When the Microsoft Surface team created a mini-series bringing to life how the Surface Duo can help people manage their busy lives, the product was used behind the scenes as much as in front of the camera.
Duo became a vital tool to ensure that In The Balance, a five-episode comedy drama that was released on YouTube last week, was written, filmed and released on time – to the delight of a social audience.
Daisy Allsop, one of the writers, used Duo to stay connected with the production team.
“I used Surface Duo during the writing of the script,” she said. “It was crucial to have it in my hands and get to grips with it to inspire some ideas. We had all our creative meetings on Microsoft Teams, so I did those with the Duo on my desk. It’s quite a simple thing but it’s really easy to put it down and talk on a video call wherever you are, unlike a phone, which you have to hold, or a laptop, which you wouldn’t always have in your hand.”
In The Balance tells the story of Lisa, who is juggling her home life while unlocking a work mystery at her first day in a new job. The situation forces her to jump between various roles at work and at home, all with the support of the Surface Duo to meet the challenges that come her way.
The series stars Lily Frazer (who appeared in Motherland, Ladhood and most recently the Bafta-nominated UK thriller Saint Maud), Amit Shah (Last Christmas and Johnny English Strikes Again), Alexandra Moen (Dublin Murders and Doctor Who) and Seb Cardinal (Cardinal Burns). It was written by Allsop (Orthodox and Skellig) and Jess Bray, who is working on script commissions from Channel 4 and directed by Marley Morrison (winner of the Audience Film Award at Glasgow Film Festival for her debut film, Sweetheart).
The series was written and shot in London in just a few weeks. Because of the tight schedule, it was crucial that the writing, filming and production ran like clockwork. Duo helped the team every step of the way.
Stu Hallybone is a Creative Director at Assembly who worked on In The Balance from start to finish. He oversaw the creative output, guiding the team in editing and quality control.
“The Duo helped us come up with ideas,” he said. “While watching and listening to music videos for inspiration on one screen, I was able to sketch and note down thoughts for the series on the second screen at the same time. The way you can combine apps on the Duo like that is really clever.
“It’s very easy to use and, as an Android phone user, I installed my favourite apps and sent emails in no time. I liked how the Duo felt in my hands, it was a good weight, and the sound of it closing was nice; also, Peek Mode [gives you at-a-glance information about your phone just by opening the device a little bit] is genius.”
For Bray, the Duo helped her creative process as she was writing the script. “When I came on board the first thing I did was to go away with Daisy’s drafts and rewrite any sections I thought could do with streamlining,” she said. “After the more structural changes had been made it was all about drawing out the comedy – my favourite bit! Balancing the fun with the plot was a big task, and we had some great meetings via Microsoft Teams to make sure we got that right.
“Jess and I hadn’t worked together before but we had an easy to and fro sending the script back and forth, finding what the voices of these characters would be. It was a real coup to attach Marley Morrison as director, too. I loved her feature Sweetheart and knew she’d bring some real heart and quirky humour to it.
“It was about six weeks from my first conversation about In The Balance, to being on set, so it was quite a whirlwind. I had a great time getting to grips with the Duo. I mainly used it to inspire the story of the protagonist, Lisa, who, just like the Duo, makes spinning multiple plates look relatively easy.”
Bray and Allsop certainly wrote Lisa as a mum struggling to cope with too many demands on her time. She starts a new remote job on the day of a big product launch, her twins are being home-schooled because of lockdown, the neighbours keep bringing baked goods, the cat needs to be fed, and her husband Simon is out helping his mother home from hospital. He is due to buy a cake and costumes in time for the kids’ birthday party.
Xandri, Lisa’s new boss, moves the time of the new product launch to clash with the birthday party, the cat goes missing, Simon is delayed, and Lisa is trying to politely decline another slice of banana bread supplied by her bored neighbours.
She then discovers something is terribly wrong with Xandri’s new product. Xandri finally admits that the product launch is being sabotaged by an unknown antagonist, so Lisa suggests they help each other, expose the saboteur and save the day.
“The creatives on this project had come up with such a cool concept,” Allsop said. “It was an incredibly fun and creative challenge to extrapolate out from the central idea and turn it into a script in an extremely fast turnaround. Ironically, getting this job threw my working parent life even further out of balance, just like Lisa. That obviously made for plenty of fodder for the script.”
Bray added: “There was a brilliant scene Daisy had thought up of Lisa sliding sandwiches under a door to her twin daughters, who were locked inside. When I received the Duo and noticed how thin it was, I had the idea to use that dual-screen feature and have Lisa slide the Duo under the door so the kids could watch something while she looked up how to pick a lock.”
Now that the series has been released, Bray and Hallybone intend to keep using the Surface Duo.
“We are always on the move and looking for inspiration,” Hallybone said. “The extra screen on the Duo means there is always something new that can be swiped in so you can use it to help with your latest idea. It also helps me keep track of my meetings, too!”
Bray added: “I was shocked by how thin and sleek the Duo’s design was,” Bray said. “It felt like it was designed with the user in mind and I could see how well it would slot into my everyday life. I also found the dual-screen feature really exciting: Finally, a way to sort through my inbox and catch up on last night’s TV. Win win!”