In October 2013, Those Three Girls were awarded first place in the nationwide Sitcom Mission competition for GIRLBAND, an affectionate tale centred around three obsessive fans of a long-forgotten 90s pop band.
Since then, the members of Those Three Girls, Lucy Barnett, Carly Sheppard and Susannah Adele, have tirelessly developed their project, facing the same victories, pressures and heartaches that the creators of all your most beloved sitcoms had to endure. Right now, Those Three Girls have entered the world of Kickstarter to give their project a much deserved shot of financing.
I sat down with Those Three Girls to talk about the hard work, joy, patience, discipline and not inconsiderable amounts of masochism that goes into getting a sitcom in front of your faces.
Tell us about your process. How do you reign in the creative energy of three unique comedy voices and actually knock out a coherent and satisfying script that you’re all happy with?
Lucy Barnett: We have a system that works pretty well, and I think it helps that we have trained together in both acting and writing, so we all use the same processes. Creating a script between three of us relies on a lot of brainstorming, organisation and preparation so we’re on the same page re: the storyline, after which we split the script into ‘story steps’, and take a section each to go away and write separately. These are then joined together to form our first draft, which we edit together (our favourite bit!).
Carly Sheppard: We start by creating and developing characters. They are the most important piece of the puzzle, big shiny characters that we love and care about. Once we have them, it’s just a case of deciding what we’re going to do with them.
Susannah Adele: As long as we have something to start with, that’s the hard bit over. Even if it’s not funny at first but has the basic plot, we know that we can work together to refine it and add the jokes in.
LB: In terms of editing, we have a big rule that you can’t offer criticism without a solution (although we’ve also been known to keep barking “funnier, funnier, funnier!” at someone until they find a better line). Our dynamic works pretty well – I’m the boring one who reins in some of the more extreme jokes and corrects the spelling.
Are there any jokes that haven’t made the cut purely down to a majority ruling?
LB: I campaigned for a long time to lose a big section of ‘erotic mime’ from the GIRLBAND script that ended up winning the award in 2013… it was pretty offensive.
SA: Carly and I have pretty dirty minds and love a bit of toilet humour so we have to negotiate sometimes to keep the crude jokes in. It works really well that there’s three of us, we do use the majority rules card quite a lot and that seems fair. It’s not always Carly and me against Lucy though – it’s usually fairly even in who agrees with who at different times
CS: We play ‘majority rules’ all the time. If it’s two against one, majority wins. If it’s one against one and the third member is indifferent then it goes to deadlock and we ask Simon Cowell. .
LB: There were also some very obscure euphemisms for being gay (my character is engaged to an extremely gay man), which got more and more tenuous – “parked his pink Porsche down a back alley” has just come screaming back to me! Actually, that might still be in the script…
SA: I think it is.
Do you laugh at your own jokes when you write? People who are sat next to me while I type and chuckle to myself think I’m an outright narcissist.
SA: I really hope you do.
LB: Yup, definitely. We find ourselves hilarious.
CS: No one laughs harder at my own jokes than me. I’m definitely my own biggest fan.
SA: That’s why we love doing what we do. I love it when we get in a really silly mood and can’t stop laughing at ourselves. Another bonus to being a threesome.
What was the initial inspiration for GIRLBAND? Who was your ultimate pop-group while you were growing up?
LB: Our main inspiration to create GIRLBAND came from a nickname given to us at our writing class, as we’d always sit together. ‘The Big Reunion’ was also a huge contributing factor. I liked the Spice Girls – I had a bob, so was Posh in the school talent show – but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever been a ‘superfan’ of any band. I find the idea fascinating, and I’m a bit jealous – I don’t think I’ve ever loved anything that much.
SA: The girls loved the Spice Girls and I wasn’t as much of a fan, so I think I’m like my character, Debra, who is just along for the ride. I absolutely loved Michael Jackson as I was growing up (it still breaks my heart to think of ol’ Wacko). I once wrote to Jim’ll Fix It asking to meet MJ. Probably best I didn’t get a reply.
CS: I get obsessed with things really easily. Food, people, my mini obsessions change day to day. Being ginger I obviously dreamed of being Ginger Spice. I loved PJ & Duncan more than life itself. I saw them twice in concert. When PJ went blind I cried for a week. I draw on those teenage emotions when writing GIRLBAND. My character Jenny is an overgrown child trapped in a woman’s body. Something I can totally relate to.
What has been the journey of GIRLBAND so far, in terms of development and feedback?
LB: It started as a stage show, where we played all of the characters in the story of a girlband reuniting. We very lazily tried to use whole sections of monologues from the stage show as ‘talking heads’ in an initial version of the sitcom, where we were experimenting with a mockumentary style.
SA: Although we didn’t realise it was lazy at the time. We were (and still are) learning the tricks of our trade.
LB: We’ve subsequently had a lot of feedback that the mockumentary style has been done to death… good thing we abandoned it really.
CS: Mostly it’s been really positive which is lovely. GIRLBAND seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people. It’s the fight of the underdog which audiences relate to. You really feel for this misfit bunch of characters and are genuinely rooting for them to sort their lives out. One of the judges from the Sitcom Mission said they enjoyed it so much they “didn’t want it to end”. That was nice to hear.
While in development, have you been asked to make any changes to your scripts that you’ve been reluctant to make?
LB: Writing in Geri Halliwell as a main character?!
SA: We gave her a minor role instead, hoping someone would take it on on that basis. Maybe we should write to Gezza to see if she wants to set up a production company with us!
CS: We’ve been asked how we would feel if GIRLBAND were to be made but without us in it. TV channels are reluctant to take a gamble on an ‘unknown’ and would rather cast someone from a reality show instead. That sucks. I want all or nothing.
Who is your inspiration? Is there anything out there that you think “oooh, I wish I had written that!”
LB: I’m a huge fan of The Office, both the UK and US version, and Parks and Recreations… probably not surprising that my first instinct was to try and write a mockumentary-style sitcom. I also loved Gavin and Stacey – I love warm comedy that is full of heart.
SA: I blinking love Alan Partridge. If only I’d been born as Steve Coogan or at least got a portal into his head like ‘Being John Malkovich’.
CS: I wish I was in The League of Gentlemen but I don’t have a penis.
What do you think of the current state of British television comedy? Be honest…
SA: I think it needs a bit of a revamp. I can’t think of many good British comedies that are on right now, particularly not on the main terrestrial channels anyway. Bring back BBC 2’s comedy Tuesday… Or was it Thursday? We’ll be on it, whatever night.
CS: If we lose BBC3 I think it’ll be a blow to new British comedy.
LB: I’m a terrible culprit of watching mainly US comedy, but there is some good stuff out there over here too. I’ve recently really enjoyed Catastrophe earlier this year on Channel 4, and Hebburn and W1A on the BBC. It is a shame that new sitcoms almost always tend to be vehicles for stand-ups… but I get it – commissioning unknowns is a massive risk. Particularly unknown female writers. It is, after all, a true fact that women are not funny.
CS: I loved Inside Number 9, Peter Kay’s Car Share was adorable, Uncle was brilliantly funny, House of Fools was great. I’m a big fan of Vic and Bob’s silliness and I will watch anything with Morgana in cos I’ve got a massive girl crush on her. I just wish there were a few more funny girls on telly.
Are you concentrating solely on GIRLBAND or do you have other projects in development?
LB: We have another project that we’re developing – a dark comedy called Ivy View which is very different in tone to GIRLBAND. We have a rehearsed reading next month at the Canal Cafe where we’ll be reading the pilot episode, as well as our GIRLBAND pilot, (shameless plug) I’d also love to try writing something for radio in the near future.
CS: Ivy View is where you can definitely see some influences of League of Gentlemen shine through. The new sitcom is a dark, twisted girly version that gets creepier every draft.
What’s the best case scenario? What’s the ideal journey for Those Three Girls in the next five years?
LB: Three series. Christmas special. Bafta. Charity single. Film. Boom!
SA: and that’s just with GIRLBAND, we don’t want to get overexposed.
CS: That’s not too much to ask is it…?