Danny Mulheron has come at comedy from almost every angle: as a writer, as a director, as co-creator of the politically-incorrect Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, and from inside a hippo suit. But laughter is not the whole story. Mulheron has also acted in Close to Home and Roche, presented for car programme AA Torque Show, and directed everything from documentaries (The Third Richard) to Rage, a tele-movie on the 1981 tour.
Directing is all about connecting with people. In some ways I don’t think of directing as being any different from acting or writing: you’re working with a group of people to tell a story. Danny Mulheron
In search of a hideout, gun-totting Gigi (Kate Elliott) and a gang with criminal tendencies end up in hot water after crashing into the lives of a middle class Māori family. To describe the whānau as meat lovers would be euphemistic. Actor/director Danny Mulheron has often gleefully given the finger to political correctness — witness Meet the Feebles, stage farce The Sex Fiend, and TV's Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby. This Gibson Group production marks his in your face cinematic debut. The anarchic result promises cannibalism, comedy — and chef Tem Morrison.
TV movie Rage recreates the 1981 Springbok tour, which saw violent clashes between protestors and police. Ryan O'Kane (Second Hand Wedding) plays the protestor whose girlfriend (Maria Walker) is actually an undercover cop who has infiltrated the anti-tour movement. The script was written by Tom Scott — who protested, in-between writing a humour column in The Listener — and his brother-in-law Grant O'Fee, who was a detective sergeant in Wellington. Rage was nominated for five NZ TV Awards, including Best One-Off Drama, Director (Danny Mulheron) and Actor (O'Kane).
This telefeature imagines the build up to, and aftermath, of an Auckland volcanic eruption. The last big one produced Rangitoto, and scientist Clive de Roo (Mark Mitchinson) is the Cassandra who discovers under the mountain rumblings 600 years later. Citizens are non-plussed until the top pops. Eruption was produced for TV3 by The Gibson Group and was one of the last projects from veteran screenwriter Graeme Tetley (Out of the Blue, Vigil) completed before his 2011 death. Gibson Group also produced 2008 Wellington earthquake ‘what if?’ Aftershock.
AA Torque Show was a Kiwi motoring show following in the wheelspun tracks of international hit Top Gear. In this episode from the second series, architect Roger Walker takes the new Audi TT off the drawing board for a spin on the Central Plateau; actor and host Danny Mulheron tries to convince superbike champ Aaron Slight that a convertible is more than “a hairdresser’s car” as they drive a Volvo and a BMW coupe to the Gladstone Pub in the Wairarapa; and it’s the final of the Motormouth Cup (“which C-lister will walk away with motoring’s glittering prize”?)
This motoring show was a Kiwi take on the format that Top Gear made globally famous: motorheads reviewing and having fun in machines that go fast. The first season screened on TV One in 2006; the second screened on Prime the following year. Presenters were actor and director Danny Mulheron, architect Roger Walker, and, joining them for the second season, superbike rider Aaron Slight. Aside from the car reviews, the show included segments like the Motormouth Cup, where Kiwi celebs raced each other to see who could clock the fastest lap on the test track.
Teacher Mr Gormsby believes in brutal honesty - and that the education system has gone all namby-pamby. In desperation, a dysfunctional low-decile school employs him.director/co-creator Danny Mulheron was inspired partly by an old school teacher who wore a military beret, and has irreverent fun with the archaic antics of Mr Gormsby. The Dominion Post compared Gormsby to Fred Dagg and Lyn of Tawa; The Sydney Morning Herald found it "darkly funny". Running two seasons, it was nominated for Best Script and Best Comedy in the 2006 NZ Screen Awards.
Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby was a sharp-witted comedy about an appallingly politically incorrect relief teacher. In this episode, the irreverent Mr Gormsby (artfully played by David McPhail) is the unlikely candidate to teach a Human Relationships class. Later, a used condom is discovered in the wharenui and Gormsby's powers of deduction lead him to the culprit. The "darkly funny" comedy (Sydney Morning Herald) was partly based on a former teacher of director Danny Mulheron and was nominated for Best Script and Best Comedy at the 2006 NZ Screen Awards.
Director Danny Mulheron has fun with the subversive character of Mr Gormsby in this irreverently funny series. In desperation, the Tepapawai High School principal has hired paragon of old school values Mr Gormsby (David McPhail) after yet another relief teacher walks out. Forming an instant dislike for fellow teacher 'Steve from Guidance' and frustrated that his trusty cane has been taken from him, Gormsby comes up a unique form of discipline which manages to offend pretty much everyone. Nominated for Best Script and Best Comedy at the 2006 NZ Screen Awards.
Reluctant Revolutionary mines a wealth of then-new interviews to trace David Lange's rise from pudgy doctor's son to lawyer, to Prime Minister leading the country through radical change. Along the way writer/director Tom Scott asks how a man as gifted as Lange allowed his Government to collapse around him after only five years in office. The film includes rare input from National leader Jim McLay (who praises Lange's wit at university), Rogernomics architect Roger Douglas, and the first ever TV interview with Lange's second wife Margaret Pope.
This sex in the capital city series centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who has shed a corporate legal career to set up a male strip revue. The Gibson Group-produced show married the fretful modern woman protagonist of Ally McBeal with the hen's night appeal of Ladies Night; it screened for two series on TV3. In this episode from the first series Melissa enjoys her towel-clad new flatmate Adam (Robbie Magasiva), while her copper boyfriend Shane (Stephen Lovatt) doesn't. And Mel's teenage daughter contemplates 'the first time'.
The Strip centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who sheds a legal career to set up a male strip revue. Created by Alan Brash, The Strip played to a certain demographic's desire for ogling naked men (warmed up by 1987 play Ladies Night and 1997 film The Full Monty), but with a focus on female characters, as Melissa juggles business with raising a teenage daughter. Taking cues from Ally McBeal (with fantasy sequences to match) the Gibson Group tale of g-strings, feminism and red light romance screened for two series on TV3 and sold internationally.
The debut feature from writer-director Glenn Standring, The Irrefutable Truth about Demons sees anthropologist Harry Ballard (Karl Urban) threatened by a sinister cult. With the help of beautifully bizarre Bennie (Katie Wolfe) he endures a terrifying night as his friends are killed by demons. Or are they? Hounded by the memory of his dead brother, Harry suffers beatings, heart surgery and assault by cockroaches. Variety said Demons "conjures a creepy, brooding atmosphere and enough thrills to keep young horror enthusiasts glued." The film sold to more than 50 countries.
One of the most successful television shows shot on Kiwi soil, The Tribe was the brainchild of British-born Raymond Thompson. In a future where the adults have been wiped out by a virus, the children that remain have formed into competing tribes, some of whom live to terrorise. Running five seasons, The Tribe sold to more than 120 territories, and the cast toured performances from the soundtrack for overseas fans. The cast were almost entirely New Zealanders, as were most of the crew. Sequel The New Tomorrow, following descendants of the original characters, screened in 2005.
Skitz was a popular long-running sketch-based comedy that ran for four series from 1993 to 1997. This selection of excerpts contains sketches from the final season of the Gibson Group satirical show famous for its broad, take-no-prisoners humour, and memorable characters and catchphrases. The wacky Semisi family and their 'fresh off the boat' antics inspire mirth and groans in equal measure and filmmaker Sima Urale is enjoyably ludicrous as the terrifying Aunty Mele. Jemaine (Flight of the Conchords) Clement and members of the Bro' Town posse also feature.
Audiences first discovered dysfunctional Samoan-Kiwi family The Semisis via 90s sketch comedy series Skitz. In 1996 they got their own spin-off show. A talent-heavy cast found themselves lobbing lines and props in each other's direction: future Naked Samoans Dave Fane and Robbie Magasiva, performer Jackie Clarke, and Hori Ahipene, as the family matriach. Creators Dave Armstrong and Kerry Jimson got input for storylines from the cast, director Danny Mulheron and a group of young Samoans from Porirua. Seven episodes were made by Wellington's Gibson Group.
Created by Dave Armstrong and Kerry Jimson, The Semisis was a satirical take on a contemporary Samoan-Kiwi family. In this opening episode, the Semisis handle eviction by heading to a campground with all their belongings. There romance buds, the palagi next door neighbour (Brian Sergent) proves unwelcoming, and the South African camp commander is even worse. The over the top Semisis family began as part of 90s TV sketch show Skitz; Armstrong consulted with cast members and a group of young Samoans from Porirua, while writing the scripts.
Skitz was a popular long-running sketch-based comedy that screened for four series. Populated with memorable characters and catch-phrases, and broad, take-no-prisoners humour, it won Best Entertainment Programme at the 1996 NZ TV and Film Awards. A particular favourite in its arsenal of regular characters was the Semisi family with their 'fresh off the boat' antics inspiring mirth and groans in equal measure. Skitz featured seasoned comedians such as Jackie Clarke, as well as new faces at the time, including Jemaine Clement of future Flight of the Conchords fame.
In 1992 Australian soap star Craig McLachlan (Neighbours) landed in NZ, to tackle one of his only starring roles in a movie to date. McLachlan plays Ed — a WWll soldier who goes AWOL — in a story 74-year-old writer James Edwards drew from his own life. When Ed is shipped overseas with no leave, he feels obliged to make sure that his recently pregnant wife Daisy (Katrina Hobbs) is OK before he departs. But then the days become weeks. For director John Laing the road movie offered a chance to explore changing gender roles, as women discovered life beyond house and family.
Away Laughing was an early sketch comedy show from Wellington company Gibson Group. In this episode from the second series, skaters, spies, panelbeaters and Buck Shelford are the butt of jokes. Kevin Smith and Murray Keane play two Australians mocking New Zealand place names; a trio of firefighters make idiots of themselves in a classroom; ingratiating priest Phineas O'Diddle (Danny Mulheron) arrives at the pub in time to join in on Hori's birthday; and onetime Telecom promo man Gordon McLauchlan interviews two gorillas about Telecom's privatisation.
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.
Valley of the Stereos is a comic face-off that starts tinny, but gleefully escalates to bass heavy, as a not-so-zen hippy (Danny Mulheron) gets caught up in a vale-blasting battle with the noisy bogan next door (Murray Keane). Made by many key Peter Jackson collaborators, the near-wordless pump up the volume tale was directed by George Port, shortly before he became founding member of Jackson's famed effects-house Weta Digital. Ironically Weta's computer-generated miracles would help render the stop motion imagery seen in the finale largely a thing of the past.
Debuting on 6 May 1991, this TV3 comedy show saw sketches tested out before a live (unseen) audience — and dropped from the episode if no one laughed. The performers were a mixture of rising standup comics (Jon Bridges) and theatre talents (Danny Mulheron, Carol Smith), plus late actors Kevin Smith and Peta Rutter. Producer Dave Gibson wanted to avoid satire and politics, in favour of the challenge of broad social comedy. Among the regular sketches were a pair of gormless skateboarders and ingratiating priest Phineas O’Diddle. Another season followed in 1992.
This sketch comedy series screened over two years in the early 90s. Many of the Gibson Group show's skits were tested and filmed in a theatre, in front of a paying audience. This first episode sees laughs come from Watties spaghetti and a roll call of emerging comic talent of the era. Danny Mulheron and Hori Ahipene act up, Tim Balme plays Trivial Pursuit, Kevin Smith gets his vernacular on negotiating NZ customs, Peta Rutter crushes on Steve Parr, and Facial DBX comedians Jon Bridges and David Downs are teenage skaters who talk digital watches while wearing day-glo.
This feature dramatises an ill-fated offensive that Kiwi soldiers undertook during World War I’s Gallipoli campaign. On 8 August 1915 the Wellington Battalion briefly seized Chunuk Bair, a pivotal peak overlooking the Dardanelles; they suffered huge losses. The film pitches the attack as a formative New Zealand nationhood moment, with Kiwi guts and resilience countered by inept, careless British generals, as much as their Turkish foes. Filmed on an Avalon set and the Wainuiomata coast, the story was based on Maurice Shadbolt’s classic play Once On Chunuk Bair.
Director Peter Jackson's second feature Meet the Feebles offers even more bad taste than his debut. The irreverent, outlandish, part-musical satire is populated almost entirely by puppets, but it is by no means cute. The motley creatures are all members of a variety show that’s working up to a major performance. They include Bletch the two-timing pornographer walrus, an obese hippo femme fatale, a drug-dealing rat, and a heroin-addicted frog — in other words, something to offend everyone. Richard King writes about the creation of New Zealand's first puppet movie here.
Screened on a TVNZ arts show, this documentary looks at how the strings were pulled on Peter Jackson's low-budget puppet movie Meet the Feebles. An old Wellington railway shed fizzes with energy and imagination as a team peppered with future Oscar-winners crafts the gleefully subversive Muppets parody. Jackson muses on his influences, processes and propensity for "savage humour" in a fascinating interview. Included is footage of his childhood films — war movies and stop motion animation made with his first 8mm camera. Richard King writes about Meet the Feebles here.
Gibson Group production Public Eye was inspired by the British series, Spitting Image. Latex puppets caricature topical personalities, mostly drawn from the world of politics (Ruth Richardson, Helen Clark, Winston Peters etc). Their foibles are duly skewered in fast-moving comic skits such as the 'Ruatoria Rasta' segment, 'The White Way' and 'Honky Tanga'. The wickedly grotesque puppets were based on drawings by cartoonist Trace Hodgson, and built by a team headed by future Weta FX maestro, Richard Taylor.
Inspired by the British series Spitting Image, Gibson Group's Public Eye features latex puppets based on drawings by cartoonist Trace Hodgson and built by a team headed by future Weta FX maestro, Richard Taylor. Highlights from the first episode include a boxing match between former finance minister Ruth Richardson and Winston Peters; Helen Clark's attempts to convince a bunch of labour party ministers to enforce a ban on pornography; and cricketer Richard Hadlee's failure to promote a life insurance company while being interviewed by Keith Quinn.
In director Gaylene Preston's genre-bending tale, Meg (Heather Bolton) buys a stylish old Jaguar so she can be more independent. While driving on a country road, she hears screams in the back – but there's no one there. In the excerpt above, she picks up a mysterious woman in the rain. Later she discovers that the woman was the car's previous owner, and she is missing. Now her killer might just be stalking Meg too. For their first, acclaimed feature, Preston and producer Robin Laing rented out local cinemas, conclusively proving that Mr Wrong had an audience.
This episode of New Zealand's own office comedy sees John (Ross Jolly) concluding that a love of stamps makes the boss (Ken Blackburn) a natural fit for Mastermind — next thing, the stores branch staff are gathering around with imaginary cameras and desk lamps, to help him practise for the pressures of facing quiz master Peter Sinclair. Meanwhile the team try to score another victory by getting an astrological chart made for a racehorse. Roger Hall's sitcom about public servants was a bona fide hit, long before Rogernomics and Ricky Gervais in The Office.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977 nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac (who had initially only agreed to make the show on the condition they would get to make The Governor). The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen, and the output demands were foundational in developing industry talent.