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Lead actress of ‘I Got You’ is played by Sieni Leo’o Olo. (Image: Tina Tiller)
Lead actress of ‘I Got You’ is played by Sieni Leo’o Olo. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureFebruary 14, 2022

A fia poko learns about love in new Instagram comedy series I Got You

Lead actress of ‘I Got You’ is played by Sieni Leo’o Olo. (Image: Tina Tiller)
Lead actress of ‘I Got You’ is played by Sieni Leo’o Olo. (Image: Tina Tiller)

A young Pasifika woman who starts a side hustle giving relationship advice – despite never having been in love herself – is the subject of a comedy series made specifically to be watched on phones.

It’s a rom-com with a twist – the twist being that it was made to be watched on your mobile phone. Directed by Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa, I Got You is a “vertical” show – designed to be watched on your phone in portrait mode, just like TikTok, Instagram Stories and Reels – whose first episode is up now on Instagram. It will also be screened on RNZ’s new youth-focused platform Tahi

I Got You is the creation of Stallone, who has an extensive background in the TV and film industry, and his sister Abba-Rose Vaiaoga-Ioasa, who pivoted from a career in chemical engineering to one in screen production. Together they run screen production company Cadness Street, named after the street they grew up on in Northcote on Auckland’s North Shore. They’ve made four feature films: Three Wise Cousins, Hibiscus & Ruthless, Take Home Pay and Mama’s Music Box, each self-funded and self-distributed; all four are available to watch on their website.

Last year the siblings sought funding for a new youth project from NZ On Air and in May 2021, the announcement came that they were successful, making I Got You their first funded project.

Sieni Leo’o Olo, known to her friends as Bubbah, not only stars in the show but co-wrote three of its 12 episodes. It was the first time the actress and comedian had joined a writing team, and Abba-Rose says she and Stallone saw Leo’o Olo’s inclusion as an opportunity not just for Leo’o Olo herself, but for the Pacific creative community as a whole. “We’re trying to build capacity within the Pacific community to have more screenwriters, especially in comedy, and so we were all interested in investing in this decision.”

I Got You producer Abba-Rose Vaiaoga-Ioasa on set. (Photo: Supplied)

I Got You follows Mac (Leo’o Olo), a 24-year-old Pasifika woman who starts a side business to help cover her family’s bills. Her service is giving out relationship advice, despite having never been in a relationship in her life. In the first episode Mac explains why she is always single. “I can get any guy I want, honest, I just don’t want one,” she says confidently as her two friends beside her shrug off her excuses. If you’ve seen Leo’o Olo’s comedy or watched Cadness Street’s previous work, you’ll know you can expect to react with laugh emojis as you watch.

Stallone says the idea for the show came from a brainstorming session where they looked at the NZ on Air brief, which required unique content for 18-24 year-olds. Because Cadness Street specialises in light-hearted and entertaining Pasifika stories, the team was confident that a story about a fia poko – a person who thinks they know everything – would resonate with a a young, predominantly Pasifika audience. “Picking up a side hustle is what the current climate is pushing towards nowadays and so we thought it would be hilarious to have someone who doesn’t have a wide skill set, giving out love advice without ever experiencing it and making an investment out of the job,” he says.

I Got You’s 23 cast members, the majority of them with Pacific heritage, come from a range of professional backgrounds, from experienced actors to those straight out of drama school. For some, this is their very first acting experience – including Abba-Rose and Stallone’s own aunty, who appears on the show. “On her first day she was very nervous. On her second day she was very confident, adding in her own lines,” Abba-Rose laughs.

Sieni Leo’o Olo (left) as Mac in I Got You (Photo: Supplied)

Combining writing and acting was an interesting experience for Leo’o Olo. She had imagined some characters speaking in a certain way when writing them, and that expectation didn’t always match up with the actors who eventually played them. “When they would talk and it didn’t match the voice I had in my mind, it would throw me off, so it took me a while to adjust to that. It may have taken half the series,” she jokes.

The challenge of being both a new writer and a lead actor shouldn’t be underestimated, Stallone says. “It’s not easy and Bubbah did well to stay on top of it, especially when working towards a vertical format.” Writing and performing for a social media audience is quite different than for a network TV show, he says. “They’re short episodes, engaging storylines, fast-paced and entertaining to ensure they capture the viewer’s attention before they swipe away.”

Abba-Rose says the episodes were designed to be watched on phones simply because that’s where young people spend most of their time. “The vertical series was not filmed on a phone though,” she laughs. “We still wanted to bring high production value to the episodes and be different from everything else that’s online.” 

You see that immediately with the opening shot of episode one, ‘A Serenade’: a split screen of the title with the opening scene playing underneath. With Instagram,”it’s amazing how fast a person can swipe to the next clip, so trying to win someone’s attention in those first three seconds was something we had to keep in mind when creating the series,” Stallone says. “We had to make sure that every episode, especially the first episode, looked entertaining, whether that was a striking title or a close-up on a character. But equally, he says, “we had to make sure that we didn’t just chuck everything at the audience at once”.

Next on the to-do list for Stallone and Abba-Rose: a new Cadness Street feature film, and continuing to work with the Pacific Islands Screens Artists group to help fellow Pasifika artists bring their stories to the screen. 

This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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