People spend more than one billion hours a day watching YouTube series, making the chance of just stumbling upon a new series slim to none. Type “comedy” into the search bar and the result is more than 44 million videos. If you’re a fresh-faced creator with no subscribers and a video that doesn’t include the popular clickbait title format, there’s a chance no one will ever watch what you create.
Having someone like Charlie Brooker attached tends to help a little, though.
Mr. Biffo’s Found Footage is a series created by British writer Paul Rose. Edge magazine readers might remember Rose’s name from his monthly “Biffovision” column. Prior to working at the BBC — and creating Mr. Biffo’s Found Footage on YouTube — Rose wrote for a variety of magazines and websites, including Empire, Total Film, Official PlayStation Magazine, Deathray and Retro Gamer. It was through his time writing that Rose met Brooker. A former games journalist, Brooker is best known for creating Black Mirror.
When Brooker agreed to help with the show by producing, Rose said he knew it was the boost needed to break through the rest of the noise. Rose told Polygon that Brooker signed on as an executive producer during the Kickstarter campaign, helping the show financially as well.
“It’s hard to just break through on YouTube just because there’s so much out there,” Rose told Polygon. “The feedback we get varies between, ‘What the hell is this?’ and “I love it and I’m intrigued.’ Our most recent episode was the darkest yet and there was one guy who told he was legitimately traumatized from watching it. He had to go, sit and be quiet for an hour because he invested in this character who ends up getting brutally murdered.”
Mr. Biffo’s Found Footage takes its inspiration from heavyweight absurdist comedy series like Tim & Eric — and the smaller, format breaking moments of Monty Python that would appear intermittently throughout episodes. It’s a bizarre series that is equally funny, satirical, disturbing, vulgar, daring and manic, following a series of found footage tapes that Mr. Biffo acquired at a garage sale.
The original concept for the show began during pre-internet days. Rose was writing for a digital magazine called Digitiser that was created using TeleText, a text-based system that could deliver lines of text to a screen. People in the United Kingdom used it as a means of transmitting text-based information; news, weather and TV schedules primarily. Digitiser, however, provided people with gaming news and, as it developed a fan base, threw in some classic, absurdist British comedy.
In 2016, Rose and his colleagues at Digitiser organized a small convention to celebrate the magazine, and Rose decided he wanted to do something special for it. He put together a series of videos based on jokes that the team were known for.
“We used to write about games, but we were better known for our comedy,” Rose said. “They went down well and people started saying, ‘Well, do some more.’ I knew I wanted to do a series and I knew that wanted a format that held it all together that sort of made sense of it in a way even though the individual sequences wouldn’t make sense. If you watch the whole thing together, you’ll go ‘There’s actually a story there!’
“It was my partner who said to me, ‘You have figured out the format; it’s found footage.’”
Rose threw the project on KickStarter and collected more than £18,000 (roughly $24,132 USD). Most of that budget went to “hire actors, animators and musicians, have more extreme props and sets, and special effects,” according to Rose, but the actual editing of the videos is of particular interest. Rose told Polygon that he cut the videos together in iMovie and then fed the footage through an app on his iPhone that would make it appear as if it was a VHS tape. Rose said that not having access to a comparable network budget meant he had to get creative with the process.
“Since then, I used a whole variety of plugins in Final Cut Pro,” Rose said. “Some of it is kind of manually adjusted — I’ll go in and add glitches manually — and there’s a whole bunch of VHS glitch footage online that I used to kind of bookend some of the sequences. But I also found some footage of me from my school days in 1987 and I chopped that up, threw some of that in there, and created more glitches from that.”
Inspired by some of the “crazy editing” that he was seeing in Tim & Eric or Awesome Show and had grown up watching on Monty Python, Rose decided he wanted to try applying a narrative to that kind of nonsensical, hard-to-do-well editing format. Rose would go to his day job at the BBC, where he works as a writer on a children’s program, and go home, chopping up footage and figuring out how to move a linear story forward using a non-linear method.
The final product is a series of about six episodes and numerous shorts that should all be watched in one sitting, if possible. It’s an impressive feat; one that Rose was happy to dedicate his year to, and he’s looking forward to doing something similar again soon.
“I feel that it was a response to what I do for a living and writing for other people,” Rose said. “I enjoy doing that, I really love it and it’s my career but I needed something that was mine; something that was properly an expression of me. I feel like I’ve done that. I feel like I stuck to my guns by not trying to make it more mainstream. I want to continue doing stuff on YouTube with the creative freedom and with the creative backing from the people who backed this.
“More in a similar vain, but different at the same time. I think that’s what’s next.”
Mr. Biffo’s Found Footage can be watched in its entirety on YouTube.