Carolyn Skelton on NZ’s Web Series coming of age: Web Fest 2015

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Feature analysis by Carolyn Skelton.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the first NZ Web Fest 2015. It had a diverse and engaging programmeThe rise in popularity of online videos  follows the increasing use of youtube, and a related decline in viewing of broadcast TV especially among young people. [See Andrew Laxon on NZ Herald 21 Nov 2015]

NZ Web series, shows and documentaries – The range of productions and people covered in the Fest included the YouTube international celebrity Jamie Curry of Jamie’s World;

web series featured on the NZ Web Series Channel  ;   fictional web series such as High Road,

AFKFlat 3End of Term and more; 3 minute documentaries as enabled by Loading Docs; web shows supported by TV channels such as Maori TV and TV3; and satirical shows like White Man Behind a Desk.

Some, like Jamie Curry, started making no-cost YouTube videos with the encouragement of friends, talking about her life, friends and family, and picked up a massive international niche audience. Jamie now has a published book, a manager, and has recently been getting some help with organising ideas from Jaquie Brown.

Others, like Chaz Harris, creator of End of Term, had previous experience in TV, film and web series in the UK and NZ.  We were given a preview of selected episodes of End of Term.  It’s now showing on the NZ Web Series Channel and on YouTube.  It is rendered mysterious and intriguing because each episode represents “found footage” of a home-made video recording, and reveals a small amount of information shown out of chronological order.  It’s a mosaic, a puzzle, with clues as to the order in the online camera graphic.

[Chaz Harris talks on RNZ with examples of web series]

However, while Harris had initially wanted to make a TV or film production, Roseanne Liang, creator of Flat 3 said her team saw themselves, their approach and their content as non-mainstream.  She described them as Kiwi Asians with an inclusive feminist and intersectionist philosophy.  They have gone for brand partnerships for funding.

Laing referred to the defining characteristic of web productions in the US as being where “authenticity is king”, in contrast to TV where “the story is king”. Laing is indicative of the strong participation by women as producers and directors of web series and web shows.

The Aroha Project also has an alternative focus. It is “part of a multifaceted initiative responding to bullying, alienation and suicide risk amongst young Māori and Pacific LGBT youth.”

Characteristics and funding models

Much of the Web Fest focus was on youth culture, YouTube, and mobile technologies.  However, the popular, very Kiwi and Westie accented High Road has a protagonist who is a scruffy aging rocker.  The series begins with him running a local radio station at the Piha Camp site.

The strongest themes throughout the Web Fest were those of creativity, innovation and entertainment. Multi-platform productions and possibilities for audience interactivity are also highly recommended.  Short videos and humour considered to be highly desirable, though not always necessary.  It was pointed out that there is an audience for longer documentaries online as seen at Vice Media.

Three funding models were presented through these presentations, apart from the no-cost first YouTube videos of the likes of original productions of Jamie’s World:

NZ On Air funding; brand partnerships (usually through product placement); Crowdfunding. They all have their pros and cons, but behind each are a specific ethos.

Brenda Leeuwenberg from NZ On Air explained the process of applying for NZ On Airt funding for web series. The numbers of applications for this doubled to 109 in the last year. Anna Lawrence and Brent Kennedy on branding and monetising online content.

NZ On Air funding aims to give a leg up to new crews and talents (especially among young wannabe filmmakers).  They want to encourage productions that will be free at point of viewing.

Loading Docs, supported by NZ On Air Digital Fund and the NZ Film Commission, is taking submissions proposals for 3 minute documentaries for funding.

I have some misgivings about product placement in that it is likely to influence onscreen meanings to some extent.   Proponents of this approach say that they choose partners that support their work. Furthermore, they say that partnerships have a flexibility not usually seen with TV and film commercial sponsorship and product placement: one episode of a web series may feature a Coca Cola product, the next a Pepsi one, or something entirely different.

Crowdfunding promises more independence for video-makers by encouraging participation and support from their potential audience – in itself crowdfunding can be a good promotional exercise.

2015 Web Awards

The day ended with the announcement of the very worthy winners of the 2015 NZ Web awards. [nominees here] The choices must have been hard for the judges.  In keeping with the youth and female focus of online video production, Jamie’s World won the Best YouTube Video Channel. The winner of the Best Web Series (fiction) was High Road and the winner of the Best YouTube One To Watch award went to Ollie Langdon.  The Best Web Show (non-fiction) was White Man Behind a Desk.

I particularly enjoy WMBAD as it provides some much needed home grown political satire.  It does not seem to use brand partnerships.

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Carolyn is committed to economic and social justice. She has researched and taught in film, TV and media studies, sociology and gender studies. Carolyn is actively interested in local history, and its impact on the present and future. Carolyn currently works part time as a research librarian in Auckland Libraries, which is part of Auckland Council. The views, analysis, and opinions she expresses on this site are her own, and not those of Auckland Council.

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