International co-production Nori: Roller Coaster Boy is one of two new Lightbox Originals, representing the TV service’s first foray into original programming. Alex Casey talked to the NZ creatives behind it.
Nestled in the shadow of Peter Jackson’s enormous Park Road Post studio in Miramar is POW studios, a small sound production company in quiet cahoots with the rest of the world. POW Studios’ latest, Nori: Roller Coaster Boy, is a unique co-production between New Zealand, China and Korea.
The show – aimed at children but also thoroughly enjoyed by a 26 year-old journalist who shall not be named – follows a roller coaster carriage who lives in a magical theme park. Think Toy Story, think Rainbow’s End, don’t think about that terrifying scene in Final Destination 3.
Nori solves a lot of the problems that have arisen in the tumultuous seas of television production. It’s a solution to the dreaded drought that hits the local industry between hefty Peter Jackson productions, it’s a new way of bringing different countries and cultures together to make shows, and its placement as one of Lightbox’s first original shows (who sponsor this here TV section) is a solution to the terrifying hell pit that is YouTube for kids.
I talked to John McKay (POW CEO), Matt Lambourn (sound designer) Jane Waddell (Head of Story at POW) and Marie Silberstein (Head of Development at POW) about how it all happened.
Is the globalised nature of Nori the way that you see television production is going? Seems like a great solution.
John McKay: Totally. We are actually about to start doing the soundtrack on a Chinese film. About 60-70% of our work now comes from offshore. Why they came to us with Nori is because I think we have a bit more of a handle on the Western nuance than the Korean companies, so that’s sort of our point of difference. We’re seeing a lot more of it now, Nori was actually animated in China and it’s been made already in Korean and Chinese as well as English.
Jane Waddell: Also one of the motivations to look offshore is that, apart from across the road at Park Road, there’s not a lot of other work in Wellington. A lot of things have gone to Auckland from here, and there’s not a lot of film and television production happening out of Wellington. Not as much as there used to be, anyway.
JM: Part of the reason that POW started is that we were a group of sound editors who worked on bigger stuff, but there would be a whole year where you just wouldn’t be working. That was called poverty. We started to look for our own work directly, and Nori is our first co-production. That’s a bit of a change for us as well, we’re not just a service provider anymore.
Matt Lambourn: There’s a really strong reason for collaborating with other countries as well, because once you’ve got not one but three national interests in a single project, that really expands your audience. If you can make something that works in English, Korean and Chinese, that’s a big chunk of the world covered who might want to see the show and enjoy it.
This sounds like… the future?
Marie Silberstein: Oh, it totally is the new frontier. When you go to animation junkets and things like that, it’s all about what piece you can offer. Animation houses in Wellington are already in co-productions with offshore companies, so it’s just chunking out different bits of a production and seeing who can do it best.
JM: I think a big part of it is that people can’t raise enough money from just one territory anymore. It’s very much what happens in Europe. We can access government incentives as well, which we have done. That gives us a bigger budget to deal with. I think that’s really the way to go for smaller local companies, the New Zealand pot of money is just too small.
JW: You could almost say that Korea provided the bones for Nori, but we fleshed it out and really built up those stories. The other thing, from my point of view being a Wellington actor and director, is that there is bugger-all work in Wellington now. We employed seven Wellington actors for the whole series, and they voiced all the characters. It was a lot of fun, it was really great.
Is animation particularly well placed to navigate this new cross-country space?
MS: It’s perfect for it. Every territory has something they are good at, and animation is becoming more and more global. You can get the best out of everybody, just by sending zeros and ones across the ocean, without having to make a huge carbon footprint. On a sustainable level, it’s very strong. In terms of importing and exporting, this is a lot lighter than other New Zealand exports – dairy, meat, logs. It would be great if we could expand that more.
ML: And on top of that, there’s three new animation schools that have opened in Wellington, teaching kids in sound, animation, motion capture, colour grading and all those areas of production and post production. They are all going to need somewhere to work when they get out of school, so the more co-productions we can bring here, the better.
And I suppose there’s that added bonus for Nori that it’s on a contained platform and your kids won’t fall into a horrible YouTube wormhole?
MS: That whole world is crazy. When you go through your kids history and see what the six and seven year olds are looking at, it’s crazy. Things like ‘Paw Patrol: Dramatic Scene Edit’ or whatever. It’s sort of gone a bit beyond us now, it’s out of control. We have to talk to our kids about what is “fake” and “real” when you are talking about a cartoon show, it’s such a weird conversation to have.
ML: It proves there’s still that need out there for curated, monitored content on the internet. I mean, YouTube is just the wild west, they say they don’t allow certain things but it can be up there for ages before anyone notices. That’s scary.
As for the actual process of voice acting, how specialised is that skill?
JW: I think any experienced, good, actor, can voice pretty much anything. Through your career you gather quite a few arrows for your quiver, and you find the appropriate one for the character. All our actors were really really flexible. Thomasin McKenzie, who played Nori, was the only one we didn’t use for multiple characters. Her voice for Nori was so distinctive that we had to pluck her out from other characters because you could really hear her in a crowd.
JM: One of the biggest surprises for us was how you set the tone for show in the voices, and how the characterisation is really built on the voice. It’s a great help for the animators too. The other big surprise is that when you see the Korean version, it feels so much more Korean. Animated shows are something that can travel, but can also be localised a lot more easily with voices. That instantly makes it their own.
ML: It’s also useful working on a kids show when all you have to work with are the voices and the animation and no other sound effects. You have to get your inspiration from somewhere, so I just brought my kids in to watch a bit of the show and saw what they reacted to. They react to the weirdest things we didn’t expect, so suddenly I felt like every sound effect in the show had to be really engaging, because being kids they don’t necessarily differentiate between something meaningful and something incidental.
We added a bit more sparkle and magic, and it’s passed their mark of approval so far.
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