Interview – Mr Biffo/Paul Rose

digitisertheshow

Editors Note: We should emphasise that the humour within this article and within the external links, may be of a nature that is NSFW or unsuitable for those who are small children. Or older children. Or some adults. Or those of a sensitive nature or with medical conditions…just don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Foreword by Hannah Cass and Interview by Martin Harder.

BAFTA award nominated writer Paul Rose is better known in many circles as Mr Biffo. He was the editor of the wildly successful, dare we say legendary, Digitiser Teletext section from 1993-2003 and lives on through his website, Digitiser 2000 and video work…including the namely notorious Found Footage series that aired on YouTube after a sucessful 2017 crowdfunder.
His very…individual sense of humour and imagination has created some varied works; from the transcripts of chat room conversations where he poses as a woman, to Goujon John and even Turner the Worm (subject of a reveal button controversy).
Many in the retro gaming community will have fond memories of Digitiser because, in the days before home internet was the standard, Digitiser has the ability to bring up to date news and reviews about games with a level of immediacy, while other formats were limited to print, and therefore exclusives could only be released daily with the newspapers or on a game magazines release cycle.
Mr Biffo’s controversial and at times risque approach to Digitiser often got him in trouble, with petitions to have himself and the editorial team fired on countless occasions and hauled in to the boss’s office on even more. However, with his teams quirky sense of humour, honest approach to games reviews and ever inventive content, he managed to stick out the course for 10 years much to the delight of the readers.
Now, in 2018, Paul Rose runs the site Digitiser 2000, which re-uses many of the tropes and styles of Digitisers heyday as well as his new project, Digitiser: The Show. Paul successfully raised £44,526 to produce the show, that features top YouTubers and digital stars such as Larry Bundy Jr, Octav1us, Gameplay Jenny and Paul Gannon. With guests lined up that include Ashens and Violet Berlin, it really is a huge undertaking to bring back the gamers game show to the masses.
We at Orange Bison have been lucky enough to speak to Paul and ask him some probing questions (risque pun intended…we like to make our interviewees feel at home) about his past, present and future.

OB: In an interview we conducted recently, Octav1us described her idea of what it’s like in your brain as “a load of rabbits with flamethrowers going mental in a Luton shopping centre”. Would you say this was accurate?

Paul: Hah! Bless her. Probably not far off.

It has only been relatively recently that I’ve had to accept that not everybody is wired the same way I am. I’ve never bothered getting diagnosed, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got ADHD at the very least, so my brain just kind of jumps around from one thought or idea to another, but is also capable of hyper-focus, I get totally lost in something – right now it’s the edit of Digitiser The Show. And then when you string that all together you sort of get Mr Biffo and Digitiser and Found Footage.

I had a lot of people telling me that Mr Biffo’s Found Footage was bizarre, but – as probably the most unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness, project I’ve ever done – that’s my normal. So, the inside of my head looks like Found Footage; a juxtaposition of conflicting, weird, ideas, with an underlying focus stringing it all together!

It was funny, at the end of the Digitiser shoot, one of the crew, Quang – who worked for free, and saved our bacon literally every day – gave everyone on the set a little gift. Mine was a stress ball in the shape of a heart, but he handed it over saying “I didn’t know what to get you, because you’re a very strange man – but you’re the heart of the show”.

I was touched, but I was also taken aback; “Am I strange?!?”.

I dunno. There’s not much I can do about it. My wife is always trying to get me to accept that I’m not normal.

But if I am strange, I think it’s in a pretty harmless, benign, way at least.

OB: Where did the name “Mr. Biffo” originate?

Paul: I wish it was a more interesting story. It’s just taken from the comics character ‘Biffo The Bear’. I didn’t want my real name known, so it was something to hide behind.

OB: What made you decide to turn Digitiser from a standard video game magazine-style format to a surreal comedy page with multiple characters?

Paul: It was boredom really, a way to entertain ourselves. Other magazines were covering video games in a fairly straight way, so what was the point in replicating that? But there wasn’t particularly a decision to do it that way. Myself and Tim Moore, who I wrote Digi with in the early days, just brought out the worst in each other, and encouraged one another’s excesses.

OB: There were campaigns by certain gaming magazines to have you and the Digi writing staff fired. How did this affect your writing at the time?

Paul: I don’t think any magazines campaigned to get us fired, but we certainly had a few feuds. Ironically, I’m now quite friendly with the many of people we took the piss out of. We’re all old now, and we all lived through the 90’s games industry together, so it’s water under the bridge.

OB: Other than the infamous “The real Turner the Worm being sick” incident, is there a particular piece that you’re surprised you got away with?

Paul: Oh, loads. I mean, pretty much all of Digi’s output was just bizarre, looking back. The fact that such utter weirdness was part of something as mundane as Teletext is probably our greatest achievement!

OB: The bigwigs over at Teletext never really understood what made Digi great, and insisted that you remove all the humour from the page. That must have been a bit of a gut punch, surely?

Paul: Yeah, that was a bad year, kicked off at a very bad meeting. It hit me hard, because I was already going through a rough time in my then-marriage anyway, and I got very depressed for a while.

OB: You’ve written for several children’s TV shows, including ‘Sooty’ and the CITV version of ‘The Worst Witch’. Is writing for kids much different than writing for adults?

Paul: Yes and no. It’s different from writing something like Found Footage, which doesn’t have to be structured in the same way, and is just a big splurge of brain-weirdness. I’m very disciplined when it comes to my kids’ TV work, but I do have to contain my more bizarre excesses. Which is ironic, because I think the average 13 year-old would love Found Footage, but I have to get my kids’ TV scripts past adult producers and executives!

At the same time, I enjoy the challenge of structuring a story, and kids’ comedy tends to have a much tighter structure than an adult sitcom. We work for ages on the story, before we even get to the script.

OB: Were you at all surprised by the success of Found Footage?

Paul: That very much depends on your definition of success! I mean, it certainly hasn’t crossed over into the general consciousness in the way something like, say, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared did, but… I wasn’t particularly looking for that. It was a success in the sense that the people who loved it really loved it, and that it’s something I’m very, very proud of.

For me, the joy of doing creative stuff is in the doing of it, working with other people, and having the freedom to realise my vision for it. I’m not really looking for a ‘hit’. So, in that sense, I’m surprised that by what we achieved for such a tiny budget, how much I learned, and how close it was to my original vision for it.

OB: Goujon John has been standing outside my flat, throwing goujons at my window, for the past three weeks. Please can you tell me how to get rid of him? I can barely open my front door thanks to the goujons piling up, and they’re attracting rats.

Paul: DO NOT make eye contact with him. He’ll come along and eat them soon enough.

OB: Can we expect to see a Found Footage season 2?

Paul: Not sure. I think it’d have to be something different. I’ve taken the whole glitchy, VHS thing as far as I can really, and I would want to stretch myself in new ways. I don’t even know if there’s an audience there for more. It was – deliberately – a challenging watch, so I think it was more a one-and-done kind of project.

That’s not to say I won’t revisit some of the stuff in it, but it’d be more contained. The final episode – which we shot like a movie – would be a better signpost to what I might want to do in the future.

Interestingly, I don’t feel that way with Digitiser The Show. With that, I feel as if we’re just getting started.

I’m fortunate having enough people who want to help financially with the things I want to make. I hope they’ll consider backing a second series, because I’m already having ideas for it, based upon what did and didn’t work on series one.

That said, while I think we’ve made something that’s good enough to get on TV – and doesn’t feel like a YouTube project – I’m currently thinking about funding options for doing more.

I love the creative freedom that crowdfunding gives us, but making proper TV is eye-wateringly expensive. Often the money is spent on things that aren’t readily apparent on-screen – feeding everyone, for example… plus we spent thousands on the cameras – so it inevitably means we’re having to compromise continuously.

I’d love to see what I could do with a proper budget, but whether we approach a broadcaster, try to get proper corporate sponsorship, or go the crowdfunding route again… remains to be seen.

OB: You’re bringing back the video game TV show with Digitiser: The Show. What is it about the classic format that you think elevates it above the other gaming channels of the YouTube generation?

Paul: Well, I dunno if we’re replicating a classic format. I don’t think there has ever really been a show like the one we’ve made. It’s a gaming show, by people who love games, but I don’t think it’s inaccessible to people who aren’t into gaming. That’s what I set out to make; something that kind of uses the language of gaming, but not in a way that alienates anyone. I just want it to be fun, and accessible – in a way that Found Footage wasn’t.

Now that I’m deep into the edit, I can see that the thing that we really managed to capture is the chemistry between the hosts, and the enjoyment we had on set making it. I hope that people respond to that, because, for me, that’s what really makes it unique.

Plus, I think my humour is a good mix with people who aren’t entirely tuned into it; that juxtaposition of utter weirdness, and people standing there saying “What?!?” somehow makes it funnier.

I’d never say it to their faces, because I’m, y’know, English. but I really, really love Larry, Ocatv1us, Jenny and Paul. They each bring something different to the table, and on camera the five of us make a sort of dysfunctional little family.

One of my regrets is not doing more segments with all of us on screen. I deliberately limited that, because we’re all pretty new to this, and I didn’t want to overstretch anyone. I needn’t have worried really. We were all knackered by the end, but they all surprised me by how willing they were to do the most ridiculous things, and throw themselves into it.

And we had the most amazing crew; Steve – who directed from behind the camera – my other half, Sanya, who organised everything, our camera team Izzie and Tania, Chris who did the sound, Quang… so many people without whom it could’ve been a disaster. Plus, there are the guests. I’m stunned by how many people wanted to be on the show – the entire Barshens family, Ashens, Imran Yusuf, Big Boy Barry, Steve McNeil, the guys from Videogame Nation… Nostalgia Nerd came for one day and stayed the whole week!

Everyone was relaxed, everyone was pulling in the same direction. I’m beyond proud of what we’ve achieved together.

We were all grieving once it was over.

OB: There was a point in filming Digitiser: The Show where you tweeted that things had gotten too bizarre even for your sense of humour. Octav1us commented about going home and staring at the wall for several minutes after each day of filming, and Nostalgia Nerd seems to be traumatised about something to do with a lobster. How weird is this show going to get?!

Paul: I’m probably the wrong person to ask. My normal is everyone else’s weird, but… there were at least three occasions on set where, yes, even I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. It’s stuff that we really couldn’t have planned for – ideas that were ridiculous in the first instance, that just spiralled out of all control, in ways that none of us could’ve predicted…

Once it was all over, I too spent a week going “Did that just happen?!”

OB: When can we expect to see Digitiser: The Show?

Paul: I’m hoping it’ll be out in early November. But don’t hold me to that!

You can support Paul’s work here on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/digitiser2000

View the trailer for Digitiser: The Show here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_2vJMgc9HA

I have been an avid gamer since the age of four, when my parents gave my sister and I a Binatone TV Master 4 +2, and I've been a retro gamer since well before I knew what a retro gamer actually was. I never "went back" to the old systems - I just never stopped playing them.

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