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Web series 'Dave & Theo' takes out slew of awards for NIDA students

Six-episode web series, Dave & Theo, by NIDA Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) students Nicholas Burton and Laurence Boxhall, has quickly amassed a long list of award recognitions, over 33,000 Facebook fans, thousands of episode views and attention from FilmInk and The Daily Telegraph.

NIDA Acting students Nicholas Burton and Laurence Boxhall in award-winning web series, 'Dave & Theo'.

Six-episode web series, Dave & Theo, by NIDA Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) students Nicholas Burton and Laurence Boxhall, has quickly amassed a long list of award recognitions, over 33,000 Facebook fans, thousands of episode views and attention from FilmInk and The Daily Telegraph.

Released on August 22 via YouTube, Dave & Theo has been selected for the Global Film Festival Awards, Festival Global, Out Of The Can Film Festival, Miami Independent Film Festival, Accolade Global Film Competition and The IndieFEST film Awards, and is a finalist in the Oniros Film Awards and the Gold Movie Awards, where it will be screened at the BAFTA (British Academy Film Awards) theatre.

Co-created with friend David Hoey, Dave & Theo follows the friendship, joys and misadventures of two down-and-outs, played by Laurence (‘Dave’) and Nicholas (‘Theo’).

Written and created originally by Nicholas, Dave & Theo was inspired by an exercise for a screen class in the first year of Nicholas’s Acting course at NIDA. We sat down with Nicholas Burton and Laurence Boxhall to talk about how Dave & Theo went from an idea to a slick production, the challenges of guerrilla filmmaking, and how their NIDA training supported them.

On how Dave & Theo began:

Nicholas: It was actually as part of a NIDA subject about creating your own intro to a film – how to create a hook or whatever, so everyone was writing things and I was like, you know what, let's just go out and shoot this.

This was for the early short film version of Dave & Theo, named The Perrrfect Plan, which you made in your first year at NIDA for Tropfest. So how did you decide to take it further?

N: It was the big three month break [between] when you finish first year into second year [at NIDA].  I went to Europe then, for two months or so, and I ran out of money in Paris and I was on the street. And [it was] just very interesting that the first thing that popped into my mind was friendship.

This guy's mug came into my mind [gestures toward Laurence] and I was like, 'Oh, just like Dave and Theo, I would love a companion at the moment, a friend to go through this with.' So I decided to make [the characters of] Dave and Theo into something more. I initially wrote one episode in Paris and then a few in New York, and throughout the rest of my trip ideas came into the head, out of hopelessness and desperation I suppose.

NIDA Acting students Nicholas Burton and Laurence Boxhall in award-winning web series, 'Dave & Theo'.

On how the idea developed creatively:

Laurence: That's something we had a lot of discussion about, because this [web series] is the third form that Dave & Theo's been in. We initially started off as a Tropfest film [The Perrrfect Plan] back in 2016. We spent a couple of weekends trying to shoot this thing on just a regular DSLR, with no budget , and then the second time round it was very guerrilla-style filmmaking, and I think in that version it was very ‘in-jokey’, even though we were still trying to appeal to lots of people.

N: It started off in first and second year, as just improv comedy, and then we thought, ‘Yes, it's wacky but it needs to have a heart. It needs to be grounded in some sort of reality and have those emotional beats that make you care about the characters.’ Through having the experience of shooting it in first year and second year we were able to realise, ‘Yeah, these characters work but they need to be grounded.’

L: You need to think not just for the gag of the moment but also for the storyline as a whole… Once we started focusing on the themes and the through-storyline, that's when it started becoming more universal without pandering to everyone, I thought, which was a testament to it. It just is what it is, and everyone can find something in it.

N: Exactly. I think the bizarreness and the wackiness and us not being afraid to go there, hopefully make it stand out from other web series. I think the visual language supports that sort of bizarre trip-out nature, which was really important to us, just to jump in the head of these characters, especially Theo, [who goes] 100 miles per hour.

Trained actors and the DIY experience:

L: I hadn't made something myself before, really… I've only ever been hired as an actor and the script is all ready and then I come on and I do the thing… But this was an entirely different beast where it was just us two, and then there was the cameraman slash co-director slash editor Dave Hoey, and then one mic guy and that was it. So I hadn't done anything this guerrilla, aside from the previous incarnations of it.

N: NIDA gets your endurance up. It gives you stamina.

L: Long days. How to survive on lasagne and nothing but lasagne for 21 days.

N: And the difference between a professional set and our one is that we were changing things all the time, it was the same meal all the time, shoots that were supposed to end at 11pm would end at 4am, so sometimes the training had to kick in, or else you would just go crazy.

Nicholas Burton and Laurence Boxhall at the premiere screening of 'Dave & Theo'

What other aspects of NIDA’s BFA helped prepare you to make your own independent new media work?

N: All the collaboration that was going on here was quite inspiring.

L: We’d have a lecture, first and second year Intro to Collaboration lecture, then there’d be a designated three hours where you'd mingle with the other [Acting/Costume/Design for Performance/Properties and Objects/Scenic Construction and Technologies/Technical Theatre and Stage Management] students and you’d be putting on a presentation or working and just creating that very open dialogue. When you’re doing low-budget or no-budget stuff, like with Dave & Theo, it is important to know how to have a dialogue and know how to have a creative exchange, and that's something that we did – there's a whole lesson where you learn how to do that, which is useful.

N: And [NIDA] have been real supportive of [Dave & Theo] and brought a lot of people in to talk to us who had just gone out there and created their own stuff, which was really inspiring. We had an acting teacher come in, Jeneffa Soldatic who taught us screen – I think that's when it really began. She's a good screen teacher who teaches in the US. She told us, ‘You need to create your own content - create the characters that you want to play; don't wait for them to come to you.’ [At NIDA] you have the resources, you have the people, you have the actors that you want to work with – just go and do it.

What originally brought you to NIDA, and what has kept you coming back over the notoriously rigorous three-year Acting BFA?

L: I started working and making my living as an actor in 2013, and I’d been working for a few years before I auditioned [for NIDA] in 2015. In my final year at school I’d started working. So I had a really good couple of years and then I kind of lost confidence in myself a bit, and I thought, well, I don’t want this good luck to run out and then have no training to fall back on, so I think if I’m gonna go [to NIDA], now is the time. And I’ll always wonder, ‘What if…’ if I don’t go, and if I go, then I’ll know.

So I decided to take three years out and study so I have training I can fall back on and I can have confidence in myself that I do know what I’m doing, and if I get jobs then hopefully it’s not just luck; I know a little bit about the craft, and I can keep pushing the craft and working on it, because it is a process.

My second job was a Foxtel series called Deadline Gallipoli where the lead actor in it was Joel Jackson, who had just graduated [from NIDA] the year before, so we had big chats and he was very instrumental in helping me make up my decision to come – because it’s a big decision! Do you put your career on hold for three years to come and train? And he was wonderful and reassuring, and talked me through what NIDA was like and what the teachers were like and what kind of things you learn – so big hats off to Joel for helping me make up my mind. Yeah, that’s kind of what spurred me.

And on staying the course:

L: The more I’m here the more I realize there is to learn. Even now a month away from graduating there’s still so much more to learn. I remember my dad telling me, ‘You don’t graduate from drama school and become an actor; it will take you the rest of your life.’ And I was like cool, alright, so this is just one stepping stone to another form of education, and because I love learning, I’m going to keep chipping away at the craft and do it for the love of it.

N: I also was lucky enough to get in out of high school, and [in a] similar position to Laurence, I’ll be 21 when I graduate and that question in my mind, Should I have gone, will never be there. I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself. So, I’m really glad I came, the acting training’s obviously been great, but I think more than that it actually is the collaboration and the people that I’ve met, and the people that – once I do graduate – I’ve met so many great designers and stage managers and actors and writers that I can collaborate with out there, which I didn’t have before coming here, and that has been invaluable.

And on staying the course:

N: I keep coming back because I think I’ve grown so much as a person just by being with the same 24 people for three years, and learning about people and different cultures. It’s been awesome. Obviously there have been the ups and downs, but learning to build stamina is the key – I feel that once we’re out there now, nothing can stop us, because we’ve gone through it all.

Applications to study at NIDA in 2019 close on October 31. Apply here to become one of Australia’s creative leaders.

Watch Dave & Theo here.

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