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Interview: Dave Lambert – Director of Zapped!

Ahead of the Season 3 finale of Zapped, director Dave Lambert sat down with Cult Faction‘s Brett Summers to reflect on the success of Zapped and the road that led him to it.

You can catch up on all three seasons of Zapped by watching them on UKTV Play by clicking the image below:

Q: So David, what influenced/impacted upon you growing up?

Back to the Future is my earliest film memory and had a massive impact on me. I remember watching it in the cinema with my parents and the audience loving the skateboard chase in 1955. I didn’t know exactly what the job was then but I wanted to make what’s on the screen. I’m an 80’s child so grew up watching Ghostbusters, Goonies and the like. I started to get into horror films, some pretty schlocky stuff and modern classics – Black Christmas, Halloween, Friday 13th, Evil Dead, The Shining. Spinal Tap is my all-time favorite comedy. TV wise I loved Round the Twist, Eerie Indiana then as I got older BBC Two and Channel 4 comedy was must see – The Day Today, Brass Eye, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and Alan Partridge.

Q: As a director you first popped up on the Cult Faction radar with your documentary work with Steve Coogan and The Mighty Boosh. How did that come about?

I noticed no one was doing any DVD extras for the shows I was working on so I grabbed a camera and started shooting. The first one I did was for Cruise of the Gods which starred Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, David Walliams, James Corden, Russell Brand and was set on a fan cruise of a fictional BBC Sci-fi show ‘Children of Castor’. Half way through the shoot the boat hit a reef leaving a port and the boat started to sink. I was filming the entire time and just kept thinking ‘This is my ‘Hearts of Darkness’! It led to behind the scenes documentaries on a variety of sitcoms and Steve Coogan’s Australian tour in 2009.

Q: What drew you to the documentary side of film making?

I always wanted to get into scripted comedy directing and saw behind the scenes documentaries as a way to observe some amazing directors at work and learn from them. I was on sets with Tony Dow, Christine Gernon, Matt Lipsey, Ben Wheatley, Dan Zeff and Paul King.

Q: You then moved across to the TV shows Rob Rouse and his Duck, and Where are The Jones? Why the change? Did this effect on your style of direction?

It was where I wanted to be so was the next logical step. Henry Normal at Baby Cow has been a huge mentor to me and while working with him on the documentary stuff he knew I wanted to direct scripted and he gave me the opportunities.

Q: More documentary work followed including a Gavin & Stacey doc. How was that experience?

The Gavin & Stacey: 12 Days of Christmas doc was really memorable; I was so excited to have a programme broadcast on Christmas day! At that time Gavin & Stacey was huge, it had really broken out so everywhere we went people would be in awe of the cast and seeing the characters in real life. I was on set everyday filming the process of making the Christmas special and it felt special and timeless.

Q: You then directed the Doll and Laura TV Movie as well as the Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places of My Life TV Special. I would imagine these projects required a longer time in the director’s chair than you were use to?

Its time spent in a different way to making a documentary. With a fully scripted show you are making creative decisions all the time rather than observing. They start at the script stage – giving notes and working out the best way to visualize it. Then there’s location recceing, casting, talking to the various departments about props, wardrobe, make up. As a director 90% of your day is answering questions.

Q: How did Common Ground come about? You directed such a wide range of stars in that series including Charles Dance, Sean Pertwee, Noddy Holder, Jessica Hynes, Gary Beadle, Rosie Cavaliero, Josie Lawrence, and Paul Kaye – Whilst not everyone was in the same episode you still had quite a mixture of actors to balance both in front and behind the camera. How did you find that experience?

I loved it! I meet some amazing cast and crew on that job that I still work with and am in touch with. We had two days to shoot each 12 min short and no days in-between to regroup for the next one so the prep period was really important. I meet Paul Kaye on that job and we got on well so when I needed a Wizard for Zapped I got in touch! I sometimes forget the amount of incredible talented actors we had on that job. I really hoped a couple of them would spin off into their own sit-com, we got close but unfortunately it didn’t happen.

Q: How did you get involved with Undercover?

Henry had given me the scripts to read which I loved them. Andy Milligan, Sacha Alexander and Mark Staheli had created a very funny world of a misplaced undercover policeman in the world of Armenian gangsters. I could really visualize it at script stage and it was a brilliant filming experience.

Q: Then came Zapped – How was Zapped conceived? At what point in the process did you become involved?

Zapped has an interesting history that you can actually hear about in a recent Sitcom Geek podcast:

The script had been around for a few years, with different production companies and different channels involved. It had a few false starts and never got over the line. Jump forward to 2015 and the series had been commissioned by DAVE for a 3-episode pilot. I met the writers at a café in Soho and talked to them about what I liked in the draft and the things I would change (always an interesting chat!) But Dan, Paul and Will obviously liked what they heard and I was attached to direct.

Q: How easy was it to transfer script to screen?

The original script was intended to be shoot in from of a studio audience so things were a little different in the initial draft I read. I strongly believed it should be single camera and was really keen to build a full set to allow the audience to feel they had dropped into Munty. The thing I most notice about the first episode we shot is then length of the scenes. They could be shorter but there was a bit of a hangover from the studio audience draft where you have longer scenes and fewer sets.

Q: How much influence did you have when it came to casting?

I work with Kevin Riddle (casting director) and the producer and writers to come up with lists of names to meet, I like to be in all the casting sessions. It always fascinates me how the same dialogue and descriptions can draw very different interpretations in these sessions but it’s an incredibly useful time to hear the script brought to life. Kevin is great at finding new people and getting us the big guns!

Q: The Zapped cast (The Munty 5) all seem unique in their roles – how much of that comes from the script? How much comes from them? Where do you fit in?

We get a lot of compliments on our cast and how well they embody the characters. I would say it’s a combination of all three. The characters are well formed on the page and then great comic actors bring them to life adding in lovely ticks and quirks. I am there to guide and give them space to perform while throwing in anything that can make it funnier or dramatic where needed.

Q: What filming initially began what preparations do you make before filming? What issue arose?

Zapped was really unique as we were building a brand new world for our narrative to take place in. There was a lot of prep done on what Munty should look like and whether we should shoot it all on location or on a stage. I was thinking a lot about how the Boosh created their worlds in a studio and saw parallels with Zapped so we embraced that. The show has a lot of special effects, CGI, prosthetics and puppets so a lot of time was spent feeding back on designs and driving it forward.

Q:  How did it feel looking back at what you had shot for the first episode?

I felt good about it. Editing can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, without fail I will always have a few days during the edit where I hate what I see, but it’s all part of the process in creating a programme. You make a show three times, first time is writing it. The second is filming it and the last is editing it.

Q: How did Season 2 develop?

Series 1 had rated well and been well reviewed so we were hopeful we would do more. We were over the moon to be recommissioned as we knew there were things we wanted to improve on.

Q: Did you approach Season 2 in the same way to Season 1?

We learnt a lot of lessons from the first run. Some of the character looks needed a rethink. We desperately needed to expand the Munty set and introduce some new spaces for the action to unfold. Now Dan, Will and Paul were writing for a single camera sit-com the scenes became shorter and punchier. It was about making it bigger, better and funnier than the 3 ep pilot we had done.

Q: By the time Season 3 came to filming I would imagine the core cast and crew were comfortable with each other. Does this change what you can do as a director?

They know their characters and feel comfortable in their skin so there are less character notes from me. We have a team that’s been on Zapped from the beginning that really love the show so each time we get together to make it we just want to take it further and better the last series. Dave Ferris – the designer, Pete Rowe – DOP, Jo Jenkins – Make-up, Howard Burden – Wardrobe, the guys at Millennium FX and the team at Axis VFX are all so important to making the show what it is.

Q: How do you feel the show has progressed over three seasons?

I think the scale has grown, I think the writers have excelled themselves on Series 3 with brilliantly tight plotting and a shed load of funny lines and situations. I always felt it would take a little time for audiences to get to know the show and its tone but I feel like we have a solid fan base now and new people are joining all the time. At its heart it’s a traditional sit-come but with a surreal, unhinged vibe.

Q: Season 3 is a longer Season and has really opened up the town of Munty leaving lots of threads that can be picked up. Was it a conscious decision to expand the Zapped Universe?

Definitely. It’s important to us and the channel to keep the world growing and exploring the craziness that Munty has to offer.

Q: You also have a lot of talented guest stars appearing in the streets of Munty in season 3. How are you attracting all these guests?

Money. Lots and lots of money. Seriously, we look at who we think would be right for a part and who we really admire and go for it. Steve Coogan had already guest starred in series 1 but is a big supporter of the show so when he read the new series scripts he asked if he could play Feffehoffer.

Q: Are there any plans for a Season 4? Where would you like to see the series go?

During the shoot, the edit and when the current series is on TV the writers are always pitching new story ideas to us. We have a WhatsApp group just always throwing ideas around. If we get to do more then I really enjoyed having Howell in Brian’s office so the idea of jumping between worlds is an exciting prospect.

Q: What has been your favorite episode so far?

I think its Barrel – the forth episode of Series 3, because it’s a bottle episode and is about the Munty 5 trapped in a dangerous situation. It allows for us to really get to know the characters and I think the performances are brilliantly funny. The series finale of this run is pretty epic and the final 5 minutes contain some of my favorite Zapped moments ever.

Q: Any funny stories from set that have not made it to screen?

Sharon Rooney falls over so much, her robes catch on doors, chairs anything really. The outtakes reel is hilarious.

Q: We have many readers who are writers/directors struggling to get their projects made. What advice would you give them?

A project is only as good as the script so work hard to create characters with real depth and detail. Contact the people you admire and ask them for advice and NEVER GIVE UP.

Q: Where can our readers find out more you and your future projects?

They can stalk me and tap my phone, that should cover both.


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