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Pop CultureJuly 17, 2017

‘Not a cent’: Oddly Even’s Isla Macleod on winning TVNZ’s New Blood competition with no money


TVNZ’s New Blood competition crowned its winner last month and awarded one team $100,000 to make a web series. Emma Clark talks to Isla Macleod, one half of the winning pair behind Oddly Even, about producing quality content on a non existent budget.

TVNZ web series competition New Blood has lived up to its namesake after announcing the winners on Monday morning. Out of 163 entries, underdog entry Oddly Even won the popularity vote out of the top 10 finalists, despite being up against ex-Shortland Street stars (Grace Palmer) and experienced web producers (Luci Hare of Auckward Love). They will now get $100,000 to make the pilot into a full webseries. It’s a pretty big deal.

After they met at New Zealand Broadcasting School, creators Ashleigh and Isla were determined to make something together. Both working full-time in the industry, they used their free time and weekends to put the pilot together. Based on two sisters, Olivia and Frankie Hart, Oddly Even draws comedy from situations and experiences that Isla and Ashleigh have suffered through in their own lives.

After the win, I chatted to Isla about the commitment Oddly Even took from her whole team, and the ideas behind the series.

In regard to the storyline – did the story mirror any kind of situation in your lives?

Very much so. Ash and I embarrass ourselves on a daily basis, and we always joke that we’d be great to be in a TV show so that people could just laugh at us the whole time. We have notepads filled with ideas and silly things that have happened to us, and so when it came to entering the competition we had so much ammunition and content. We wanted to set it in New Zealand, in present time, with characters that were our age, so we could bring all those situations to life. That’s why at the very start we based it on sisters, as Ash and I both come from very big families. We got lots of inspiration from stuff going on with siblings, and having flatmates and busy houses. Once we pegged on to having two sisters, we thought of the two actors we know who we respected and who look like sisters. And Ash had always said to me, if we ever make something that has two sisters in it, we should cast these two actors, who are brilliant. That is Beth Alexander and Lucy Suttor. So once we had that, we started writing with those two in mind.

That’s awesome. Did you have any type of funding to pay the actors or crew?

No, not a cent. The cast and the crew did it out of love for the project. Obviously, we told them that it was for a competition, and if we won, then they would have a paid role. We literally called up people that we had met from Broadcasting School, or that we had met in the industry. The cast was friends or friends of friends, and we did do a casting call but we made it very clear there was no fee. We were shooting on the weekends or rehearsing in the evenings after a full day of work. And everyone gave up their free time basically to help us out. And I think that’s the one thing that we are most proud of, that people believed in us enough to give up their time. It was a real team effort. We couldn’t have done it without them.

Do you think your all round “relatability” – your age, the fact that you did this with no funding or much time, helped with your popularity vote?

Yeah, definitely. That’s the one thing at the end of the day – money. So we knew we were taking a risk. But we figured that if we found it funny and our friends, who are accountants or finishing their law degree, found it funny, surely we were doing something right. Something that young Kiwis can watch today.

Do you think that this win will change your career path, and give you a jumpstart?

This is a major stepping stone for us and a major opportunity. Obviously, the funding is incredible, but in the scheme of things, making content in television and web series is incredibly expensive and time-consuming. So although the funding is great, one of the massive advantages is the exposure. And the fact that we have the competition winner to our name, and all the connections and content that we can make from now with all those resources behind us – that is massive. It is the main reason we entered the competition. We are very much new blood, everybody in the crew and 99% of the cast are under 25. We are what you would call “not very established” in the industry. All the music is from local Kiwi emerging bands and artists. We were up against pretty big guns with the other finalists, so I am just so proud of the public vote. They’ve given people a chance who didn’t have a voice before, or a platform.

That makes the win even more impressive, because your team came out with just-out-of-uni experience, up against people who had spent years in the industry.

Exactly, and what I think really helped is that the whole crew graduated Broadcasting School basically at the beginning of last year, so we’ve had about 2 years working, as you had to do an internship in the industry at the end of your degree. So it was that perfect timing of going to uni and being taught the skills, and then working in the industry for a couple of years learning the ropes, and then we were itching to make something of our own. This competition came along at the most fortunate time, I couldn’t believe it.

Have you two written any more of the series?

We’ve done rough story lining. When you enter the competition, as well as the pilot you have to enter brief paperwork about your ideas. Just so they knew you had a general idea where the story was going. We had the main points in our head locked down but story lining and scripting takes months. In major TV shows they have big writers tables and they all go on retreats. Every minute planned is a minute saved down the line. There were 163 teams that entered and we weren’t expecting to win, so we didn’t go too far down the track. We know the main points, we know where it is heading and we know the ending of season one. But we don’t know the exact script.

What is the main thing you have taken away from this experience?

I think for us, the main thing is being so proud of the team effort, and we are so excited to give back now. The public voted for us, and we feel the responsibility to deliver something that they’ll all enjoy. We’re just really excited to bring it to life and be able to thank everybody. It is a really cool payback.

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