Brendan Donovan’s debut short Here (2001), made while he was directing commercials in the US, starred Lee Majors as an aging hitman. Since returning to NZ Donovan has pursued drama, winning Qantas awards for he innovative Insiders Guide to Love, and TV movie Aftershock (2008). His first feature was family drama The Hopes & Dreams of Gazza Snell. Donovan also lectures in directing at Auckland University.
I would love to do a third series and always will. It's a programme that is dear to my heart. Brendan Donovan on the Insiders Guide series
A tale of infuriating fathers and very fast go-karts, The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell marks Robyn Malcolm’s first leading role on film. Malcolm plays Gail, long-suffering wife to the charming, ambitious Gazza Snell. Obsessed with go-karting, Gazza has banked heavily on the hope his sons’ racing talents will result in motorsport glory. But Gail is unconvinced. Australian talent William McInnes (Unfinished Sky, SeaChange) plays Gazza; the script is by Insiders Guide to Happiness award-winners David Brechin-Smith and Brendan Donovan (who also directs).
This award-winning telefilm imagines the effects of a major earthquake on New Zealand’s capital city, and how its citizens react to chaos, death, isolation and tsunami. It was completed in 2008 — before Christchurch took Wellington’s mantle as NZ's shakiest city, and made Aftershock's imagined scenes a reality. Aftershock was produced for TV3 by The Gibson Group, and written by veteran screenwriter Graeme Tetley (Out of the Blue, Vigil). The following week saw the debut of Aftershock - Would You Survive?, which put a real-life family through a three-day survival test.
Qantas-nominated 'dramedy' Rude Awakenings revolved around the conflict between two neighbouring families, living in the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby. Rush family matriarch Dimity (Danielle Cormack) has her eyes on climbing the property ladder, by acquiring the house next door (occupied by solo Dad Arthur and his teenage daughters). Created by Garth Maxwell (movie Jack Be Nimble), the 2007 series was produced by Michele Fantl for TV One. The Listener’s Diana Wichtel welcomed it as a rare contemporary satire on New Zealand television, but it only ran for a single season.
The second, but prequel, series to The Insiders Guide to Happiness is chaos theory in action: seven young strangers whose lives intersect are linked together by a bizarre incident. Produced by the Gibson Group, The Insiders Guide mix of meta-tangle story-telling with fresh shooting and faces, saw Love become a hit with the same youth demographic as Happiness. The show went on to win a clutch of Screen Director's Guild Awards and most of the major drama gongs at the 2006 Qantas Film and TV Awards, including Best Drama, Director, Script, Actor and Actress.
The Insiders Guide to Happiness follows the interconnecting lives of eight 20-something characters — one of them dead — as they search for happiness. Dramatic, comic, sexy, surreal, the drama won critical acclaim and was a ratings success. An ambitious chaos theory-derived 'meta' concept is underpinned by strong performances from the ensemble of burgeoning acting talent, and stylishly-shot Wellington city locations. The Gibson Group production won seven awards at the 2005 NZ Screen Awards, including Best Drama and Best Director (Mark Beesley)