Interview: Nigel McCulloch, writer/director of Hounds

15 Aug

In a year that has been especially hard on homegrown television, one comedy pulled through, garnering an audience of loyal fans. While Golden and The GC failed to live up to expectations, Hounds asserted itself as a comedy of world class standards. Last week I sat down with the show’s co-creator Nigel McCulloch to talk about Hounds‘ recipe for success and ‘that’ review.

Haley: Hounds succeed in a climate that was very harsh for New Zealand made television, what do you think it was about the show that really connected with people?

Nigel: I don’t know, it’s really strange. I’m really glad it connected with people, I think a huge part of it is the performances by the actors. We chose people that weren’t well known on purpose so they weren’t familiar faces on New Zealand tv. Toby Sharpe played Will, Susana Tang played Lily, and Mick Innes played Martin. Then we had Catherine Waller for Amber and Josh Thomson for Lance. They were kind of our main five actors and none of them had really been on a lot of stuff. They’ve all been acting for a long time, especially Mick, and Susana had only done a feature film (Matarki) before she did Hounds. But I think that they were people who hadn’t really been seen on television before so it made it easier for people to see them as their characters, to believe them as those characters in the show and in that setting. And because their performances were so good, so believable, and so real and still really funny, I think that helped people connect with the show a little more than say watching a well known New Zealand actor in their next role. I think as soon as that happens people can see the actor trying to be dramatic, or trying to be funny, or trying to be whatever that role calls for. I’m not saying that they’re bad actors but that they come to that role with the audience having preconceptions of who that person is. So I think because the actors were so good, hopefully it meant that people could connect with those characters a little bit more, and we always try to inject a lot of heart and warmth into the script as well, just because we like it and also so hopefully people will watch it and connect with the show as well as those characters and the actors. So maybe that’s it, I don’t know, you never really know.

H: You took a fairly well worn story, the disconnected family brought back together by a death, but you took it in a fairly unique direction centering it around the greyhound racing. How did that idea come about?

N: The greyhounds came about because, probably about six years ago now, Ryan Hutchings who is one of us at Downlow, he had his birthday at the racing track. So we all went out there and had an amazing time, and met a lot of people. Everyone there was so friendly and warm and welcoming, and we just thought they were great characters, and the setting was so vibrant and alive and interesting and something that everyone knows exists but probably hasn’t visited before. And if you have not visited it before, I really suggest you go because it will not let you down, it’s great fun. So we thought that it was great, we knew on television it was going to look great, and we had all these characters we could riff on. But also because it’s a world that not many people know about we knew we could alter it or change it or invent some stuff and people will still believe what we invent because  they don’t know it very well. It was all those facets that made us think it would be great, so we made a short film about greyhound racing and it kind of gave us the idea to create a tv show.

H: You hammed it up a bit but you did it with a lot of affection.

N: That’s the thing with comedy, you have to go 10%, 20% bigger than real life. Well that’s what we try and do, but hopefully not too over the top, and as you say, with affection because you want people to like, or dislike, or understand the characters in the show.

H: Despite the overhwelmingly positive reception the show got you did receive one brutal review that drew comparisons to John Clarke’s Fred Dagg style of humour. I think the show had elements that were more contemporary than that, so what comedic angle were you going for when you wrote Hounds?

N: I can see why the reviewer said Fred Dagg, because I think there’s that perception when you watch something from your own country, that feeling that you put on it of it being really Kiwi or being really New Zealand. But we’ve shown the show to people in Australia and Britain and they like the show for different reasons. The idea of saying it’s Fred Dagg humour, well he (John Clarke) is in my mind, the greatest New Zealand writer in comedy ever, and he also did that really New Zealand thing for Fred Dagg, but he also did so much more. Fred Dagg is that character that really stood out for everyone, but he also did so many other fresh things in his sketches that today are funny even today. So the reviewer probably found that Kiwiness in it, and I don’t mind because the show isn’t going to appeal to everyone, and there were heaps of really positive reviews that we were really happy with. We certainly weren’t aiming to write a New Zealand comedy, what we were aiming to do was write a comedy that was world class. We watch a lot of comedy, and we read a lot of comedy and we take that all in. We knew we didn’t want to do jokes and we didn’t want to do characters and lines that had been done before, or if they had been done before we wanted to do them in a different way so I suppose in that respect it was contemporary. The style is a one that we’ve developed ourselves and we tried to stay true to that style for the series.

H: I think there were moments that drew on the dry realism of shows like The Office.

N: Yeah I think that’s true, we always tried really hard to maintain the truth within the world where we set the comedy.

H: Are there any moments from the series that stand out as favourites for you?

N: Yeah, there’s moments which stand out as favourites and moments which I cannot stand to watching because they failed (laughs). In episode two there’s a moment where Will is waiting to place a bet and there’s a character, she plays a really small role throughout the series, but she’s played by an amazing actress called Sue, and she has a line where she stuffs up the EFTPOS machine. She puts in a little bit more than she’s meant to and she says she’d better write that down for the funny pages for the newsletter. It was something that we wrote, which we found funny but when Sue did it on the day it just lifted it by 100%. I really liked that because it came out so much funnier than I had ever expected it to come out. It’s really tough for a first episode because you go over well worn territory and you have to explain everything, but the scene where Will meets Lily is really good, mainly because of the acting. I really love a scene in episode six where Lily sets up a garage sale to sell a whole bunch of stuff to try and keep the dog. A guy comes and he wants to buy a toaster and he goes inside, and I think Jose Barbosa acted that scene really well. And it’s not a scene but I also really like the music that we had done for the show.

H: The dvd is out later this month, when can we expect to see that on the shelves?

N: The dvd is out on the 28th of August. It’s got heaps of extra special features which we filmed behind the scenes. Josh, who plays Lance, took a little camera around and filmed his time on set. So there’s heaps of little videos which are really funny.

H: Finally, are you going to write another season?

N: Probably not. TV3 have said that they probably don’t want a second season. That might change in the future but at the moment it doesn’t look like there will be a second season. I should say that a reviewer that really liked the show has started a petition to bring back Hounds so if people signed that it would be really cool.

 

Ed.

 

The petition to bring back Hounds for a second season can be found at: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/bringbackhounds/

 

 

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