In a decades-long career both here and abroad, Gavin Wood has honed his skills in almost every element of the production process. With work on entertainment and game shows, international live events, and tributes to Sir Howard Morrison and the victims of Pike River and the Christchurch quakes, he's been behind the scenes on a number of significant moments in New Zealand’s recent history.
Christchurch-born and Lower Hutt-raised, Wood spent his teen years working in repertory theatre. With a keen interest in lighting design for stage, he was running shows by age 15 and quickly became involved with bigger projects. After leaving school, he applied his lighting talents touring the country with international bands: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Commodores, and Dire Straits to name a few.
Needing to pay bills outside of the summer touring season, Wood applied for the TVNZ production assistant scheme running at the time. One of fourteen applicants selected out of a pool of more than 200, Wood began climbing his way up the production ladder – working as an assistant director on Kingi's Story, police drama Shark in the Park and others, in the 1980s.
After 12 years with TVNZ, Wood got his next big break with Sale of the Century, New Zealand’s first five night a week game show. Over a six year run, Sale would go on to run for over 1000 episodes (often shooting five in a single day). Wood was producer or executive producer on nearly every one. From 1991 he split his focus, executive producing Wheel of Fortune as well, which he describes as "the best lead-in the news ever had".
When a production role opened in India, Wood jumped at the chance to work in an overseas market and a new culture. "The hardest thing about working internationally," he says, "is that you have to be aware of the cultural differences and how they impact on the format you’re producing.” Under Wood’s guidance, the cricket-centric game show format Kricket with a K won Best Series at the 1995 Pan Asia Awards.
Later that year, he returned home to his role on Wheel of Fortune and began developing offbeat game show format Off The Planet for TV3. The show saw teams of two family members and a celebrity guest answer trivia, and compete in challenges. Competing in the same timeslot as the ever-popular Shortland Street, the show lasted for two seasons before cancellation.
Fresh from a year in charge of sport and light entertainment at TV3, the now well-seasoned producer began working on reality game shows around the world. After winning a prestigious South African award for his work on celebrity sing-along show Liriekeraai (The Lyrics Board in English), he took up a role as head of production for FremantleMedia in Asia – overseeing 23 different shows across nine different countries.
After returning home to work on the third season of New Zealand Idol in 2006, Wood left Fremantle after 15 years to form a production company with Jo Raj. The Producers began a number of high profile live broadcasts of local events. In 2008 – the same year he worked on To Sir with Love , a live television tribute to Sir Howard Morrison — Wood bought the rights to Wheel of Fortune, and trained staff for the show's return to Kiwi screens.
In late 2010, Wood was brought on to arrange and co-produce coverage of the Pike River Memorial Service. The remote location and extremely short time frame to prepare made the broadcast very challenging; he describes the result as “an emotionally taxing but rewarding capture of what is now one of this country’s most tragic events.”
Less than a month after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, Wood was tasked with co-producing live coverage of the memorial service. The stressed infrastructure of the city and the presence of Prince William at the service helped make it one of the most difficult projects Wood has worked on to date. He returned to the city a year later for coverage of the second anniversary memorial service.
With a worldwide audience of more than 1.5 billion, producing the live coverage of opening celebrations on the Auckland waterfront for the 2011 Rugby World Cup was Wood’s most high profile project to date. Due to massive crowds around Waitematā Harbour, Wood had to use boats to shift cameras to better vantage points, alongside dealing with 40 wakas arriving ahead of schedule, just as the helicopter arranged to film them was due for a refuelling stop. “There was a huge sense of relief in the control room once we finished the global part of the broadcast," says Wood. "It’s a little stressful knowing there’s a global audience that big watching.”
His other live producing gigs include funeral coverage for Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves, a 2008 crown apology ceremony for local Vietnam Vets, world championship gliding coverage involving more than 100 cameras, and an 18 hour Anzac Day broadcast for Māori Television.
Profile written by Joseph Hendren
'Gavin Wood: The reality of making primetime television...' (Video interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 7 February 2017. Accessed 7 February 2017
'Gavin Wood' LinkedIn website. Accessed 28 October 2016