Amelia Gething: "Embrace your own creativity"

The breakout star of the Amelia Gething Complex speaks with Billie Collins about her BBC smash hit, striking the random-funny balance, and learning on the job

28 January 2021

TikTok and YouTube are reliable platforms for the latest dance craze or makeup tutorial, but they’ve also allowed emerging creators to break out as writers and directors without the constraints of budget or creative compromise.

22-year-old Amelia Gething has 7 million TikTok followers. Follower count may not be perfectly comparable with television viewing figures, but that doesn’t make it less powerful. In fact, the folks at BBC Children’s division picked up on the immense popularity of her surreal comedy sketches and commissioned her very own sketch show: The Amelia Gething Complex. With a second series currently underway, the show demonstrates how major channels are adapting to cater for young audiences that are increasingly moving away from broadcast TV.

Alongside helming a sketch show, Amelia recently appeared in Starz’ historical drama The Spanish Princess with Laura Carmichael, and has a slate of exciting projects in the pipeline. I wanted to know what it’s like for Amelia to go from writing sketches in her bedroom to a professional writers’ room, and how she took her audience from TikTok to telly.

You started making videos on YouTube and TikTok (back when it was Musical.ly!) How did you get into it, and did you think it would lead to a TV show?

Ha, no! At first, I only showed my videos to friends and family. It was back when BlackBerries were a thing – my friend had one, and it had this stop-start feature so you could pause and then continue recording. I made loads of stop-motion videos and used all her storage. I carried on making videos with my brother, and when I found out about YouTube I realised I could share them somewhere.

I tried to have a YouTube career 4 times, but it wasn’t happening. Then later on, I started using Musical.ly; the app had just launched, so it wasn’t that big, but I picked up some followers. It was kind of frustrating in a way – as soon as I gave up, the followers started coming through!

Like, ‘what time d’you call this, guys?’

‘A bit late!’ But once I got a decent number of followers, I felt like I could try YouTube again and make my own content. Back then, Musical.ly or TikTok was basically just lip-syncing to other people’s work.

There’s a lot of competition on those platforms with people vying for views. How do you make your videos stand out?

It’s about embracing your own creativity. A lot of people on YouTube or other platforms try to jump on trends. It’s better to embrace your strengths. I’ve always tended to avoid those trends and done my own thing. Initially, I was worried I wouldn’t get an audience because of that, but I’d rather build things up over time and find a true creative outlet than experience the temporary high offered by a trend.

The BBC saw your videos and commissioned The Amelia Gething Complex. How did that come about?

It was very surreal. I’d had a few meetings with different companies who were saying they wanted to do something, and by that point I’d realised that just because someone says they want to do something, doesn’t mean it’ll happen. So, when the BBC got in touch I thought, ‘this is cool,’ but didn’t get my hopes up.

At first, they just wanted to make a female-focused sketch show, but as we developed it, they started pushing to do something based on my YouTube sketches, which are all in this surreal comedy style. I met with the producer and the executive producer of the show, Sid Cole, and we had fun mucking about with ideas. It sounds conceited, but gradually it ended up being ‘my’ show. We developed the pilot, got commissioned for a series, and then for a second series which was even better!

When making YouTube content, you have lots of creative control. With TV there are producers, script editors and so on – lots of people, lots of opinions. Is that a difficult transition to make?

It was tricky because I was used to doing everything myself. But it was also great, because I didn’t know anyone in the industry when I was starting out, so I’d be writing alone in my room. Now when I go into writers’ rooms, everyone’s firing off all these ideas. Working in a team is just more fun than working on your own.

Can you describe the scripting process for the show?

The producer and I will come up with a theme for the episode – for example, money troubles – and the backbone of the story. We brief all the writers, myself included, and we go away and write sketches, ideas or toplines. Then we come together and see what sketches fit the storyline we’ve chosen, and how we might bend the storyline to fit the sketches we like.

Once we’ve done that, we structure the episode and see if we can make links between the sketches. We love running themes, jokes and little Easter eggs. Then, as the 4 main cast members play all the characters, we work out who can play which part, and we have a script.

I love the show’s absurdity – the possessed toaster episode is a personal favourite (I’m suspicious of my kettle…) Is there ever an idea that’s too weird?

I think if there is ever an idea that’s too weird it’s going to come from me, because I’m the least experienced writer in the room. Honestly though, most of the really wacky ideas that I’ve presented have been taken onboard, though the producer might shape them a little to fit the episode. The whole show is so wacky anyway, so no, there’s nothing that’s too crazy. As long as it’s not offensive, it’s fine!

Though you say you’re the least experienced writer in the room, I suppose you really know your audience in a way those more experienced or older writers perhaps don’t?

When I say least experienced, I mean in a professional setting. I have years of experience of writing, but it’s just been in my own home, to my own audience. Now I’ve done a few shows, I’ve learned a lot. Even just seeing proper scripts. When I started writing for YouTube, I’d just jot ideas down on a notepad. It’s nice now having the knowledge of what a proper script looks like, how to lay it out and all the right language.

What’s the most valuable thing that you learned from completing the first season?

I’m going to go pretty basic and just say learning how TV works. I’m interested in every department, so I’m always asking people about their jobs. I never went to acting school or anything like that, so I had to pick it up as I went along. It’s both exciting and interesting to see the whole process of filming and taking things from paper to screen.

You’ve been filming series 2 during lockdown – how has that been?

It’s so mad. We did 10 episodes for the first series but had to cut down to 8 for series 2 to budget for all the coronavirus measures. The cast and I were in a bubble so that we could interact on screen as normal, but we couldn’t go up and talk to anyone else unless we were shouting at them from a distance. We did our own hair and makeup, which was a challenge for me. I’ll have to wait until it comes out to see if my eyeliner’s all wonky!

Also, when you’re doing a comedy show, obviously you’re trying to be funny. The crew aren’t allowed to laugh during takes because of the noise, but when they’re in masks, you can’t even see them smile – so you have no idea if you’re doing a good job!

As someone used to making your own content at home, what’s your advice for those struggling to feel creative during lockdown?

During the first lockdown I had an awful time. This time I’ve been using it to get through all the stuff that was building up because I’ve been so busy. Now those things are starting to clear away, my mind also feels clearer, so I’m having more ideas. One positive is that we have an excuse to watch as much TV as we want, and it’s a nice opportunity to watch shows that I wouldn’t normally watch.

Would you like to try anything else moving forward?

I’d love to try directing at some point. I don’t think I’m experienced enough yet, but when I’m on set I’m always asking questions and trying to learn about it. And more writing, acting, and creating – whether that’s comedy or not. I’ve only done a few things so far – I’m still very new to the whole thing!