Last year Matt Earle and Josh Hall spent 60 days rollerblading the length of New Zealand, capturing the country in a unique way, for the travel documentary series Blading: NZ on eight wheels.
A goal of Blade NZ was to meet and spend time with unique and interesting people, delivering audiences an in-depth look into a side of New Zealand they have never seen before. Throughout the journey, Matt and Josh help a local possum hunter, couch surf with an eccentric transsexual, harvest mussels with fishermen, volunteer at a conservation farm, stay in a hippy commune, and meet many more off-the-wall, yet real New Zealanders. Each episode has its own story, revolving around themes of survival on the road, their interactions with each other and the people they meet along the way.
Josh has a background in tourism and marketing and Matt works as a freelance video editor, currently working at Warner Brothers NZ. Together they run a small business on the side called Jumbo Media creating online videos for businesses and brands as well as working on their own passion projects in their spare time.
“Web series are an exciting format and it’s great to see so many New Zealand filmmakers getting out there and doing it.”
The Blade NZ series was originally dreamed up four years ago while the pair were travelling together and last year they started a crowdfunding campaign to test their idea. “Obviously crowdfunding is great to get money to fund your passion project, but I think more importantly it’s a way to test ideas out and to see what the general response is. When we got great feedback for our crowdfunding campaign it gave us the confidence that we needed to go out on this epic journey,” says Matt.
The successful PledgeMe campaign raised over four thousand dollars to cover travel costs and extra hard drives. “We tried to camp most of the way, and aimed to stay at the cheap DoC campsites dotted throughout the country, but sometimes there were times when we would have to fork out for a backpackers dorm room, and also the odd tourism activity,” says Matt. “We also drank a lot of flat whites.”
The duo have about 1.5 TB of footage; about 75 hours worth. “We have been lucky enough to get Vicki Makutu who has taken on the role of Post Production Advisor for us. Vicki has successfully produced the web-series Hahana, which was funded through Te Mangai Poho’s Innovative Fund and has since been approved for a second series and most recently been approved to become a TV series for Maori Television. She is awesome and will be a great asset, providing us with on call advice throughout the editing and distribution process,” says Matt.
“The feedback from our crowd funding gave us the confidence to go out on this epic journey.”
“Asides from Vicki, it is just Josh and myself in post-production. As this is a passion project we currently do not have the resources to hire more help at this stage.”
The creators applied for NZ on Air web series funding this year to cover post production and distribution for this season. “We are not asking for too much, as we have already shot everything, but with some funding we would be able to take this project to the next level,” says Matt. “We heard it was super competitive, but hopefully we have an advantage since we have already shot everything. We strongly believe that we have something that many New Zealanders would enjoy and benefit from, and we hope that NZ on Air can see that too.
“We have watched back all of the footage but not yet begun editing, as it is a mammoth job. We have a pretty solid idea of the way the episodes will take shape, and we’re pretty stoked with how much entertaining footage we have throughout the whole country. While we were shooting we always had the story in mind, and we would adapt the story lines as events unfolded on the road. Because we want each episode to be self-contained, we were consciously trying to think of a beginning, middle and end for each episode.”
An easily accessible, lightweight kit was important as the pair already had a lot of gear to carry while they were on the road. “We shot everything on two Canon 7D’s with a few different lenses (a few which unfortunately broke along the way). We plugged a Rode Video Mic Pro on the top but also captured sound using lapel mics and a Zoom H4N for interviews. We had a lightweight Manfrotto tripod which was great as well as another small tripod similar to a gorilla pod. We also had a small steady cam and a GoPro,” says Matt.
“While we were shooting we always had the story in mind; we were consciously trying to think of a beginning middle and end for each episode.”
“As we were shooting run and gun style we often didn’t have time to use the steady cam. We decided at the start of the trip that people, story and comedy were more important to us than getting beautiful shots. We wanted to capture New Zealand as we found it along our journey, showcasing the people and the places alongside the struggles of our trip. We believe that this sort of footage is entertaining and something that we would watch. We also tried to cover our bases and shoot beautiful scenery that accompanied our journey, and it wasn’t difficult to get nice shots throughout New Zealand.”
The show will be released on a weekly schedule. “At this stage it looks like we have around 17 episodes and we will release two per week over a two month period. This means we can concentrate our marketing efforts over a shorter period of time and (hopefully) means that people won’t get sick of us!
“We will primarily promote our web series through social media as this is where our audience lives, and we feel that short, humorous and engaging episodes are the ideal sort of content for social media.
“As well as this, because our web series covers the whole of New Zealand, we will promote our series to a broader range of people who live in the locations that we feature in our episodes. For example we will promote the episode of us passing through Christchurch to Christchurch people.”
With the release of a trailer for the show Matt and Josh have already appeared on TV3’s Newsworthy and the show was featured on The Crowd Goes Wild. “Within one day of releasing the trailer we were getting calls and emails from various media, not only in New Zealand but also from overseas! It mainly happened organically but we were also proactive in getting it out there. For example I emailed my local paper, they ran a story which ended up getting on Stuff and it snowballed from there. With Facebook it’s incredibly easy to just message companies via their FB page and that’s what we did also. I think that because of New Zealand’s small size PR for a project like this can happen very easily. It almost becomes a race; once your story is on one form of media there will always be other people watching who want to snap you up quickly.
“I also promoted the trailer on various travel video Facebook groups which lead to us being approached by a huge travel media company with a reach of over 12 million unique visitors per month who is keen to host our web series. This is fantastic, but our primary aim is New Zealand audiences, so we are stoked to also have agreements with several New Zealand platforms who are going to host our series.
“The feedback from our trailer has been great, and we’re very excited. The hard work is only just beginning though, and we are committed to making the series as good as we possibly can.”
While the pair wait for the outcome of their NZ on Air funding application they are still in negotiation with other platforms on hosting the series. “We will definitely look at submitting the series to some web fests, but our main priority is to get this seen by as many New Zealanders as possible.
“We are super keen to do more travel, and that is definitely on the cards.”
Matt says they’ve learned a huge amount making the show. “The best advice I could give to anyone is just go out and do it. Web series are such a fresh concept, there are no rules and no set format. Don’t over stress about production values, if you have a good story and access to the equipment then go for it. Instead of planning a huge TV series start small. You need to get started though, if you never start you will never know what could happen.
“Also I would say that you should know your audience. We didn’t know for certain, but doing crowdfunding was the perfect way for us to test the waters, and doing something different like rollerblading is a great way to differentiate yourself from everything else out there. Think different!
“We have learnt that web series need to be simple. Because of the length there is no need to have complex story lines in an episode. You can still have a story arc which stretches over the season but keep each episode simple.
“The cool thing on a project like ours, not everything can fit in an episode so there is so much extra content which is perfect for sharing online. For example, whenever we couldn’t think of anything to film we would just dance while wearing the blades. Now we have a couple of hours worth of dancing in different locations throughout New Zealand. This provides great promo material that we can use.
“We have a couple of hours worth of dancing in blades in different locations, which is great promo material that we can use.”
“The main challenges in making the series were filming in rough conditions, having little access to power to charge our equipment as well as carrying everything and then trying to rollerblade. Filming and travelling is very difficult and you get no time off, but we did it because we love doing it, and hopefully we can continue to do it.
“On our next trip we are hoping to lose the blades. Maybe use something a bit more simple like a Segway.”
Matt watches a lot of web series and keeps a close eye on what is happening in New Zealand as well as around the world. “We watched all of the previously NZ on Air funded series and looked at how they were made and how they had been marketed, and the reason why they were successful. There weren’t many travel series in New Zealand but we watched The Great Kiwi Roadie, Stoked For Saturday’s videos, Road Trip and most recently The Kombi Diaries. I thought High Road was awesome as well.
“The main web series we follow are international web series and popular YouTubers who make travel videos, like Jacksgap, Vagabrothers, and Karl Watson. There’s a great web series called Hasta Alaska of a guy road tripping his VW from Chile to Alaska. We also got a lot of inspiration from TV shows such as An Idiot Abroad, The Long Way Round and Departures.”