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Collaborative soap opera project brings TV stars to Brunel

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Soap opera fans will soon be able to shape the storyline of a professionally produced, interactive web drama, in a project masterminded by Brunel’s Collaborative Research Network in the Creative Industries.

Actor Rik Mayall, best known for cult comedy series The Young Ones and Bottom, and director Paul Murphy, whose credits include Casualty, Hollyoaks and Brookside, were on campus over the weekend to film the pilot of Soapopolis, along with a cast and crew of students, staff and professionals. Weekly episodes will eventually be posted on the Internet, and viewers will use channels including text, email, Twitter and Facebook to suggest script ideas and storylines and contribute music clips and video background ‘locations’ for use with a green screen.

Mayall’s character, the time-travelling hitman Mr Richard, provides the link between a diverse and surreal series of plot scenarios including ‘Noir Land’, concerning a series of murders in a corporate housing block, ‘Gangster Land’, and ‘X Factor Hell’. Scenes finish with Mr Richard asking viewers, “What do you want to happen next?”, inviting ideas and contributions which will then be shaped into the final script for the drama’s next instalment.

Soapopolis was conceived by Professor Steve Dixon, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Development and formerly Head of the School of Arts, as a progression from existing web drama projects which have tended to use the 'lo-fi' production quality common to social networking video and audio. Max Kinnings, Lecturer in Creative Writing within Brunel’s School of Arts, finalised the pilot’s script, and he emphasises the uniquely cinematic quality and global appeal of Soapopolis in comparison to existing collaborative web drama: “We’re taking web drama into a whole new realm, trying to bring the production values of the best TV and film to the web. We want it to be completely global – a social creative network.”

Leading directors are in line to join Paul Murphy in contributing to the series, and a number of professional actors will join Mayall and the cast of Brunel students, for whom the project should prove a valuable addition to their CVs and showreels.

The pilot is now in post-production, and is expected to be completed and premiered in June.

Drama student Samuel Stolton, who plays the gangster Jimmy in the Soapopolis pilot, describes the weekend's filming.

"The weekend was strenuous but nonetheless exciting. I was fortunate enough to draw a lot of inspiration from the cast and crew.

Rik Mayall proved to be a real character on set, and I managed to talk to him on a number of occasions. He shared some interesting stories about how he and his comedy partner Adrian Edmondson met at Manchester University and eventually created the award-winning comedy, The Young Ones. Rik was a friendly face on set, and he seemed to be performing for everyone all the time, regardless of whether the camera was on or not!
 
The scenes in Soapopolis reflect a dystopian world with bizarre but fascinating characters. I played the role of Jimmy, a gangster driven by his anxious tendencies to commit horrificly violent crimes. It was an enjoyable role to undertake, and I think we managed to find the intensity required to depict scenes of such raw brutality.
 
I got involved in the project as a result of my admiration for Steve Dixon's work with the Chameleons Group, a multimedia performance research company. When the opportunity to be a part of Soapopolis arose, I was determined to audition. The audition consisted of a series of improvisations and exercises constructed to find out how we would fit into the Soapopolis story.
 
After filming Soapopolis I have been offered the opportunity to act as part the Chameleons Group. I will integrate my scenes in Soapopolis into my showreel, which already includes a variety of my other performances.

I am really looking forward to the opportunity of working with Steve and the Chameleons Group."