You might not know the Facebook web-series ‘The Māori Side-Steps’, but that’s likely to change
If you do already know it, you’ll be aware it’s taken the social media platform by storm. Featuring the talents of New Zealand's finest actors and entertainers Cohen Holloway, Rob Mokoraka, Jamie McCaskill, Jerome Leota, Errol Anderson, Raybon Kan and Abby Damen, 'The Māori Side Steps' is stepping up the game for New Zealand made web-series. I wanted to meet two of the creators, Brandon (the show's producer) and Tamati (director) and find out how they came to dream up a show where five grown men working at a superstore start a band that sings in Te Reo and English.
Brandon is a Wellington local, a boy from the Hutt. “My Dad was a foreman working on road works. My mum worked in a bank and then went on to open her own gym” he explains. During the early 2000’s Hutt Valley High School, where Brandon attended, was ‘one of the worst schools in New Zealand’. “We’ve got a lot of friends from the Hutt who we are still pretty tight with” he says.
"Tamati, on the other hand, came to Wellington by choice. He grew up on the East Coast of New Zealand. “If you imagine Boy, it was exactly like that!” he says laughing"
Tamati, on the other hand, came to Wellington by choice. He grew up on the East Coast of New Zealand. “If you imagine Boy, it was exactly like that!” he says laughing. The family moved to Tauranga in what Tamati describes as a ‘turbulent’ upbringing where both his parents struggled for work. After moving to Wellington after finishing school, Tamati studied media design at Victoria University after scoring scholarships for study.
The road to working in TV and movies was a slow start. Brandon’s first job after leaving school was looking after a carpark in mornings and evenings. He then moved to Australia, working odd jobs, before moving back to Wellington and deciding to study.
Brandon went to Weltec (he'd not finished high school) and decided to focus on film. Along the way, he fell into music video making, a friend having the gear to help get the job done. Brandon then went on to study at the New Zealand Film School on Vivian Street. “All the tutors there are from off set - so you get to meet these guys already in the film industry in Wellington. Then afterwards you might hit them up and see if they could give you work!” Brandon explains.
While Brandon was working after film school at Awa films in Miramar, he met Tamati. Tamati had fallen into doing work as a model for World of Wearable Arts so made friends with people in the industry across disciplines. After working one day, on a car ride home, a mutual friend Erroll introduced Brandon to Tamati. It was an instant bromance. The pair quickly established a connection over their love of film and making music. They started collaborating over making music videos together, before starting a company called ‘Potent Youth’ earlier in 2016.
Getting Cray - A musical web-series??
One night, Tamati and Brandon were hanging out and the next day they started talking about how cool it would be to start a series full of singing, similar to an Operetta or Musical. Brandon got in touch with a friend he knew called Jamie who specialised in musical theatre. Jamie came back to Brandon and told him he’d just established a Māori Show Band called ‘The Māori Side Steps’. “It was a no-brainer really. I had been working on a series called ‘Pot Luck’ and working crazy hours. At night I started writing the funding proposal for 'The Māori Side-Steps'. We got it done, but there were a few spelling mistakes” he laughs.
The Māori Side Steps, the band, already had a clear aesthetic. With their colonial style and Union Jacks wrapped around them, they evoke the old style of 1800’s musicians, strangely misplaced in contemporary times. The actors who are in the brand are already at the top of their game and already had their own songs, satirising political issues of the day. It was up to Brandon and Tamati to construct some kind of story around this gold mine of comedic talent.
“These guys work in dead-end jobs, and we aren't sure if they’re never gonna make it as a band...yet... But they’re still trying and I love that” says Brandon"
Together, the guys (along with other writers Rober, Jamie and co-writer Cohen) hatched a narrative, based around the actors from 'The Māori Side Steps' working at a supermarket. Unfortunately here they hit a snag. The boys got turned down by all supermarkets in town when they were looking for a location to shoot in. Luckily a general store in Porirua, specialising in costumes and hardware, Pete’s Emporium, happily agreed to let them film. It gave the guys the location they needed to make ‘The Māori Side Steps’ come alive. It’s comedy but also a little bit hopeful. “These guys work in dead-end jobs, and we aren't sure if they’re never gonna make it as a band...yet... But they’re still trying and I love that” says Brandon.
That Personal Touch - “We wanted people to approach us from the start”
The pair have been hands on, from production to release. “It didn’t make sense to us to give it to a distributor. We put it on Facebook and it got massive attention. The teaser trailer reached over 150 thousand people and is sitting around 50,000 views. Why would we take it away from Facebook? It's also the first web-series in New Zealand to release in 4K (we shot it in ultra HD)” Brandon explains. In the first two weeks, the goal of 250,000 views for the whole season was smashed. Now TVNZ has contacted the pair about putting the series on TVNZ on Demand. Brandon and Tamati are stoked to say the least. “We wanted people to approach us from the start,” Brandon says.
The series has not been without its sacrifices. Tamati had started a Masters of Design which he admits he dropped out of a few days before. “When you’ve been rearranging your thesis statement for 6 months, you gotta admit when you're beat” he says, still sounding disappointed. “But” he perks up “one of the best things was the family created on set. If you are creating good art outside of your formal education, that’s ok I guess.”
Friends first - creatives second
Brandon and Tamati clearly love the humour of the show, quoting scenes to me and explaining the characters in detail with all their quirks. “There’s something in it for everyone” Tamati grins “From the Samoan trying to fit in with the Māori’s to the Raybon Kan owning the super-store.”
So how should you go about making your own web-series? His big tip? Go hard on preproduction if you plan on making your own web-series. “Most of the lines were improvised by the cast because we had to get everyone together at the last minute due to their conflicting schedules. The general structure remained the same but most of the dialogue was ad-libbed. The actors made it work - they’re comedic geniuses. I trusted them with the dialogue.”
Brandon is the ‘get-shit-done’ guy while Tamati is the perfectionist. Together, their mix of skills have resulted in a crisp and hilarious web-series that is delighting New Zealanders. They are also Yin and Yang when it comes to working hours. Brandon works during the day whereas Tamati is a night-owl. They live together, work together, and study their craft together. They have one warning: “You’re never going to be happy one hundred percent!”
"Brandon is the ‘get-shit-done’ guy while Tamati is the perfectionist"
What is the secret to success? Brandon and Tamati agree that determination plays a big part. “We’re not from any wealth,” Brandon says. “My mum has really supported me and she’s a good accountant which has helped us. My advice would be to just go and follow your dreams. Straight out of film school, I was approaching companies asking if they wanted a film for $200. If we made it, we could pay our rent. Now we’re here.”
Tamati agrees. “I started selling coke cans at high school so I could save up for a Camera phone to make little films with my action figures. I did film studies at school. The little film we made is still that teacher’s favourite I hear. No matter what age you are, go get it. You’re not gonna die from chasing your dreams.”
[Note: A macron should be present above 'a' in Maori, however the formatting of the hosting platform for the website has not recognised this and so is not showing it in the text. Apologies]