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Podcast – Making scripted content for TikTok

Producers Hayley Adams and Michelle Melky on tapping into the huge audience and storytelling potential of TikTok.

Headshot of Hayley Adams and Michelle Melky, standing together in front of orange background.

Hayley Adams and Michelle Melky (Photo credit: Jess Gleeson)

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts

In early 2020, producers Hayley Adams and Michelle Melky released Love Songs on TikTok, one of the first narrative series to be created for and released on the app.

Fast-forward nearly 18 months, and Love Songs has amassed more than 12 million views and 2.5 million likes across its 21 episodes. It’s led to the producing team making a second season of Love Songs, this time made in partnership with Tinder, as well as a new series called Scattered – the first TikTok series to receive development and production support from Screen Australia.

TikTok might be a social networking app best known for trending music, dance challenges and funny videos, but Adams says it holds enormous potential for narrative storytelling, especially if you’re an emerging filmmaker.

“For Michelle and I, it just changed the game for us,” Adams says on the latest episode of the Screen Australia podcast. “We have both made online series before and they both went up on YouTube and that was worthwhile experiences, but the level of exposure we’ve gotten and now the experience to level up and get funding from Screen Australia and Film Victoria to make Scattered has been career changing – all because of a social media app where people dance.”

Melky says trying to get cut-through and connect to audiences on other online platforms such as Instagram and YouTube is becoming harder and harder if you’re starting out.

“Now those platforms are so saturated that when you look at an app like TikTok, it's just a much faster pathway of finding your audience, and then having them see your content and commenting, sharing, liking and engaging with it directly with you as an account holder or creator,” Melky says. “I think for us that was a really big appeal as creatives was being able to kind of fast track to your audience.”

Scattered was co-created by Logan Mucha and Kate Darrigan, who both served as writers alongside Adolfo Aranjuez, with Adams producing through production company Passionfruit Bites, and Melky producing through Amplify. The series – currently releasing on TikTok - follows three friends who wake up the day after the funeral of their friend Wil with brutal hangovers and no clue where his ashes might be. Over the course of the series, they have to retrace their steps to find Wil’s ashes and give him the send-off he deserves.

Still from TikTok series Scattered. Three people stand together on a pier, holding hands.Scattered

Throughout the episode of the podcast, Adams and Melky run through everything to know about making a short-form series like Scattered for TikTok, from working in a vertical frame, to writing one-minute episodes, building and interacting with your audience, how music on the app works, and the speed at which the app moves.

“Twenty four hours on this platform is like a week. It's so much time,” Melky says.

It’s part of the reason for Scattered having 38 episodes – to maximise the opportunity to establish and connect with audiences, and potentially go viral (one of Scattered’s videos already has more than 580,000 views).

Adams says it’s part of why TikTok is a promising app for filmmakers, because it’s designed to get your content viewed.

“What TikTok does is that when you post a video, the algorithm serves it out to a handful of people, and if those people interact with it positively, it serves it out to more people,” she says, adding that if you’re experimenting with different ideas on a channel, you also get immediate feedback on what’s working and what’s not.

“[If] five people watched it, that means that the algorithm didn't like it because people didn't interact with it. It’s a different way of looking at it because you’re guaranteed an audience, even if it's small, but it also means that you have the potential for a massive audience. If the algorithm picks it up and really likes it, it can serve it out to millions of people in 24 hours.”

Watch Scattered and Love Songs on TikTok now.

Subscribe to Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts

Audio Transcript

[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia podcast, I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publication, Screen News. On this episode of the podcast, we are diving into the world of TikTok, the social networking app which hosts videos between 15 seconds and one minute long. It's best known for trending music, dance challenges and funny videos. But as an Australian team have discovered, it holds huge potential for narrative storytelling. Producers Hayley Adams and Michelle Melky first realised this with their series Love Songs, which they created specifically for TikTok and launched in February 2020. They talk about how the series went viral, leading to an audience of millions and how to use unique aspects of the app - like tapping into music trends - to your advantage. The producing team took these learnings into Season two of Love Songs, which was made in partnership with Tinder, and to their new series Scattered, which is releasing on TikTok now. As a bit of background, Scattered is also the first TikTok series to receive development and production support from Screen Australia. It was created by Logan Mucha and Kate Darrigan, who both served as writers along Adolpho Aranjuez. And the 38 episodes follow three friends who wake up one day after the funeral of their friend Wil, with brutal hangovers and no clue where his ashes might be. Over the course of the series, the friends have to retrace the steps to find Wil's ashes and give him the send-off he deserves. Throughout this episode of the podcast, Haley and Michelle run through all the things you need to know about making a short film series for TikTok, from working in a vertical frame to writing one minute episodes, building and interacting with your audience, how music on the app works, and why they think it's the perfect place to be creating content if you're an emerging storyteller. Remember, you can subscribe to the Screen Australia podcast through places like iTunes and Spotify, and if you have any feedback, send it to [email protected] . You can also subscribe to Screen Australia's e-newsletter and we'll send you all the latest articles, videos, funding announcements and more once a fortnight. Now, here's producers, Hayley Adams from production company Passion Fruit Bites and Michelle Melky from Amplify to talk about making narrative series for TikTok. 

[00:02:28] Caris Bizzaca And so, firstly, can you tell me a bit about yourself, you know, your background in the industry and some of the projects you've worked on - Michelle? 

[00:02:37] Michelle Melky So I'm Michelle, for people listening who don't know the difference between our voices yet. So my background in the industry is I've been producing online content for a couple of years. I made some web series and short films before I actually started working with Haley at a production company. And when we met, we produced Love Songs together, which is a TikTok narrative, scripted drama. Off the back of that, I got a job as a creative producer at Amplify and moved to Sydney last year, which was very exciting. And since then, Hayley and I have made Screen Australia-funded web series Scattered, which is obviously what we're here to talk about together, and at Amplify, I've made a Spotify original podcast and some stuff for Instagram as well. 

[00:03:16] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, fantastic, and Hayley yourself. 

[00:03:18] Hayley Adams Yeah, great. So I'm Hayley, this is my voice. Yes, so I have been working as a producer for the past few years and working across corporate and commercial content as well as online. So I've been developing a slate of online series. And yeah, when Michelle and I met in 2019, we just hit it off really well. And sort of that has kicked off like a really great collaborative creative experience and we have made Love Songs together and now Scattered. And I'm also working on another series called Wicked Women as well, which is a web series about the first lesbian erotica magazine in the 80s, made for Australia, actually in Sydney as well. So working on a handful of web series and narrative stories. 

[00:04:08] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, great. And so obviously both you mentioned Scattered. Can you tell me a little bit about the series and, you know, the creative team behind it? 

[00:04:19] Michelle Melky Yeah, sure. Scattered is really exciting for us. It is an LGBT web series for TikTok. So I'll give you like a quick, like logline basically of what Scattered is. So there's a group of four friends and one of them suddenly dies. His name is Wil. The other three friends feel like his sort of stuffy conservative funeral isn't really appropriate for his loud spirit. So they take his ashes on one last night of partying and they wake up the next day to realise they have lost the ashes. And then it's sort of a mad dash to find them again before they have to be scattered at the end of the day with his parents. So it's kind of like Euphoria meets The Hangover. So it's really, really quite fun and also obviously quite sad and emotional as well. So dealing with lots of themes of like grief and loss and friendship. The creative team behind Scattered. It was created by Logan Mucha and Kate Darrigan, who are two incredible writers and creators in Melbourne. The series was written by Kate and Logan, and the third writer on the team was Adolpho Aranjuez, who is also kind of like an emerging screenwriter and film critic in Melbourne - very, very talented writing team. And Logan is also the director of the show as well. So Logan is sort of the creative writer and director of Scattered. 

[00:05:31] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, OK. And so another narrative series for TikTok, for people who aren't aware of what TikTok is, maybe they might have heard about it in 2020 because it seemed to really explode last year. But Hayley, could you tell me, you know what TikTok is and how it exactly works? 

[00:05:53] Hayley Adams So it's a social media app. That's probably what most people know about it. And it is, you know, I guess for most people known for like comedy videos, dance videos and lots of teenagers are on it. That's all true, but also what it is and what we love about it is it's a video sharing app that is designed to really actually share content really well with audiences. So basically, you open the app and video starts playing straight away. So it's unlike going to YouTube or Instagram where you have to, like, go and follow and find people to watch their content. It's actually designed for you to open it and watch it straight away. So when you go into the app, it's vertical video and it's up to one minute. So the videos are really short and fast and they loop. So once a video finishes, you watch it again. If you don't like the video, you can just scroll you know kind of imagine, like swiping, but you swipe up or down to go through the feed. And the app is designed to give you videos that you like based on an algorithm. So as you start interacting with the app, it gets to know what you like and it will serve you videos that you like. So if you like cat videos, it will serve you more cat videos. If you like dance videos, it'll serve you more dance videos. But also, you know, if you like more niche content, it starts to learn more like, oh, you like stuff that talks about movie criticism, you like stuff that talks about arts and craft. So it's the type of app that is really designed for the user to watch more video that they love. It just has that ability to share content really, really fast. 

[00:07:30] Caris Bizzaca And, you know, as creatives, as creators, what do you like about it as a platform, Michelle?

[00:07:39] Michelle Melky I think like the really obvious one for TikTok and something that we really enjoyed with the experience of making Love Songs is the ability to connect to your audience, your intended audience. So TikTok is a platform like Hayley was saying, it gets really specific with its algorithm. It's a very sticky app and it's obviously full of GenZ kids like scrolling through this app for hours on end. So, you know, as a filmmaker, when you're making content, you want people to see it. So, you know, the point of making stuff is you want people to be entertained or feel something, whatever it is. And it's getting harder and harder to connect to those audiences, even on online spaces, which used to kind of be the point of platforms like Instagram and YouTube, it was like you can have a direct one to one relationship with your audience. But now those platforms are so saturated that when you look at an app like TikTok, it's just a much faster pathway of finding your audience and then having them see your content and then commenting and sharing and liking and sort of engaging with it directly with you as an account holder or creator. So I think for us that was a really big appeal as creatives was being able to kind of fast track to your audience. 

[00:08:46] Caris Bizzaca But is it difficult, you know, with the amount of content that's uploaded to TikTok? Because I mean, anyone can upload to TikTok, is it difficult to then cut through to that audience? 

[00:08:58] Hayley Adams Yeah it's an interesting question. I think it's definitely way harder to reach an audience on any other platform. But that also doesn't mean that it's easy on TikTok. The internet's a massive place. Everybody's uploading content. So, yes, it's tricky, but the design of the app is that it gets views. So if you put a video up on YouTube or Instagram and you don't tell anybody about it or you don't tell anybody about your YouTube link, nobody necessarily knows it's there, if you're on a channel with no subscribers, which a lot of web series creators are. They start a new channel, they have no subscribers and they put a video up. But what TikTok does is that when you post a video, the algorithm serves it out to a handful of people. And if those people interact with it positively, it serves it out to more people. So you actually have a guaranteed you know, it might only be five views, but the app is designed for your content to get viewed. So even though it's still tricky because everybody's uploading content, it's easier than other apps and it's guaranteed. And it's like a fast way of knowing 'this video went out and nobody liked it'. You know, five people watched it. That means that the algorithm didn't like it because people didn't interact with it. So it's kind of a different way of looking at it because you guarantee an audience, even if it's small. But it also means that you have the potential for a massive audience. If the algorithm picks it up and really likes it, it can serve it out to millions of people in 24 hours. 

[00:10:24] Michelle Melky And I think building on that Hayley, the other reason why you can expect some cut through with something like what we're doing is we're not doing content that other people are doing on TikTok. So if you can break through with a narrative series because it's so different to what the app is designed for, in a way, at least in our experience so far, you're more likely to get some traction because people are just interested because it's so different. It's not a dance video or a Lip-Sync or, you know- 

[00:10:55] Caris Bizzaca - and also the production values are really high if you look at Love Songs series- 

[00:10:56] Michelle Melky Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's interesting you say that because I feel like when we joined TikTok, which was like October 2019, we felt like Love Songs was really high production value, which it is compared to I would say en masse TikTok in general. But even in the 12 to 18 months since then, the production value of TikToks has really gone up. There are definitely like more filmmakers on there, making what I would call little short films - like 30 seconds to one minute short films - so I think you're right, like obviously something like Scattered is going to look really beautiful on the app. But overall, I feel like the quality has risen for sure since we started. 

[00:11:34] Caris Bizzaca And like talking about the kind of cut-through and tapping into an audience. The other thing with TikTok seems to be that you can use music on the app. Can you talk through how music works on the app and also then how you can maybe capitalise on a music trend that's happening at the moment and reaching that audience? 

[00:11:57] Michelle Melky Yeah, for sure. This is another one that we get asked all the time and- 

[00:12:02] Caris Bizzaca -People are like, wait, you don't need to PAY for the music?! 

[00:12:06] Michelle Melky Yeah! And as filmmakers, of course, like it is super appealing. So I can give you the kind of like dumbed down version of TikTok music licencing, as my understanding. Go do your independent research. But to my understanding, this is how it works: if a song has been ingested into TikTok, which means a TikTok of sort of giving it their tick of approval, they are paying for that so you can use it for free. So there are songs that artists directly upload, so you'll see songs with a blue tick when you go to check out sounds. Those are songs that TikTok is paying the label, you know, monthly or per stream or per video, whatever their metric is, they're paying for it. So it is legal, like they are paying the copyright for those songs. So you as a creator can use any of these songs, whenever you want, to do what you want, which is incredible. It starts to get more complicated when you talk about doing ad spend or having brands in your videos. So if you have brands in your videos, there's like a certain library you can use where it's kind of like, yep, this is safe to use this music because it's not heavily copyrighted. And then if you're actually putting ad spend like a full on ad campaign behind a video, you either need to licence the song you're using or use what they call the commercial music library, which is music that TikTok pays the copyright for so you can put paid ad spend on a TikTok. That is like my dumbed down version of what it is. So basically, for most creators like us filmmakers, you're not going to be doing ad spend, most likely, because ad spend on TikTok is costly. So you can basically use any song. The opposite side or like the other side of how it works is the licencing agreements that TikTok has with the labels are regional. So a song that maybe is licenced in Australia that you can use and you can hear, might not be licenced in France or India or the US. So if users come across your video, they might not hear the track or if the licencing agreement changes in Australia and you had a sound that was available 12 months ago and now your sound is muted because the licencing has changed, it's like totally out of your control. So it's not a perfect system, but overall, it is really advantageous to the creator. 

[00:14:16] Caris Bizzaca And, you know, with something like Love Songs series, there were episodes or the trailer went viral by I think partly because it kind of tapped into one of the songs that was really taking off at the time, is that right, Hayley?

[00:14:34] Hayley Adams Yeah. So Love Songs, obviously in the name is 'songs'. And the conceit of the show was that every episode we would have a song featured in it as a way of storytelling and as a way of using TikTok like as an app to its fullest potential, because there's these songs on there, they trend, they can go viral and they can lift you up as well. So we made the show and we cut a trailer together. And it's a romance about, you know, girl meets boy. And we cut multiple versions of this trailer together. We had longer forms. We had different audio. But basically what we were doing when we were promoting the show was posting the trailer or different, you know, behind the scenes content, essentially the different content we had, before we started posting the show to experiment and to sort of see what people would respond to on the app. And we posted a 30 second trailer with a kind of like copyright free song that we had. We posted the same trailer with other trending audio. But what actually ended up happening is that we took the 30 second trailer that we had cut and we cut it in half at about 15 seconds, it had like a bit of a natural moment to cut it. And we used Blinding Lights by The Weeknd, which at the time was essentially blowing up on TikTok. I mean, it was blowing up around the world. And we put that and it actually worked really well with the existing edit. We didn't edit to that song. It just worked. And we put that on TikTok. And at the time it was one of our biggest videos and that was about twelve hundred views. So we had a bit of traction. So we felt good about it, but essentially we didn't know what would happen. It's interesting to know, but like that video was actually up on TikTok for about 48 hours and nothing more had happened. And it wasn't until the next day. So day three, we woke up in the morning and it had gone from twelve hundred views to one hundred and twenty thousand views. And we realised something had happened essentially. And we started interacting with the video and like having a look. And we had lots of likes, comments, shares, which are all the like metrics on TikTok and we were starting to get more followers. And over that weekend, we went up to just under three million views and the trailer's sitting at three million now. And that was essentially the power of TikTok, an algorithm - that account went from no followers or a couple hundred followers to ninety thousand followers over the weekend. And the interaction on the video was like, 'what is this? Is this show? Is this on TikTok? Is this a Netflix thing? Like what am I watching? How? Why? What is this?' And it was just because it was so different and people were like, 'I'm keen' essentially. Is this a romance? You know, like they were interacting with it and they were pushing it out. So we were getting comments from Australia in English and then we were getting comments all across Europe, America, in Arabic, like it just was clearly going out further 

[00:17:39] Caris Bizzaca Because it was one of the first web series on TikTok, was it? 

[00:17:44] Michelle Melky Yeah. TikTok can't tell us that 'yeah, this was the first in the world' because it's so big and there's like a bajillion videos, but we can definitely say it's the first in Australia originally as in like a show that was shot, written for, intended for, distribution on TikTok. Yes. It's the first in Australia to do that. And we feel like probably globally first, but we can't really claim that and whatever, like it's no big deal if it's first in the world. But I think what's even interesting to reflect on is back then - maybe Hayley I'm remembering this wrong, you can correct me - but I feel like films didn't even advertise on TikTok at that time. Like you wouldn't even see a movie trailer and TikTok, whereas now, you're used to seeing those kind of HD images. So I think people when they were seeing, even just something that was shot on 4K on TikTok, people weren't even used to seeing images that looked that nice, I think, on the app. 

[00:18:36] Hayley Adams Yeah. I don't think there was anything like that on the app or if there was it was very small. Like I think that now everybody knows what TikTok is, especially in Australia, and the app has a lot of even just sketch comedy, like one-off sketch comedy. But at the time when we were making Love Songs and when we released, it was really different. And that was partly like we didn't know if it would work. And also partly, it was really experimental, like it wasn't guaranteed that like we were going to put a cool-looking trailer up and it would go viral. We didn't know. We were like, are we going to get a thousand views on this show or are we going to get 100,000 views on this show? There was no gauge. There was no reference. 

[00:19:17] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And so, as far as I understand, it's now amassed more than 12 million views and 2.5 million likes. So, it definitely connected. But how did you find the experience of making Love Songs and what did you learn that you could then take to making Scattered? 

[00:19:40] Michelle Melky Oh my God, it was awesome. It was so much fun. Love Songs was made, you know, super scrappy. It was like Hayley and I, the writer was also doing sound on set and Hayley's partner was the DP, so it was only four of us on the shoot. So it was really small scale, friends making stuff together, kind of hoping it would be a fun project. But I think the number one takeaway for me, at least after the production of it, was you can do more in a minute than what you think. We kind of realised as we were shooting the episodes that they weren't going to be a minute or we could have more dialogue in that minute. So what we actually did sort of mid-shoot was rewrite the scripts to have more in them for the back half of the first season, because we were yeah, we were excited. So we were watching the rushes after the shoot and doing a little rough cuts and being like, 'we can definitely fit more. Let's put more and more plot in here'. So that was a really valuable lesson to learn because Scattered has much, much more going on thematically, with the plot, like just logistics of where they're going in the story. It's very complex. And we knew that we could fit it in 38 episodes. 

[00:20:50] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And so then, Hayley, how did it then lead to the idea of making another TikTok series with Scattered after you'd kind of finished up with Love Songs? 

[00:21:03] Hayley Adams Yes. So we finished Love Songs, it was releasing and it went really well and that was exciting. And we were like, 'cool, we did it'. But also we realised that this was like a really viable model, I guess, to get views and to get engagement. And also nobody else was doing it yet. We felt like we were still ahead of the curve, even though we felt like we were also chasing something. We're like 'this is such an amazing idea'. So we were working with the other writers, Kate and Logan, and they essentially came to us and they had this idea that was an application for the Snapchat Screen Australia initiative. And they had developed an idea and they kind of pitched it to us. And we went back and forth and we're like, 'oh, this is interesting, etc'. Put it through as a Snapchat application and Snapchat would have been vertical as wel, so we were all thinking kind of vertically-minded anyway. But when the show didn't get selected for the initiative, we were just like thinking and talking internally and trying to figure out something to do with the project because we really, really liked it. And essentially one day I was like, 'oh my gosh, why don't we just do one minute TikTok episodes? Like, we proved it can work. Why don't we do it with a bigger, more complicated narrative and go to Screen Australia for funding?' So everybody was on board with that and we took it and we got development funding kind of based on the success of Love Songs, really. Like showing that it's possible and pitching it and saying sort of like 'we can do this, let us do it like double as many episodes, more cast, more locations, like let us push this to the limit'. And Screen Australia were super excited and on board sort of really fast. And we got to make it essentially. We got to write it. 

[00:22:47] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, great. And you know, if anyone listening that is thinking about applying for development funding, this kind of idea was able to be funded through the generate stream in development funding, which wouldn't have been available in the previous development guidelines, but is now something that's been made possible. So in terms of that Screen Australia funding, what advice would either of you give to other people that want to apply for either development or production funding at Screen Australia? 

[00:23:19] Michelle Melky That is such a good question. I feel like I couldn't just pick one thing that I learnt through the experience, but I've done like a couple of the apps since then or started them and starting to work on new projects and I still feel like the thing that always kind of feels the most important to me, like obviously creative is so important, but for me it is just so much about audience and knowing your audience and how you're going to reach them. Like, I think the Screen Oz term is  'pathway to audience', which is how are you going to reach these people? Think a lot about the platform you're going to put your programme on. Are your audience there? If they're there, how are they going to find it? I think it's really easy to say, I've done this before. I made a really big web series a couple of years ago - big as in a really long runtime - and it was like a really fun, amazing, great project. And it's on YouTube and like no one has seen it because I didn't think about the best platform for it, the best format for it, and like where my audience was and how they were going to find it. So even if my audience for that show was on YouTube, they were not going to be able to find it on YouTube, whereas something like Love Songs and now secondarily Scattered, our audience, taking Scattered as an example are like queer, Gen Z, mobile phone-using kids, they're on TikTok and TikTok is a platform where you can be discovered through an algorithm. That's the kind of stuff that makes a lot of sense to me and I think made our application appealing, I guess. 

[00:24:46] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, definitely. And Hayley, anything to add on that one? 

[00:24:50] Hayley Adams Yeah, I guess we thought about our team. So obviously Michelle and I brought experience from an online side and had done vertical video TikTok, you know, short form. So we had experience doing that. And then we worked with Logan and Kate and then we brought on Adolpho as well because we really wanted to make sure we had a team that were across the themes in the narrative, identify with the characters and can understand that. But also are like on board with making a web series, which kind of sounds a bit odd, but as in like they were keen, they were like, 'I want to try one-minute episodes, let's try and do it'. And we also worked with a script editor Anna Barnes, and she wrote Content and she worked on Retrograde. So she with Content it was vertical video as well, but also it's like an online-friendly series, like it's released online about online culture. And so we knew that she would understand the audience that we were reaching as well. So we felt like the whole team that we were bringing together and that were pitching to Screen Australia made a lot of sense for the story and for the way we were going to deliver it as well. I think that was really important and obviously made our application much stronger. 

[00:26:00] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, OK. And so you mentioned one-minute episodes and for something like Scattered, so a 38 by one-minute series is maybe not a format that people have kind of thought about before. But you know the number 38. How did you decide on the number of episodes and with video length, is it always going to be as close to a minute as possible? Do they vary in length? Can you talk through that a little bit? 

[00:26:32] Michelle Melky Yeah. I mean, it's kind of silly. I think in the development stage we said we'll double Love Songs. So Love Songs was like a weirdly numbered 21 episodes. And so we thought, let's double it and do 40 episodes. And then in the development phase where we were writing and working with Anna and had our writers' rooms, it just kept coming out as like 38. It just wasn't 40 episodes. The story was done in 38 episodes. So we just said, OK, we don't want to throw in fodda like it's TikTok, the attention span is so short that if you have an episode in there where nothing's really happening, the audience won't love it as much as they'll love the other ones. So we just sort of said, OK, it'll be 38 episodes even though that's kind of silly. And then Hayley do you want to talk about episode length. 

[00:27:17] Hayley Adams Yeah, well, I was just also going to say, like, I think the learning from Love Songs was we had 20 episodes that turned into 21. And the reasoning that we wanted to do 40 initially was that if you do 21 episodes, you only have 21 main videos to post and TikTok accounts post a lot of content every day. So it's not unusual for a TikTok user who's more of a single person to post like five videos a day and we just couldn't do that. So it made it hard, like less opportunities to capture somebody in the For You page, which is like when you're on the app looking at the videos, and we basically just doubled it to give ourselves forty chances to reach an audience. So we were also thinking about like the platform will like it better if we have more videos because once those 40 or once the 38 are done, we don't have more to add. So we wanted to give ourselves as many opportunities as possible to capture the audience and then in terms of runtime, it really comes down to how long the moment is in the story. We kind of look at it as you have up to a minute, but because TikTok moves so fast, you don't have to take the full minute if you don't want to. So the way the scripts are sort of written or the way we would approach it is something needs to happen in every episode. But that might be a plot beat. It might be like an emotional character beat. It essentially just needs to have a thing. And if that thing only takes 30 seconds, then it only takes 30 seconds. It doesn't need to be extended. And, on the flip side is more like if the moment is a minute and 10 seconds, you got to cut it down. You've got to figure out ways to cut to the chase faster. Like we don't have any establishing shots or setting the mood moments. You're in the show as soon as you start watching generally because we've only got a minute. And so we have to be really careful with that. 

[00:29:14] Caris Bizzaca Hmm. And so, Michelle, you know, then when it comes to Hayley was talking a bit about the writing of the episodes, what are the things that you as a team have to keep in mind, knowing how short the episodes will be, but also that there is specific language to TikTok videos with kind of fast edits, fast cuts and things like that?

[00:29:40] Michelle Melky Yeah, I think that's interesting. I think another lesson learnt from Love Songs was that you can do the kind of TikTok stuff, transitions and recreating trends in your episodes. But the app moves really fast, like by the time you've shot something in February, that trend is over already three weeks later. I think, you know, I can think of some specific episodes in Scattered, which I won't spoil, that do have a bit of a trend about them, or they use sort of features of TikTok that are TikTok-ish. But I would say for Scattered by and large, we kind of disregarded that way of thinking and focused on it being very cinematic and more, I guess, overall traditional filmmaking styles than TikTok-y styles. I would say if anything, we probably were leaning into the vertical frame more than like TikTok trends or fast cuts or, you know, whatever works on TikTok. We were sort of really trying to utilise a really beautiful vertical frame. Our director Logan cut together is a sizzle reel for our application as well, which I think really helped with our application because he sort of showed some wide screen footage from films like 16:9 shots, but he repurposed them and recut them into the vertical frame to show how these shots can look really beautiful in a vertical frame and how we can sort of create a really beautiful language vertically. So I think we kind of leaned more into that than anything, particularly TikTok-y. So we wanted to make a show that was really stunning and that was vertical. 

[00:31:11] Caris Bizzaca And for anyone that hasn't seen Love Songs, you can go on TikTok now and go and watch it, but there is some behind-the-scenes stuff where you can see how you created basically one of the episodes and it shows the person with the camera, but also it looks like there's an iPhone or an attachment to the camera that's showing what the vertical shot will look like. Is that right? Is that how it worked? Hayley? 

[00:31:38] Hayley Adams Yeah. So through shooting Love Songs, we actually shot Love Songs originally in widescreen, but we had an overlay over the monitors and things to show what the vertical looked like. But not just that it was vertical, but also on TikTok, there's a menu and sort of buttons and, you know, things that you interact with the videos like overlaid on top of the video. So you have a vertical frame, but the bottom quarter of the video is covered by sort of description and a menu. And then the side on the right hand side is also covered by the like button and the comment button and share button. So you have to keep in mind that even though you're shooting vertically, you're also shooting like slightly off centre or slightly to the top just because you want to make sure that nothing important is getting covered up. So we used an overlay of the TikTok graphics that we could check while we were shooting. And then when we were shooting Scattered, we actually shot the whole show after talking to the DOP, he decided he wanted to actually shoot it vertically. So the camera is mounted vertically and then the monitors out for the director and crew and stuff were vertical as well. And they had like guidelines on them to show 16:9, but we also found ourselves throughout the shoot, putting tape over the monitor where the menu bars were so that we could remind everybody, like the production designer and the DOP, you are losing this portion of the frame. Or don't put anything too important (there), because you will lose it a little bit and it was definitely a learning curve, like not many people have shot vertical, let alone shot for TikTok in Australia. So we had to think about that and remind the DOP as we were shooting, like, don't centre things too much. Or if you're shooting a two shot, be careful that the person on one side might end up with some menu over them. So you need to be mindful of that. 

[00:33:39] Caris Bizzaca Yes. Be mindful of them being cut out of the shot. Yeah. And so, Hayley, what's the plan then for the release? You were both talking before about how on TikTok people can upload, you know, five videos a day. How does that impact your release plan? Usually is it like a week to week, or are they designed to watch all in one go? How will it work? 

[00:34:05] Hayley Adams Yes. So at the moment, our current plan, I guess, like I say at the moment, because TikTok moves so fast so things could change. But our plan is to an extent replicate the Love Songs model in terms of release. So it sounds kind of funny, but releasing a trailer and content and like pushing the account out there before we even release the show and hoping for the best, that we go and get a bunch of views. Like getting, you know, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of views on content so that we have some eyeballs on the account before we release the show because we feel like a) it worked previously, but also strategically, it makes a lot of sense because we only have 38 episodes. So once we start releasing, that's it. The show is starting and it's rolling and we want to have momentum before we start doing that. So post trailers, delete stuff if it's not working, reposting, trying different songs, trying different hashtags, just essentially experimenting with the account while it's still kind of like under the radar. And then once the account has some sort of platform, whether that's 20,000 followers or 100,000 followers, it's hard to know at this point. And then starting releasing the show. And that would be essentially one episode a day. We can't post five videos a day, but we can post once a day and we still get quite a bit of time to have more traction for episode five to go viral or episode twenty-two to go viral. Like it's hard to know what's going to happen, but giving ourselves essentially as many opportunities as possible to reach an audience, 

[00:35:48] Michelle Melky I think as well, the other thing to think about is like, we're saying TikTokkers post five times a day and they do, but they're not telling a story in the same way that we are. So like the content that people are engaging with, they're more likely just to turn up the next day to see it because they want to know what happens. I'm not trying to undervalue regular content because I don't watch TV anymore, I only watch TikTok, like I love it. But I'm not checking people's accounts every single day to see their new meme, but if I was watching a TV show, and I know the next episode's coming out the next day, I'm going to go back at the same time and I'm going to watch my one minute, little tasty bite and then wait for tomorrow. So in a way, we don't really have to post three times a day, once we've got the eyeballs with Love Songs we just knew that they were going to come back tomorrow to check. 

[00:36:38] Caris Bizzaca And Michelle is there also with TikTok, part of it is the interaction, is there the added pressure during that release schedule to be responding to people and talking to people and keep it moving?

[00:36:52] Michelle Melky Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Definitely with Love Songs. Hayley and I are looking at each other and laughing. With Love Songs. The initial plan was not to release daily. It was every three days or three days a week. I think we had a Monday, Wednesday, Friday. We just made that up. And then the trailer went viral. And there was a few days between the viral trailer and actually releasing the show. We started putting the episodes out. We put the first episode out and we were like 24 hours on this platform is like a week. It's so much time, like we need to post tomorrow. So we just decided to start posting more often because we had all these people commenting, saying, 'I can't wait for episode two. I really want to watch this. This looks really cool. Please. I want more. I want more.' And then when we started posting daily, we picked a time every single day that we would post. It was like 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon. And if we didn't post at 1:00 p.m. on the dot every now and then, people would go to the previous episode and say, 'why haven't you posted today's episode yet'? That was the level of demand which, you know, as filmmakers is really satisfying. It makes you feel really good inside. So we're kind of hoping for the same thing with Scattered. 

[00:38:00] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Yeah. And Hayley, compared to, you know, talking about the speed of TikTok as a platform, when you're creating a series like Scattered is the turnaround different from when you're creating, say, a web series for a different platform, like a YouTube or something similar? 

[00:38:20] Hayley Adams I guess it depends on the creator, but specifically with narrative from like conception to release on Love Songs, it was six months. And that was purposeful. We were like this is an experiment. Let's try and figure out if it'll work. Like we have to do it really fast. There's no point being too slow about it, I guess. And with Scattered, it will still be pretty fast. Like we shot in February and we were in development in 2020 and we were in Covid so we couldn't shoot anyway. So we're definitely trying to do it as fast as we can. We're still obviously nowhere near as fast as a regular user of TikTok, who can just like film themselves every day and post. But I also think it's really important to think about that from a mentality point of view, like if if you're on the Internet, you are watching a lot of content, you're watching Netflix and then watching YouTube and then you're watching TikTok, like you'll watching stuff constantly. So if you're making content for the Internet, you are competing with all of those people. And some of them have varying levels of production value and some of them are really low and get heaps of use and some of them are really high and get no views like you have to adjust your expectations and your thought around what you're making. If you're making something that's going to be seen on a phone, you know, remember, it's going to be seen on a phone and shoot it that way. I think that's what we did with Love Songs and Scattered was like an amazing opportunity to sort of up everything and up the production value and like have more actors and locations and talent and stuff. And we still thought about the fact that it was going to go on a phone like, you know, to the DP when you're lighting this, people watching it on their phone. So, like, you need to keep in mind that it can't be too dark or when we're going to be in the sound mix, like, remember, this is not going to be in a cinema where everybody can hear everything. They might be listening on their phone with no speakers. So you need to mix it so I can hear every single dialogue, like I need to be able to hear it and it needs to be super loud. So your production parameters are very different. And, some people might be like that's bad. As in I don't want to sacrifice, I want to make the perfect art. But it's also about like making the content for your platform. And if you're making it for TikTok, if you're making it for online release, like there are different things that are more important or can be more important and that you can spend more time on thinking about where are you going to put your content to get the biggest audience as opposed to like, what's the sound mix or the colour grade? And probably a very producer-y thing of like saying 'make it cheaper and faster', but I think it's also about like matching your creative to your release and your product and your audience and thinking about it all as one thing and adjusting your approach to suit. 

[00:41:07] Caris Bizzaca And so Michelle, Hayley's kind of touched on a little bit there with some advice for people that are wanting to maybe tap into or explore working in the TikTok space. But do you have any pieces of advice for any writers, directors, producers out there that want to work in the TikTok space? 

[00:41:27] Michelle Melky I would say maybe just make something. I think Hayley and I are the kind of producers - I think why we work well together and why we like each other is because we both want to make things. We want to just do it, instead of thinking about doing it or trying all these different avenues to get money to do it. Like sometimes the best thing to do is to just get together with some people, shoot something really quickly, have some experimentations and see how you can go. From a point of view of it being a step up to the next thing. If you can make something semi lo fi and throw it on TikTok and get literally millions of views. I mean, that's the value. That is the value in doing that. And then you can get that next step to get the Screen Australia funding like we did or also like we did, maybe get some brand integration for some of your content because you have this excellent proof of concept that your idea has worked because you have gotten views, because you just did it. So sometimes, I mean, it's such boring advice, but I think it's still true, especially for online, especially for the internet in particular. 

[00:42:38] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, definitely. And Hayley, you know, anything else to add to that? Any advice? 

[00:42:44] Hayley Adams Any advice... put it on TikTok. Make content for TikTok, I guess. But I know you're saying 'what advice would TikTok creators'? I mean, like if you're a filmmaker and you're not putting stuff on TikTok, I don't know what you're doing as in the audience is there. If you don't understand TikTok like get on the up and understand it and like interact with it because not everything is going to work, just because you made a narrative series that looks beautiful doesn't mean it works for TikTok. But I just think the internet is so hard, but it's also the place for emerging creators right now and the place to get exposure is only TikTok. The other platforms are so hard to crack if you're a nobody, but if you're a nobody in the film industry and you can put a video on TikTok, it can get views, it can get noticed. Screen Forever was happening. There was a TikTok Screen Forever initiative and people were posting pitches on TikTok and TikTok gave out some prize money and there was two girls that put on their series, the first episode The Formal - they got a million views and 70,000 followers and they're going to make that show on TikTok now. And they came out, just like us they came from nothing, brand new account. And, you know, they can go on now and get funding, make the show, make something, have that experience making it, make another one, make a bigger one, like keep working. I think it's just such a great platform to get that exposure. 

[00:44:07] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, and it's interesting, even traditional platforms, like films or TV series or things like that are creating content for TikTok to tap into that audience, to then get them to go and see said film or something like that. 

[00:44:24] Hayley Adams Yeah. Feature films with TikTok strategies that are trying to promote themselves on TikTok because there's so many people there. So put your content there where there are eyeballs. And they also don't have to know you exist to watch your stuff. Like it's just a whole other level. And if they really like videos about crocheting eggs and you make a series about crocheting eggs, you will find your niche. You know, if it's a weird thing like there are other people, you can find them. They don't have to be in Australia. They don't have to be in America, like they could be anywhere. And they can like all see you on that ap. It's just such a really cool opportunity. And, you know, for Michelle and I, it just changed the game for us. We have both made online series before and they both went up on YouTube and like they were worthwhile experiences. But the level of exposure we've gotten and now the experience to level up and get funding from Screen Australia and Film Victoria to make Scattered has been like career-changing, all because of a social media up where people dance. 

[00:45:30] Michelle Melky Yeah, like I live in a whole new city because of Love Songs. I got the job I have now at Amplify because of Love Songs - it has completely changed my life. So yes, Scattered, but also career opportunities like there's not many places that - I'm a full time producer with a job, like I know that's very rare and I'm very, very grateful and it's because we came up with this experimental idea for Love Songs. And I think sort of building on what Hayley has said, I think the internet changes all the time. One day there'll be something else. There'll be the next whatever comes after TikTok. I would just say to not be afraid to do something on a platform where that content, that's not what the intended use of that platform is. I think that's what's really interesting about TikTok as well, is like it's not designed to tell stories, like they're one-minute episodes, but we kind of like bent it to our will and now it works and lots of people are doing it, which is great. So whatever the next app is as well, just jump on there, figure out a way to make a show that works on that platform. Like I'm sure if I was a bit older back when Vine was huge, we would have made a Vine web series - like six second episodes or something. It's just about also being really, really... if you want to be an online creator, you have to have your finger on the pulse. You have to be aware of like what's going on on the internet, which is really hard because it changes all the time. 

[00:46:48] Caris Bizzaca Mhm. Yeah. Constantly adapt. 

[00:46:51] Michelle Melky Yep. 

[00:46:52] Caris Bizzaca Great. Well we'll leave it there. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today and talking to us all about TikTok and Scattered and Love Songs. It's been fantastic. 

[00:47:05] Michelle Melky Yeah. A pleasure. It was awesome. 

[00:47:07] Hayley Adams Yeah. Thank you so much for having us. And yeah you can check out Love Songs series on TikTok if I haven't said it many times. Scattered series is also on TikTok as well. And I'm assuming by the time this is out we'll also, hopefully we've gone viral, I guess you know, look into the future. Right?

[00:47:30] Caris Bizzaca That was producers Hayley Adams and Michelle Melky from Passionfruit Bites and Amplify respectively. And just so you know, Scattered has already gone viral with several clips getting more than 100,000 views and one clip already at 580,000 views. You can see for yourself by watching Scattered on TikTok now with new episodes releasing in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, keep up to date with the Screen Australia podcast by subscribing through iTunes, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australia newsletter for the latest news from the local industry. Thanks for listening.