Before being named winners of the SPADA New Filmmaker Award for 2017, The Candle Wasters presented at the conference in a session moderated by Ness Simons (creator and director of web series Pot Luck).
The Candle Wasters are a group of four young women plus token dude (as their website describes him) Robbie Nicol, aka White Man Behind A Desk.
They’ve made a name for themselves with a series of what they describe as “fierce, funny, feminist web-series”, all but one being contemporary adaptations of Shakespearean plays.
Sally and Elsie Bollinger (writers and directors), Minnie Grace (writer and producer) and Claris Jacobs (writer and designer) were later joined by writer Robbie Nicol, with producer Tom Coppell coming on board as producer of their latest show Happy Playland.
Beginning back in 2013 with Nothing Much To Do (80 eps, 5 hours total), followed up with Lovely Little Losers (110 eps over 8 hours). Both series were created in vlog form or, for those familiar with the classics, cast members speaking directly to the audience in the manner of Shakespearean soliloquy.
Initially the team simply self-funded – which gave them the freedom to do as they wanted. They made mistakes because no one was guiding them, but they learned from those. They found the 48Hour competition “a really helpful experience”. When they were funded (by NZ On Air for Bright Summer Night), they learned other ways of doing things, but retained their self identity and bravery.
Nicol, who joined the team on Bright Summer Night, noted, “We got funding – but still we could only do it because we were middle-class, had equipment and spare time. It was great to hear Jacinda (Ardern) talk about opening up access to funding.”
For Bright Summer Night (10 eps, 76 mins total) the Candle Wasters dropped the vlog format; then the queer rom-com musical Happy Playland (10 eps, 77 mins) became the first of their webseries to be an entirely original creation. (To be fair, all their content is pretty original.)
Producer Thomas Coppell said, “What attracted me as a 25-year-old was that no representation existed of me and my group in New Zealand.”
Famously collective in their decision-making, Simons asked them about their way of collaboration, particularly with actors. Elsie said, “We tell them; or we like them as people and they become our friends.”
They are figuring out directing as they go – everyone has a different style of directing.
How do they deal with conflict inside the group? Coppell explained, “Every meeting starts with a report of oneself – what is happening in one’s own life. This makes it safe for all of us to be open.”
The Candle Wasters will return to Shakespearean inspiration for their version of the story of the Prince of Denmark, Tragicomic. All the work has been released via their YouTube channel.
Sadly there was very little discussion of the new project, apart from an invitation to watch the promo and contribute to the crowdfunding campaign which closes on 13 December.
Crowdfunding, which continues to be a significant contributor to their production financing, is as much about spreading the word and building a community around each production as raising money.
Addressing Happy Playland, one of the team talked about the anxiety which is a key part of one of the Happy Playland leads’ character. “Doesn’t everyone feel like this?”
Moderator Ness Simons responded, “The way it is handled is radical and challenging and impactful.”
Sally Bollinger said, “The line through, the moral imperative of our work is ‘Be kind’.”
Which should make Tragicomic an interesting take on Hamlet, which is pretty short on kindness.