$1 Reserve is an original New Zealand web series created to showcase the talents of The Actors’ Program 2014 graduates.
$1 Reserve is a look at the connections we make with strangers through Trade Me transactions. When Jocelyn finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, she sells his prized possessions on Trade Me. But when she realises she’s got it terribly wrong, Jocelyn has to track down his stuff from the buyers to win him back.
Awkwardly intimate and domestic, $1 Reserve is a gentle comedy with natural humour and a tone which feels inspired by the likes of US web series’ High Maintenance or Broad City; and features the sparkly tunes of space-pop royalty and local musician Princess Chelsea.
$1 Reserve is directed by Curtis Vowell and written specifically for 16 distinct Actors’ Program students by Sophie Henderson. The series was inspired by the duo’s extraordinary encounters with all walks of life when buying and selling on Trade Me. The show is Produced by Anna Duckworth at Candlelit Pictures and Executive Produced by Michele Hine and Alix Whittaker, and Zoe Robbins stars as Jocelyn.
The web series is made up of ten episodes, with each episode featuring two or three characters. The episodes are between two and five minutes in length so the run time of the whole series is 38 minutes. All the episodes were released on the same date, at the end of March 2015, – so audiences can binge watch to find out Jocelyn’s fate. Each episode is named after how Jocelyn listed the item on Trade Me such as 9ft Longboard – near new; Antique diamond ring, 18ct and 2 year old Golden Retriever, Border Collie X.
$1 Reserve was commissioned by The Actors’ Program as an original script for what was intended to be a simple showcase for their actors – and became a web series. The Actors’ Program joined forces with dynamic production house Candlelit Pictures to produce $1 Reserve, its first web series. “We really wanted to showcase all 16 actors so that necessitated creating a range of different scenes and interactions,” says Producer Anna Duckworth of Candlelit Pictures. “It can be quite convoluted to try and connect 16 characters to each other. US web series like High Maintenance have a great format where each episode is about a different set of characters but all episodes are linked by one reoccurring character. Our writer Sophie Henderson figured out an ingenious way to have one character, Jocelyn, stepping into the lives of a range of different people by having to buy back items she sold on Trade Me. It followed suit to have each interaction to be its own episode, so a web series really felt like the best format.”
The project has taken about 18 months from conception to release. “Alix Whittaker originally pitched the idea of making original content as part of The Actors’ Program curriculum at the end of 2013,” says Anna. “The project gestated for a few months, with writer Sophie Henderson and Curtis Vowell being brought on board in early 2014. We spend the first half of 2014 developing the script and working with the actors then went into pre-production and filmed for five days in September 2014 so each episode took half a day to film. The web series then took two months for post-production, and we had an industry screening at the Capitol Theatre in December. We didn’t want to release the web series during the holiday/summer madness so we decided to hold off until March to release it.”
$1 Reserve was financed by The Actors’ Program and Trade Me, with support from The Wallace Arts Trust. “After our writer Sophie Henderson came up with the idea of doing a web series about the interactions we have through Trade Me transactions we knew we’d have to start a conversation with Trade Me,” says Anna. “Whether it was just to get clearance for their name or for them to have a larger involvement. One of the executive producers, Alix Whittaker, and I made a short video explaining the project and why we thought Trade Me should get on board and help. The Trade Me team were over the moon about the idea, they were happy to support the project financially but wanted to leave all creative choices in our hands – perfect! Trade Me helped us out with some of our marketing planning and helped push the web series on their site on its release.”
With an experienced, professional crew the actors had the best possible experience. “It’s super exciting when everyone in the room is totally on board for what you are trying to achieve, so the atmosphere was really supportive for the actors. I think it was great for the actors to be able to work with Sophie to have a character that was tailored to their strengths. Also the actors got to spend a lot of time with Curtis in pre-production which is a huge blessing,” says Anna.
Cast member Andrew Parker says: “Highlights were definitely working with Curtis, Sophie, Miranda… the whole crew really. Such talented, enthusiastic, committed people who worked so hard to give us the space in which to be creative. And of course getting to make something together as a group. We’ll always have that as a record of our year together which is lovely.”
Anna says they faced the usual challenges of a low budget production; “but it’s good for the actors to see just what can be achieved on a small budget.”
“As for challenges, there’s just the usual pressures of time, nerves, wanting to put in a performance that measures up to the kind of work everyone else is doing. And the tyranny of having such a short window of time to do the best you can,” says Andrew.
As for what’s next for the web series, Anna says web fest appearances around the world could be an option. “We really want to push these actors as hard as we can, they are extremely talented and will go on to many great roles. It would be great for the actors if this web series found an international audience and of course some acting awards at web fests would be a beautiful compliment to any of our actors’ CV!”
$1 Reserve is an insightful and enjoyable journey through the suburbs of Auckland. “While the scenarios are quite unique, I think there are many relatable elements and the audience will find many familiar characters throughout the series,” says Anna. “They’ll laugh, they’ll cry and hopefully they’ll be raving to all their friends about it!”