The show follows the lives of four flatmates in their early twenties as they forge friendships, seek to remedy family conflicts and pursue romantic relationships.
Jake wrote the show while training as an actor and plays the role of Sam, a character who grapples with his sexuality throughout the series. Jake took on the challenge of being both a creator and performer simultaneously in the show. “You have to take one hat off and put another one on and be flexible.”
Dion, who is also an actor, decided he wanted to be behind the camera on this project. He used the opportunity to cut his producing teeth. “We’ve had so many hurdles. We’ve had to roll with the punches. But we’ve managed to overcome them every single time and we’ve come out better for it and learned so much.”
They self-produced the series using a multi-pronged financial strategy. Jake and Dion were able to raise some money thanks to the support of friends and family using the crowd sourcing platform, Boosted. They also obtained some sponsorship from V Energy in exchange for product placement. In addition to this they were able to secure funds from Ending HIV. The organisation gave them guidance about how to responsibly and effectively portray safe sex on screen. This was an important message the filmmakers wanted to promote, which made their partnership with Ending HIV an ideal match.
It was important for Jake to have the opportunity to portray a gay male in a lead role because he wanted to see this character represented in his own right, rather than being sidelined or stereotyped. “One of the big things was that we wanted the character of Sam to hold his own. In saying that throughout the process storylines changed and things changed, and it became more of an ensemble piece, but I think it still essentially sparks off Sam’s story and that lingers through.”
The filmmakers have ensured the show was equally weighted in terms of character representations. The female characters are given plenty of comedic and dramatic opportunities to showcase their talents in this ensemble piece. Jake wanted to make these characters believably flawed and did not shy away from portraying uncomfortable moments – even if they made the characters unlikable at times.
“A really interesting part about listening to people’s thoughts, after they’ve watched the whole season, was seeing who they liked the most and who they didn’t; what characters they liked and then hated or the other way round.”
Jake and Dion submitted their pilot for Touch Wood into last year’s NZ Web Fest. It became the only NZ show to be named a finalist in the Pilot category. They credit the festival as being a much needed resource for them, in terms of finding content that provided them with inspiration and access to other web series, as they undertook the challenging task of making their own show.
“I think filmmakers should aim to go to the Web Fest. Try and see as much different content and inspiration there.”
“It was really cool to see the international work, as otherwise you don’t really know about it,” Jake adds.
The full season of Touch Wood is now on YouTube.
Published on 13 March 2019