The Clandestine breaks out: an interview with director Joe Campo
Last week, a new YouTube channel went live with 13 episodes of a motorcycle-gang sitcom set in Belfast, Northern Ireland. An outlaw motorcycle gang could seem like an unlikely cast for a sitcom, but the members of The Clandestine aren’t exactly the Sons of Anarchy, they’re more like the cast of The Office, and therein lies the humor. Or, as they’d write it in Belfast, ‘humour’. Like the spelling, the show’s humor is different enough to be distinctly foreign, but we can definitely understand it over here.
Joe Campo, at right, on the set with the actors who play the core members of the gang. Besides Bennett and Lavery, there’s the insufferable bosses’ nephew Will (far left, played by Dermott Hickson) and the utterly inarticulate Alfie (John Render). A total of 20-30 actors and extras appeared in the series, with about an equal number of people on the crew. Everyone got paid. “We weren’t some big movie crew with trailers,” Campo told me, “but we weren’t two guys with a camcorder, either.”
I was curious about The Clandestine, and when I realized that the director, Joe Campo, and I were following each other on Twitter, I messaged him to set up an interview. I did a little research and was surprised to learn that he was a 34 year-old American expat, who studied acting in Oklahoma. That seemed like a long way from directing in Northern Ireland.
We connected via a Google Hangout, and I could see from the video link that he was talking to me from his kitchen. He warned me that his 19-month-old daughter was asleep, and that if she woke up, he might have to run out of frame to attend to her.
First things first; you’re an American. What are you doing in Belfast?
I was working as a filmmaker in L.A. and not doing very well, but I got a job editing. I had a friend who had a friend – an Irish girl – who wanted to learn to edit. I said that I’d show her how it worked, and she ended up becoming my wife. We decided we’d move back here when it was time to raise a family, and we’ve been here about 3 1/2 years.
Are you a motorcyclist?
No! My dad was a biker; I’ve always been fascinated by them and afraid of them at the same time. In fact, both myself and the writer of the show, Kieran Doherty, embody the characters in the show. We’re geeky, and fascinated by the biker subculture. We represent the all the people who don’t even ride but still have a bit of outlaw in them.
If The Clandestine survives, I suppose a lot of the credit will go to writer Kieran Doherty, for having created a memorable cast of characters.
What was the genesis of the show?
The company I work for is called Banjax; they’ve created web apps for major clients like Guinness, Aviva, and Heinz. Banjax has a subsidiary called Video Hacker, which creates branded content.
One of our clients is an online parts and accessory business called Gingerparts. I wanted to make a web series, and we made one on bikes hoping that Gingerparts would sponsor it.
I wasn’t a seasoned biker, so I didn’t try to write something for experts. I developed a treatment and sat down with Kieran. Our characters are like us; they really only know what they’ve read on Wikipedia. But Nick Long, who owns Gingerparts, is a mechanic and a member of an MCC here. We did our research.
We made the first two episodes with our own money, so we had something to show. We funded the series in three ways; we got some money from Gingerparts; we did a Kickstarter campaign; and we got some money from Northern Ireland Screen [the local film development authority. -- MG]
Has there been any reaction from actual outlaw bikers?
We’ve had conversations with them. They’re not the kind of people in our show, but we never meant to portray that world realistically. There’s a lot of motorcyclists though; per capita, there are more bikers in Ireland than in the US. Many of them have watched the show and I’ve got hundreds of tweets from people saying, basically, “This is us.”
You’ve released 13 episodes. What happens next?
Is this the formula for success? The Clandestine isn’t a show for bikers; it’s trying to reach the far larger audience of would-be bikers. That said, the first people who’ll watch it are motorcyclists, which is why Video Hacker, the production company, was able to attract a motorcycle industry sponsor.
Filming is a lot of long grueling days, and there’s a lot of waiting around. To keep us charged up, made a 15 episode behind-the-scenes series, too. We also made a music video, and we’ve launched a series called Join The Clandestine. We’re hoping people will send in their video applications, and then Freddie and Marcus will decide their fates.
I don’t think of this show as just one web series. I want The Clandestine to take over the world. I want to create different chapters; on the web, or TV, or in games. If you watch a Swedish show, you’ll find that they have a sense of humor that’s unique. A Swedish show wouldn’t have to just be a remake – it could be clever and interesting in its own way. There’s different biker subcultures in Australia and Canada – we’ve already had responses from people in L.A. who want to make an American version.
I guess the most famous biker show is Sons of Anarchy. Ironically, they have a Belfast chapter...
I purposely didn’t watch Sons of Anarchy before we shot our show, but as soon as we wrapped, I watched every episode and I love it. I’m glad I didn’t see it earlier though, as our show would have turned into a giant piss-take of ‘Sons’.
Now that you’re about to be somewhat famous in the biker world, do you think you’ll start to ride?
I’ll tell you what... If you can convince my wife that I’m allowed to get on a bike, I’ll do it. I talk about it all the time, and she says, “Joe, I’d kill you again after you killed yourself on a bike.” I’ve got a 19 month-old daughter to think about. I guess you hear that a lot.
The 2013 AMA Superbike championship is underway – without a TV package – and the World Superbike Championship is not broadcast in the US, either. The alternative may be webcasting; I watched a great live feed from the first World SBK round at Philip Island, although it wasn’t a commercial proposition and I have my doubts about how long it can possibly remain available. US racer Chris Fillmore’s taken a shot at a ‘branded content’ program of his own with the ‘Following Fillmore’ web series -- presumably with sponsorship from KTM. And I note that ex-motocross and supermoto ace Micky Dymond is eschewing fossil fuels while starring in a web series about the (bicycle) Race Across America.
As motorcycle enthusiasts, we’ll always be a subculture. Because of that, we’ve always had a bit of a thrill from seeing ourselves on TV. The web is far more egalitarian. The barriers to entry are lower; at some level, anyone can do it. But for it to work as a commercial proposition, sponsors – whether they are race sponsors or underwriting branded content – need to reach consumers. “Available in x million homes” counts for bupkus. People have to actually watch it.
Aye, there’s the rub. There will soon be millions of web series. The old problem was that motorcycling had to compete with every other subculture for a limited share of broadcast inventory. It’s about to be replaced by a new problem; we have to compete with a limitless number of rival series.
Whether fiction or non-fiction, one key to drawing an audience is characters; if the audience cares about the people they see, they’ll come back to watch them again and again. You can check in on Marcus, Freddy, and the rest of the gang who make up The Clandestine at http://TheClandestine.tv.