Oliver Driver's career has seen him fronting arts programmes and breakfast show Sunrise, and playing everyone from villainous alien Mr Wilberforce to a sensitive sperm donor and a wacky nurse. The ex-Auckland Theatre Company artistic director has also done time with music station Alt TV, co-starred in chalk and cheese comedy Sunny Skies and directed multiple episodes of Shortland Street.
I think the best stories, the best plays, and the best television shows stir up a conversation, and create a debate: the kind where people go out arguing about it afterwards. Oliver Driver in The Dominion Post, 11 May 2004
Created by Outrageous Fortune’s James Griffin and Rachel Lang, this South Pacific Pictures-produced TV3 dramedy is about a family of Norse gods who wash up in 21st Century New Zealand. Emmett Skilton stars as Axl aka Odin, who must restore his brothers' lapsed superpowers and find his wife Frigg ("no pressure, then"). But he is thwarted by Norse goddesses and Māori deities. The combo of fantastical plot and droll Kiwi bloke banter won loyal fans, who successfully campaigned for a third (and final) season. Johnsons screened on the SyFy channel in the US in 2014.
Soul songstress Hollie Smith looks gorgeous in a fierce kind of way in this big bold video clip from director Preston McNeil of Mo Fresh Productions. Auckland bars Hotel DeBrett and Sale St gleam in a riot of primary colour, clowns and crime; and there are celebrity cameo performances galore, including music TV hosts Shavaughn Ruakere, Nick Dwyer and Helena McAlpine, and actors Danielle Cormack and Oliver Driver.
TV personality Jaquie Brown plays (and plays up) herself for further delightful comic effect in the second series of The Jacquie Brown Diaries (renamed The Jaquie Brown Odyssey for DVD release). In the Qantas Award-winning TV3 satire Brown is an egomaniacal reporter looking to climb the media ladder any which way she can. This episode sees Brown googling herself, and a late-night forum post sends her spiralling towards celebrity booze binge self-destruction on K Road. In her wake Auckland’s Metro social pages set are skewered with self-referential glee.
Maurice Gee's classic novel about aliens running amok under Auckland has rarely gone out of print, since its debut in 1979. First adapted as a memorable 80s TV series, this movie retooling sees teenage twins Theo and Rachel stumbling across shape-shifting creatures that are hiding beneath Auckland's extinct volcanoes. American showbiz magazine Variety praised Black Sheep director Jonathan King's "solid helming", and the excellent acting of Sam Neill as the mysterious Mr Jones. Oliver Driver plays lead villain Mr Wilberforce, under four hours of make-up.
When inept environmental activists release a mutant lamb from a laboratory, thousands of sheep are turned into bloodthirsty predators. Three hapless humans are stranded far from help. As the woolly nightmare develops, they discover a bite from an infected sheep has an alarming effect on those bitten. director Jonathan King executes genre thrills and tips over a few sacred cows in his well-received debut feature. The film played was invited to more than 20 international festivals, scoring good reviews and awards along the way.
This episode from the Oliver Driver-presented arts show visits the inaugural edition of the Māori Film Festival in Wairoa, with Ramai Hayward and Merata Mita making star turns alongside a tribute to teenage filmmaker Cameron Duncan. Elsewhere Deborah Smith and Marti Friedlander korero about their She Said exhibition, and about photographing kids and staging reality; and Auckland’s St Matthew in the City showcases spiritual sculpture. A ‘where are they now’ piece catches up with Val Irwin, star of interracial romance To Love a Māori (1972).
This item from arts show Frontseat asks whether it is right for actors to portray other races than their own. Samoan Kiwi David Fane — who won both fans and criticism, after voicing Jeff da Māori on bro'Town — argues that playing another ethnicity is only an issue when the actor does a bad job. Actor Rachel House (Whale Rider) raises wider issues of indigenous people telling their own stories; and Cliff Curtis, known for a wide range of ethnicities on screen, says he needs to be just as careful playing Māori of other iwi, as when he is playing other races.
Serial Killers pokes fun at a group of characters that write for a Shortland Street-esque TV soap called Heart of Hearts. Around the "table of pain" sit irrational Pauline (Robyn Malcolm, who claimed a 2005 Qantas Award for her performance), in the midst of a messy divorce from series co-creator Alan (John Leigh); boozy ex-nurse Simone; name-dropper Matt (Oliver Driver); and ditzy ingénue Elaine. Created by prolific writer James Griffin (Outrageous Fortune, Gloss, Mercy Peak, Shortland Street etc) and based on his award-winning play, it screened in 2005.
A weekly TVNZ arts series hosted by Oliver Driver, Frontseat was the longest-running arts programme of its time, aiming a broad current affairs scope at arts issues and events. In the excerpts from this episode journalist Amomai Pihama investigates Māori arts brand, Toi Iho. Winston Peters, gallery owner Katariana Hetet, and CNZ's Elizabeth Ellis are among those interviewed. In another story Driver speaks with artists and the curator of the Telecom Prospect 2004 show at Wellington's City Gallery and Adam Art Gallery.
With five series and close to 100 episodes, Frontseat, produced by The Gibson Group, was the longest-running arts programme of its time. Billed by TVNZ publicity as a "topical and provocative weekly arts series investigating the issues facing local arts and culture", and hosted by actor Oliver Driver, it (sometimes controversially) took a broad current affairs approach to the arts of the day, covering "all the big events, reporting the stories, and interviewing the personalities."
In this early, Edinburgh-centric episode of arts show Frontseat, Flight of the Conchords return to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a sellout third season — although they argue the new show is “a shambles”. Also present at the fest are an array of Kiwi technicians, performers, and arts programmers. Meanwhile in his Marlborough vineyard, globetrotting cinematographer Michael Seresin critiques Kiwi society and its ugly towns, and calls NZ a “lonely, soulless sort of nation”. Also on offer: Artist Phil Dadson in Antarctica, and award-winning dancer Ross McCormack.
Gibson Group series Frontseat was the longest-running arts programme of its era. Hosted by actor Oliver Driver, the weekly series aimed a broad current affairs scope at the arts. This episode asks, "Is there really an art boom, and if so, why aren't the artists benefiting?" Art dealer Peter McLeavey, the late John Drawbridge and others offer their opinions. It also features a story about whether NZ really needs eight drama schools. Richard Finn, Miranda Harcourt and newcomer Richard Knowles (later a Shortland Street regular) are among those interviewed.
Working from a kind of 'play within the play' premise, comedy series Serial Killers, cleverly satirises the lives of a group of TV soap writers, actors and the industry they all work for. Featuring Pauline (played by Robyn Malcolm) the permanently stressed-out screenwriter of Heart of Hearts, and her ex-partner/co-worker Alan (John Leigh), these excerpts from the 2005-screened series include the pair trying to reason with their producer (a preternaturally calm Tandi Wright) who demands the writers re-introduce a character they'd formerly killed off.
For her first feature, writer/director Gillian Ashurst wanted a “big wide road movie; big skies; big long roads.” Cruising the Canterbury landscapes are small-town dreamers Alice (Heavenly Creature Melanie Lynskey) and Johnny (Dean O’Gorman). But the duo’s adventures go awry after encountering a charming American cowboy. Reviews were generally upbeat: praising the talented cast, plus Ashurst’s ability to mix moods and genres. Snakeskin won five awards at the 2001 NZ Film and TV Awards, including best film and cinematography.
A wandering fortune teller parks her house truck in Hokitika on a mission to find the daughter she gave up for adoption. This is Magik. One of her first clients, a young happily married chemist's assistant, is seeking a solution to her infertility. This is Rose. Magik, too, is resolved to have another child, but without having to keep the father around. They embark on a joint odyssey for love, sex and pregnancy in writer/director Vanessa Alexander’s feature debut (made when she was 28). David Stratton in Variety praised the film’s "disarmingly sweet treatment".
A group of 20-somethings revolving around pregnant Liz (Danielle Cormack) confront a Generation X medley of 'births, deaths, and marriages' in Harry Sinclair’s debut feature, developed from the eponymous TV3 series. They experience, "the agony of failed love and ambiguous love, the agony of loneliness, the ecstasy of sex and the discovery of maturity" (Australian critic Andrew L Urban). In this excerpt from the well-received film the cast faces vexing coathangers, skirts, rubber gloves and panic attacks. NSFW caution: features actual Teutonic topless women.
‘Beda’ featured on saxophonist Nathan Haines’ live album Soundkilla Sessions Vol 1 (1996). This 1997 music video — directed by Carla Rotondo — is a woozy showcase of Haines’ trademark clubland jazz, shot through with reds and yellows as the camera sways and swings around an Auckland laundromat. A couple of young women get ready for a night out, an old fella perves, a young Oliver Driver gets intimate next to the Surf, and an equally fresh-faced Paolo Rotondo gets lost inside his headphones and sheepskin jacket.
City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.
City Life screened from 1996 to 1998 and made a direct appeal to New Zealand's Gen X apartment-dwelling demographic. Following the lives of a tight-knit group of friends, and featuring racy shots of Auckland's K-Road and nightlife set to contemporary NZ pop music, City Life was NZ's answer to Melrose Place. In this excerpt from the first episode, the friends are thrown into conflict when one of their own (played by Kevin Smith) decides to marry outside the circle. Complications ensue when Smith shares a brief, but notorious, screen kiss with Charles Mesure.
Made for Montana Sunday Theatre, Dead Certs provides rare starring roles for talents Rawiri Paratene and Ginette McDonald. Paratene won a Television Award for his acting, and also co-wrote the script (with director Ian Mune), which he began writing on a Burns Fellowship. Paratene plays Hare Hohepa, whose dreams of a winning bet that will allow him to escape his down'n'out existence take an unusual turn: his friend Martha (McDonald) expires after some drinks, then returns in ghostly form to encourage him to keep betting. So begins a dream run at the TAB.
The feature film Topless Women Talk about Their Lives evolved out of this late night, low budget, TV3 micro-series about the lives, loves and travails of a group of 20-something Aucklanders. It was written and directed by former Front Lawn member Harry Sinclair with a cast including Danielle Cormack and Joel Tobeck. Each four minute episode was shot over a weekend with actors not sighting scripts until just before the camera rolled. Music from Flying Nun bands featured prominently; the women remained fully clothed despite the tantalising titular promise.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an eponymous inner city Auckland hospital. A South Pacific Pictures production, the iconic show is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week, and in 2012 the show celebrated its 20th anniversary making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture, most famously, “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!”.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an eponymous inner city Auckland hospital. A South Pacific Pictures production, the iconic show is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the staff, family and patients. Screening five days a week on TV2 it is New Zealand’s longest running drama. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture, most famously, "you're not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!". This 2007 promo, set to the theme song, collects together highlights from the first 15 years of the show.