Turning passion into... a webseries
Fiona Milburn reviews Flat3, a new webseries and passion project from Ally Xue, JJ Fong, Perlina Lau and Roseanne Liang. Spoiler Alert: this review reveals some plot points you may prefer to discover whilst watching the webisodes themselves.
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You know how it goes? You and some friends are sitting around complaining about the scarcity of work, and lack of funding for creative endeavours, when someone suggests pooling resources to make your own work. And, just like that, a passion project is born.
Flat3, a new webseries, from Chinese-Kiwi actresses, Ally Xue, JJ Fong and Perlina Lau is a passion project. Tired of “audition droughts and painful FOB [Fresh off the Boat] accents” they decided to create their own webseries. The project became Flat3 with the addition of Roseanne Liang as writer-director.
“We got together and thought there aren’t enough diverse roles for us. It’s either the shy one, the dragon lady or the prostitute,” Ally Xue speaking to The Press, Christchurch.
Described as “sometimes smart, often silly, a little rude, and a lot awkward,” Flat3 follows Lee [Ally Xue], Jessica [JJ Fong] and Perlina [Perlina Lau] as they “try to figure out who they are, what they're doing in this life, and whose turn it is to buy the toilet paper.” It’s a comedy and a very clever look at stereotyping.
Episode One opens with Lee on facebook, hoping that Jessica will notice it’s her birthday. Jessica doesn’t. Meanwhile, Lee has to make that awful decision: do you accept a friend request from your mother? She does, only to have her mother send her a link to breast enhancing foods. Yes, Lee is shy and has the chest of a boy.
Lee fares no better in her interview with a Career Consultant (Dan Cowley) who tries to get her to lower her sights from artist to accountant and offers her a gift of breast enhancers to make her employable. There’s a lot of play around racial stereotyping and sexual cliche in this scene, “if you can balance a sheet, you can find balance between the sheets,” but that’s the point of the webseries.
The scene with the Career Consultant is intercut with Jessica and Perlina interviewing flatmates. We see a series of sexual stereotypes, or reverse sexual stereotypes, as potential flatmates, thus broadening the exploration of these themes beyond the Chinese-Kiwi experience. My favourite potential flatmate is Aidan, the hunky guy (Matariki Whatarau), who not only cooks but puts the toilet seat down … “always”.
Episode One is a hard episode to appreciate on first viewing because we aren’t yet attuned to the style and structure of this webseries. However, the beauty of a webseries is that once you understand the subtleties you can go back and watch it again.
Episode Two focuses on sexy Jessica who is struggling to become a serious actor without being type-cast in any way. “Nipples equal vulnerability” the Casting Director (Rob Mokaraka) keeps telling her in an effort to get Jessica to remove her top. “EN-SALT” (read it out loud) on the audition card, says it all.
With this episode, Flat3 really hits its stride and the humour is more overt. Series Production Manager, Hweiling Ow, does a stand-out job as a “hot mess” in the wasabi pea scene and a romantic chord is struck when Jessica, mistaken for a prostitute whilst standing at a bus stop, is rescued by someone she has written off as a cliche earlier in the episode.
If Episode Two is a favourite, you may want to view the award winning short film Take 3 (2007) in which Roseanne Liang explores similar themes.
Episode Three is Perlina’s episode. Perlina is our fledgling dragon lady. Her lack of understanding and ability with human relationships means she’s often lonely and misunderstood. You can’t afford to be as forthright as Perlina, if you don’t get what’s really going on. That said, watching Perlina put her foot in her mouth provides the episode with some great comic moments. There’s also a sweet ending which is nicely supported by Florence Hartigan’s vocals. Music is used to great effect throughout the webseries.
Ally Xue, JJ Fong and Perlina Lau are superb as the core cast of Flat3. Roseanne Liang as writer/director gives her cast plenty of intelligent material to work with and her attention to detail is exceptional. It’s hard to believe she can do so much in webisodes of only 7 minutes duration.
Also hard to believe is the fact that Flat3 is a DIY, no budget production. It would be so easy to compromise production values using it’s online status as justification but, this is certainly not the case here. Kudos to everyone involved.
Flat3 is available to view via its website, or directly on YouTube and Vimeo HD. I have watched the webisodes on PC and mobile devices, and they work well on all platforms. The webseries has good looking website and streaming landing pages, which is an important part of the experience for new comers. The website just needs to be optimized for mobile. You can also find Flat3 on Twitter and Facebook. I do like the attempt by @jessica_flat3 to tweet in character, and hope that this will be developed further.
Flat3 is entertaining and thought provoking. It uses cliche and stereotypes, of all kinds, to build depth into every webisode. Everything feeds this. Even throw away references to Canadian rock band Nickelback, and the background poster of Obama riding a unicorn and shooting rainbows, has significance. We are reminded that archetypes are a beginning and stereotypes merely an end.
Flat3 is well worth watching and the beauty of it being a webseries is that you can catch up with it at anytime.
Episode Four – Flat Warming is out now
Episode Five – out March 22nd
Episode Six – the home out March 29th