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The Tony Williams Collection

Curated by the NZ On Screen team
17th November 2010

 The Tony Williams Collection

The Tony Williams Collection

 NZ On Screen team

Curated by the NZ On Screen team


His Brilliant Career - bugger me!

This collection is a celebration of the eccentric, exuberant career of NZ screen industry frontrunner Tony Williams. As well as being at the helm of many iconic ads (Crunchie, Bugger, Spot, Dear John) Williams made inventive, award-winning indie TV documentaries, and shot or directed pioneering feature films, including Solo and cult horror Next of Kin.



 Great Crunchie Train Robbery  - Cadbury Crunchie Commercial

A mainstay on cinema and TV screens for over 20 years, this ad — reputedly NZ’s longest-running — made Kiwis feels as if the UK-born hokey pokey treasure was ‘ours’. Directed by Williams and shot in Upper Hutt, the madcap western romp featured a bevy of 70s acting talent going for comedy gold.

 Dear John - BASF Commercial

The anachronism of cassettes in the Korea War proved a charming twist on the traditional ‘Dear John’ letter in this classic ad (voted Best Australasian ad of the 80s). An epic made on a shoestring budget, the war-zone aped the MASH TV series, and milk bottle silver caps stood in for soldier’s dog-tags.

 Bugger - Toyota Hilux Commercial

A series of farming mishaps each provoke the laconic comment — “bugger”. This was the Williams-directed formula behind one of NZ’s most iconic advertisements. The shock value of that word, and the performances of Hercules the dog and the hapless farmer made for Kiwi pop culture magic.

 SPOT - Telecom Commercials

In the 90s SPOT was an acronym for the Services and Products of Telecom – and Spot was a much loved Australian Jack Russell terrier. He starred in 43 different Telecom commercials – many of them on an epic scale and seemingly at risk to his life or limb including these five Williams-directed efforts.

Feature films

 Next of Kin

An eerily murderous history repeats after a woman inherits a retirement home in this cult horror. Though Australian-set, Williams' moody second feature was the first horror directed and written by Kiwis. It won best film at Sitges Fantastic Film Festival; Quentin Tarantino praised it as “mesmerising”.


Williams’ debut feature sees Australian hitchhiker Judy romance solo Dad Paul, who finds peace flying fire patrol planes above a North Island forest. Paul's precocious son reacts badly to the newcomer and takes to the air. The ambitious ‘lost souls’ romance helped launch the Kiwi movie renaissance.

 Don't Let it Get You

“The big ALL FUN show for the whole family to enjoy!” was the tagline for this John O’Shea-directed musical comedy, shot by Williams. Sir Howard Morrison (as himself) and Rotorua are the stars in the tiki-flavoured tale, that also features Kiri Te Kanawa, Lew Pryme and Aussie star Norman Rowe.


 Survey: The Day We Landed on The Most Perfect Planet In the Universe

This remarkable, free-wheeling mix of drama and documentary follows a class of 11-year-old school kids from Petone as they explore what freedom means to them. The Paekakariki beach fantasy scenes especially, make for a “wonderfully idiosyncratic” (Roger Horrocks) hymn to juvenile freedom.

 Rolling Through New Zealand with Kenny Rogers and the First Edition

This doco follows country rocker Kenny Rogers and the First Edition (pre-'The Gambler') as they tour NZ on a Road Services bus. All shaggy hair and satin jackets, they see the sights, play baseball, put down a hangi, break into song and admire Aotearoa’s ‘dignified’ pace. If only it had a McDonalds ...

 Survey: Take Three Passions

This inventive doco is a “pub battle” where three people from very different fields, but united by a common dedication to their respective callings, are brought together to debate their passions: choirmaster Maxwell Fernie, astronomer Peter (The Night Sky) Read and rugby journalist Terry ‘TP’ McLean.

 Lost in the Garden of the World

Cannes is the French town where Bergman meets bikinis, and the art of filmmaking meets the art of the deal. In 1975, some unlikely expat Kiwis managed to score interviews with cinema’s emerging talents: Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese, Dustin Hoffman, and a boyish Steven Spielberg promoting Jaws.

 Survey: Deciding

Gliding On meets Borat as a man pretending to be a fisherman from a fictional town journeys to Wellington to find out if any government agency will take action about fish dying in his river. This prescient doco frames the corridors of power as a paper-shuffling hell from which he will never escape.

 Survey: Getting Together

This Feltex winner is a terrific example of how a fresh interpretation of a conventional brief, could make for engaging TV. The foot-loose film explores a plethora of clubs created to bring people together, from air hostesses to flying saucer believers. Poet Denis Glover provides sardonic commentary.

 Rally, Like Little Boys in a Man-sized Sport

This mud and oil splattered doco is about the 1973 Heatway Rally, in which 120 drivers covered 3600 miles over eight days. It was a major logistical exercise, with five camera units, manned by a who’s who of the 70s NZ film industry (Murphy, Donaldson, Bollinger etc). It won a best doco Feltex Award.

 The Hum

Directed by Williams and written by Martyn Sanderson, this doco focuses on sailing legend Geoff Stagg, and his veteran ocean-racing crew as they take on the Wellington to Sounds race in Whispers. Dolphins, Strait squalls, streaking, ciggies, and some fierce 70s moustaches are all in a weekend’s sailing.

 Keep Them Waiting

Shot in black and white (by Terry King and future Harry Potter cinematographer Michael Seresin), this early Tony Williams directorial effort answers its road safety instructional mandate with considerable verve, as a jazz soundtrack builds the tension setting up a literal ‘lives collide’ plot.

 Survey: The Unbelievable Glory of the Human Voice

Opening with an image of Orpheus floating on the water, this inspired doco climaxes with a contender for NZ TV’s most eye-opening montage yet, with its 2000 image mash-up finale. It showcases the infinite ways the human voice can make music, from choirs, opera, and balladeers to protest singers.

 The Sound of Seeing

Made on a wind-up Bolex camera, this announced the arrival of 21-year-old Williams. Meshing music and imagery it shows a painter and a composer (music was by Robin Maconie) taking inspiration from their surroundings. The ground-breaking indie film was seen as “a manifesto for a new kind of local filmmaking”.

 Before the Operations Begin

Williams takes his seachange literally and sets off with three mates in his recently restored 66-foot motorboat to journey from Sydney to the Coral Sea. With a grown-up son as cameraman, their adventures include witnessing an eclipse, and island-hopping their way through reefs. Made for ABC (Australia).

 Sound the Trumpets Beat the Drums

The late 60s saw Williams soaking up cinematic experiences in LA, London and France, plus shooting and editing two films for Iranian director Mahmoud Khosrowshahi. In the second film, Williams chronicles an east meets west festival held in the sonically cosmopolitan Iranian city of Shiraz.

 Takis Unlimited

The first film Williams made with Khosrowshahi is a meditative look at the European art world of the late 60s. Its focus is Vassilakis Takis, a Greek artist who creates kinetic sculptures out of discarded electronic objects, and plans to mass produce cheaper versions of his work. But will it still be art?

Challenging conventions

Challenging conventions

Filmmaker Michael Heath reflects on his collaborations with Williams and NZ film champion Lindsay Shelton looks over his career. Read >

NZ On Screen biography

NZ On Screen biography

Biography on "arguably the finest" documentary-essayist in the history of New Zealand filmmaking. (Lawrence McDonald). Read >

"Can you guarantee me this won't backfire?"

Williams tells the colourful behind the scenes stories of his many films and ads, including convincing the suits to do Bugger. Watch >

Make 'em Laugh

Make 'em Laugh

A 2006 print interview in which Williams traverses 40 years of making commercials and gives his recipe for making great ads. Read >

Cowboys of Culture

Cowboys of Culture

In part two of this Kiwi 70s film renaissance doco, Williams discusses his Pacific Films apprenticeship and making Solo. Watch >

Breaking Barriers

Breaking Barriers

Williams discusses his formative time at Pacific Films in clips two and three of this John O’Shea tribute. Watch >


Many thanks to Tony Williams, Michael Heath, Lindsay Shelton, Craig Walters, the Film Archive, and the many rights holders and custodians who have made this collection possible.