Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Untold Studios’ Iona Goulder on Reimagining Fairy Tales for E4: "The Comedy Has to Breathe”

Creative Production Studio
London, UK
LBB sits down with Untold Studios’ creative director Iona Goulder to find out how the studio created E4’s new mini-series, ‘Once Upon a What?!’

What happens when you bring some of the UK comedy scene’s most exciting talent together with primary school children to reimagine traditional fairy tales? This is the question Iona Goulder, creative director at Untold Studios, was thinking about when the London and LA-based creative studio pitched the idea for “Once upon a What?!” - a new mini-series of three six-minute films for E4, which the studio developed and produced. 

First to take to the classroom was Munya Chawawa in December, where he reimagined Hansel and Gretel, followed by Alhan Gençay at the start of 2022 who tackled The Sword in the Stone. In late January, Amelia Dimoldenberg of ‘Chicken Shop Dates’ acclaim came head-on with Cinderella in the series’ final instalment. 

Filmed on location in a South London primary school, Untold Studios’ original content team takes audiences back to school with an emphasis on rewriting what we’ve been told is true. Here, LBB took the opportunity to find out how the series came to be, what it was like working with comedians and children, and how Untold Studios is shaping up the future of original content in what Iona calls a ‘competitive’ moment for the team. 

Reimagining the classics 

It’s a tricky task to make something both adults and children will find funny, but it was a challenge Iona and her team were keen to take on. “We always think about how we can approach formats in an unconventional way,” she tells LBB. “How can we come up with something fresh and exciting? The channel expressed a real interest in wanting to do something in comedy with children in it, and we landed on this as a fun way of making something relevant to grown-ups and kids as well.” To add to the boundary-crossing nature of its audience, Untold Studios worked with Emma Ehrling to add 2D animation to the films, something that plays into the childlike nature of the content. 

While the films are unscripted, it was important that there was still a narrative to the story. “Kids reacting to stuff is always funny because of the unpredictability of it, so this project was about building on that to create something with a bit more narrative and introducing these old, outdated stories as a part of that,” says Iona. 

LBB was eager to find out how the team at Untold Studios matched each comedian with their fairy tale. For Amelia’s film, it was an easy decision: “She’s a comedian whose whole schtick in her comedy is that she can’t find a boyfriend, so to retell Cinderella with kids talking about relationships and love, and to create an environment where she could play on that, and where the kid’s responses would prompt her comedy as well, was a priceless decision.”

No two comedians are the same, so how did Untold Studios approach working with each comedian in this format? Iona says it was all about allowing the comedy to shine through: “With this style, the more you can let the comedy breathe, the more pregnant pauses you can have, the better. You can’t script that.” 

With the films featuring three comedians who are in a moment of career growth and growing acclaim, Iona tells LBB how the key to Untold Studios’ mission is spotting emerging talent and helping them grow. As Iona points out, for every year Untold Studios has been in business, they’ve worked with the winners of someone of BBC Sound Of the Year for the last three years: Celeste, Pa Salieu, and Pink Pantheress. With Untold Studios’ expertise across music, advertising, and TV, Iona says: “What's been so exciting from the start is being able to draw on other parts of the business to feed into what we do in originals.” 

And the films highlight what we can expect to see from Untold Studios’ original content team in 2022: “More unscripted, more thinking outside the box, and more unconventional takes on formats that innovate otherwise traditional spaces content,” says Iona. 

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