New Zealand television has a problem. Actually, it has many problems, but let's just focus on one of them for now.
It has a lot - seriously a lot - of really talented actors, writers, directors and producers. They're swarming up from everywhere: theatre and comedy, Shortland Street and Jono and Ben, YouTube and Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat and probably a whole lot more.
This might not sound like a problem. Too much talent! But it is creating headaches, particularly at NZ on Air, the agency originally tasked with funding television and radio way back in the '80s, but now forced to help create essentially everything pop cultural on any format. All this on a budget which hasn't budged in years.
The bridging solution to this point has been to fund a basket of web series, little baby TV shows, with episodes often only a few minutes long, which play online and typically cost less than $100,000 to make (a matchbox for scale: a single episode of drama can cost anywhere up to $500,000).
The problem then, is that we've been doing this a while, and some people are getting really good at it. The best of them are practically screaming to get a shot at something bigger. Here's a few which capture the state of our art.
Psusy (pronounced 'pussy', like the colloquial slang for vagina) is maybe the best and most original of the bunch. It follows two women, one of whom is writer/director Jaya Beach-Robertson, who sort of slope around Auckland drinking and taking drugs and having sex. The whole season takes maybe 20 minutes to consume, and is composed of sketched scenes which alternate between the surreal (an acid trip at a baby shower) and ripped from reality (one of the co-stars erupting at a group of dumbass dudes at a party).
Another show run by a duo is Stakeout, featuring Chris Parker and Tom Sainsbury, who might be the best comic writers in the country. They play a pair of idiot private investigators, and each episode takes place in a car parked in the road with almost nothing happening. So it lives and dies entirely on their chemistry and creativity, each of which are essentially limitless. The fact these two aren't already stars is perhaps the most savage indictment on our eco-system you could hope to find.
Smallest of all is So this Happened, a new series running on TVNZ, which seems more invested in this genre than any other organisation locally. Created by Lucy Zee and Maha Albadrawi, a pair of young TVNZ staffers, its episodes are only around two minutes long, and ingeniously simple: a short true story of the female experience (often involving guys' dicks and public transport, depressingly), animated. It's dark but somehow life-affirming in the way it takes a traumatic experience and renders it in tawdry detail and cathartic impact with a vicious black humour.
Each of the trio (and there are plenty more - Wellington's Burbs is brilliant, too) has a creative heart beating out of its chest; each almost cries out for expansion - either of the core concept, or of opportunity for the key talent.
These are just a sampling of the shows which didn't receive NZ on Air funding. Those that did, like Awkward Love and Friday Night Bites, tackling dating and the mundanities of 20-something life through an Asian New Zealander lens respectively, show immense promise, too.
How is all this talent a problem? Well the essential premise of the web series is that it's a bridge to something bigger.
No one really gets properly paid; the unfunded series often involve significant outlay for the creators. Which makes sense if viewed as an investment in a career which might progress to making actual television with real budgets attached.
Unfortunately thanks to frozen budgets and the understandable desire of those currently making television to keep making it, we seem to have a bit of a logjam at the television production table.
The new, exciting and talented younger generation aren't flowing through into running their own shows, and the risk gulf between a sub-$100,000 web series and a $1,000,000 plus drama or comedy is vast.
Finding something in between seems critical if we're not to lose this incredible generation, and the promise they present.