Graeme Tetley began his long scriptwriting career with Vigil, one of the most acclaimed New Zealand films of the 80s. He went on to co-create police show Shark in the Park, collaborate extensively with director Gaylene Preston (Mr Wrong, Bread and Roses), and co-write Out of the Blue, the story of the Aramoana massacre. Tetley passed away in March 2011.
Film is collaborative. Being able to manage that collaboration is as important and as difficult as being a good writer. Graeme Tetley
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.
This award-winning telefilm imagines the effects of a major earthquake on New Zealand’s capital city, and how its citizens react to chaos, death, isolation and tsunami. It was completed in 2008 — before Christchurch took Wellington’s mantle as NZ's shakiest city, and made Aftershock's imagined scenes a reality. Aftershock was produced for TV3 by The Gibson Group, and written by veteran screenwriter Graeme Tetley (Out of the Blue, Vigil). The following week saw the debut of Aftershock - Would You Survive?, which put a real-life family through a three-day survival test.
In November 1990, misfit loner David Gray (played by Matthew Sunderland) murdered 13 of his neighbours in the seaside town of Aramoana near Dunedin. His rampage lasted 22 hours before he was gunned down by police. Out of the Blue is a dramatised re-enactment of these traumatic events. Directed by Robert Sarkies and co-written with Graeme Tetley, this gut-wrenching film did respectable box office and was lauded at 2008's Qantas Film and TV Awards, winning most feature categories, including best film and screenplay. Warning: excerpt contains realistic gun violence.
Made to mark 100 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand, Bread & Roses tells the story of pioneering trade unionist, politician and feminist Sonja Davies (1923 - 2005), who rose to prominence in the 1940s and 50s. Directed by Gaylene Preston and co-written by Graeme Tetley, the acclaimed three-hour production played on television screens and got a limited cinema release. Australian actor Geneviève Picot (as Sonja Davies) and Mick Rose (as her husband) won gongs for their roles at the 1994 NZ Film and TV Awards. Bianca Zander writes about Bread & Roses here.
Mini-series Bread and Roses recreates the early days of trade unionist and politician Sonja Davies. Behind the scenes, the $4 million production required 175 speaking parts, and dozens of sets — many built from plywood, “to make something out of nothing”. This documentary follows director Gaylene Preston and producer Robin Laing from preproduction and filming a dance scene in Wellington Town Hall, to (old-fashioned film) editing. Meanwhile lead actor Geneviève Picot talks about the challenges of portraying a character who often kept her vulnerabilities hidden.
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.
Originally conceived as a TV series, Gaylene Preston's comedy was a local hit, uplifting recession-era audiences with a plucky misfits saga. Ruby (Yvonne Lawley), an 83 year old trying to dodge a retirement home, rents a room to Rata, a solo mum with sidelines in music and benefit fraud. Rata's son is into arson and shoplifting, while Ruby's nephew (What Now's Simon Barnett) is a hapless yuppie wannabe. Marginalised by the deregulated economy of the 80s and living on their wits, they may just find common cause despite themselves in this Graeme Tetley-penned tale.
This Christmas 1989 episode of the TVNZ teen magazine show sees newbie reporter Nadia Neave on Stewart Island to meet a crayfisherman, an artist and a conservation worker. Reporter Kerre McIvor (nee Woodham) quizzes David Lange about quitting as PM, as he prepares to drive in a street race. Natalie Brunt interviews Cher songwriter Diane Warren. Doctor Watt (DJ Grant Kereama) looks at solvent abuse, and future Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan joins a trio of young actors (including Tandi Wright) to give tips on overseas travel. Graeme Tetley (Ruby and Rata) was a series writer.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was NZ's first urban cop show and first true genre police drama. Devised by Graham Tetley, it portrayed a unit policing Wellington's inner city under the guidance of Inspector Brian "Sharkie" Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, it was firmly in the mould of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first of three series was the last in-house production for TVNZ's drama department. The other two were made independently by The Gibson Group.
This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.
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.
The Country GP (Lani Tupu) takes a back seat in an episode set in the first week of 1950, which centres around the arrival in Mason’s Valley of the parents of local teacher Tim Bryant (Duncan Smith). The discovery that Tim’s father Sid (played by Vigil scriptwriter Graeme Tetley) is a unionist and paid up member of the Communist Party shatters the township’s apparently relaxed way of life. Sid has come to warn his son of difficult times ahead that could see him back in prison, but his presence inflames some of the locals and leads to a questioning of the true meaning of freedom.
Country GP was a major 80s drama series that charted the post-war years 1945 to 1950 in a rural central South Island town. Using fast-turnaround techniques that anticipated later series like Shortland Street, 66 episodes of Country GP were shot in 18 months at a specially built set in Whiteman’s Valley, Lower Hutt. It was groundbreaking as the first NZ series to cast a Samoan in a title role (Lani Tupu as Dr David Miller); but it also provided a nostalgic look back to an apparently kinder, gentler time than mid-80s New Zealand with its major social reforms and upheavals.
Toss is an 11-year old girl living on a remote hill country farm. While out with her father herding sheep, he falls and is killed. Ethan, a bearded stranger appears, carrying his body, and plants himself on the farm. Toss fears he’s Lucifer and is confused when he and her mother become lovers. It is through Ethan, however, that Toss comes to terms with her father’s death and the first stirrings of womanhood. Vincent Ward’s debut feature was the first NZ film selected for competition at Cannes; LA Times’ critic Kevin Thomas lauded it as “a work of awesome beauty”.
The God Boy is a portrait of a troubled teen Jimmy (Jamie Higgins) growing up in post-war small town New Zealand, and wrestling — à la a homegrown Holden Caulfield — with a repressive education and home front turmoil. Adapted from the Ian Cross novel by Ian Mune and directed by Murray Reece, the landmark film was the first NZ telefeature, gaining Feltex awards and front page reviews. With menace and Catholic guilt ever-present, it’s credited as a pioneer of what Sam Neill dubbed NZ’s “cinema of unease”. Higgins later starred in Australian TV show The Sullivans.