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Uni Shorts 2014: look at me!

The second of three panels run over the weekend brought together three 48Hours alumni, Traces of Nut’s Dean Hewison, the downlowconcept’s Jarrod Holt and Pickle Thugs’ Calvin Sang, to talk about getting noticed.

Panel members

Panel members (L – R): Dean Hewison, Jarrod Holt, Calvin Sang

Hewison began in ground previously trodden by the earlier session’s speakers, recommending taking every opportunity on offer. To reinforce the point, he promptly passed out business cards to Holt and Sang. He also suggested, “All you have to do is make a music video with Orlando Bloom having an orgy.”

Which he had done, although it’s since been taken down from YouTube.

Hewison is currently on the way to what, it now seems, will be one of the last of the NZFC’s Premiere Shorts. Judgment Tavern was selected by Steve Barr, Daniel Story and Paul Swadel’s Blue Harvest EP pod. Describing the film as “a young girl carries her father’s living head around looking for his body”, Hewison said

“I wouldn’t be doing Judgment Tavern without having done How To Meet Girls From A Distance … which we got to do by winning Make My Movie. We wouldn’t have won that without having a strong team … which we wouldn’t have had without doing 48Hours. We’ve done 10 48Hours films now.”

Traces of Nut won 48Hours in 2013 with The Sleeping Plot.

thedownlowconcept are also former grand champs from 48Hours, their Only Son having won in 2010.

Holt and his thedownlowconcept co-creators didn’t start in TV. Having worked for others and not much enjoyed the experience they decided, “If we were going to be poor we might as well be poor doing our own shit stuff rather than someone else’s.”

They began by pitching radio ideas “because we couldn’t afford a camera”. 400+ one-minute radio spots later they’d got a good handle on what worked and what didn’t. From that came Seven Days, which (along with commercials work) pays the bills because, as Holt noted, drama series are sometimes a lot longer in development than in production, as was the case with Hounds.

Hopefully, that experience won’t be repeated with the upcoming TV One show Cover Band (promo here), which was developed with yet another 48Hours team, Lense Flare (who were crowned champs this year with Pants on Fire). Cover Band has been coming for five years, which is a long time between drinks when you’re used to making films in a weekend.

However Cover Band goes when TVNZ airs it, it’s already joined the select bunch of NZ TV shows sold overseas. Adam Sandler’s production company has picked up the format rights for the US, and the creators get to be Executive Producers on the show.

“We’ve got very aggressive representation,” said Holt, which might not be a tip on how to get noticed but can be pretty damn useful once you have been.

“Have an idea that stands out” rolls off the tongue easily, even if getting it on the page is a lot harder.

Picking up on a point Tropfest Roughcut speaker Sheri Candler also made to Auckland audience recently, Holt talked a little about the importance of building “your brand” so that each new project wouldn’t need to build an audience from the ground up.

“Broadcasters and funders are looking at your social media presence at pitch stage to see what sort of audience you can deliver at no cost,” he said. Which was a little ironic, given the only place one can find the promo for Cover Band is on TVNZ’s own website, not YouTube or Vimeo.

Considerably more of a whizz at social media was the session’s third panel member, Sang.

Sang has been putting material on YouTube for over five years and, while he’s developed a reasonable understanding of what works there, he acknowledges it’s a hard space in to make an impact. “There are cat videos and ice bucket challenges to compete with.”

Nonetheless, he reasoned, “Nobody’s going to hire you without proof you can do it,” so posting material regularly – preferably a variety of material – was important to building a presence. Sang has some 22,500 subscribers to his channel and over 2.4 million views of his most popular upload, numbers he described as “New Zealand big”.

He cautioned that YouTube was not a place for any form of “serious” work, noting that 70% of the audience was gone once a video hit the two-minute mark.

“There are plenty of opportunities,” Hewison said. “And if you don’t like them, make your own.”

Echoing comments from the first panel, Hewison also talked about the importance of learning to stop being friends and allowing everybody to do everything, to impose some discipline and take responsibility for specific tasks and roles.

“We’re more productive and funnier as a smaller team,” agreed Holt.

Sang concurred. “If something’s not working, define people’s roles more clearly or take people away.”

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