Stuff launches new, partly crowdsourced mini-series

‘That’s some damn good acting’, I thought as I watched the first episode of Road Trip, the new web series hosted by Stuff.co.nz.

It wasn’t until I read the background like a good journalist that I realised it isn’t acting at all. Well, some of it is. That’s the thing about this new web series – it blends fiction and reality: crowd-sourced reality.

Road Trip follows the travels of an unlikely pair – an uptight Canadian (Meghan Heffern from American Pie) and a chilled-out Tongan (Nua Finau from Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby).

The characters traverse the length of New Zealand, starting in Invercargill, going door-to-door to speak to ordinary Kiwis about their ‘extraordinary’ stories.

“It’s a series made in part by the New Zealand public,” the press release aptly states.

The subjects of the stories were sourced in a competition leading up to the production of the series, on Stuff Nation, while the series is funded by NZ On Air’s digital media fund, Ignite, and directed by Emmy winning Kiwi directors David Stubbs and Thomas Robins of KHF Media.

Robins says the 20 days of filming was an entirely new experience.

“Traveling the length of the country was something else. Not many have done that Bluff to Cape Reinga trip in one big hit and it was stunning.  We Kiwis really are a welcoming bunch.  

“Add to that the exciting experimentation of blending drama with real life interviews on a fun transmedia project and this is one gig I will never forget.  I am thrilled with the results too.”

KHF Media also produced web series Reservoir Hill, an interactive web drama series where watchers could text the lead character to offer advice, which was often used. 

It was this interactive, non-traditional entertainment model that won KHF an Emmy – New Zealand’s first International Emmy.

At the time International Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences president Bruce Paisner said KHF Media “masterfully demonstrated how to enhance the viewers’ multi-platform experience.” 

Launched yesterday, an-episode-a-day of Road Trip will be released on Stuff until Thursday 4 December.

This isn’t the first time a state funded digital series has been hosted by a news website.

In May NZ On Air and the NZ Film Commission co-funded the Loading Docs series, a series of independently produced three-minute videos on the theme of ‘Home’, distributed by the NZ Herald.

Wayne from Loading Docs on Vimeo.

NZ On Air selected ten applicants to make a short film, and asked each to raise $2000 through crowd-funding, on top of its contribution of $45,000 overall.

“This exercise was not so much about raising the extra money, but was used to enable the filmmakers to describe and pitch their projects, and to begin to grow an interested audience before the films were made,” the website says.

Loading Docs was obviously successful enough to get a second round of funding.

It’s currently taking pitches under the theme ‘connection’ for its 2015 series. So all you budding filmmakers – get your entry in here.

This is all part of a growing funding pool for digital content.

In October, NZ On Air announced it would be investing over $9.5 million in content for a wide range of special interest audiences on television and digital media platforms.

At the time, NZ On Air chief executive Jane Wrightson said funding more digital content came under their responsibility under the Broadcasting Act to cater for special interest audiences.

“In the old days it was on television and radio. Today, while we continue to fund many popular special interest programmes for television and a wide range on access radio, we are also seeing great results with online content for niche audiences. We will continue to explore and innovate in this area.”

The spend on digital content has certainly increased over the last year.

NZ On Air digital funding figures show last year’s October digital spend of about $450,000 has increased almost three-fold to more than $1.3m for October this year.

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