South Pacific Pictures marked its 30th anniversary in 2018. With drama production at its core, this collection highlights the production company’s prodigious output. The collection spans everything from Marlin Bay to Westside — including hit movies Sione's Wedding and Whale Rider — plus the long-running and beloved Shortland Street. In the backgrounder, longtime SPP boss John Barnett reminisces, and charts the company’s history.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production 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. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.
After countless romances, breakups and revelations, Shortland Street has turned 25. Catch up with classic moments, and memories from the cast.
This first episode of NZ's most popular and critically acclaimed drama series revolves around Wolf West being sentenced to four years in prison — and his wife, Cheryl, deciding it's time for her and her children to get out of the "family business". Wolf and the local police are dubious. But even this early in proceedings, it would be foolish to underestimate Cheryl. Whether she can take her daughters (ditzy wannabe-model Pascalle and the cunning Loretta) and sons (yin and yang twins Van and Jethro) with her is another matter altogether. And so begins a dynasty.
Outrageous Fortune ran for six seasons, and lodged itself in New Zealand pop culture forever. The series tells the story of Cheryl West and her attempts to turn her Westie family away from a life of crime. A ratings hit for TV3, Outrageous Fortune proved that New Zealand television drama could hold its own against overseas productions.
Sione's Wedding is a feel-good feature comedy about four 30-something guys who must each find a girlfriend before their best friend Sione's wedding — or be left out in the cold. Through the efforts of these bumbling blokes to get the girl(s), the film brought to life the colour and humour of the urban Samoan community in Auckland, the world's largest Polynesian city. A breakthrough PI-Kiwi film, Sione's broke box office records when it opened in cinemas throughout New Zealand in March 2006. Actor Oscar Kightley co-wrote the script with James Griffin.
Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. It follows the events of a far-north resort and casino; a number of well-known actors made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners and city weekenders, including Ilona Rodgers, Don Selwyn, Andy Anderson and Katie Wolfe. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic. In this episode the swarthy Cosic cooks up an illegal smuggling scheme to diversify a farm's income stream.
Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, popular one hour drama series Jackson's Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank and Ben. Frank is the town policeman with a big secret; and golden boy Ben is a big city lawyer who has returned to town after their father's death. In this excerpt from the first episode of the South Pacific Pictures production, returning son Ben faces gossiping locals, simmering family tensions over the will (who will get the pub?) and an impending fishing tournament.
Go Girls starts from a twist, a beach and a promise. The twist is that this femme-dominated tale is narrated by a male (Jay Ryan). The promise involves four friends having a drink on the beach, and agreeing to make a major life-change within a year. Amy (Anna Hutchison) wants to be rich; whacky bartender Britta (Alix Bushnell) seeks fame; straight-talking Cody (Bronwyn Turei) wants a hubbie. The intentionally "optimistic, kind" hit show stretched to five seasons. In the backgrounder, co-creator Rachel Lang writes about the show's origins and difficult, rain-sodden birth.
When fishermen reel in a dead body in small town Brokenwood, Detective Mike Shepherd can't help but crack a joke: "I love a catch. Probably the one they wish had got away." In this excerpt from very first episode 'Blood & Water', new cop in town Shepherd (Neill Rea of Scarfies fame) pairs up with Detective Kristin Sims (Fern Sutherland from The Almighty Johnsons) to try to figure out what happened to drunk ol' Nate Dunn (Chris Sherwood). The detectives became a permanent team as the Prime TV series continued, working on deaths that plague the area.
Ambitious kids' sci fi series Space Knights pitched the King Arthur myth into a zany universe of Knights of the Round Space Station, Vader-esque villains, rainbow rocket exhaust, and laser lance jousting. The distinctive look of this early South Pacific Pictures series — like a picture book come to life — was led by cartoonist Chris Slane who achieved it by using actors in life-size puppet suits and blue screen effects. In this excerpt, the evil Mordread creates an android Trojan horse to infiltrate Castle Spacelot. The 'Space Junk' theme song is by Dave Dobbyn.
In the first 10 minutes of this TV3 comedy, Axl (Emmett Skilton) has a close shave outside the bottle store on the eve of his 21st birthday, but that’s nothing compared to the meteors, earthquake and a blood red Mission Bay that follow. By episode end Axl learns that he and his Kiwi bloke older brothers are also … Norse gods. From Outrageous Fortune creators James Griffin and Rachel Lang, the light-hearted lad fantasy saga gained a loyal following and — in a rare example of an NZ TV export to the US — the three series screened on the SyFy channel from July 2014.
The Almighty Johnsons is a fantasy/comedy series that screened on New Zealand television over three series from 2011 to 2013. The show is about a family of brothers who are descended from Norse gods, desperately trying to restore their powers. While not a huge ratings success in New Zealand, the series has won a cult following in a number of countries.
Set in the East Coast town of Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the tale of a young Māori girl, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward. Directed and written by Niki Caro, the film is based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider. Coupling a specific sense of place and culture with a universal coming-of-age story, Whale Rider became one of the most successful and acclaimed New Zealand films released internationally. It also won audience choice awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals.
Jonathan Brough’s documentary on the making of Whale Rider travels from the East Coast town of Whangara, where the mythical whale rider Paikea landed, to Hollywood. This excerpt concentrates on the movie’s vital special effects component: nine whales, brought to the screen through a combination of life-sized models and digital effects. The models were made by Auckland company Glasshammer; the largest measured 65 feet in length. The human element was also important, with actor Keisha Castle-Hughes describing the challenges of filming the whale-riding scenes.
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, South Pacific Pictures-produced Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series dramatising events leading up to NZ’s 80s anti-nuclear stand. PM Robert Muldoon (Ian Mune) calls a snap election when his MP Marilyn Waring crosses the floor on the ‘no nukes’ bill, but his gamble fails, and David Lange's Labour Party is elected. Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) is pressured from all sides (including a bullish US administration) to take a firm stance on his anti-nuclear platform. He finally accepts there is no middle ground.
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.
This quirky, upbeat comedy-drama looked at teen life through the eyes of 15-year-old Eve (Fleur Saville). Something of an amateur teen anthropologist, Eve questions everything in her world, musing on life to the camera. The series' fresh, self-aware style appealed directly to media-savvy teenagers. The TV3 series launched Saville's TV career, fostered young directing and producing talent, won many awards (including Best Drama Series at the 2002 NZ TV Awards) and was nominated for an International Emmy. It sold to over 40 territories, including the United States.
In the five years since Sione's Wedding, the Duckrocker quartet have experienced marriage, children, Australians and the good lord. Then their minister reunites them on a quest to find Bolo (Dave Fane) — once their driver and conscience, now MIA. The sequel to the break-through PI-Kiwi hit reunites the original cast, and adds in a dodgy minister (Kirk Torrance) and a new director (Outrageous Fortune's Simon Bennett). On the burden of following Wedding, Stuff.co.nz reviewer Steve Kilgallon adjudged: "seen on its own merits, it [Sione's 2] proves worth the wait".
In this 2013 murder mystery from writers Rachel Lang and James Griffin (Outrageous Fortune, Almighty Johnsons), Outrageous stars Antonia Prebble and Siobhan Marshall are cast east to Auckland's CBD as a sleuthing odd couple. This opening 10 minutes of the TV3 series begins with a body floating in the Viaduct. Then temp Jane March (Prebble) finds more drama than stationary in her first day at a law firm: her predecessor — Rose — is dead rather than on holiday, and she meets Rose’s brassy best mate Linda (Marshall) when she barges in to collect Rose’s possessions.
Produced by John Laing and featuring a star-studded cast (Sara Wiseman, Tim Balme, et al), South Pacific Pictures' award-winning 'seachange' series Mercy Peak hit just the right note with its down-home sincerity and quirky-but-complex characters. In this excerpt from the first episode, Doctor Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman) discovers the cheating ways of her partner (a deliciously oily Simon Prast) and decides it's time to get out. On her way to finding her bliss in the tiny town of Bassett she has an inauspicious beginning: a minor collision with the town's iconic pig.
Emily Chu (award-winner Michelle Ang) is a young ‘banana’ (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) hoping to conceal a cross-cultural romance from her prudish Chinese parents in this romantic dramedy. Director Roseanne Liang’s feature debut draws on her autobiographical ‘video diary’ Banana in a Nutshell, which screened at the 2005 NZ International Film Festival. In the audience was producer John Barnett, who immediately offered to fund an adaptation. On its March 2010 release My Wedding gained several five star reviews, and strong box office.
Described as a "Māori Twilight Zone", Mataku was a series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori experience with the "unexplained". Two South Pacific Pictures-produced series screened on TV3; a later series screened on TV One in 2005. Each episode was introduced by Temuera Morrison Rod Serling-style. The bi-lingual series was a strong international and domestic success; producer Carey Carter: "Our people are very spiritual ... and here we are ... turning it into stories so that the rest of the world can get a glimpse of that aspect of our culture."
Nothing Trivial followed the lives and loves of five friends in their 30s and 40s, who compete in a weekly pub quiz. In this first 10 minutes of the debut episode, the Sex on a Stick team — played by Shane Cortese, Tandi Wright, Nicole Whippy, Debbie Newby-Ward and Blair Strang — gather at The Beagle to wrestle with John Wayne Bobbit trivia, and the trials of nearing middle age. The show was created by Rachel Lang and Gavin Stawhan (Go Girls). In the background piece, Lang explains how the show came to be, and argues Kiwis could give its professional actors more credit.
A prequel to classic TV3 series Outrageous Fortune, Westside travels back in time to meet young Rita (Antonia Prebble), Ted (David de Lautour) and their son Wolf West, on the make in West Auckland. This first episode opens with Ted leaving Mt Eden prison, then sets him on a safe-cracking plot that is aided by the 1974 Commonwealth Games. Prebble played Loretta West in Outrageous, and first took on the role of Rita in flashbacks from season four. Devised by Outrageous creators James Griffin and Rachel Lang, Westside won acclaim: "all the hallmarks of a classic", said Stuff.
Set over a Christmas beach holiday in 1935, The End of the Golden Weather chronicles the friendship between a teenage boy and the wild-limbed Firpo, dreamer and social outcast. Writer/director Ian Mune spent more than 15 years "massaging" Bruce Mason's classic solo play into a movie, before assembling a dream team to bring it to the screen. The finished film captures the world view of a boy for whom fantasy, hope and disappointment intermingle. Among an impressive awards haul, 12-year-old star Stephen Fulford was recognised at America's Youth in Film Awards.
In the first episode of comedy drama Step Dave, solo Mum Cara (Sia Trokenheim) finds herself rescued by womanising barman Dave (Jono Kenyon), after a disastrous blind date ends in a sprained ankle. Dave is convinced he's met 'the one'. Cara's daughters and mother in-law (Lisa Harrow) are horrified. And Cara fears there isn't enough time in her busy life for a man who calls her favourite song "ancient". Meanwhile Dave's flatmate is falling for the workmate who has stolen his desk. Created by Kate McDermott, Step Dave screened for two seasons — and was later remade in Russia.
This children's post-apocalyptic fantasy series follows a circus troupe on their quest to save the city of Solis. Conceived by Margaret Mahy and developed by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, the award-winning series was produced by South Pacific Pictures. A young Rose McIver (future Tinker Bell in US TV show Once Upon a Time) led the cast, acting with a caravan of Kiwi veterans. Māori elements mixed with rural West Auckland sets in the ‘solar punk’ rendering of the future. Here, Garland (McIver) faces tragedy but meets two boys (and a baby) with magical powers.
Billy Williams (Cliff Curtis) is enthusiastic and likeable, but a bit hopeless. When the driving force behind the Waimatua School 75th Jubilee is killed in an accident, Billy takes over, determined to prove himself. Meanwhile, the arrival of ex-international rugby player Max Seddon (Kevin Smith) forces Billy's wife Pauline (Theresa Healey) to question the choices she has made in her life. This affectionate comedy drama about small town New Zealand life marked Cliff Curtis's first lead role in a feature film — and actor Michael Hurst's first time directing a movie.
Lawless saw Kevin Smith in one of his biggest roles: as undercover cop turned private investigator John Lawless. The character's career arc was told across three tele-movies. In this self-titled debut, Lawless struggles with divided loyalties while working for a dodgy drug lord (Joel Tobeck). Next thing, a robbery leaves Lawless framed by the good guys. This stylish Kiwi take on American crime shows won good reviews and a stash of awards, including gongs for Tobeck, co-star Angela Dotchin, director Chris Martin-Jones and best drama programme.
On a holiday to Mt Tarawera, teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs) finds an odd shard of metal. In this third episode of the kids sci-fi series she meets its owner: 'Drom' — a survivor of an alien mission to deactivate a planet-annihilating space gun (aka Tarawera itself). They find themselves under siege from a Predator-like 'Guardian' of the gun. If Drom and Jenny and local kids Tessa and Lloyd (future What Now? presenter Anthony Samuels) can't defeat the mechanoid, catastrophe is imminent! The South Pacific Pictures series found international sales and cult repute.
Christchurch property developer Dave Henderson experienced bankruptcy, accusations of fraud, and 25 plus tax audits. This Kafkaesque comedy is based on his best-selling book about a five-year battle with the tax department, over a $924,000 bill. Kiwi/Scot actor Erik Thomson returned from Australia to play Henderson, while a near-unrecognisable Michael Hurst cameos as MP Rodney Hide. Lumiere reviewer Simon Sweetman praised the “superb” casting, and Thomson’s playful performance. The film is adapted and directed by screen vet Jonothan Cullinane.
Craig Potton — renowned photographer and conservationist — is New Zealand coastal tour guide in this five part South Pacific Pictures’ series. In this excerpt from the opening episode Potton gets choppered in by his mate, legendary pilot Richard ‘Hannibal’ Hayes, to explore the edges of the Fiordland wilderness. The duo camp on Hayes’ ex-navy vessel moored in Breaksea Sound; and retrace Captain Cook’s star-gazing route in Dusky Sound (where Cook brewed the first beer in NZ). Then Potton frames the epic limestone landscape of Chalky Inlet through his camera lens.
A death-bed confession from a touch judge leads to a repeat of a test match between the All Blacks and Wales played 25 years earlier — with the same players. Before the footy, a former Welsh star is forced to face up to a past romance. Mateships and rivalries are rekindled in this genial "what if" yarn, that celebrates and satirises two nations' rugby obsessions. It won best screenplay and supporting actor (John Bach) at 1992's NZ Film Awards. The cast saw former All Blacks and Welsh rugby reps playing alongside acting greats from both countries.
This film is about the redemption of Jake the Muss. It picks up the story after Jake has turned his back on his family (his wife has left him to escape the violence) and is up to his usual tricks in McClutchy's Bar. After one of his sons dies suspiciously in a gang fight, another sets out to find revenge, accompanied by young gang member Tania (Nancy Brunning). Scripted by Alan Duff and directed by Ian Mune, the film was the second-highest-earning NZ film of the 1990s, (eclipsed only by Once Were Warriors). It scooped most of the categories at the 1999 NZ Film & TV Awards.
In this award-winning episode of the Rivers series, photographer Craig Potton visits Canterbury’s Rangitata River. The great braided river is home to the rare wrybill, and the landscape has provided inspiration for Samuel Butler (utopian satire Erewhon) and Peter Jackson (Mount Sunday is Edoras in Lord of the Rings). It’s been shaped by glaciers, the nor’wester, irrigation and farming. In this excerpt Potton and climbing mates try to reach the fabled Garden of Eden ice plateau and the river’s “pure heart”; a mission Potton and friend Robbie Burton failed to complete 30 years before.
This feature film follows Māori medicine woman Paraiti (played by singer Whirimako Black) on a rare visit to Auckland from her Urewera home. She meets a Māori servant (Rachel House) and is drawn into helping a wealthy Pākehā woman (Outrageous Fortune’s Antonia Prebble) with a scandalous, life-threatening secret. The tale of culture clash and deception in settler Aotearoa was directed by Mexican Dana Rotberg (Otlia Rauda), who adapted the story from Witi Ihimaera novella Medicine Woman. Producer John Barnett was also involved in the adaptation of Ihimaera’s Whale Rider.
Since the 1970s, producer John Barnett has been instrumental in bringing a host of uniquely Kiwi stories to local and international screens, from Fred Dagg to Footrot Flats, from Whale Rider to Sione’s Wedding and What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?, from iconic soap Shortland Street to the wildly successful Westie family drama Outrageous Fortune.
With more than 30 years in the television industry under his belt, veteran drama producer and director Chris Bailey has made a significant contribution to New Zealand’s screen heritage. His many TV credits include Gloss, Mortimer’s Patch, Under the Mountain, Burying Brian, Marlin Bay, City Life, and Greenstone. He was also the first executive producer on Shortland Street. Bailey was a co-founder of production company ScreenWorks which made the popular legal drama Street Legal.
Kelly Martin is Chief Executive of South Pacific Pictures. She began her TV career working in the photocopy room at TVNZ, before moving on to international acquisitions for the company, then to TV3 where she was a scheduler and ultimately Director of Programming. At the network she oversaw a number of hit TV shows such as Outrageous Fortune, bro'Town, and 7 Days.
Scriptwriter and playwright James Griffin has been writing for most of his life. Since becoming a scriptwriter in the 1980s Griffin has written many of New Zealand’s most well known and best loved TV shows (including co-creating Outrageous Fortune) as well as the feature film Sione's Wedding.