Veteran producer and production designer Grahame McLean helped organise the shoots of a run of landmark Kiwi productions, from The Games Affair to Sleeping Dogs. Later he brought TV success Worzel Gummidge down under, and became the first — and will likely long remain one of the few — New Zealanders to direct two feature films back to back.

It was a brand new world. It was enormous fun ... and enormously hard work. Grahame McLean, on the early days of the Kiwi film renaissance
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The Making of Sleeping Dogs

2004, Subject

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Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree

1990, Producer - Film

On the Samoan island of Sapepe, the rebellious, pranksterish young Pepe (Faifua Amiga) rejects his imported Christianity and declares himself a descendant of the old gods, setting himself on a path of alienation and conflict. In this excerpt, he leads a burglary of his father's store and burns down a church on the streets of Apia. Martyn Sanderson's first feature, adapted from the novella by Albert Wendt and shot with a local and largely amateur crew, Flying Fox is emboldened by vivid cinematography and Kingpin-star Amiga's unforced charisma in the lead role.

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The Lie of the Land

1987, Producer, Director, Writer

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Worzel Gummidge Down Under

1986 - 1989, Producer, Director

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Should I Be Good?

1985, Producer, Director, Writer - Film

Director Grahame McLean uses the notorious (then recent) 'Mr Asia' drug smuggling saga as fodder for this Wellington underbelly tale. Hello Sailor’s Harry Lyon headlines as a musician and ex-con who partners with a beautiful journo to investigate a global drug syndicate, in between nightclub sessions with fellow musos Beaver and Hammond Gamble. High on 80s guitar licks, Should I be Good? was made in the tax break era without Film Commission investment. McLean followed it right away with The Lie of the Land, becoming a rare Kiwi to make two movies back to back.

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The Ray Bradbury Theatre

1985 - 1992, Producer, Director

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Flying Light (in a Sky of Our Own)

1983, Producer, Director

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It's Lizzie to those Close

1983, Designer, Producer - Television

In this tale of an English servant woman doing it hard down under, Lizzie (Sarah Peirse, who won a Feltex) finds herself trapped on a rundown Canterbury sheep farm alongside three men: one mean, one silent, and one simple-minded (Bruno Lawrence, in one of his favourite roles). Directed by David Blyth between his edgy debut Angel Mine and splatter-fest Death Warmed Up, this pioneer tale was written by English author Elizabeth Gowans. Newbie scribe Fran Walsh later extended the film to tele-movie length, from its original incarnation as A Woman of Good Character.

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Hang on a Minute Mate

1982, Script editor - Television

In this film two Kiwi larrikins, Sam and Jack (Alan Jervis and Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) go on a road trip, seemingly fuelled by blokey banter. A pit-stop at Hokonui Pub leads to jail, a stolen road roller and much drinking, shaggy dog stories and tired and true shenanigans, before Sam has to return to the dreaded missus. The characters and scenarios were adapted from Barry Crump's Hang on a Minute Mate and There and Back. Mate was made for TVNZ, and screened in late 1982. Beer dispensary-spotters will appreciate the pub's high pressure hoses and 5oz glasses.

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Making Utu

1982, Executive Producer - Television

This documentary sees director Gaylene Preston go behind the scenes during the making of Geoff Murphy's Utu — his ambitious 'puha western' set during the 1870s land wars. “It’s like football innit? You set up the event and cover it …” says Murphy, preparing to shoot a battle scene. In this excerpt, the film’s insistence on cultural respect is conveyed: Merata Mita discusses the beauty of ta moko as Anzac Wallace is transformed into Te Wheke in the make-up chair, and Martyn Sanderson reflects on having his head remade to be blown off: “What’s the time Mr Wolf?”.

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Shopping Cars on Bicycle Tires

1981, Director, Producer

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Children of Indonesia

1981, Production Manager

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The Scarecrow

1981, Production Manager - Film

Praising novel The Scarecrow, one critic argued that author Ronald Hugh Morrieson had melded genres together into “a brilliant, hallucinatory mixture distinctively his own". The movie adaptation is another unusual melding; a coming of age tale awash with comedy, nostalgia, and a touch of the gothic. Taranaki teen Ned (Jono Smith) is worried that the mysterious arrival in town (US legend John Carradine) has murderous designs on his sister. The masterful narration is by Martyn Sanderson. The result: the first Kiwi film to win official selection at Cannes.

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Kaleidoscope - Beyond Reasonable Doubt

1980, Subject - Television

TVNZ’s arts programme Kaleidoscope visits production of John Laing’s film based on David Yallop’s book about “New Zealand’s greatest and most controversial murder” — the 1969 killings of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe at Pukekawa, and the subsequent conviction and eventual pardon of their neighbour Arthur Allan Thomas. A primer on film production as much as the film itself, there are visits to two locations and interviewees include producer John Barnett, director Laing, first AD Murray Newey and the recently freed Thomas who observes a courtroom sequence.

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Beyond Reasonable Doubt

1980, Production Manager - Film

This feature is a dramatized reconstruction of actual events surrounding a notorious miscarriage of justice. Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was jailed for the murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe but later exonerated. Directed by John Laing, produced by John Barnett and starring well-known English actor David Hemmings (Blowup, Barbarella), the docudrama leveraged the immense public interest in the case (Thomas was pardoned when the film was in pre-production). It became NZ's most successful commercial film until Goodbye Pork Pie.

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Sons for the Return Home

1979, Production Manager - Film

Sons for the Return Home tells the story of a Romeo and Juliet romance between students Sione, a NZ-raised Samoan, and Sarah, a middle class palagi. Director Paul Maunder shifts between time and setting (London, Wellington, Samoa) in adapting Albert Wendt's landmark 1973 novel. Sons was the first feature film attentive to Samoan experience in NZ — alongside themes of identity, racism and social and sexual consciousness. In this excerpt Sione meets Sarah's parents, and his tin'a has him scrubbing their Newtown pavement prior to Sarah's reciprocal visit.

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Sleeping Dogs

1977, Production Manager - Film

Smith (Sam Neill), is devastated when his wife runs off with his best friend, Bullen (Ian Mune). He takes off to the Coromandel. Meanwhile, New Zealand is at war with itself and the government has enlisted an anti-terrorist force to viciously crack down on its opponents. Smith is framed as a revolutionary and arrested, but escapes. Bullen, now a guerrilla, hides him and tries to persuade the reluctant Smith to join the revolution. Directed by Roger Donaldson, the adaptation of CK Stead's novel Smith's Dream, heralded the new wave of New Zealand feature films.

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Hunter's Gold - First Episode

1976, Property Master - Television

This classic kids’ adventure series follows a 13-year-old boy on a quest to find his father, missing amidst the heady 1860s Otago gold rush. Under the reins of producer John McRae, it brandished unprecedented production values, and panned the Central Otago vistas for all their worth. Its huge local popularity was matched abroad (BBC screened it primetime); it showed that NZ-made kids’ drama could be successfully exported. This first episode sees plucky Scott Hunter (Andrew Hawthorn) steal away to Tucker’s Valley, spurred on by his doubting uncle.

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The Games Affair

1974, Producer - Television

Set amidst the 'friendly' 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Alongside the young heroes the series featured John Bach as a grunting villain, a youthful Elizabeth McRae, and SFX jumping sheep. It was NZ telly’s first children’s serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.

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The Games Affair - The Porcelain Runner (Episode Two)

1974, Producer - Television

Set during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, thriller-fantasy series The Games Affair was NZ telly's first children's serial. Remembered fondly by 70s kids, it follows three teenagers battling a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes. The second episode begins with the trio finding a performance-enhanced (by nifty stop-motion) beach runner. The trail takes them to QEII Park for the Games' opening ceremony where they confront the villains, and — via pioneering DIY FX — deflate John Bach Flat Stanley-style. Note: the episode has nothing to do with toilets.

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The Games Affair - A Question of Possibility (Episode One)

1974, Producer - Television

Set during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. This first episode include some SFX jumping sheep; John Bach as a blonde, grunting villain, and a youthful Elizabeth McRae. It was NZ telly's first children's serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.

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