As a title, Scattered works on three levels. Three 20-something Melburnians wake up on the day their late friend Wil’s ashes were meant to be scattered. But after a night out to celebrate his life, they’re a little worse for wear – and they’ve lost Wil’s urn. Retracing their scrambled memories as best they can, the trio have a few hours to shelve their hangovers and emotions, and find Wil before anyone notices he’s gone.
But it’s the third layer that’s the most attention-grabbing. Scattered – the latest in a slate of Australia-made TikTok shows and the first funded by Film Victoria and Screen Australia – is a drama that comprises 38 one-minute episodes, any one of which could pop up on your For You Page.
“When people sit down to binge a Netflix show, they kind of know what they’re coming in for,” says Scattered co-producer Michelle Melky. “When they’re scrolling through TikTok, they’re not expecting to get served a show. If you want them to watch, you have one second to [pique] their interest.”
Scattered’s 4K footage, Euphoria-indebted neon lighting and animated sequences certainly stand out on TikTok and its sea of lo-fi videos of teenagers performing awkward dances in bedrooms. But what really ties the show to the app are the pointedly Gen Z leads.
Nearly halfway through season one, Scattered’s main characters – the boisterous Sami, queer party boy Bo, and Wil’s more uptight childhood friend Jules – are broadly drawn. Their fashion choices and styling are stand-ins for personalities that are hard to flesh out in bite-sized episodes, even with the actors’ talents. There’s just a lot going on: as the trio try to find Wil’s urn, the series is filled with flashbacks of their previous day, from the funeral to mini-golf to drag kings.
On one level, cramming a story about grief and queer love into 38 one-minute episodes feels like it’s too much. On another, each episode is overstimulating and a perfect match for the chaos on TikTok. Kate Darrigan, one of Scattered’s three writers (alongside Adolfo Aranjuez and Logan Mucha, the latter of whom also directed the show), says that the main driving force behind Scattered was to make sure each and every moment counted.
“Initially, I saw one minute as very limiting,” she says, but “it can create creativity within your work, because you’re having to come up with solutions.
“Sometimes you’d get quite frustrated, because you’re like, ‘Oh my god, how am I going to have a hook in this episode?’ ’Cause there’s 38 episodes and that’s 37 hooks. But having those limitations was quite freeing, oddly.”
“It’s TikTok today, it’ll be something else tomorrow”
Scattered wasn’t originally conceived to be shown on TikTok, but the team went down that route after Melky and co-producer Hayley Adams suggested it following the success of Love Songs, their TikTok narrative series. After its 21 episodes hit more than 12million views on the app, Tinder partnered with Love Songs for its recently concluded second season, which stars Aussie TikTok influencers.
Love Songs and Scattered are just two of a slew of narrative shows popping up on social media. Love Songs director Imogen McCluskey has also created the (similarly titled but different) Instagram series Love Bug, which, filmed during last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns, relies largely on FaceTime and screengrabs, embracing the vertical format.
And TikTok show The Formal focuses on two queer Australian teenagers who fall for each other over 10 one-minute episodes. That was made on a budget partially from TikTok itself, after the production won $5,000 from a competition to create a pilot episode designed for the platform. Now, season two is in the works, with an audience of 107,000 followers waiting.
Still, NME can’t help asking Melky, “why?” If the likes of Scattered and Love Songs aren’t necessarily what people scroll through TikTok for, and the one-minute constraints make it hard to pull off without sacrificing character depth or plot, then is ‘TikTok TV’ just a little too counterintuitive?
For Melky, it’s less about the platform than the community and eyeballs it offers – especially for emerging Australian filmmakers, who can’t simply clinch a Netflix, Stan or ABC deal off the bat.
“You’re competing against a massive global pool of content, but you’re also getting the opportunity to get in front of a massive global audience, which no other platform right now is providing,” she says.
“To get big on YouTube now, that’s a five-year investment to get maybe 50,000 subscribers. Every now and then there’s an outlier, but doing what we do, it’s very hard to build an audience on YouTube or Instagram… Snapchat is [making] webseries, which is amazing, but they produce in-house. If you’re an indie filmmaker and you want to get your work seen, TikTok is a platform where you can get views. It can happen.”
Besides, Scattered’s target audience is already on TikTok, which skyrocketed in popularity last year to become the seventh-biggest social network in the world, with 689million active users worldwide as of January 2021.
In Australia, the app’s user base has exploded in the last year, with more than 2.5million Australians regularly using it, over 60 per cent of them women or girls. And a whopping 70 per cent – around 1.75million – are Gen Z or younger. These are numbers that traditional TV simply can’t compete with. And so for Melky, TikTok is a no-brainer.
“I love making stuff for teenage girls,” she says. “And what do teenage girls do all the time? They’re on the internet. And with Scattered, it’s really important to me as well to help elevate marginalised voices.
“Scattered is a queer story. [We were] able to essentially distribute a show made by queer creators on a platform where it’s going to get views – [and] TikTok [is] the new queer corner of the internet, where young people are going to connect and express themselves.”
“I love making stuff for teenage girls. And what do teenage girls do all the time? They’re on the internet”
Of course, the internet moves fast. While Melky and Adams have now made three seasons of TikTok shows, they’re already looking beyond the app. Like countless other TikTok users, they’re hoping to launch a much more substantial career beyond TikTok-based virality, from Bella Poarch developing a pop music career to the Hype House signing a deal for a Netflix reality show. Scattered is almost a proof-of-concept for the next big project – regardless of the platform it’s on.
“It’s TikTok today, it’ll be something else tomorrow,” Melky says. “It’s more about getting to that audience for me – and if that means it’s one-minute vertical shows, then it’s one-minute vertical shows. If it turns to five-minute square episodes on some new buzzword app – sure. Whatever.
“It’s about getting to that audience, getting those views. And those views help us take that next step as filmmakers, like working with Tinder or working with Screen Australia, Film Victoria – that’s what’s going to get us that next step.”
New episodes of Scattered premiere daily at 2pm AEST on TikTok