Shooting a TVNZ “New Blood” Webisode Pilot
By Tim Hawthorne
Dawn Marron wrote Bananaruma as a play for the Nelson Fringe Festival 2016. It was extremely well-received with many people commenting that it would make a great TV series so when a friend told Dawn about TVNZ “New Blood” web series competition (https://www.tvnz.co.nz/webseries-comp), she thought, why not? She hadn’t written for screen before, so she approached the Top of the South Film Makers Society for advice on adapting her script and eagerly accepted the voluntary hands that went up to help with production. It all happened within two weeks – with the goal of submitting a pilot webisode (of a proposed 6 episodes) by the March 31 deadline. One problem: no budget. She and Doug Brooks both posted on the Top of the South Facebook page looking for director and crew for the project. I put my hand up to direct and Peter Blasdale to shoot.
The story revolves around “Tess and Chell, two women in their mid-forties, have been bff’s since high school. Both women are stuck in the past, the 80’s to be exact, but for different reasons. The women have created Bananaruma, a tribute to 80’s band Bananarama and they do a circuit of venues and 80’s events around the country. They’ve been doing it for years and although were very good, times have changed and they haven’t adapted.” Challenges ensue.
In Dawn’s words, the script is “a human story about relationships. It’s written with deliberate emphasis on female characters and how they relate to themselves and others and how that plays out in the bigger picture. The women, including the trans-woman are rich and complex characters and their experiences and perspectives drive the story. I am passionate about writing good parts for women that don’t revolve primarily around male characters.”
Starring Dawn, Anna Burns, Judene Edgar, Daniel Allan, Breigh Fouhy, Locky Campion, Gary Lingard, Michaela Sheehan and Lauren Stafford, many of the main actors had performed the full length play the year before so were familiar with the plot and many of their lines. With little time for prep, there was no camera rehearsal. And because Peter was out of town on the Saturday of our weekend shoot, the shoot schedule was condensed to just one long Sunday. Along with high school volunteers Sam McIlroy (2 nd camera) and Mitchell Andrews (boom operator) and NMIT staffer Alex Bradley as Script Supervisor, the crew also included Michaela Sheehan (costume and makeup) and Robbie Burns and Carl Sheehan (lighting at Nelson Musical Theatre).
With a 12-minute script and 4 different location set-ups, the production required flexibility and speed. Peter decided to shoot hand held; audio was strictly with a fishpole mounted shotgun and “single system” (no slating or audio syncing in post required, except for Sam’s 2 nd camera footage) and lighting was “available” plus a light or two to boost. I created a shooting script that essentially numbered each paragraph of dialogue (vs. scene numbers) since the script was dialogue heavy. Then we shot each set of dialogue paragraphs multiple times from different angles and POV’s so that we had maximum coverage for editing.
Peter cut the footage in Final Cut Pro. We encountered some challenges with color balance – the kitchen scene featured heavy daylight from a wall of windows, requiring some fill light on the opposite side. But the only lights Peter had were tungsten balanced, so much of the footage was tinged yellow. Peter was able to fix this in post by using a plugin from www.colorgradingcentral.com.
The resulting 12:17 webisode is something the writer, actors and crew can be proud of: no budget and just days to produce, shoot and post. Be sure to vote for it in May, 2017 in the New Blood competition. We’ll post the internet link when it goes public.