Mummy come about?
MW: Rob can probably explain this in more detail but it came about bloody quickly! Although Steve Roberts put it on the disc I think we owe it to Ed Stradling who kicked us in the right direction.
RH: I was trying to blag some graphic design work from Ed one night when he mentioned he was working on a documentary for the Pyramids disc. He asked me if I could build 3D animated models of Sutekh and the Mummies for him, and if I thought of ‘any other ideas’ I should let him know. Ed had contributed to Auton as well so he was well aware that stupid ideas came to me fairly easily, and sure enough the thought of Sutekh as a Milkman came to me almost straight away and it snowballed from there. I knew Matt had been involved with film-making for a number of years, and the pieces fell into place.
Reading your diaries of the production of Oh Mummy it sounds like gruelling work. How did the recording of Eye on… Blatchford compare?
MW: With Oh Mummy we were out to have fun. I think it shows in the final piece. We were in a position where if it was crap it wouldn’t go on the disc. The problem with Blatchford was that it WAS a commission… there was money involved which meant we had to finish the project no matter what. I felt this upped the game a little so brought in Mark to direct as my technique is to point the camera in the direction of the action, lock it off and hit record.
Blatchford wasn’t actually fun at all. We said, possibly jokingly, all along that people would hate it because it was us. I knew the script wasn’t as good as Oh Mummy but I do think it got a harsh reception. We spent a lot of time while filming trying to come up with extra jokes. The majority of the stuff that makes me laugh now is improvised either by Rob on the day or Kev (Stayner) in the dub. Working with Kev was amazing because he came up with so many better lines especially “Prank wizards” which I thought Steve would cut. Then of course there was Gabriel who encouraged us all the way. He is a legend.
RH: Oh Mummy seemed like hell at the time, but it really was a doddle compared to Blatchford. Eye on… Blatchford was unrelenting torture that went on and on and on for about eight months in total. We figured getting a director onboard would take some of the weight of the thing off our shoulders, as we are also responsible for props, extras, everything. Unfortunately it made matters worse and the first three months of production were sheer misery. I don’t think it helped that I was diagnosed with clinical depression a couple of weeks after the commission. Writing Eye on… Blatchford was a horrible experience for me as I had begun a program of medication that didn’t make for a good creative space to be in, so it was grand to have Matt, Kevin and Mark to offer ideas, lines, gags, etc. It didn’t help that Oh Mummy had been so rapturously received either, as we knew we were onto a massive hiding and huge backlash even as we wrote it. Getting the commission was great and very elating and coming on Christmas Eve made it that little bit more memorable. But then the reality of it hits you and you start thinking “How do we spoof a spoof?” “How can we even attempt to be funnier than Douglas Adams?” “How do we top Oh Mummy?” That’s when the fear kicks in.
What sort of a timescale do you have to work with from commission of a project and the final edit?
MW: Well we’ve only done two so far. With Oh Mummy I think the turnaround was about six weeks from request to submission. We had to work quite quickly. Blatchford was “officially” commissioned in January with a deadline which I recall being late May but Steve says was always June. This eventually changed to July so while that seems like a long time – we all have jobs to do so had to find time when we were all free.
RH: I think it was August that I had the chat with Ed. I put a series of ideas onto paper and sent it to Steve, who said “Great, work it into a script”. Matt and I worked on the script, sent it back, and Steve said, “Go for it!”. It was then filmed, edited, done and dusted and premiered at PanoptiCon in early November. The strict deadline was, in retrospect, fantastic. We had to get on with it, make sure it was as perfect as possible, while trying not to feel too overwhelmed by the idea of it all and knowing that thousands and thousands of people could end up watching it.
Eye on… Blatchford was bigger scale, bigger ideas, more people involved, huge prop list, location scouting, ringing around to blag places to shoot etc. Having the run of a huge 2.5 million manor house for five days was kinda surreal but made a great base for us. Working with Gabriel again was sheer heaven. But the rest of it…
Oh Mummy started life as an Easter Egg and was then promoted to a menu item. Did the same thing happen with Eye on…Blatchford, or was that always intended as an advertised feature?
MW: Blatchford was, as far as I know, always meant to be a menu item. Rob and I had discussed the brochure idea almost straight away and then forgotten about it. We then went back to it toward the end and sent it to Steve who included it on the disc as an egg. I’m not sure if Blatchford would’ve worked better as an easter egg or not. I think the “comedy” extras should be hidden really. People expect too much if it’s sitting on the menu. I think they take it personally.
I was surprised to read that you were not paid for Oh Mummy, despite its promotion to a menu item. Without wishing to ‘talk money’, did you also have to make Blatchford at your own expense?
MW: Urgh how vulgar 🙂 We had a budget for Blatchford which really surprised us. I think if we’d been doing it from our own money it might have been different. Unfortunately due to the problems with our first cut and the subsequent reshoots we went over budget a good 50 percent. That comes out of our pocket though. In terms of cost to screen I’d say people definitely got value for money … the mask was probably the most expensive single thing to produce. We treated that thing like the crown jewels everywhere we went – no mask – no Blatchford. The only other thing is petrol costs! That accounted for 40 percent of our money.
RH: The budget disappeared damn quickly, I know that! Gabriel was a star regarding that. He said from day one that he was aware that budget had a habit of evaporating very quickly, and only wanted us to buy him fish and chips as payment.
Do you have any plans for future projects?
MW: We’ve knocked ideas about for other stories, yeah. We did that after Oh Mummy was well received. I must say though that the Graham Williams era is not one I’d like to have anything to do with again. We fell asleep during City of Death while watching it. Only Mark stayed awake throughout! I’m wondering if subconsciously our lack of respect for the story resulted in a lesser product. But I can guarantee you that consciously we put everything we could into it.
RH: We’ve got lots of ideas for lots of stories tucked away, some of which the BBC have seen, some they haven’t.
Rob – have you ever considered writing for the Doctor Who book or audio ranges, or is comedy strictly your thing?
MW: Rob writes under the pen-name of Paul Cornell actually. So yeah – comedy is very much his thing.
RH: I accidentally got into the comedy writing side of things with Auton, but as it seemed to come fairly naturally I stuck with it. Matt and I have started to write a number of other things – a novel, ideas for a sitcom, sketch show material… and we’ve got the bare bones and structure for a Big Finish audio CD which is the flip-side of Oh Mummy / Blatchford; very dark and grimy and bleurgh.
Could you give us some background to your work – how did you learn your respective skills?
MW: Well from my point of view – steal from the best. There were visual effects long before “CG” came along. The foreground miniature in Oh Mummy was a throwaway suggestion but worked so well. In terms of editing you can be quite limited by the material you have to hand. With Blatchford part of the ill-feeling with Mark in the end was the lack of continuity or useable alternative takes. This affects the final thing quite a bit as there are always bits you want to remove but don’t have an option on. And as I say I did film and television production at BRITS so I pretty much knew the basics. Rob’s the effects man really.
RH: I always built models as a kid, always drew and sketched and built things. I nearly went into visual effects for a living, going so far as to start training with a modelmaker. But graphic design and illustration kept luring me back. I picked up editing film bits from Matt, and taught myself sound editing by hacking the JN-T Memoirs into chucks and then re-editing them into childish soundbites. With a lot of it, it’s just wade in and do it and learn as you go.
Although Gabriel Woolf’s work on Oh Mummy was outside of your control, you finally got to work with him on Blatchford. Did you find working with Gabriel an enjoyable experience, and how did you manage to secure his services for the project?
MW: Gabriel as an amazing fellow. I love him to bits. After Oh Mummy we met him at the 10th Planet signing and chatted for a bit. Then he asked us for a bit of technical help with his new iBook and his wife’s laptop. So we went down there, spent a day working through all that and kept in touch. Rob got quite a few commissions through from him and generally we’ve just struck up a friendship.
By the time we got around to Blatchford (almost 2 years after Oh Mummy) we just asked him if he’d be in it. He said yes without asking what the part was! I bloody love Dr Amadeus Gowel. It would be nice to see him again one day. As for working with him – he’s incredibly focussed. He’s extremely concerned about quality and game for ANYTHING. It was a really fun day. At Christmas the previous year we were going to do a downloadable video of him and Sutekh singing Christmas Carols. He was up for that too but we just didn’t have time.
He wouldn’t accept payment either. Instead he insisted on pancakes at Little Chef. I feel very bad about that actually because on the day we went to go to the Little Chef they all seemed to have closed. We said our farewells at the side of the road in the rain. Eventually he found one that was open and we had a slap up meal there back in August.
RH: Gabriel is one of the most charming, modest and funny people I have ever met. It was a pleasure to work with him on Eye on… Blatchford as he threw himself into it with such gusto, suggesting accents and mannerisms and doing take after take after take. We had got to know Gabriel and his wife (soprano Dame Felicity Lott) after Oh Mummy, and we’d spent a couple of great days with them at their house in Sussex. They even called upon Matt and myself to sort out glitches on their respective computers! I also built and maintain Gabriel’s website for the Swallows and Amazons audiobooks he produces, so we were (are!) in constant communication with him. As far as Gowel was concerned, that was a no-brainer. It had to be Gabriel.
Are there any actors you would really like to work with on a project?
MW: I’d love to work with Paul Darrow. He cracks me up. He’s a brilliant bad actor and that’s a tricky thing to master. I’d never dare to presume to work with a lot of people. I don’t think I’d ever want to do anything with Tom Baker… he seems very spiky. I love these actors who’ve stayed invisible for almost their whole career but who always give 100 percent. Michael Cochrane is a good example. He’s terrific.
RH: Darrow, no question. I reckon Davison might be a good laugh too.
What drew you both to Doctor Who originally – are you long-term fans of the show?
MW: Yeah – a fan since I was a nipper. I grew up with Davison for the most part and I have really fond memories of that era. A lot of fans are derisory and snooty when it comes to the Eighties and Doctor Who. I think they’re mostly either too old for it when it was on or too young to have seen it when it was on. It’s whatever you grow up with for me. I cringed and physically HURT when I saw Time and the Rani but I genuinely believe the McCoy era is very strong. I’d take Happiness Patrol over Mutants or Time Monster any day.
It was a part of growing up. It was reliable, always on. The Target books and Terrance Dicks made me what I am today!
RH: The repeat screening of The Sea Devils in 1973 (?) got me hooked. The Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special and the original Making of Doctor Who paperback are probably the two most battered things in my possession.
Do you think other comedy sketches on Doctor Who DVDs have compared favourably to your own?
MW: Oh lordy! Well – I’ve never made any secret of my dislike of Earthshock Part 5 but that was meant to be hidden so in many ways it’s not so bad. I didn’t really care for Syd the Slyther either which could’ve been so much better. What else was there? Oh the making Cocoa thing. I liked that but it went on too long (yeah yeah, don’t say it… I know). Which of course leaves us with Global Conspiracy. I sat straight-faced throughout that one. I just couldn’t see what was so funny. Technically the old news footage was good stuff – but the performances seem uneasy (given that they’re all professional actors) and I just didn’t think it was worth doing when a short making of featurette would’ve been better given the space available on the disc and the status of the story among fans. But I know I’m in a minority there. So the way a lot of people feel about Blatchford I feel about Global Conspiracy and I know how disappointed they feel. But I don’t resent it being there. We’ve had death threats on some boards! All humour is subjective though and one man’s Brasseye is another man’s My Hero. You can’t please everyone so there’s really not a lot of point trying.
RH: If anything, they gave us more idea of what we wouldn’t do. Earthshock Part 5 was short and sweet but I haven’t felt any particular need to watch it again…. which is part of my reasoning of loading as many props in our productions as possible; trying to encourage people to watch it a few times to catch everything. If nothing funny is being said, put a funny and childish book title in shot. Fill every frame you can. Global Conspiracy was nicely put together but didn’t do a lot for me, to be honest.
What were your reactions on winning the DWM survey?
MW: That went on for ages! The results were so late coming that we thought we’d missed them. Obviously we were pleased as punch as it meant officially we were better than Stradling 🙂 However I can’t deny a small amount of guilt that the more serious stuff fell by the way. I think the DWM poll result may have had a lot to do with us getting Blatchford but I can’t remember when it was announced. We knew about it about 3 months before the issue came out because Ed emailed us. There’s no denying his tone was far from jolly!
The Pyramids of Mars disc is, to my mind, the very best DVD there has been so far. I’m so glad we’re a part of it. Both of Ed’s documentaries are tremendous, the Now and Then is solid, the commentary with Paddy Russell’s inclusions is superb and you get THAT story. Plus us arseing about with a bakelite mask, a rabbit and some rubber gloves.
RH: Making Oh Mummy and having it put out as BBC product was a huge honour for me. To have some inclusion, no matter how tiny, was a glorious feeling. You are a fan for thirty years and the next thing you are making something for it!
The DWM Award was very shocking and very special and we were truly staggered by it. It was nice to get a quote into DWM as well, thanking the people that voted for it, as we were hoping to make it in the Top 10 of the year. To win it was unexpected, especially for our first effort. It’s not an Oscar or a BAFTA, but it means as much, knowing that we made a fairly sizeable number of people laugh and want to vote for it.