Engage is New Zealand’s only web series for teens, presented by teens. The new series focuses on Kiwi teen culture… The good times, the bad moments, and everything in the middle. The mission of Engage is to offer advice, and share stories, so teens are better prepared for the things that might come their way.
Engage is not entirely new though. Way back in the late 1990’s, a group of Invercargill teenagers made a half-hour weekly magazine show about teenage life called ‘Engage’, which started on Mercury TV in 1998, and by the third season in 2000 it was screening across all regional stations.
Kerry Du Pont was directing those episodes. “I was a fresh-faced 18 year old guy who wanted a career in TV. After the series concluded, everyone went their separate ways, and for the next 15 years I did indeed find a fantastic career in television, as did many others on the cast and crew,” says Kerry.
A few years ago Kerry teamed up with two of the original production staff (Jade Gillies and Phil McGrath), and together they thought that Engage would be a great project to re-boot for the Internet age.
Kerry approached NZ On Air for funding; but after several rejections, he realised they would have to launch the series with their own funding and energy. So ‘Engage.tv’ was born.
The cast of Engage are a group of teenagers from Cashmere High School in Christchurch. “I first heard them on Plains FM, where they host a fortnightly radio show called ‘Something Millennial’. I approached them; they were excited to further their broadcasting experience, and over about four weekends we recorded all the material for Engage,” says Kerry.
“The general aim for the series is to be the ‘answer’ to a question that any teenager will have about life, whether it’s relating to something they are going through right now, or something they see happening on the horizon,” says Kerry.
“Some of our ‘lighter’ topics are things like how to organise a party, how to make homework suck less, and how to keep your parents out of your online life. But we’re not afraid to deal with the more ‘heavy’ topics, like seeking health advice, how to start a relationship, and how to deal with discrimination.
The main thing that sets us apart from other similar shows is the open and uncensored banter from our hosts. Engage has always been about telling real teenage stories, and you can’t do that with adults reading from an autocue. Life as a teenager is such a fantastic and exciting time, and Engage is here to remind our viewers of that, so they can always choose to live life to the full.”
Engage TV is a very small operation. Aside from the early development where Jade Gillies and Phil McGrath helped to flesh-out the idea, it’s entirely directed, shot and edited by Kerry himself. “It will certainly reach the point where I’ll enlist camera-savvy teenagers to do a lot of the production work, which is how I originally started in television myself, and there’s nothing I’m doing that an educated teenager couldn’t do today,” says Kerry. “Perhaps by season two or three we’ll see teenagers behind the lens, instead of just presenting.”
For those interested in the technical side of Engage, Kerry is shooting it on a Canon 60D with a Canon 50mm F1.8. The presenter wears a Sennheiser radio mic, which gets recorded into a Tascam DR-60D recorder (in addition to wild sound from a Rode ‘VideoMic Go’). “The mix is also sent to the camera (for synchronisation in post) but the sound on the Tascam is preferred as it’s very clean and noise-free,” says Kerry. If there is a second presenter in the shot, they’ll be wearing a Rode SmartLav, which records a wave file on the Rode Rec app on an iPhone 6.
Post-production is handled by the Adobe Creative Cloud suite. Footage is first imported into Premiere Pro and synced up, before being filed into bins for the various topics each episode will cover. “Organising your shots is an important step, because you may shoot footage which won’t get edited for another three or four weeks,” says Kerry. The audio/video syncing is handled only by Premiere Pro using its built-in functions. “I’ve considered using Plural Eyes to make the process faster, but Premiere has so many DSLR-friendly features now,” says Kerry.
Once cut, the episodes are sent to Adobe Audition for levelling, compression and EQ. “I shoot on a very flat profile on the 60D, and have a set of pre-defined looks created in Adobe Speedgrade, so the final step is to apply the Lumetri colour looks to each source reel. And then comes the painfully slow part… Uploading to YouTube!”
Now that the first season is live, Kerry is contemplating working on a second season (“with more variety, and more niche episodes”).