Geoffrey Cawthorn has directed drama and documentary on both sides of the Tasman, including crime (Lawless - Beyond Justice), soap (Shortland Street), fantasy (Maddigan’s Quest) and award-winning shorts (Philosophy). His documentary work often reflects Cawthorn’s musical leanings, including pieces on everything from classical and jazz to Kiwi love songs.
I get a lot of joy out of walking on set and being involved with everyone to realise a scene. It’s great when it works ... like hearing good music, when everything comes together. Geoffrey Cawthorn
Created by Outrageous Fortune’s James Griffin and Rachel Lang, this South Pacific Pictures-produced TV3 dramedy is about a family of Norse gods who wash up in 21st Century New Zealand. Emmett Skilton stars as Axl aka Odin, who must restore his brothers' lapsed superpowers and find his wife Frigg ("no pressure, then"). But he is thwarted by Norse goddesses and Māori deities. The combo of fantastical plot and droll Kiwi bloke banter won loyal fans, who successfully campaigned for a third (and final) season. Johnsons screened on the SyFy channel in the US in 2014.
This Kiwi neighbours at war ‘dramedy’ pitted the Rush family — newly arrived in Ponsonby —against the Shorts, who are long-time renters next door. Arthur Short (Patrick Wilson) is a Kiwi battler solo Dad, with two teenage daughters; Dimity Rush (Danielle Cormack) the right wing HR manager whose partner is an anaesthetist, with two teen sons. In this first episode, Dimity aspires to climb the property ladder by scheming to get the Shorts’ house as an investment doer-upper. The satire of gentrification screened on TV One on Friday nights. The cast includes Rose McIvor (iZombie).
Created by superhero fan Stephen J Campbell, this light-hearted adventure series follows teen Ben Wilson (Carl Dixon) who discovers his father and grandad have done time as superheroes. Still getting to grips with the basics of being one himself, Ben enlists family and friends to help fight assorted villians. The show ran for three seasons, and spawned web series The Wired Chronicles and Origins. Nominated for awards in Rome and New Zealand, it picked up one in Korea. The eclectic cast included the tried (David McPhail) and the new (Hannah Marshall from Packed to the Rafters).
This children's post-apocalyptic fantasy series follows a circus troupe, Maddigan's Fantasia on their quest to save the world's only remaining city, Solis. The show was created by children's writer Margaret Mahy, developed for television by writers Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang for South Pacific Pictures, who produced the 13 x 30min series for TV3. Award-winning and successfully exported, it marked a debut lead performance from Rose McIver (future Tinker Bell in US TV show Once Upon a Time) acting with Michael Hurst, Peter Daube, Tim Balme and Danielle Cormack.
Produced by John Laing and featuring a star-studded cast (Sara Wiseman, Tim Balme, et al), South Pacific Pictures' award-winning 'seachange' series Mercy Peak hit just the right note with its down-home sincerity and quirky-but-complex characters. In this excerpt from the first episode, Doctor Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman) discovers the cheating ways of her partner (a deliciously oily Simon Prast) and decides it's time to get out. On her way to finding her bliss in the tiny town of Bassett she has an inauspicious beginning: a minor collision with the town's iconic pig.
With its mix of quirky characters, lush scenery, and medical drama, Mercy Peak proved to be a winning formula. Produced by John Laing for South Pacific Pictures, and starring a host of NZ acting talent (Tim Balme, Jeffrey Thomas, Renato Bartolomei, et al), Mercy Peak follows the highs and lows of Dr Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman), who leaves the big city after discovering her partner’s infidelity. Taking up her new role at the hospital in the tiny town of Bassett, Nicky soon learns that life is full of complexities no matter the population.
In the last of a trilogy of tele-movies, private investigators John Lawless (Kevin Smith) and Jodie Keane (Shortland Street's Angela Dotchin) seek the truth behind an apparent suicide. Their client is visiting mystery woman Lana Vitale (a strong performance by American Jennifer Rubin) who wants to know why her husband is dead. For Lawless, the trial soon leads to romance, intrigue, plus a shady nightclub/ porn operator (singer Frankie Stevens). This Kiwi take on American crime shows includes an appearance by Snakeskin actor Dean O'Gorman.
Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, Jackson’s Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank (the town cop) and Ben Jackson (a big smoke lawyer). Returning with his family, golden boy Ben has controversially inherited the local pub from his recently deceased father. Produced by South Pacific Pictures, the one hour popular drama screened for two seasons. Writer James Griffin and director Niki Caro worked on the show, alongside much of the talent who would later create Mercy Peak and Outrageous Fortune.
Kiwis are often accused of not being very good at expressing their feelings. This documentary (made for TV One's Work of Art programme) offers striking evidence to the contrary, using some of our favourite love songs as proof. A roll call of New Zealand's best-known musicians and songwriters talk here candidly about love, and play some of the songs inspired by their experiences. The result is a film that shines a light on love Kiwi-style, and provides a fascinating survey of New Zealand pop music from the last 30 years along the way.
This four-part series from 1996 presents the game of rugby as a mirror for New Zealand social history. Written by Finlay Macdonald, it sets out to explain how rugby became such an intrinsic part of New Zealand's identity. Each episode visits iconic paddocks (from schools to stadiums) and players (from amateurs Nepia, Meads, and Shelford, to professional star Lomu); and observers muse on the influence of the inflated pig's bladder on Kiwi culture, including historian Jock Phillips, writer Ian Cross and journalist TP Mclean.
City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.
City Life screened from 1996 to 1998 and made a direct appeal to New Zealand's Gen X apartment-dwelling demographic. Following the lives of a tight-knit group of friends, and featuring racy shots of Auckland's K-Road and nightlife set to contemporary NZ pop music, City Life was NZ's answer to Melrose Place. In this excerpt from the first episode, the friends are thrown into conflict when one of their own (played by Kevin Smith) decides to marry outside the circle. Complications ensue when Smith shares a brief, but notorious, screen kiss with Charles Mesure.
This full-length documentary gives warm-spirited context to the song that has been the soundtrack to countless back lawn crate parties and freezing works chains (watch the credits). It was released as the B-side of singer Engelbert Humperdinck's Please Release Me, and became an unlikely hit in Aotearoa with fans who have done the "dance, dance, dance ...": including Dalvanius (who discusses its "pop-schlock" charms), Bunny Walters, The Topp Twins, and a special group of ten guitarists. The documentary also explores why "the national anthem of Patea" is so appealing to Māori.
"Jazz is an attitude ... how you look at yourself, how you look at the world." So argues the subject of this rich and moody Work of Art documentary: jazz pianist Mike Nock. The Ngaruawahia-raised muso first went on the road in his teens, and by 18 had left New Zealand for a long career in Sydney, London and New York City. Director Geoffrey Cawthorn and his film crew travel with Nock in small-town New Zealand and big city NY, capturing memories of childhood, touring and inspiration. Also included: some beautifully-lit performances by Nock and his cohorts.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.
For a generation of music fans rock show Radio with Pictures was their link to local and international music — and essential viewing before TV2's Sunday night horror movies. Following on from the Grunt Machine in 1976, its presenters included Dr Rock (Barry Jenkin), Phil O'Brien, Karyn Hay and Dick Driver. RWP's run coincided with the rise of MTV and the music video, and a burgeoning 80s New Zealand music scene. Videos were a staple but artist interviews also featured and the show staged a number of televised concerts featuring leading local artists.