From left to right: JJ Fong, Jay Ryan, Perlina Lau, Ally Xue filming TVNZ’s Creamerie. (Photo: TVNZ)
From left to right: JJ Fong, Jay Ryan, Perlina Lau, Ally Xue filming TVNZ’s Creamerie. (Photo: TVNZ)

Pop CultureApril 18, 2021

How we made Creamerie, a pandemic black comedy, in the middle of Covid-19

From left to right: JJ Fong, Jay Ryan, Perlina Lau, Ally Xue filming TVNZ’s Creamerie. (Photo: TVNZ)
From left to right: JJ Fong, Jay Ryan, Perlina Lau, Ally Xue filming TVNZ’s Creamerie. (Photo: TVNZ)

Creamerie is a new dystopian comedy about three New Zealand women and the last man on earth. Its co-creator and co-star, Perlina Lau, explains how they made a show about the aftermath of a deadly pandemic, during a pandemic.

In 2018, when we sat around a dining table spitballing ideas about a TV show set in a post-pandemic world where a virus has wiped out all those with the Y chromosome, the last thing we expected to happen was, well…a real pandemic. 

Fast forward two and half years, and I was arriving back from living overseas the same week New Zealand went into level four lockdown. We were now in pre-production on said TV show. So, for the next four weeks, life was learning lines in self-isolation, Zoom production meetings, the daily 1pm Jacinda and Ashley show, watching videos of people making sourdough, thinking I should try and make sourdough, downloading TikTok and… never making sourdough. What a homecoming. 

As New Zealand had gone “hard and fast” with locking down, we were soon able to break our bubbles and film Creamerie, a series about the aftermath of a deadly plague that aims to balance both high stakes and hilarity. Luckily (and selfishly) for us, the pandemic (the real one) meant a lot of people were in New Zealand for the first time in a while. Which means we got our dream cast: Jay Ryan, Tandi Wright, Sara Wiseman, Kim Crossman, Yoson An and Rachel House.

JJ Fong, Ally Xue and I – the Flat3 women – have spent the last eight years making webseries alongside director Roseanne Liang. We became great friends who happen to work well together, and that can be rare. For us, being Chinese-Kiwi women doing comedy has always been something that “just is”, and that goes for Creamerie too. But of course we know that having three Chinese-Kiwi women as leads, doing comedy, on a New Zealand television show, is a first. That’s something we’re incredibly proud of. You know you’re on the right path if your Chinese parents (who never praise and only critique) are telling their friends about the show. The awesomeness of making our first venture into television, while knowing we were in one of the few places in the world actually filming, was not lost on us.

Perlina Lau and Tandi Wright in TVNZ’s Creamerie. (Photo: TVNZ)

The first day of filming, I tried to play it cool and to pretend that walking onto set with so many professionals was just another day at the office. It was not. I was fizzing. The two winter months we spent filming are full of moments etched into my brain:

  • While filming the scene where JJ, Ally and I find Bobby (Jay Ryan), it was about zero degrees outside and we made him lie in the squelchy mud while I pretended to knock him out cold with my eco-canteen. It was not the one-shot wonder I was hoping for. Between that and the ridiculous costumes he was put in – what a bloody great sport. 
  • I got stung on the eye, after a bee got caught in my fringe as I mimed the bull sperm insemination process on one of the stars of our show, Sweetie (not a human, don’t worry).
  • After the second lockdown, in the middle of filming, we lost several crew members to other projects. That upheaval made it to the screen: in a certain dinner scene a woman seated next to me is suddenly replaced by another halfway through. Spot the difference. 
  • And finally, witnessing Jennifer Ward-Lealand, New Zealander of the Year, lying on the ground during a shower scene and having a wet pair of pants dropped on her head is something I’ll never forget.

The second lockdown happened six weeks into shooting, and was called right in the middle of one of our biggest, and most tense, scenes. There were almost 20 actors in the room, and fresh produce, flowers and seafood on the table. Suddenly, we had 12 hours to pack out and stay home again.  

When we returned to set, things had to be done differently. It was surreal. Everyone donned masks on set for 10+ hours. We had intra-crew bubbles, and we would be given packed lunches instead of eating together at catering. We were suddenly aware of how close we were standing to the crew or other actors at any given time. It was a new way of breathing, raising our voices constantly, and repeating ourselves. While we actors had to be wary of make-up and hair, we often kept our masks on right up until we heard the words “standing by…. and action!”. Until then, we hadn’t realised how much lip-reading was a part of everyday conversational comprehension. 

Director Roseanne Liang and Perlina Lau on the set of Creamerie. (Photo: TVNZ)

In between the end of our webseries and the start of Creamerie, Roseanne Liang directed the action movie Shadow in the Cloud, and we were all keen to incorporate as many stunts as possible into the show. We had the incredible Tim Wong (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Suicide Squad) as our stunt coordinator and the scenes he supervised usually ended up being the most fun and challenging to shoot. 

My character, Pip, is a bit of control freak which meant I did most of the driving in the show. My character car, a vintage Toyota Landcruiser, actually belonged to our long-suffering location scout Jozef, who winced visibly every time I floored it. From backing away from a shed unsuccessfully; to driving around in circles trying to escape Sara Wiseman’s character, Hunter, who was shooting at us with a huge scary rifle; to speeding down country roads, I feel I can now say with 60% confidence “I do my own stunts”. The legitimate stunts however, are done by Tim Wong in a very convincing wig.

Making Creamerie and bringing it to life has been (sorry for the lame cliche) a dream. In what was a bizarre and strange year, all our crew, cast and production team worked above and beyond to make it the bonkers and fresh show that it is. It’s been almost a decade of working with the Flat3 women. We started making silly webseries and have just made a silly TV show that is also deep, scary and means something. Somehow, we’ve managed to stay friends through it all.

Almost. Season 2 will probably end us.

The full season of Creamerie arrives on TVNZ on Demand tomorrow, April 19.

Keep going!