“PrankMe is a satirical psychological thriller told in the form of a series of vlogs created by fictional internet prankster, Jasper Perkins,” explains Paul Neafcy, the mind behind .
PrankMe, which aims to dissect this socially-oriented facet of celebrity culture and the trend of boundaryless ‘anything goes’ prank videos, is a lot darker than one may assume from reading a general synopsis of the show. “It basically takes the cruelty of prank culture to the extreme as Jaspar exploits, degrades, and endangers everyone around him in order to satiate his ever-growing audience.”
After creating this concept alongside Jesse Cleverly at Wildseed Studios, the series’ production partner, Neafcy teamed up with his longtime collaborator and friend, Hazel Hayes, who took on the role of refining the commissioned scripts and then continued on to direct the series. “I was brought on board quite early and helped with the last few rewrites of the script just as we began pre production,” explains Hayes. “My favourite bit is that I was asked to ‘rein in’ some of Paul’s more macabre tendencies, but the combination of our dark sides led to the inclusion of some even more chilling scenes.”
The creative team, who have written multiple horror features together in the past, have a symbiotic relationship in terms of writing styles. “The scripts immediately got better with Hazel’s input,” he admits. “I have a tendency to lean towards absurdity and silliness in my writing, but Hazel wanted to play things as real as possible. She’s been in and around YouTube in some capacity for a long time, both working for Google and, of course, running her own channel, so she immediately understood what we were trying to do and had a good feel for the world we were dabbling in.”
Having had all of her previous projects on that very platform, Hayes admits that taking on a project of this scale was a bit daunting. “The script ran to over 120 pages, which is longer than the average feature film, so it was a huge undertaking and I won’t lie, I was absolutely terrified,” she says. “This is the first project that I directed but didn’t create from the start and it felt odd at first. I’m so used to a concept existing in my head for a while that this did feel a bit like I was adopting someone else’s kid. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to ‘bond with it’, as it were. But being a part of the writing process really helped me get invested in the characters and their story, plus, Paul made a point of letting me know that he wanted me on board and that he trusted me completely. So by the time we got to set it very much felt like my baby.”
To say the PrankMe set was a particularly intense shoot would be a bit of an understatement. With just 15 days to get the entire thing, the process was definitely expedited. Generally, an average day consists of shooting 5 pages, on PrankMe they were shooting anywhere from 8 to 18 pages per day. “A project of this size is like a giant puzzle,” explains Hayes speaking to the stress she felt day to day at the helm of this project. “A lot of people work very hard on their specific jobs. The director’s job is to understand the whole puzzle at all times and to make sure all the pieces come together in the exact right way. The main thing I’ve learned is that having a very clear vision of the big picture makes every little decision from beginning to end that bit easier.”
Although there were challenging days on the production side of things, both Neafcy and Hayes agree that the real challenge of this series came from having an inherently unlikeable character at the center of it.
“We need the audience to be invested in him and his story,” she explains. “We only had eight short episodes to take Jasper Perkins from a somewhat annoying prankster to a murderous psychopath. Casting Corey [Fogelmanis] was a huge step in overcoming this. He’s a brilliant actor who can easily play cold and detached, but who also has an innate charm and vulnerability, which helped make Jasper more more compelling to watch. I wanted to keep the show as grounded as possible so that he never becomes a pantomime villain.”
“The series gets pretty dark and regards some highly sensitive issues through the unsympathetic eyes of our protagonist,” Neafcy says expanding on this same idea. “So the real challenge was trying to maintain the balancing act of satirising a point of view without seeming to condone it. I guess we’ll see if we succeeded when it goes in front of an audience and they either get on board or start throwing rotten vegetables at the screen!”