The best mysteries get your heart racing as you follow every twist and turn, trying to solve the case of ‘whodunit’ before the end of the series. Official Selection Alibi (NZ), A Dog Act (AUS) and Blackout (CAN), as well as Student Selection Avenoir (AUS), each tell a tale of their own enigma.
In the web series Alibi (NZ), you’re put in the shoes of a detective trying to solve the murder of 17-year-old Awatahi student, Jodie Hunter.
The series is non-linear – the episodes can be watched in any order, and each viewer can reach their own conclusion as to who killed Jodie Hunter by listening to the same story told from the perspective of six different suspects.
Producer Gareth Williams and his team chose to use a small town in New Zealand as the series setting.
“We really wanted to explore the worlds and characters of small-town New Zealand – partly as we don’t get to see these places often on NZ television, but also because these towns, isolated, dark and full of secrets, wove such a rich tapestry for us to tell a story,” says Williams.
“Part of our desire to make Alibi came out of a shared passion for true crime. The thrill of trying to figure out these puzzles is certainly how we got inspired to create our own mystery.”
Williams says that the contrasting angles within a story inspired the cast and crew.
“The thing that stuck out most for us was a story from different perspectives. What if we heard from all the possible suspects in this small-town murder? And what if a little more of the story unfolded with each perspective we heard. This led us to create the non-linear viewing experience that became Alibi.”
“We wanted audiences to get excited about the opportunity to solve a murder case. We also wanted to challenge how they thought and why – why do they believe who they believe, and what are their own in-built prejudices and pre-conceived notions of characters that lead them to this? It certainly questioned the way in which we perceive people based on stereotype, and gave us an insight into how other characters perceive them too.”
Anna Henderson, repo the creator of true crime, non-fiction web series A Dog Act (AUS), credits a newspaper feature article for her inspiration.
“The disappearance of Paddy Moriarty first caught my attention in a newspaper feature article published by the NT News. A much-loved Irish born pensioner, [went] missing along with his red kelpie from his house on the edge of the highway.”
Henderson explains that she hopes by telling Paddy Moriarty’s tale it may help shed further light on his disappearance.
“Any reporter covering a true crime story is hoping the spread of the information might lead to new evidence or jog someone’s memory to help find out what happened to Paddy. This story also illustrated the corrosive impact a missing persons case can have on a community in mourning.”
“The nature of this type of police work is also consuming,” Henderson adds. “The cases may never be solved and officers have to live with the likelihood they won’t be able to provide answers. This series jumps back and forward in time because there are so many interviews from different stages of the story; from before Paddy Moriarty disappeared, immediately after he vanished and then again later reflecting on the lack of progress in the case.”
A tight budget and remote locations made gathering material, organising shoots and transferring things to Henderson’s location in Canberra difficult. The story’s narrative style has also undergone a significant change, with a shift from a “more predictable true crime style” that was “heavy on narration, injecting the journalist’s journey and processes into the story.” However, Henderson and her team decided to make it largely reporter-less.
“It was a huge challenge to reverse engineer the material to avoid that narrator’s voice, and the skills of editor Rebecca Richardson were vital to stitching the script and pacing together to build that narrative,” says Henderson.
“And to complicate things my editor was based in Brisbane, The two of us are still yet to meet face to face!”
For Blackout (CAN) creators Kyle Power and Tanya Hoshi, the series was inspired by two ideas.
“We’d like to create a story that could transition from a documentary to a found-footage film without being found-footage the entire time, and that memory loss made for a realistic reason to have the found-footage content in the first place,” says Power.
“Kyle and I are huge horror fans, so we knew we wanted to do something that touched the genre, but had a unique twist to it,” Hoshi continues. “We realized there were no professionally made investigative found footage web series online so we decided to be the first.”
“Youtube is filled with vlogs, home movies and short docs so the audience is already primed for content in that format when they visit the site. A horror series where the characters are uploading the content and addressing the audience themselves is as close to that feeling I got watching the Blair Witch Project on home video for the first time as we can get now.”
Power and Hoshi also created a transmedia component that ran alongside the series and expanded the story world.
“Although I’ve been a fan of projects like this for years, we’d never worked on anything like it before so every step was a new experience for us. We were very lucky to have two very talented and experienced producers, Jenni Powell and Steve Peters, collaborate and mentor us throughout the process,” says Hoshi.
On the other hand, Avenoir (AUS) was created as the result of the team’s shared love of noir.
Co-creators Blake Smart and Nicky Thanou wanted to put their own stamp on the genre, saying, “We chose to add to a burgeoning genre called “Techno-Noir” that explores our relationship with technology while staying grounded within the darkness of a traditional Noir. From there, the plot is inspired by events that could be ripped straight from the headlines. It’s all stuff that has happened, one way or another.”
Smart and Thanou are proudest of the tone and atmosphere that Avenoir provides. “We found that we could flip the idea that Adelaide is a small town on its head and make it something that feels like an urban sprawl – dark and dingy, where danger waits around the corner, and secrets hide in the shadows.”
“Sitting down at the edit bay everyday felt like diving into a world that is great in movies but you don’t really want to live in,” the creative duo continue. “It was a little bit intimidating.”
When asked about how they funded their series as students, Smart and Thanou admits, “We did not fund our series in any way. We were lucky enough that we had access to equipment via our film school but outside of that it was down to our motivation and our drive to do absolutely anything we could to make it happen. Lucky for us, there are many generous people in the world.”