Some jobs never make the headlines; in the screen industry, one of those unsung positions is the production manager. After seven years on film sets in Asia, Brian Walden returned home in the mid 70s to production manage the shoots of many classic TV dramas, from Hunter’s Gold to Hanlon. In 1985 he went freelance, keeping a firm hand on shoots involving horses, hospital porters, vampires and underwater aeroplanes.
He was forthright and relentless. Nothing was insurmountable — neither the location, nor the weather … he could bring any production in on time and on budget even if if he had to go and do half the stuff that needed to be done himself. Which was often the case. Director Wayne Tourell on Brian Walden
Filmed in Canada, Kiwi Jesse Warn’s first feature is a thriller built on riddles. A mysterious trail of riddles lead a student (Carly Pope) into dangerous territory, and help her realise her journey may be connected to an imprisoned woman (Rena Owen) who murdered a child, claiming it was part of a grand design. Nemesis Game was a co-production between NZ, Canada (including company Lionsgate) and the UK. Nominated for best film, it won four NZ Film Awards including cinematography and editing. Ian McShane (Deadwood) and Adrian Paul (TV’s Highlander) co-star.
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."
Teen actors Nikki Si'ulepa and Toby Fisher won acclaim in Ian Mune's fourth feature as director. Si'ulepa plays a Samoan street kid who meets a well-off white teen, when both are facing mortality in a hospital ward. The co-production between NZ and Canada (where it debuted on cable TV) won over critics in both nations. "Si'ulepa dominates the camera and the action with a natural authority", raved Metro. Moon scooped the gongs at the 1996 TV Guide Awards (including for originating screenwriter Richard Lymposs); and won notice at Berlin and Giffoni film festivals.
Seventeen-year-old Timothy (Dean O'Gorman from Pork Pie) is facing suspension after a misguided prank. His parents hope the French-Canadian exchange student they’re hosting will settle Tim down, but when ‘Michel’ turns out to be ‘Michelle’ — and spunky — plans go awry. Coming of age and cross-cultural comedy ensues as Tim tries to court his Montreal mademoiselle. Shot around Avondale College, the award-winning NZ-Canadian film got a special mention from the Children’s Jury at the 1996 Berlin Film Festival. The cast includes Angela Bloomfield and Milan Borich.
A big budget New Zealand-French-Australian co-production, kidult series Deepwater Haven screened on TV2. It followed the fortunes of Waitemata Harbour tugboat skipper Jack Wilson (Vince Martin of Beaurepairies advertising fame) and his two kids, Georgie (Jay Saussey) and Peter (Peter Malloch). This opening episode sees Jack struggling to keep his business afloat; the local cafe is burgled; and Peter, marooned at a dry dock while on the run from bullies, is rescued by a street kid (future Pluto singer Milan Borich). Saussey won a NZ Film and TV Award for her role.
While visiting family down under, American teen Lonny catches up with his grandfather, a man with an infectious giggle, a thirst for adventure — and two vampire-sized incisors. Released locally as Grampire, this family-friendly adventure combines local names (among them future Pluto singer Milan Borich) with a winning turn as nice guy vampire by American Al Lewis (cult series The Munsters). Director David Blyth was won over by Michael Heath’s script because it reversed convention, and “was a plea for children to be allowed to keep and develop their imaginations”.
A continuation of the classic 70s UK TV series cherished by herds of horse-loving girls, the New Adventures follow Vicky Denning (Amber McWilliams) who has emigrated to the antipodes with her step-mother, where she is captivated by a mystic black horse. The co-production was set in NZ, produced by Tom Parkinson and features many Kiwi names in front of and behind the camera (Illona Rodgers, Ken Catran). Key original cast and the famous original title sequence and tune are reprised, but now with Beauty galloping along a west coast beach. Two seasons were produced.
Illustrious Energy sees Chan and his older mate Kim prospecting for gold in 1890s Otago. Marooned until they can pay off their debts and return to China; they’ve been fruitlessly working their claim for 12 and 27 years respectively. Chan faces racism, isolation, extreme weather, threatening surveyors, opium dens and a circus romance. The renowned feature-directing debut of cinematographer Leon Narbey provides a poetic evocation of the Chinese settler experience; especially vivid are Central’s natural details — desolate schist and tussock lands, rasping crickets.
As a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force, Brian Deeds (Belfast-born actor Ian McElhinney) grassed on 23 fellow terrorists in Northern Ireland. Now living in New Zealand under a new identity, Deeds has to come clean to his girlfriend (Judy McIntosh) when a hit squad arrives in town for him. This clip sees guns and car crashes on the streets of Dunedin. Made in NZ, the Anglo-Kiwi funded TV movie won solid audiences on UK television, before local release on video. Ian Mune (Came a Hot Friday) directs; Marshall Napier and Temuera Morrison are the cops playing catch up.
Comedy series Porters featured an impressive cast. George Henare, Peter Bland (star of Came a Hot Friday), Bill Johnson (Under the Mountain) and Stephen Judd (Bridge to Nowhere) starred as a cynical team of hospital porters who share no love for their boss (Roy Billing). In the hope of lifting the standards of Kiwi comedy, the makers of this 80s television series imported Emmy award-winner Noam Pitlik (Barney Miller, Taxi) from the US to direct. The series made comedy from hospital romances, missing patients and union representation. Only six episodes were made.
Created by actor/writer Jonathan Hardy, comedy series Porters was based around a group of porters working in a big city hospital. This episode features an early screen appearance by Rima Te Wiata (Hunt for the Wilderpeople); she guest stars as a worried nurse who calls on junior porter Peter (Stephen Judd from Bridge to Nowhere), after hearing some strange noises on the night shift. An encounter in the mortuary awaits. The episode also includes appearances by fellow porters George Henare, Peter Bland and Bill Johnson, with Roy Billing playing their long-suffering boss.
Dunedin barrister Alf Hanlon’s first — and most famous — defence case was the first episode in this award-winning drama series about his career. In 1895, alleged baby farmer Minnie Dean was charged with murdering two infants in her care. Hanlon’s inspired manslaughter defence was undermined by the judge’s direction to the jury; and Dean became the only woman to be hanged in NZ. Hanlon vowed none of his future clients would ever suffer this fate. Emmy-nominated and a major critical success, the episode contributed to a re-evaluation of Dean’s conviction.
This was New Zealand's first big historical drama after the controversy over the cost of The Governor almost a decade earlier. Over seven episodes — set between 1895 and 1914 — it followed the life of Dunedin barrister Alf Hanlon, focussing on six of his most important cases. British actor David Gwillim played Hanlon, while Australian Robyn Nevin was cast as convicted baby murderer Minnie Dean in the first and most celebrated episode. A major critical, ratings and awards success, it immediately recouped its budget when the Minnie Dean episode spurred a big international sale.
After adapting the slimy transmogrifying Wilberforces of Maurice Gee novel Under the Mountain for the small screen, scriptwriter (and future sci-fi novelist) Ken Catran returned with his own tale of kids and extraterrestrial contact. The series follows holidaying teen Gretchen (Sarah Dunn) trying to unravel the mystery of a weathervane — a "daisy rod" which seems to have otherworldly powers — and curious objects found in a tapu swamp. Backing up this girl-power sci-fi adventure are Catherine Wilkin, Roy Billing and Utu star Zac Wallace.
After adapting Maurice Gee classic Under the Mountain for TV, writer Ken Catran wrote his own tale of teen extraterrestrial contact. While holidaying with relatives in the country astronomy-mad Gretchen discovers that a farm weathervane has mysterious powers. In this second episode of the girl-power sci-fi series, the weathervane does strange things to cars and appliances; and Gretchen and local scallywag Ronny discover a secret in a tapu swamp threatened by development. Actors Zac Wallace and Roy Billing feature, and future weatherman Jim Hickey cameos.
Heroes followed a band trying to make it in the mid-80s music biz. Teen-orientated, the show marked a first major role for Jay Laga’aia (Star Wars), and an early gig for Michael Hurst (with blonde Billy Idol spikes). Band keyboardist John Gibson co-wrote the series music; he later became an award-winning film composer. Margaret Umbers (Shortland Street, Bridge to Nowhere) was a non-musician in the cast (with Hurst), but since has sung regularly in a jazz band. A second series follow in 1986.
Long before the comedy of Flight of the Conchords, Heroes followed the triumphs and pitfalls of a band trying to make it in the mid-80s New Zealand music biz. It marked the first major role for Jay Laga’aia, and early leading parts for Michael Hurst and Margaret Umbers. In this first episode the band gets together as Dave (Hurst) ditches his covers band, flunks a TV audition, and hooks up opportunist flatmate Ron (Laga’aia), synth player Peter (John Gibson, who co-wrote the series music) and bass player Maxine (Umbers). Synth and leopard skin abound.
Police drama Mortimer's Patch included a Māori sergeant (played by Don Selwyn) among its quartet of rural coppers, yet the series only rarely explored Māori topics. Penned by Greg McGee, this episode plots a small-town twist on questions of racism, abuse of privilege, and the horse-trading behind which cases go to court. After a theft at the local takeaways, one of a trio of young Māori reacts to the racist perpetrator — a Pākehā businessman — by breaking the law himself. The guest cast includes Frank Whitten (Outrageous Fortune), Selwyn Muru and Temuera Morrison, whose only line is "Honky. Smooth honky. Nasty".
The powerhouse, largely Māori cast of this teleplay includes Jim Moriarty, Merata Mita, Billy T James (as a Marxist) and, in his acting debut, Zac Wallace (star of Utu). The Protesters explores issues involving race and land ownership in the aftermath of the Springbok Tour and Bastion Point. A group of Māori and Pākehā protestors occupy ancestral land that the government wants to sell. While waiting for the police to arrive, they debate whether to go quietly or respond with violence. Though some wounds are healed, The Protesters ends on a note of division, reflecting the era it was made in.
Classic sci-fi series Under the Mountain follows redheaded twins with psychic powers — Rachel and Theo — as they battle the alien Wilberforces. This fourth episode sees the twins venture into the aliens' submarine lair for the first time. The lair's moody production design, the NZ Symphony Orchestra's score, and creepy transmogrifying special effects contributed to the slimy imprint the series left on a generation of Kiwi kids, haunted by the giant slugs slithering underneath Auckland's volcanoes. The award-winning series was adapted from the Maurice Gee novel.
Classic sci-fi TV series Under the Mountain follows the adventures of redheaded twins with psychic powers — Rachel and Theo — on their Auckland summer holiday. They meet the mysterious Mr Jones, an alien emissary who enlists them in the battle against the evil Wilberforces, who are plotting planetary destruction. Adapted from the Maurice Gee novel, the series' fx left their slimy imprint on a generation of NZ kids, haunted by the transmogrifying Wilberforces, who changed from humans into giant slugs slithering underneath Auckland’s volcanoes.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular police series following detective Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper), a city cop returning to his rural roots. In the first episode, scripted by Keith Aberdein (The Governor), a girl (Greer Robson) goes missing in sand dunes near the shack of an eccentric recluse. Fear and suspicion mounts, and Mortimer brings in help from the city: prejudiced detective Chris Knight (Ken Blackburn). Don Selwyn plays Sergeant Bob Storey. In this background piece, Mortimer's Patch producer Tom Finlayson writes about the show's birth, death and double resurrection.
This TVNZ kidult drama is a saltwater Swallows and Amazons, where the plucky "urchins" stumble upon villainous plots (from missing treasure to wildlife smuggling) on their seaside adventures. Over three series, locations like Mahurangi Peninsula in the Hauraki Gulf — where the youngsters holidayed with their uncle — and the Marlborough Sounds allowed for much floatplane, launch and navy frigate chase action. The cast included an array of experienced talent and featured a young Rebecca Gibney (the Packed to Rafter’s star’s first major TV role) and Robert Rakete.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular drama series following Detective Sergeant Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper) at work in the town of Cobham. Mortimer plays a city cop returning to his rural roots; Don Selwyn is Sergeant Bob Storey. The series was NZ’s first police drama, and a rare local drama to top ratings. Mortimer's Patch was made when the archetype of the ‘community cop’ everyone knew was still a powerful one, and it was a counterweight to the faceless riot policing of the Springbok Tour. Three series were made.
While convalescing down under Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) schemes to build a thermal spa in the town of Wainamu c.1900. Conflict ensues as the spa’s planned location is on Māori land. The action is seen through the eyes of youngsters: hotelier’s son Tom, and Pemberton’s granddaughter Sarah Jane; who — along with an erupting volcano — eventually impart on Sir Charles a lesson about colonial hubris. The 13-part series was a marquee title from a golden age of Kiwi kidult telly-making: it won multiple Feltex awards, and screened on the BBC in 1980.
This Feltex award-winning kidult series is set in the colonial town of Wainamu in 1900, amidst the North Island’s ‘thermal wonderland’. It follows the challenges that Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) faces in building a spa on Māori land. In this first episode, local lad Tom, son of the hotelier, is irritated by the arrival of Sir Charles and his aristocratic entourage (particularly granddaughter Sarah Jane, also known as “Little Miss Prim”). Their train is late after being spooked by natives. Tom's gang of shanghai-toting scallywags also take on the mean local butcher.
Ngaio Marsh Theatre was based on four murder mysteries by crime writer Dame Ngaio Marsh: Vintage Murder, Died in the Wool, Colour Scheme, and Opening Night (the latter was the only one not set in her homeland). UK actor George Baker (The Ruth Renell Mysteries, I, Claudius) starred as Inspector Roderick Alleyn — the rational Englishman solving murderous crimes in the green and pleasant colony. The series successfully leveraged the international appeal of Marsh's novels. Ngaio Marsh Theatre was the first New Zealand television drama to screen in the US (on PBS).
Died in the Wool was part of a TV anthology adapting the murder mysteries of Dame Ngaio Marsh. MP Flossie Rubrick has been found dead in a wool bale, and it's up to Inspector Roderick Alleyn (UK actor George Baker — Bond, Z Cars, I, Claudius) to unravel the secrets of a South Island sheep station. The tale of a cultured Englishman amidst World War II spies, Bach and seamy colonial crimes — like Marsh's books — found a global audience: it was the first NZ TV drama to screen in the US (on PBS). Includes a Cluedo-style sitting room inquest and a wool shed reveal.
Kidult drama Gather your Dreams follows Kitty (Kerry McGregor), an aspiring performer travelling with her family's vaudeville troupe in 1930s NZ. In this episode, the troupe competes for viewers with boxing promoter Ted Crawley (George Henare) at a Depression relief camp. Troupe patriarch Wallace (Terence Cooper) plots to best Crawley by managing "Haggis the brawling Scot" (actor's agent and On the Mat legend Robert Bruce’s acting debut). But the 'worker's hope' turns out to be a stooge with a glass jaw. Will coaching from Kitty save the day? The show must go on!
Children's adventure series Gather Your Dreams follows Kitty, a teenager who dreams of stardom while travelling with her family's vaudeville troupe in Depression-era 1930s New Zealand. The troupe's impresario (and Kitty’s father) was played by Mortimer’s Patch star Terence Cooper. Mostly shot in the Coromandel, the half hour 13-part series was one of a run of kidult dramas made in the late 70s by South Pacific Television. Like its predecessor — colonial scamp saga Hunter's Gold — it had international sales success. Dreams was helmed by Hunter's Gold director Tom Parkinson.
The Mackenzie Affair told the story of colonial folk hero James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would later bear his name. This fifth and final episode sees the manhunt for Mackenzie over, with ‘Jock’ facing a sentence of hard labour and provoking sympathy from equivocal sheriff Henry Tancred. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production (with Scottish TV) imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft. It was made by Hunter’s Gold producer John McRae.
The five-part series told the story of colonial outlaw James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would bear his name. His escapades on the lam elevated him to folk hero status. Like producer John McRae’s prior series, Hunter’s Gold, the South Pacific Television ‘prestige’ drama was made with export in mind. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production — with Scottish TV, where the opening episode was shot — imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft.
This classic kids’ adventure tale follows a 13-year-old boy on a quest to find his father, missing amidst the 1860s Otago gold rush. When it launched in September 1976, the 13 part series was the most expensive local TV drama yet made. Under the reins of director Tom Parkinson, the series brandished unprecedented production values, and panned the Central Otago vistas for all their worth. Its huge local popularity was matched abroad (BBC screened it multiple times); it showed that NZ-made kids’ drama could be exported, and helped establish the new second television channel.
This classic kids’ adventure series follows a boy trying to find his missing father, amidst the 1860s Otago gold rush. The show displayed unprecedented production values, and demonstrated that Kiwi-made kids’ drama could be successfully exported. This first episode sees Scott Hunter (Andrew Hawthorn) steal away to Tucker’s Valley, spurred on by his unsympathetic uncle. In the background pieces, writer Roger Simpson recalls creating 13 scripts at high speed, and director Tom Parkinson writes about the Kiwi landscape as character, and finding the production team.