The World of New Zealand Web Series – or – New Zealand Film #NotJustHobbits

Flock of sheep, New Zealand, Pacific

Captive audience.

One of my many jobs in the US is writing a column on web series for the LA Weekly. I often do additional articles for the blog extension of the column — The Tangled Web We Watch — including this one on web series in NZ. Figured it might be a nice addition to this guide if you are looking to learn more about the entertainment industry in NZ before your trip OR want to watch some local film makers’ work.

Web series are becoming  popular all over the world. From Marseilles to Vancouver to Hollywood, festivals are popping up to celebrate the genre and award exceptional shows.

I just got back from my honeymoon in New Zealand (I’m actually a Kiwi transplant from Christchurch myself), so of course I started asking myself — what’s it like to create web series in NZ?

Sure Aotearoa may have made a name for itself in the film industry as the location of Kiwi Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series and the shooting location of the next three Avatar movies, but with limited local industry opportunities, few TV channels and film funding available only for approved subject matter, aspiring film makers on this island of 4.4 million are turning their creative energies to the web with increasing enthusiasm.

And the GOVERNMENT is helping fund them — up to NZ $100k per series! Holy cow.

Fiona Powell

Fiona Powell

But where can current and future eyeballs go to see all these series? Luckily, award-winning magazine editor and publisher, film maker and entrepreneur Fiona Powell has created a sleek platform for NZ to show off its best and its brightest:  Web Series Channel – NZ’s home of indie web TV.  CLICK HERE to read my interview with Fiona about everything going on in digital on the Land of the Long White Cloud.

What was the watershed moment that made you realize you had to create a website to host New Zealand’s indie web series?

The idea developed over time when I was interviewing a growing number of web series creators for our Viewfinder magazine (for NZ indie film and video creators). It seemed many creators were putting all their time, energies and funds into producing a web series, but often had run out of energy or didn’t know where to start to grow an audience, and promote and market their web series once it was finished. Many of them didn’t have a plan to generate revenue from their shows; it was more of a case of let’s just make it.

And along with that when I was looking for creators to interview it was difficult to actually find NZ web series; so if I was having trouble finding them, then audiences would really struggle. (We have about 50 shows on our site now – so there is a good amount of NZ content).

The logical solution was to create a ‘one stop shop’ where audiences could discover all NZ web series in one place; and that way the various web series could leverage off each other, and the web series format could also become better known in NZ. It’s a win-win for creators and audiences.

webserieschannel

What’s your story? How did you become interested in entertainment and then specifically digital entertainment?

My background is in publishing magazines, print and digital, and in digital media.
I’ve recently completed 4 years of part-time study for a Diploma of Digital Film because I’ve always had a desire to ‘make a doco’. And about the time I started the course, I started living on a small island near Auckland, NZ, and I thought I’d love to make a web series about living on an island.

I took over the Viewfinder and relaunched it in 2013 – and I started getting a lot more involved in the film and video scene in NZ. We tend to cover micro-budget and crowdfunded projects; and web video and mobile movie making and transmedia projects; rather than feature filmmaking.

A NZ FREERIDE STORY Web Series – Epsisode One:

Are there any web series in NZ that aren’t indie web series?

Not really! There are some branded ‘how to’ series like Telcom’s Tech in a Sec Series and Mitre 10’s Easy As series.

Does the average person in NZ know what a web series is? Do they watch YouTube?

No – I don’t think the majority of NZers know what a web series is or subscribe to YouTube channels, judging by low numbers of subscribers for most local channels; but we aim to change that!

The most subscribed NZ YT channels are:
Jamie’s World (776,589 subs ) –vlog by 17 yr old by Jamie Curry:

Shaaanxo (722,982 subs) – beauty/makeup by 20 yr old vlogger Shannon Harris

The subscription numbers drop dramatically after these top two; for example the 3rd top subscribed channel (Peter Jackson) has only 220K subscribers, and the 8th top channel has only 80K subscribers.

Do you think there is something unique about NZ web series as opposed to other places around the world?

Our kiwi accents are pretty unique!

The web series we’re seeing are quite diverse – and more diverse than NZ films or TV – mainly because most of our films are funded through the NZ Film Commission and so must fulfill a number of criteria. Web series offer local filmmakers the opportunity to make whatever they want to, without being limited by the funding body’s rules.

NZers are famous for their ‘No 8 wire’ mentality – (Kiwi ingenuity); and I think that’s reflected in the web series we’re seeing; creators are just making their own web series and not waiting for funding or sponsorship, or even crowdfunding. They’re pulling in favours and making them on zero budgets – though that’s not entirely unique to NZ.

What are some of your favorite web series (NZ and international)?

I first ‘discovered’ web series thanks to ‘The Broadroom’ by Candace Bushnell (2009), as a Sex and the City fan way back then I was hungry for more; and intrigued by these ‘shows online’ and I could see the huge potential because it was sponsored by Maybelline.

For its ‘epicness’ I love Wastelander Panda from Australia and also because of their background story of getting a web series launched, funded etc (all creators should share this stuff – it is truly inspiring); you can read the first post on this series on Ted Hope’s blog.

I liked Couple Time – as proof you don’t need big sets or huge crews etc. High Maintenance is one that’s mentioned the most among filmmakers here.

I love ALL NZ web series (of course!) – and particularly Flat3 and High Road because they made their first series on zero budgets and have gone on to be successfully funded for future series from NZ On Air – so they proved themselves! The actors in High Road are also well known TV actors, so it’s very polished.

HIGH ROAD – EPISODE ONE:

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see in web series — what makes you turn one off? And vice versa — what’s something that keeps you watching?

I’m a prude, so bad language is a turn-off, and so is ‘school boy’ humour and sexism. These aren’t necessarily mistakes, because the whole point of web series is to push boundaries, but I’d prefer that creators were clever rather than using poor taste to get a laugh.

In NZ we don’t have fast broadband – so if a video doesn’t stream well, I’ll probably give up on it (which means most videos on Vimeo).

I don’t think high production values are critical if you have an engaging story and believable actors.

The series that keep me watching are usually fast-paced; well-edited and clever or quirky – with good acting.

I’d love to see more web series that push the boundaries not only in content – but HOW they deliver that content and story; across lots of platforms and getting audiences involved. Akld Daze did this by asking their followers on Facebook to submit lines for its characters (jokes, one liners etc) before each episode.

I hope web series don’t become just ‘TV online’, when there is the potential to be something completely different. I read somewhere about how the early days of TV shows were just ‘radio with pictures’ until the use of more than one camera was explored. I believe the same will happen with web series – we’ll see them evolve to a whole new level as we innovate more.

For example; I don’t think web series need to have a weekly release schedule (like the traditional TV model) – why not release a whole bunch of episodes together or let the audience decide?

How do you think the characteristics of the NZ film industry and media consumption habits affect filmmakers desire to make web series specifically?

I think the main attractions are the immediacy and the potential for bigger audiences and building a community – and for the web series to be a spring board to other (sometimes unknown) opportunities.

An example here is the web series Flat3; created by three actors (who were looking for work, and tired of been typecast) and a successful NZ feature and short filmmaker (writer/director) who teamed up to produce their first series on a zero budget. They decided rather than sit around and wait for work, they’d make their own comedy series.
The series was well received, so they crowdfunded the second series for about $5k. They applied for funding through NZ On Air’s digital fund for their third series and successfully received $100k. By making their own web series they showcased their skills – and eventually got paid for all their hard work.

They’ve also created a loyal community of fans, which they nurture with social media, – who are keen for more shows – and this can’t be achieved with short films so much.

They told me they decided on a web series rather than a short film format, because of the immediacy and low production costs. They loved the idea of posting it online and have it seen by anybody in the world with an internet connection.

The creator of High Road said he liked the idea of simple, fast stories – whereas he would never have been able to commit to getting a feature film finished.

WOODVILLE PILOT:

Can you tell me more about who is funding web series in New Zealand – other than the obvious self-funded series. Are brands becoming interested? Why do you thing NZ On Air started its digital fund?

I think NZ On Air realized that audiences were consuming more content online; we’re not watching TV so much anymore – and that’s why they created the digital fund.

To date, only NZ On Air (the government broadcast funding agency) has funded web series. They started in 2009 with (the Emmy award winning) Reservoir Hill (screened on TVNZ On Demand platform) and Wolvesblade (online).

In 2011 they funded Auckland Daze (screened on TVNZ On Demand platform).
In 2012 they funded Woodville and Hook Ups smaller amounts (approx $45k), and also The Factory (in conjunction with Telecom) – but for these shows a broadcaster was not required, and these shows went straight online.

Last year they announced funding for another four web series ($100k each) where again a broadcaster is not involved/required and these shows will go straight online.

We’re hoping brands will come on board with web series; to me it’s a no-brainer – why spend money on producing a beautiful 30 second TV commercial and then pay the same amount to networks to screen it – when for half that amount they could produce a six series show that people want to watch. It requires a new way of thinking for the brands and old habits die hard.

Where do you think media consumption and the digital industry is headed?

Definitely the internet for consumption; consumers expect to have access to content anytime and anywhere. (NZ free to air TV recently went digital – I know of a few people who haven’t bothered switching over, so the only way they watch TV shows is now via TVNZ’s On Demand (online) service.)

Monetizing the content is the biggest challenge; (just as it is for the publishing industry) – getting audiences to pay for the content they’ve enjoyed online for free.

I think we’ll see new ways of thinking for monetizing, rather than the same old models of subscription or advertising – there’s plenty of scope for innovation in this area.

I believe curation will continue to grow and evolve; with more indie networks curating content in specific niches – that will then enable advertisers to target these audiences.

What is your hope for the Web Series Channel site and what’s next for you?

I‘d really like to see more brand sponsored content; and I’d love to produce our own exclusive, original shows and experiment with putting them behind a pay wall.

With our own media player we’ll be offering pre-roll ads and revenue share with creators. And of course – grow the awareness and popularity of web series in New Zealand! And for me; I want to finish my own web series and get it up online.

Are you an international reader and interested in having your country’s web series culture/industry covered? Let us know! We learned a lot about what’s going on in Canada too when we interviewed creators of Canadian series Bill & Sons Towing — funded by the Canadian Government! 

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