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At the Watercooler

The Watercooler

Aimee Jones Watson speaks with Wellington Paranormal’s Mike Minogue about his web series The Watercooler.

The Watercooler uses conversations at work as the framework for telling funny, true, short New Zealand stories. From mortifying lapses in bladder control during romantic trysts, to homes under siege by bees, each episode offers up Kiwis’ experiences. The show’s creator and director, Mike Minogue, came up with the idea about 10 years ago, but the script sat in a drawer for many years as Mike pursued acting roles and gained more experience in film and television.

It wasn’t until an unexpected break that he found the time and fortitude to bring his vision to life.

“Originally the idea was going to be a TV show,” Mike said, “but it was just one of those things I didn’t really act on. Then I had an acting job that fell over really late, so I decided that I needed to be in charge of my own destiny. By that time the web series format had become established and the watercooler idea just seemed like a good fit.”

After many years of contemplation, the show came together rather quickly. Once Mike got the script finished, he was able to secure funding from NZ On Air within about six months.

“I went to NZ On Air and they wanted a broadcasting partner, which I didn’t have. They weren’t super specific about what kind of partner they wanted, but at that stage the Hauraki guys were going pretty strong and it felt to me like the show would suit their sense of humour, so I got Jeremy Wells’ number from a mutual friend.

“I hadn’t met him before and it just so happened that he was starting up the WatchMe website, which was his and Matt Heath’s idea. They were literally about to launch that site, and I had no idea. They were looking for content, so it was a happy coincidence. There were only two days left until NZ On Air submissions closed. Jeremy and Matt came in and backed us at the right moment, so it was an absolute stroke of luck.”

Abby Damen and Tom Sainsbury
in the second season of The Watercooler

While the first series was very urban-centric, the second season has focused more on rural stories. Many of the episodes feature appearances from ducks, magpies, sheep and even bees.

“We wanted to tell stories that were from perspectives that were outside of the city,” Mike said, “because everything we see on TV is all so Auckland focused. I thought it would be good for people to see something a little bit different going on, because there’s a whole other side to New Zealand. I mean, it used to be like that back in the day, all you would see on TV was farming and very little of the city, but now it’s the other way around.”

Mike has paid his dues and worked his way up the screen industry ladder, having started out as a runner. His first gig was working on Peter Jackson’s Return of the King, before going on to work on miniatures for King Kong. He followed this with various roles on Avatar, District 9 and Tintin.

“I just tried to make it a rule, where I’d work in the industry and make money and then make contacts, which I just loved. I loved doing a hundred hours a week on Avatar. I tried to make it a rule that every year I would make at least one short film or something for me so that I was constantly upskilling.”

Mike started acting at the age of thirty-one, with plenty of experience of other roles under his belt, which assisted his ability to wear many hats on The Watercooler – as an actor, writer, director and producer. “If you’re doing a bit of everything then there’s always something to do, but if you’re only doing one thing, like sitting by the phone, well then that’s just a recipe for low self-esteem and a very poor income.”

Mike has gone-on to appear in such acclaimed films as, Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. He’s currently onscreen in the second series of Wellington Paranormal, spun off from the characters he and Karen O’Leary played in Shadows. This has meant that he’s been able to cast many of his co-stars in The Watercooler. The show features performances by Karen, Jonny Brugh, Cohen Holloway and Abby Damen.

“I didn’t have a burning desire to be an actor,” he said. “I’ve always just said yes to things as I’ve gone along. I was working on a film called Kingdom Come, as a runner. One day I was in the kitchen when the financial controller for the film asked me if I’d done any acting before. I said no and she said that her husband was producing a film and suggested that I try out for a role. I didn’t want to do it, because I was scared, but I’ve got a rule that if I’m scared to do something, then I have to do it. That film was Separation City, which was the first film I did.

“As soon as I started acting I really loved it. So I’m really grateful that I gave it a go.”

Wellington Paranormal
Karen O’Leary, Mike Minogue and Maaka Pohatu

Mike hopes that he’ll be able to create a third season of The Watercooler. For now, he’s producing his first feature, Coming Home in the Dark, which has been funded by the NZ Film Commission. Based on an Owen Marshall short story, it’s a thriller about a family whose tramping trip takes a bad turn. The script was written by Eli Kent and James Ashcroft, with James directing. Mike produces alongside Catherine Fitzgerald (The Orator, One Thousand Ropes, Bellbird) and Wellington Paranormal producer Desray Armstrong. The film is currently in post.

“I would love to do another season of The Watercooler, if we could get the money for it to pay people properly. I’ve never enjoyed doing anything more than I have that. I mean I’d do it every day of the year if I could. You just laugh so much working with these actors; and the crew that we’ve got has just been awesome.”

Mike is always on the hunt for new story submissions for The Watercooler. If you think you have a good, true, local tale to tell, please submit it to The Watercooler via the Facebook page.

The Watercooler has been embraced by fans, but it hasn’t been easy to gain that online following in a saturated market, with little funding for promotion.
“To get past that audience lethargy, where you have to get them not only from the point where they like it, all the way to the apex of the mountain, which is to share it, is actually surprisingly difficult.

“I think, really, it all depends on how good the show is and I think we’ve been really lucky that the people that do watch it, love it.”

The Watercooler’s first season was an award nominee at #NZWF17. The second season is the highest-ranked NZ show on this year’s Web Series World Cup table and the most-nominated show at #NZWF19. It’s in the running for our Best Show, Director, Actor, Actress and Ensemble awards. Overseas, it’s already won awards at DC Web Fest and Ozark Mountain Webfest, as well as racking up selections and award nominations at web fests in Copenhagen, New Jersey, Seoul, Sicily and Toronto.

At the upcoming NZ TV Awards, Mike is nominated for his performance in Wellington Paranormal in a line-up that includes the winner of last year’s NZ Web Fest Best Actor (Joel Tobeck) and Best Show awards, Alibi.

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The Watercooler, is currently available on WatchMe . Paranormal Activity screens Wednesdays on TVNZ2.

Published on 24 October 2019