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The cast of Not Even (Photo: Supplied)
The cast of Not Even (Photo: Supplied)

Pop CultureJanuary 10, 2024

‘I approached writing a TV series the same way I approached writing my Tinder profile’

The cast of Not Even (Photo: Supplied)
The cast of Not Even (Photo: Supplied)

Summer reissue: Screenwriter Dana Leaming’s debut comedy series Not Even is out now on Prime and Neon. This is the out the gate story of how it got there.

First published on February 6, 2023.

Kia ora, Hi, What up? Up to? U up? …I’m Dana. 

I wrote and co-directed (with Ainsley Gardiner) the TV show Not Even out on Prime and Neon. It depicts the lives of Māori and Pasifika 20-somethings floating around Wellington failing spectacularly at being adults and failing even worse at understanding their cultural identities.

And it’s a comedy.  

In all honesty I approached writing Not Even like I approached writing my Tinder profile. All my insecurities rose to the surface, got somewhat drunk, called a friend, found a cat, cat was not friendly, got my friend drunk with me, ate dumplings, wrote manically for three hours, freaked out, deleted it and then ended staying up till 4am to then return to my original writing thinking it wasn’t that bad in the first place.

My Tinder profile is now defunct, Not Even on the other hand is anything but. 

Ainsley Gardiner and Dana Leaming on the set of Not Even (Photo: Supplied)

I would say my journey to what is a fully formed TV show on a major platform was a bit, excuse my French, out the gate. 

I first lived and experienced a good portion of what happens in Not Even when I was gracefully (I say this with a heavy sprinkling of sarcasm) crashing through Wellington from about 2009 until 2014 as a uni student and general hot mess. I found struggling with my connection to my taha Māori was causing havoc with my mental health. I was forging an identity but it wasn’t coming easily and I felt like a fraud most of the time which would serve as the basis for the kaupapa of Not Even. 

After a stint overseas I came back to start my Masters in creative writing for the screen at the IIML at Victoria University in 2018 and spent the year developing Not Even as my major project. And then the project lay dormant for three years. During that time I hustled. I worked at a cafe, worked on music videos on the side, got an office job, still tried to hustle on the side but wasn’t making it work as well. Eventually I started to let the dream of being a writer/filmmaker go.

Bear in mind, I was 30 at this point and being a mild failure was getting less cute by the minute. I was like, “alright, you had a moment, that moment has passed and now you’re out here eating toast off your bare chest, girl find another dream.”

So I found another office job that was quite fulfilling – not my dream, but it was good work.

Then I got an opportunity with a production company. I sent my Not Even scripts away to be read and… they politely passed. 

The cast of Not Even (Photo: Supplied)

So like every unhinged 30-year-old with their dream disintegrating right in front of them I got schwasted at my friend’s 30th, went missing for an hour, was found in a tree and was then fed bread on a picnic blanket by my friends. Six months later, around July 2021, I got an email from someone who had read my script back when it was at the IIML – they put it forward to Thomas Robins at Sky Originals and nek minute I was on a zoom call with Ainsley Gardiner and Georgina Conder from Miss Conception Films discussing how we were going to go for funding to get Not Even off the ground. 

By December 2021 we had full production funding and I was staring down a 2022 that now had me writing and co-directing my own TV show. 

When I think back to the first hour and a half conversation me and Ainsley had over Zoom I cannot fathom how she thought, yip this woman is the vibe, let’s shoot a TV show together. I don’t know exactly what I said in that Zoom but whatever it was I will be forever grateful to that Dana because I could not see myself going through this without the formidable leadership of Ainsley Gardiner. 

Dana Leaming and Ainsley Gardiner on the set of Not Even (Photo: Supplied)

Ainsley is the tits, there’s no other way to put it. She knows her shit and she’s really freaking smart. And she took me along for the ride which was and still is a genuine privilege and honour I’m still coming to terms with. I was taking a massive step forward and she had this really great way of getting the best out of me in very short spaces of time but also allowing me to impart my vision for the series freely. But the best thing is we had a great time. We laughed like hyenas for a good portion of the shoot in spite of the crazy hours and unpredictable weather. And for that I’m extremely lucky. 

I will never know why it was the right time for my script to somehow make its way in front of a commissioner at Sky and set off my new career. Luck? Hard work? The universe finally answering my drunken prayers? Who knows? 

What I do know is that Not Even is here and I was able to get it made with an awesome cast and crew and amazing co-director. If there’s anything I’ve learnt from this insane experience is that sometimes, for whatever reason, things work out and you get to do it all. It’s a humbling place to be. 

I still eat toast off my bare chest though. 

Not Even is streaming now on Neon and SkyGo.

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