The Common Touch of NZBS students

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18 May 2017

A film about the extraordinary speech by Christchurch Boy’s High School Jake Bailey in November 2015, produced by Ara Institute of Canterbury students, premiered at the DocEdge Film Festival to tears and laughter last Thursday 11 May. Christchurch audiences will have their chance in July.

For the team behind the film, The Common Touch, Jake has gone from documentary subject to lifelong friend.

Mason Cade Paker, director of the film, first thought of approaching Jake. “It came about because two years ago, while I was still in Wellington, I saw the speech when everyone else did and it affected my family and friends like it affected everyone else.”

At the time, Jake was Head Monitor of his school and had just been diagnosed with cancer; he attended his graduation event and delivered his speech from a wheelchair. Over 1.7 million people have since watched his speech on YouTube and here in New Zealand Jake Bailey has become a household name.

Jake Bailey delivering the now-famous speech that inspired the film The Common Touch.

The young filmmaking team of Mason, Isabella Walsh (Producer) and James Murray (Director of Photography), who met at the Ara New Zealand Broadcasting School (NZBS), first had to win Jake’s trust.

“When I was accepted into Broadcasting School I approached Jake. James and I met with him over coffee and tried to convince him to let us film him over a year of his life. We were all fresh first years. I found likeminded people to work with who I knew had the drive, and I got the pick of the bunch it turns out. Jake was sceptical, especially because we said he wouldn’t have much creative control. I think he went with us because we are his age and I think he could trust us to tell the story he wanted to tell. Over the year Jake became less subject and more friend - and now we are lifelong friends.”

The team walked a fine balance in telling Jake’s story. “The most challenging thing was trying to stay true to what Jake wanted and be respectful, because we chose to do some re-enactments, and that was really hard for Jake and his parents, but when they saw it they were really happy.”

The Common Touch screens next in Auckland 3 June and will come to Christchurch July. It will be available free online in August – just like the speech that inspired it.

The film is far from Mason’s first attempt. He has a long CV of projects and more in the pipeline that he isn’t ready to talk about yet. His goal is to make feature films.

NZBS is an important part of his career journey. “NZBS has the best degree in New Zealand for filmmakers, TV or media. It’s something I have been wanting to go into for four years. My brother went through four years earlier and he is doing great things.”

The Ara qualification is distinctive for the practical component he says.

“I know other film schools have elements of practical but at NZBS it is theory based and very hands on with some of the most experienced tutors in New Zealand as well.”

The Common Touch was an independent project that the team fit around their studies, Mason said. “We took a break whenever we needed to focus on school work.”  

Watch: The Common Touch trailer

Read more: The Common Touch in the media