Having six characters stuck inside a video game is an interesting concept for a TV show. How did you come up with it?
AFK was born from being addicted to World of Warcraft. It's a hugely immersive, massive environment where your character can interact with others all over the world.
It struck me as interesting that people would spend hours levelling up their characters in skills like leather craft, blacksmithing, hunting and swordplay, but they would probably be lost if asked to do these things in the real world. I also wanted to explore the idea of how well the average modern gamer would cope if dropped into the primitive virtual environment they inhabit every day, with the answer probably being, "not very well at all".
Both male and female characters are included in the show. Do you poke fun at gaming stereotypes?
I definitely wanted to look at the idea of gender politics, not only in the gaming world, but in everyday life. For example, one of our characters is Steven (JJ Fong), a male player trapped in a female body because, in his own words, "If I was going to be looking at an ass on screen all day, it might as well be a nice ass".
This character was a bit of a player in the real world, a real alpha male. How does being a woman affect other people's perceptions of him, or how he deals with the world? We also have Maybel (Ravi Narayan), a female player in a male body, because she got tired of other gamers hitting on her; Brendon (Grae Burton) a 15-year-old wizard in a middle-aged body; V'rugga (Dallas Barnett) an 8-year-old in the body of a massive Orc; and our lead character Q (Mia Pistorius), who refuses to give out her real gender.
What's your background and how did you end up making this show?
I've been in and around the film and TV industry for more than 20 years now, and have entered the 48 Hours filmmaking festival for the last 11 years running. In that time, our team has made the grand finals three times, with two Peter Jackson wildcards. During our many years in the contest, we have made a lot of the contacts, cast and crew, that allowed us to bring this idea to fruition. This is the second web series I have directed, the first one being Jungle Fever 2: Primal Fury.
It's obviously a low-budget production, so how did you make the most of those limitations?
At first glance, AFK doesn't actually look as though it's inside a game. The whole idea behind it is that the environment is very real, and potentially deadly. To this end, we have shot entirely on location for this series, with only a few shots being digitally enhanced. AFK makes the most of the various looks available in Auckland, and we want to use the series to promote New Zealand around the world. We made the most of our low budget, and even built a full tavern set in a suburban garage.
Was it a long, hard road from conception to reality?
It does feel like a long road, although I guess the turnaround time has been fairly short.
In April 2014 we shot a promotional trailer to sell the series on Kickstarter, and then raised more than $15,000 on our campaign, launching our pilot episode to a select audience at Armageddon in 2014. After Armageddon, word got out to The Zone.
Is this a show just for gamers, or is its appeal a wider than that?
AFK is not just for gamers, although there is plenty of gaming humour. Our characters are Larpers, cosplayers, role-players and hardcore gamers, but importantly there is a new gamer who acts as the "in" for the audience. We're hoping our appeal will be very broad, and that it can be watched, understood and enjoyed by people who are not regular gamers.
What: AFK: The Webseries
Where and when: Wednesdays, 9.30pm, The Zone; first episode replays on Thursday at 11.55am, and Sunday 10.20pm.