by Lorie Lewis Ham
Recently I had the chance to watch a very interesting and fun web series called I Gotta Be Me, which involves impersonators of the Rat Pack (if you don’t know who that is, it includes Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.), whom I love! This is an awesome web series I highly recommend watching when it is available to the public. It is also filled with a very diverse cast. Recently I interviewed director and producer of I Gotta Be Me, Steven Bloomer.
KRL: What exactly is I Gotta Be Me? Is it a documentary or fiction?
Steven: I Gotta Be Me is a gonzo rockumentary! It’s a cocktail of fact and fiction in which one character, played by Phaldut Sharma, is an invention living in a world of real people.
KRL: What is the basic premise?
Steven: A frustrated soap star joins a Rat Pack tribute show for a chance to portray his hero Sammy Davis Jr.
KRL: Who is in it?
Steven: Phaldut Sharma plays the lead role—an actor who has appeared in a large variety of films and TV including Eastenders, The Office, and briefly, Gravity. He is surrounded by a wonderful group of ex-pat performers, who are ‘themselves,’ in as much as anyone is really themselves when there’s a camera around.
KRL: What is your role in this project?
Steven: I directed the show, edited it, and developed the storyline with Phaldut.
KRL: Where did the idea come from and what inspired it? And why Rat Pack?
Steven: Phaldut and I had wanted to create something set in the world of Rat Pack impersonators for some time. The Las Vegas legends are emblems of the glittering height of showbiz, but their modern day tributes often perform in the smallest venues, change in kitchens, and entertain disinterested punters, but at the heart of it, both tributes and the originals are in the same business, doing the same role. We found the juxtaposition hilarious at times, but it also says something about the nature of ‘success’.
KRL: Where did you find the actors/performers in this show? Are they all really impersonators?
Steven: They really are. Phaldut met them all a year before we filmed the show, having been asked to go and perform with them on a tour. He felt they were such brilliant characters, and so naturally playful, that he picked up a camcorder and started filming. Beyond his expectations, they played up to the camera brilliantly, so we came back with a film crew!
KRL: What was the hardest part about this project? And the most fun?
Steven: Shoot days were long, with a skeleton crew of three we captured over 180 hours of footage in two weeks. But the hardest aspect has certainly been in post-production and managing fundraising and distribution. The most fun? Working with Phaldut has been a pleasure, from the joys of getting him drunk on camera in Ayia Napa to editing until 4 a.m. in our studio in the heart of London.
KRL: What was the most exciting?
Steven: The majority of the series is real, and so we had no idea what exactly we’d be capturing throughout the tour. This was my and Phaldut’s first time making something together. Our production company had invested £30,000, and we had no idea if this would work or whether we’d come back empty handed. On our return, we spent months trawling through the hours and hours of footage before arriving at our first cut. It had a running time of 2 hours, 46 minutes and needed a serious amount of work before it was anything near the 85 minutes we now have, but we finally felt we might have something. Whether this moment was excitement or relief is debatable, but we definitely took a moment to crack open a beer and jump around the room a bit!
KRL: What is your background in film and entertainment?
Steven: Phaldut has worked in theatre, television, and film as an actor for the last 25 years, and this is his first time as a producer.
Initially I trained and worked as an actor before becoming a theatre writer, and we both met in London in 2010 when he was cast in a play I had written called Boiling Frogs. We’ve collaborated on a number of pieces I’ve written over the years, and we gradually found ourselves sculpting a friendship that nicely bled into a working relationship.
KRL: Who wrote this web series?
Steven: There was very little writing involved. We improvised around themes and ideas that made up our basic story structure. As there couldn’t be any second takes for the majority of the filming, 90% of the series is either reality, improvisation, or a certain amount of playing up to the cameras—sometimes a mixture of all three. Within this sort of creative process naturally some moments are lost, but there were a healthy amount of happy accidents, too.
We were constantly kept on our toes waiting to see what this world of ex-pat tribute artists would offer up to us. That would then inform us as to how we could possibly bounce a story off whatever we caught on film. But for this to work our preparation and research was extensive and included a trip out to Cyprus where Phaldut got involved in a second tour of the show. This in turn allowed me the opportunity to do a reccon on the locations the island had to offer, and more importantly, to familiarize myself with the group and visa versa, so we felt comfortable with one another before filming began a few months later.
KRL: I love the diversity in this show. Please share the race of each performer and what role they play? What made you decide to go this way? Why do you feel this is important?
Steven: From the mass exodus of British ethnic minority actors leaving the U.K. to try their luck in the U.S., to the #OscarsSoWhite Twitter campaign, diversity has been a hot topic of debate over recent years. Phaldut shares the same heritage as his semi-fictional character ‘Paul Shah,’ a London born British Guyanese of Indian origin who grew up in Wales, portraying Sammy Davis Jr., an African American Puerto Rican who converted to Judaism. This was a premise that allowed us to explore identity and representation within the TV and film industry, and we wanted to shed light on the issue while making light of it. You might like to have a read of the following link: www.igottabeme.net/sammy.
The remaining group are British born ex-pats, and our Dean Martin impersonator Andrea Morelli is a Greek Cypriot immigrant of Italian/Scots descent who really was a finalist in the hit British TV talent show Stars in Your Eyes.
While we were over there filming, it soon became apparent that this world we had discovered would be a gift that just kept giving, and if you left the cameras running for long enough, you’d be constantly surprised at the interactions you’d have with all sorts of wonderful and quirky individuals. The Cypriot woman selling alcohol that she swears cures impotence in episode 9 and the slightly racist, but friendly Dutch disk jockey who interviews our tribute artists live on radio in Episode 3, are two such examples. There was so much more that ended up on the cutting room floor, but we had to be brutal.
KRL: Which one of the Rat Pack is your personal favorite and favorite song?
Steven: Sammy Davis Jr. “Mr Bojangles.” His live performance and portrayal of the title character is storytelling at its best.
KRL: What was your goal with this web series?
Steven: We wanted to create something that celebrated the wonderful group of performers we had met out in Cyprus, and in doing so, question some of the easy judgements that are so prevalent in much reality TV. And we wanted to make people laugh.
KRL: You mentioned that the web series is being shown at festivals. How is that going and where all have you been and are you going?
Steven: IGBM has predominantly been a passion project, and this November 2017, it will be six years since we began work on it. We attended our first web festival Pilot Light last month in Manchester, and we’ll be attending The Dub Web Fest in Ireland later this year. The festival director Mikael Thierry, who saw the series recently, has invited us to host a panel and chat about how IGBM came to be, so we’re looking forward to that in November. We’ve also been accepted in to the Sicily Festival, and our first official screening in London last summer, July 2016, was attended by Sky head of comedy Tilusha Ghelani and commissioning editor of BBC3 comedy Sarah Asante. Both really enjoyed the series, and we met with Sarah to discuss future projects.
KRL: Do you anticipate at some point people being able to watch the whole web series?
Steven: We certainly hope so. Watch this space!
KRL: How can people keep up with what you are doing so they know when/if it does become available?
You can also learn more on their website.