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What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks? It may be the east but it looks a great deal like Wellington harbour as I try and not topple over walking down a very steep path in Highbury.
“This must be terrible when you’re drunk coming home!” I say to my host, Minnie, making small talk and skidding on some moss. She shrugs and says a little awkwardly “Yeah, I guess it would be” as though maybe drinking is not at the forefront of her mind right now. Whether it is or not, I’ll never know, but one thing is for sure. Minnie and her friends have been staying up late lots over the last 4 years, “Wasting candles” to quote both the name of their Web Series Collective and inspiration, Shakespeare. Long hard nights have gone into producing some of New Zealand's most successful series, gaining an audience world-wide. Yet you'd never think that what created an internet sensation, resulting in over 5 million views on YouTube and now funded by NZ On Air and YouTube itself, was housed down the path of a narrow path in the hills of Wellington.
WHO ARE THE CANDLE WASTERS?
I am told, over Earl Grey tea in where The Candle Wasters and I gather, that the name ‘The Candle Wasters’ is derived from a quote from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’; They are Claris Jacobs, Elsie Bollinger, Minnie Grace, and Sally Bollinger, plus also Robbie Nicol (aka White Man Behind a Desk, who wasn’t there when I interviewed them but is still an integral part of the collective). Together they adapted, wrote, filmed, and edited Nothing Much To Do. They also produced Lovely Little Losers and Bright Summer Night and now a brand new series, the first not based on Shakespeare, Happy Playland. "Leonato says it in Act V, Scene I," Claris says, speaking of Shakespeare's characters like they were her old Uni friends.
WHAT MAKES THEM DIFFERENT?
“We are four women, writing about women,” says Elsie. “Our latest series also stars women only. It has gender fluid actors and immigrant characters. Some of the actresses are queer and they play characters who are queer.”
HOW DID THEY GET TO DO THIS?
The collective was born in a mix of Wellington and Auckland, finding each other at school. They grew up “loving making things,” says Minnie. “My love of drama I put down entirely to my drama teacher, Rita Stone at Western Springs College. She made it be something really interesting, showing us we could do behind the scenes, including writing.”
“I had the same drama teacher,” says Sally. “She treated us with a level of professionalism, like grown-ups, not children,” Claris admits that she wanted to be an actress originally, but found the pull of behind the scenes stronger the more she worked on film. “I started doing 48 Hour Film Festival when I was 11,” Claris says. Now between 23 - 24, except Elsie who is almost 21, The Candle Wasters are a strong force to be reckoned with.
HOW DID THEY START?
The Candle Wasters grew from inspiration and friendship. “We watched something on YouTube called ‘The Lizzie Bennett Diaries’ and really loved the idea of a show based on classic literature. We’d recently watched ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ with Catherine Tate and David Tennant - so because we wanted to do a comedy that was the inspiration we made Nothing Much To Do, an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing told Vlog style” says Minnie.
Elsie and Claris were still at School, Claris about to start University. Through the Summer Holidays and Google Docs, the group ended up moving from ‘what if’ to ‘let’s do it’. There words and ideas merged to the point where no-one Candle Waster could pull their own work from a script. “The crew was us and the sound person. We had a lot of actors - 14 - we didn’t cull any” says Claris. “No we culled Francis” says Sally. “One character” Claris laughs, rolling her eyes.
The world of YouTube was looking for something to watch after having finished The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. “We arrived at a good time” admits Minnie. People fell in love with their characters in Nothing Much To Do, their writing, and direction, telling them vocally so. Memes were created, fan letters and many, many YouTube Comments. “People from America saw it and told us it helped them through their depression. It is amazing to be able to reach people around the world, rather than just a few people in a theatre!” says Claris. The series is in total 4 hours long and has 80 episodes. “By episode 50 people were really into it!” Minnie says.
HOW HAS THE INTERNET INDFLUENCED THEIR WORK?
The Candle Wasters arrived at a good time when there were relatively few Web Series based on literature being told online. “We were watching lots of Vlogs, but there were relatively few web-series like ours,” says Sally. They followed up with Lovely Little Losers, an adaptation of Love Labours Lost. “To Shakespeare scholars Loves Labours Loss is a prequel to Much Ado About Nothing, we just swapped it around and made a sequel” Sally explains, a self-professed Shakespeare nerd. “We asked for $4000 to make it via Kickstarter and ended up receiving $22,000. It was insane! That was just from our audience from Nothing Much To Do, really liking what we do.”
“We’re on Tumblr and Instagram. People communicate these days through that language, via hashtags. Our parents don’t really understand what it is. But actually, it is just language. One reason that Shakespeare works well told like a Vlog is because he used Soliloquies, where the actor addresses the audience for a long time. That isn’t a traditional theatre technique. So the medium can actually refresh a story told thousands of times” says Sally.
When it came to making their next series, The Candle Wasters changed up the formula, filming Bright Summer Night. “We tried to be more slick and cinematic. But by doing that, you’re suddenly putting yourself against all of cinema and all of TV and Netflix, as opposed to just vlogs. It is challenging and much more expensive to make.”
WHAT IS THEIR NEW SERIES AND HOW IS IT DIFFERENT?
The first series not based on Shakespeare. It is an original creation by The Candle Wasters, set in a children's playground where one of the characters, an aspiring actress works before it is closed down. Like all great stories, she also falls in love. “We went away for a weekend to try and nut out what the series should be. We wanted women, we wanted a lesbian love story. All our other series had background lesbians” they laugh. “We had all these elements, like a character with anxiety, which we wanted to include. We also decided to just use three characters.”
Happy Playland is also told through song. Max Apse, Dylan Kelly and Jen Smith (who also plays Cris in the series) were the song writers. “It was weird handing over a scene to them, not knowing what our characters were going to say.”
The series received funding from New Zealand On Air and YouTube through the inaugural Skip Ahead initiative and produced in collaboration with Thomas Coppell of Tomorrow, Rain. “We needed to figure out how to pay people properly, otherwise it isn’t sustainable,” says Claris, although she admits they need to work towards making it even more sustainable for them as the creators. All of The Candle Wasters work part time or flexible jobs to make ends meet. “I recently worked at a school library,” says Sally “which was most excellent.” They need to be able to go and start working on their web series.
HOW IS THEIR WORK LINKED?
“If we have a theme, it is ‘To be kind is a brave act’. People believe that you can be ‘too nice’ or ‘not tough enough’” says Minnie. Anxiety also features, and the girls feel proud that they’ve changed how people who work on their set regard the stigma around labelling yourself as having anxiety.
“There’s part of it that feels like MY city,” says Claris. “I escaped and it belongs to me.” “You never bump into people in Auckland” says Elsie. “Its a good community.” “We’ve built a community here around our work” says Minnie.
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Jack Candlish’s house is minimalist and sparse. In his living room, there’s just a couch, table, chairs and a large grey dog, Devon, which he shares with his partner (the beautiful and irrepressible Clair) and a single surfboard. Yet this surfboard represents endless hours of thinking, working, planning, trial and error. Jack is all about that. He gives things a go, and learns from his mistakes, then passes on the knowledge to others without resistance, leaving the world better for his discoveries, and hopefully reducing his and others footprint on the world.
WHAT IS ORGANIC DYNAMIC?
Jack is the founder of a company called ‘Organic Dynamic’, built to be eco-friendly, meaning that surfing is better for the environment. He’s delivered a TEDxWellington talk about the power of society keeping waste in the cycle within business models, whether that is recycling, upcycling or repurposing products. Jack had his attention brought to the issue of waste in the surf industry after seeing how many surfboards ended up in landfills when they broke. Surfboards have a plethora of toxic components in them, partially to make the board solid and also buoyant on the surf. Jack set out to change the status quo - and in the process is attracting local and international attention to his work.
HOW DID HE GET HERE?
Jack was born in Maidstone in Kent. His family moved to New Zealand when he was 3 or 4 years old. “My dad is a diamond setter, and my mum has worked in teaching, banking and real estate. And of course, she raised us” he says. Jack’s father had visited Wellington when he was on his OE when he was 25 and swore he would return here to live. After living in the UK again for 10 years, he moved his young family back to Aotearoa.
Jack started his schooling at St Benedict's before moving to St Patricks College. “When I finished school, I always knew I was heading down the design road. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been making things out of wood." He's experimented with a lot of different materials but always gone back to timber. "I used wood as a kid because it was accessible. My initial connection began through availability” Jack says. Over time, Jack started to realise the merits and beauty of wood. “I developed a relationship with it,” he says.
After school ended, Jack went to University at Massy - but is still yet to graduate. “I failed paper in my final semester. It was a core paper too! I got knocked out by swine flu a few times and I had a trip planned so instead of going and asking for an extension, I went on the trip.” Jack started working some odd jobs in bars and pubs - and never went back. Instead, he used the money he was making working to buy tools and machines, beginning to make things in his parent's garage. Jack then got into cutting giant vinyl stickers out for businesses and their cars, thus starting his own business ‘Stick’, which ended up employing 4 people while Jack was still in his early twenties.
However, before long, he started to question his own business. “I was doing lots of signage work, but I didn’t like the material. It was non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. The negative cut of the material also is turned into waste, because you can’t use it for much else. I started to consider the environmental impact of my work” he says. It was around this time that Jack got into surfing. “I started to think about the impact I wanted to leave on the world.” Jack started tinkering and began to start producing timber work. “It was a harder industry to break into but it was more aligned with what I wanted to do with my life.” Jack started his second business ‘Proffer’ with friends, which focused on joinery. It was from there he launched his now full-time business, Organic Dynamic.
HOW DID JACK START ORGANIC DYNAMIC?
Jack got into surfing at an older age, although when he was young, he lived in the sea, body boarding and swimming. “A friend took me out surfing, and I was hooked. I was like ‘This is me. This is what I want to do’.”
Jack also wanted to get back into the woodwork. “I got more people involved in the business side of things because I wanted to be making things. In my spare time, I began to make surfboards. It was supposed to be a hobby. I was always curious to see if I could make a business out of it - but first and foremost I wanted to create a great board.”
The building of surfboards was in and of itself, organic. Jack’s boards would break not-infrequently. The boards are made of recycled polystyrene and New Zealand timber. In order to get maintain the curvature of the board whilst gluing the different materials together, you need the particular jig that Jack has created. “This is something I learned from working in the furniture industry. It is only in the last few weeks that I’ve realised this machinery can help all surfboard manufacturers” Jack says. “I want to re-create the local aspect of surfboard design. I hope that I can sell to people who are making their boards locally by reducing labour costs and get them to better compete with the big brands in Asia who sell surfboards. Keeping local industry alive is key.” Jack is passionate about coming up with ways technology can help people to create more jobs. “Everyone should work together to boost sustainability. I don’t like patents because then other people can’t learn from your techniques you develop to make the world more sustainable. Others then have to go through the same pains I have been through in research and development. By showing people the technology, we can all make each other stronger.”
It turned into a business organically, but then also found himself working two jobs and again not having the time to surf. “It was frustrating so I had to take a step back,” Jack says.
Since February 2017, Jack has been full-time on Organic Dynamic. The timing could have been better, Jack admits. “Just as the water was getting cold! And there’s been no surf.’ However, this lets to Jack getting serious about the machinery side of his surfboard business and licensing his work to sell his technology.
HOW DID JACK AND HIS GIRLFRIEND CLAIR(OF SHUT UP AND DANCE) MEET?
Jack and Clair met on Tinder while she was visiting New Zealand. Clair was on Tinder to make friends, while she was working in Auckland as an Au Pair. Jack was in Auckland to help on the Mojo Coffee re-brand signage. After the first date in Ponsonby, Jack asked whether Clair would like to go to Waiheke Island as a second date (it was on her New Zealand bucket list). She agreed, not knowing that he lived in Wellington and was flying up specially. “Now we just get burgers at Five Boroughs” Jack laughs.
When Clair left New Zealand, the pair had been on around four dates. Clair admits that for her it was just a good time. But Jack was ready to jump in, boots and all. The next thing Clair knew, he’d booked tickets on Valentines Day to a Ben Howard concert - in Paris. Rather than getting freaked out, Clair decided to accept the situation and go with it. “I sold my bike to pay for the flights,” Jack says. He spent the next month in Europe with Clair, and they got to know each other more, and then she came back to New Zealand for a visit, where she has stayed ever since. “I was supposed to stay for two months but I stayed on until the end of my Visa.” Now they have their fur-baby Devon together and have made their Roseneath place a real home.
“I love that Jack is always ready to change,” says Clair. “Whether it is his surfboards or hypothetically moving overseas.”
“Good breweries, good coffee roasters, Wairarapa isn’t far away - the only thing is sometimes the weather could be a bit better in Winter!” Jack says. “Jack loves Garage Project” pipes up Clair. “Pernicious weed” Jack nods. Of course, it is fitting that, for Jack, given his passion for crafting the best boards for everyone else, only the best craft beer will do.
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