Hahana is a nine episode, fast paced magazine type web series for rangatahi. Vicki Makutu is the Producer / Director and Editor of the show and she shares the show’s journey from writing funding proposals to production to distribution.
I noticed years ago (even as far back as high school when reading the girlie magazines) that young Maori (rangatahi) weren’t really being represented in mainstream media, and if they were, most of the time it had a negative connotation to it. I always thought this was unfair especially because rangatahi were excelling in so many areas and doing just as well if not better than most young people in New Zealand. I wanted to create something that not only represented rangatahi in a positive light but celebrated them and their achievements on a platform with a bigger audience reach which in turn would excite and inspire other rangatahi to do the same.
I first decided to create an online magazine (about five years ago) with the same purpose, to motivate, inspire and celebrate rangatahi. I produced a proposal and approached sponsors and funders but with no luck. Then my good friend Benedict Reid (who I’d met working at Maori television 10 years ago and who now works as Assistant Head of TV for NZ on Air) suggested that this would be a fantastic concept for a web series, especially because rangatahi and young people in general were gravitating towards online content and because my passion and background is video and editing. I thought it was an awesome idea.
I had no experience at all with producing anything from corporate funders at this level so my confidence level in being able to pull this off was low. But after a few kicks up the arse from Benedict, who had way more confidence in me than I did, I went with it and put my all into propping for funding.
Benedict had noticed that Te Mangai Paho had a new Innovation Fund and suggested I go for it. The fund was dedicated to innovative digital ideas and Hahana seemed to tick all the boxes. With three weeks before the deadline, my partner at the time Hayden Turoa (who became the EP for Hahana) and I stayed up all hours trying to explain on paper what Hahana was all about and why we should get the funding. It was a full week of writing and re-wording and writing and re-wording. I sent my proposal to everyone I knew for feedback and to make sure that they understood what we were trying to achieve. Then it took a few days to make the proposal look pretty.
“Once an episode went online I would spend at least three hours Facebooking, emailing and sharing that episode.”
We ended up receiving $40k to fund our first series from this innovative fund. Then, based on the success of the first series, we received another $80k to do a second web series which we are in production for now. Then Maori Television also got interested in Hahana which resulted in securing $400k from Te Mangai Paho to turn Hahana into a TV show.
What worked in our favour I think, was that we didn’t apply for as much funds as other applications did. $40k to produce a webseries is low. But, my experience and background were not going to be enough to secure the big bucks, so the first series was about proving to the industry that the Hahana team could pull off an awesome webseries and could build an audience and achieve what we set out to achieve.
I’ve never received funding from NZ On Air but did assist on a proposal with two amazingly talented and funny ass guys (Josh Hall and Matt Earle) for this year’s webseries fund with Blade NZ…Still waiting to see if that will get funding – fingers crossed!
“Directing and producing for me was all new, so I was learning a new skill while I was actually in the thick of production.”
PRODUCTION & RELEASE
We were funded in August 2014 and started researching and pre-production in September. Shooting started in October and from October to February we were producing episodes but not releasing them. In March 2015 we released our first episode.
Our first episode had 5k views in its first hour. Within 24hours it had reached 12k views and with some really positive feedback from rangatahi. Our second episode reached 10k views in its first hour and over 30k views within 24 hours and over 50k views in a week. Since then every episode has consistently averaged at around 15k views. Our reach and views exceeded our expectations but drove us to keep producing.
Our core team for our first series included Hayden Turoa, who was our Te Reo advisor and executive producer; Louise Makutu who was our production coordinator organising shoots and the nitty gritty details of things; Shannon Leef, who works for Jgeeks, edited some specialised pieces and also did most of the camera with myself. Katarina White, another good friend, who has worked on rangatahi shows for MTS was the producing advisor, and was very hands on for the first half of the production when we needed the most guidance. Benedict was my mentor for the webseries and was always there when I stressed out or needed a telling off for spending too much. His experience in all aspects of production was a huge asset and I will always be grateful for his guidance and belief in me.
We also had our wonderful presenters Ashley and Sonny who helped out behind the scenes when they could.
“Rangatahi mostly wanted to watch a) themselves b) celebrities and c) funny stuff so we wanted to nail all three in each episode.”
My Grandfather owned a post-production company on the North Shore in Auckland called Flagstaff video. When I was about 12 years old he would get me to put the slicks inside the video cassette cases and pay me 20c per tape. Awesome gig! Then when I turned 14, he taught me how to edit using Casablanca. He then taught me how to film. It became apparent as he got more grumpier with his customers that he was grooming me to take over some of his workload with clients which was fine by me.
He then encouraged me to go to South Seas Film and TV school. He knew that Maori Television was coming soon and thought I’d love to work there so I did a year at South Seas, then Maori TV started the year after and I got a job as a videotape operator for a year, then moved to video news editing for about five years, then went to Prime News to edit for three years and freelanced for both stations for the next few years (after having kiddies).
While working fulltime, I still would always do my own video projects.
The series was shot on a mixture of 5d, 70d and Sony A7 cameras. All were DSLR. Shannon uses Sony Vegas to edit, I use Edius to edit, mainly because that’s the editing system Maori Television uses. We used a h6zoom boom mic and lapel for audio.
THE CHALLENGES & HIGHLIGHTS
The biggest challenge making the web series was paying people what they deserved! I just couldn’t do it on this budget, so being able to do a lot of the technical things myself helped a lot. This was a challenge but I always had in the back of my mind that if we were to get another series, the same crew would be working on it.
Another challenge was time. Directing and producing for me was all new; I was learning a new skill while I was actually in the thick of production, so it took me longer than probably most directors and producers to organise an episode. I needed to think of the concept, then put that concept in words, then I needed to write a script if that was needed, then story board. Then I needed to actually organise the shoot and direct on the shoot. It was all fine, but come January I really needed to start moving quicker to have the episodes ready by March. Once I got in the flow of it all, it became a lot easier.
However in saying that, a highlight for me was actually being able to learn on the job. I truly believe that I learnt more in six months producing Hahana than I could’ve in three years doing a Film and TV degree. Another highlight for me was having rangatahi on most of the shoots helping out in some way and they got to experience filming on set, and being part of the show. Some of them are with us on the second series as well and I hope to have them on the TV series helping out too. They are getting hands on training which is great.
Another highlight was seeing the series go online and how well it was received by rangatahi. We made the show for them, and it was awesome to see the feedback and statistics for each episode.
“Being able to acquire a technical skill like camera , lighting, audio or editing will really help.”
THE AUDIENCE & DISTRIBUTION
Because our audience are rangatahi, we needed to find out what they wanted to watch and what their online habits were. My sister worked in the Youth Space in Levin (where we are based) so I spent a most of my spare time just hanging at the youth space, observing and talking to rangatahi. We found that rangatahi mostly wanted to watch a) themselves b) celebrities and c) funny stuff so we knew that if we could nail all three in each episode then it should go down well with youth.
We did a survey (which is part of our Social media episode) where we found that most rangatahi were using Facebook as opposed to Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat, so we launched our series on Facebook and use YouTube as an archive or secondary platform.
I approached a lot of people who I thought would be interested in having Hahana play on their social media pages or on their websites and I asked rangatahi I knew, to please share the show on their personal pages. Once an episode went online I would spend at least three hours Facebooking, emailing and sharing that episode.
I also formed a great relationship with our main library and youth space in Levin who plays our series on every plasma screen for 3-4 hours a day.
I reckon the key to distribution is knowing your audience. Finding out what their online habits are and honing in on those. Always have secondary platforms but when you launch, it’s got to be on a platform where your audience are most likely to be. Also ask everyone you know who would be interested in your series to share it. I would only ask those who I knew would be generally interested in that particular episode so I didn’t annoy anyone. If you want a genuine consistent audience who will keep coming back, target those avenues you know would genuinely be interested in the series or episodes. For example, if we did an episode on league, we would make sure we had made contact with all the local league clubs.
WRITING PROPOSALS – SOME TIPS
I know how hard it is to get a foot in the door in this industry and creating proposals is (well for me anyway) harder than actually producing the series. Experienced producers can nail a proposal start to finish in a couple of days, but newbies like me need time to make a really good proposal – so make sure you start as early as possible.
If you can, shout someone who has successfully received funding out to lunch and rack their brains for tips and their knowledge.
Write proposals in your own words, you don’t have to sound all fancy necessarily, so don’t spend loads of time using a thesaurus to try and sound clever. Simple and clear seems to work.
Put statistics in your proposal – show that you’ve done some research and know what you’re talking about. Show proof of how good you are with links to things you’ve already produced.
And always spend a good chunk of time making it look pretty. Funders must go through hundreds of proposals, so make yours stand out and look interesting enough for them to read twice.
Self-confidence and self-belief is really important in this industry. If you don’t believe in yourself, it totally shows (trust me) so why would funders believe in you?