Sound veteran Dick Reade has forged an award-winning career despite shunning the limelight, and avoiding more high paying projects in favour of working on distinctively local television and films. For Reade the variety of working in sound has been a big part of its appeal — from going on location, to adding sounds in the studio that can alter the pace or mood of a story.
Born in Wellington in 1953, Reade left school in 1968 with no real career in mind, and drifted into a job cleaning cars. His uncle arranged an interview for him with the NZBC and he was offered a technical trainee position in television or radio. TV had been introduced to Wellington seven years earlier. It had made no real impression on him but he opted to work in the visual medium.
Reade began in January 1970. He was placed in the lighting department and, within a week, was working on one-off drama The City of No. The production gained a degree of infamy when one of its lead actors went missing and was discovered two days later in a Sydney pub. They were interesting times for a young fellow.
After six months, Reade began casting around for other jobs, and briefly considered trying out for the National Film Unit. Although the perception among TV staff was that the field crews who went out on location were “long haired-ratbags who didn’t like wearing white coats”, sound recording looked attractive. After a year of trying, he gained a transfer to NZBC's sound department.
He joined a news crew, chasing fire engines and reporting from Parliament. But there was no expectation of a career as a sound recordist. Within a matter of years, he was expected to be a supervisor or moving into directing and producing.
Reade only realised there might be more longevity in his new job when he witnessed a visiting BBC crew on a drama shoot in the Marlborough Sounds. “A van pulls up and an old fellow — he must have been at least 45 — gets out and sets up a table putting a boom pole and Nagra [a sound recorder] on it. Next thing, out of the passenger side comes a guy who must have been 55, sitting down and putting on headphones. The first guy I thought was well past it was the boom swinger.”
He was also discovering a world outside the cloistered confines of the NZBC. He became associated with Blerta — a Bruno Lawrence inspired amalgamation of music, theatre and counterculture experimenting with film, projections and light shows during their concerts.
Reade’s practical technical creativity flourished alongside Blerta’s anarchic make-it-up-as-you-go-along ethos. As he later told Onfilm, “there was a lot of experimental stuff and some of it was pretty bad — but when it worked it was magical. That’s what kept you going — you were always looking for that bit of magic.”
Blerta departed for Australia in 1975. Reade had hoped to go along, to work on the great film about them. Instead, he stayed at home and the Blerta film waited until three decades later, when Geoff Murphy made Blerta Revisited (with Reade contributing the sound mix).
These expanding horizons were in stark contrast to the more bureaucratic NZBC. One of Reade's annual staff reports noted critically that he was “too production oriented”. The conclusion was no doubt underlined when he was discovered after hours by Avalon security, clandestinely mixing a Vincent Ward short film.
By the late 70s, Reade was working regularly on Country Calendar, dividing his time between field and post-production — a work mix he has actively sought throughout his career. Post-production work in the late 70s was a far cry from the ease of modern one touch digital technology. He recalls “we had just one double head projector over our shoulders with some sync audio from the field. We had a live announcer doing commentary and three turntables with the music and any other sound effects. And you started the show and went to the end live — no stopping and starting at all”.
A new decade brought the 1981 Springbok tour, which Reade sees as a loss of innocence for television as well as the nation. In the aftermath of the cancelled Hamilton game, his crew was in Molesworth Street as protesters were batoned by police for the first time. The following day, the police searched Avalon to seize all of their footage. TV crews would now be regarded with suspicion by police and the protest movement. Reade regards it as the end of an era when wandering around with a camera and a tape recorder had once unlocked doors everywhere they went.
In the early 80s he transferred to Auckland. When Vincent Ward asked him to work on ambitious fantasy The Navigator, Reade knew it was too good a project to turn down. Requests for voluntary redundancy and then leave without pay were refused by TVNZ, so he resigned and began his career as a freelancer.
Field film and television work followed, but he found himself missing the studio. After a short stint working in Poland, his return to New Zealand coincided with the demise of company Isambard where Paul Stent had been running their sound suite. He and Reade brought the equipment and set themselves up as Auckland Audio in 1990. The partnership lasted 18 months before Reade moved on.
Reade Audio followed in 1995. Based in a modest suburb in Auckland, it is a shambling complex which belies the high tech sound mixing operation inside. From there, Reade has fashioned his own way of working which encompasses film and television with enough field work to keep him sane.
He has never seen the appeal of the more pressurised and lucrative world of commercials. He’s happier spending four days on a short film than working for an agency for the same fee. To the likely disappointment of his bank manager and accountant, big international productions have similarly held little appeal. Instead, he has always preferred to work on local stories, for example Barry Barclay’s The Kaipara Affair. He summed up his philosophy as “showing things as they are…New Zealand people, not performing in front of the camera but just being themselves. That’s what I call reality TV”.
Given the chance, Reade would actively avoid the limelight. Despite his best efforts, he was honoured as SPADA /Onfilm industry champion in 2007. Reade was singled out as “a generous and humble supporter of the NZ film and television industry, (who) has also been responsible for training and inspiring many sound recording and engineering professionals”.
In reflecting on the award, Reade told Onfilm “I’ve never been interested in fame and fortune. It’s interesting — if you do a good sound job, nobody notices; if you do a bad one, everybody notices. But I like working behind the scenes — below the radar”.
Reade is certainly keeping busy; in 2017's Moa Film Awards, three of the five nominations for Best Sound involved him.
Profile written by Michael Higgins
Vicki Jayne, ‘The under the radar rulebreaker” (Interview), Onfilm, June 2008, page 22 (Volume 25, Number 6)