To make their new Nine comedy True Story work Hamish and Andy had to place all their trust in their Radio Karate producers.
All the casting of interview subjects had to be done without any of their involvement so that hearing the story unfold would capture authenticity while the cameras were rolling.
“It was terrifying!” Hamish Blake explains. “Easily the scariest part of the show. Nobody would have known if we’d ‘cheated.'”
“But we realise now how critical it is. It’s kind of the whole show. The heart of the show is the conversation with Andy and I, learning things at the same pace as the audience.”
Each episode features an unknown Aussie sharing an incident from their past with the duo mesmerised with a story they have never heard before. After the studio component was completed, there was 4 months of scripting and production to bring the tales to life with actors.
“‘Just tell us and we will pretend we didn’t hear it!'”
But Blake says the concept would never have worked so well if they had known the stories in advance.
“In the lead-up we were hanging around the office and all the whiteboards were covered up, and we couldn’t walk in without the rumbling of stuff… Of course you want to say ‘Just tell us!’ It was a massive temptation to say ‘Just tell us and we will pretend we didn’t hear it!’
“But I’m so glad we didn’t.”
A who’s-who of Australian performers appear in the re-enactments including Craig McLachlan, John Wood, Glenn Robbins, Colin Lane, Ed Kavalee, Brian Nankervis, Shareena Clanton, Luke McGregor, and Kitty Flanagan. Neither Hamish nor Andy appear in the re-enactments, which come with their own comedic embellishments.
“Sadly our extent is doing an interview with the people and writing the dramatisations,” Blake admits.
“It’s almost like it’s our imagination.
“It’s essentially Andy and I picturing this story as they’re telling it. So it looks real but there are definitely times when you can’t stick to 100% reality.
“(We thought about) what’s the best way to bring to life someone’s true story?
“It’s not ground-breaking, there’s probably 10,000 shows that use re-enactments! I think 60 Minutes did one the other night. Banged Up Abroad is a whole franchise.”
“Everyone sitting in that seat is just there for the joy of telling a good story.”
But while the show intercuts with re-enactments, it is the studio interview that underpins each half-hour episode and reminds us everyone has a story to tell.
Blake says the Radio Karate team, led by Ryan Shelton and Tim Bartley unearthed talent through Hamish & Andy’s extensive social media following. Not all of the interviews filmed will make it to air.
“We filmed more than we used just to have a bit of a safety net.
“A lot of people thought it was for radio, or they didn’t know what it was for. We were lucky we had that reach through social media and podcasting. They’re always so engaged, such a great crowd,” says Blake.
“Without getting too touchy feely, everyone sitting in that seat is just there for the joy of telling a good story. There’s no prize, no cooking deal.
“A lot of the time they had to be cajoled to be on TV. But we assured them it would be fun.”
Indeed, there were some who were lucky enough to attend the shooting of their own stories with famous faces assuming real-life roles. Blake recalls one New Zealander who visited a set in Melbourne doubling for Dunedin.
“He turned up and said ‘This is the weirdest day of my life. You have no way of knowing what my house or my friends look like, but this is eerily accurate.’
“I can imagine it would be quite surreal to turn up on set and there are 50 people standing around making sure they recreate a moment in your life accurately.”
“We turned down money and development deals”
True Story also marks the return to television of the larrikin duo after taking their own ‘gap year’ from TV production.
“Not to be too dramatic about it but we turned down money and development deals and retainers,” Blake explains.
“We said, ‘If we have space maybe it will take 5 years to come up with something we like. Maybe it will take 1. But when we do, we will talk to you.’
“We didn’t want to take someone’s money and get to September and realise we’d been playing xBox and hadn’t thought of a TV show!
“Essentially it came back to ‘What do we love doing the most?’
“For us it was hearing someone tell a funny, true story.”
True Story with Hamish & Andy airs 7:30pm Monday on Nine.