New Plymouth born Katie Wolfe has made the transition from actor to director. After leading roles in Marlin Bay, Cover Story, and Mercy Peak she stepped behind the camera in 2002, directing on Shortland Street. In 2008 she directed her first short film This Is Her, which screened at festivals around the globe. Wolfe's adaptation of Witi Ihimaera novel Nights in the Garden of Spain screened on TV in January 2011.
... as an actor I was always a little bit frustrated, asking questions it wasn’t my job to ask. As a director I can mould the story and set the tone. Katie Wolfe in Next Magazine, May 2009
After success with short films (This is Her, Redemption) director Katie Wolfe made the transition to longer length story-telling with this 2010 drama. With This is Her writer Kate McDermott she adapted the Witi Ihimaera novel about a 40-something man confronting his double life, and the impact that his coming out as gay has on his wife, kids, and whānau. A key change was turning the book’s Pākehā protagonist to a successful Māori businessman (Calvin Tuteao). It screened on TV One on 23 January 2010 and at festivals internationally (where it was entitled Kawa).
Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan created Go Girls out of a desire for an upbeat show about "people who liked each other". Audiences liked the characters too: the show ran five seasons, after introducing us to a group of 20-something friends, each aiming to make a major life-change in the next year. Over five series various romantic adventures ensued, and the core cast of Anna Hutchison, Alix Bushnell, Bronwyn Turei, Jay Ryan and Matt Whelan were joined by others — before finally departing altogether, with one final season revolving around a new cast of wanna bes.
"This is me. This is my husband …" So narrates Evie as she watches her younger self labour with child-birth. "And this is the bitch who will one day steal him, and ruin my life." When the bitch is shown as an angelic six-year-old the tone is set for Katie Wolfe’s award-winning black comedy (her debut short as a director). Writer Kate McDermott’s wry narration moves between then and now, as fate delivers a less than wonderful life in Auckland suburbia. The Sundance-selected film was a break-out festival success, earning Wolfe notice as a filmmaker to watch.
In this full-length Intrepid Journey actor/director Katie Wolfe takes her "appalling sense of direction" to China, a country caught between old ways and new. Wolfe travels by plane, boat, cyclo and train, which she calls "the perfect way to travel". She does three days in the Blade Runner-like cityscapes of Shanghai, where she meets an 86-year-old dancer, and visits the Forbidden City of Beijing. Wolfe also heads up the Yangtze River, visiting ghostly cities and apartment blocks, drained of people by major dam construction — before stumbling upon a most effective way to haggle.
Flipping reality television on its head, this 2004 show saw Hawkes Bay vineyard worker Sam Chambers competing on a reality series, unaware he was the only real thing on it. The Kiwi take on American cable TV hit The Joe Schmo Show was produced by Touchdown Productions. Writers and cast (some of whom had never acted before) had to adapt to unexpected alliances and events, while Mark Ferguson revelled in the role of smarmy host, crossing lines of acceptable behaviour with some of the contestants. When the ruse was finally revealed, Chambers got $50,000 in prize money.
This TV2 take on The Truman Show sees Hawkes Bay vineyard worker Sam participating in a reality show where – unknown to him – all his housemates are fakes. In this first episode Sam’s flatmates play to the archetypes of reality TV, as host Mark Ferguson sets them ridiculous challenges (eg water bomb wet t-shirt reading). The Spinoff 's Alex Casey called it “a one off, never to be repeated format, and crikey it was good, bad TV.” The cast were only let into the show's secrets after winning their parts. Sarah Thomson ('rich bitch' Tiffany) was later an undercover cop on Shortland Street.
Long-running travel series Intrepid Journeys took Kiwi celebrities (from All Blacks to music legends to ex-Prime Ministers) from the comfort of home to less-travelled paths in varied countries and cultures. The Jam TV series debuted in 2003 on TV One. With its authenticity and fresh, genre-changing take on a travel show (focusing on personal experience rather than objectivity), Intrepid Journeys was a landmark in local factual television. It managed to achieve the rare mix of high ratings and critical acclaim.
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.
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.
Duggan stars John Bach as brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse, the show was conceived by Marion McLeod, and scripted by Donna Malane and Ken Duncum. Eleven episodes of the Gibson Group series were made, following on from introductory tele-features Death in Paradise and Sins of the Father. The turquoise waters of The Sounds make for an evocative setting in this sharp, classy Kiwi whodunit. Rachel Davies writes here about Duggan's birth.
This acclaimed Gibson Group series was set behind the scenes on a current affairs programme. Katie Wolfe plays stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins, hired for her tabloid style in a bid to raise the show's ratings. In this excerpt from episode two, a surrogate pregnancy turns into a nasty custody battle. Amanda chases the story, whatever the cost (journalistic ethics included) and acquaints herself with the surrogate. But then her in-house rival Liz (Jennifer Ludlam, who won a TV award for this episode) gets a scoop interview with the parents of the disputed child.
This series centred on a weekly TV current affairs programme in mid-90s Wellington. Katie Wolfe stars as stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins: lured back from Australia for her tabloid style in an effort to boost the show's ratings. Tackling timely storylines and shot ‘handheld’ in the NYPD Blue-inspired style, the TV3 series was well reviewed but faced its own ratings struggles (a later series screened on TV One). It was Gibson Group’s second foray into producing a TV drama series, after Shark in the Park. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was a series writer.
The Gibson Group drama series centres on a team of TV journalists working on a weekly current affairs programme. Katie Wolfe plays stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins, who has been lured back to Wellington from Australia by a network boss hoping her tabloid style will help ratings. Her workmates are not so confident. In this excerpt from the start of the first episode, Robbins hits the news (literally) as she runs into a disturbed nightclubber (Katrina Hobbs) on a rainy night. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was one of the series writers.
"It was the beginning of the end of the world..." Award-winning actor Tim Balme (Braindead) narrates this rain-lashed tale of being trapped in a world where all the women have disappeared. The film noir stylings, Blade Runner climate and tough-talking dialogue come to the fore when Balme encounters a beautiful woman with an attitude (Balme's real-life partner Katie Wolfe), and finds desire playing tricks with his mind. Planet Man was judged best short film in the Critics' Week section of the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.
Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. It follows the events of a far-north resort and casino; a number of well-known actors made up the cast of earthy locals, wealth foreigners and city weekenders, including Ilona Rodgers, Don Selwyn, Andy Anderson and Katie Wolfe. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic. In this episode the swarthy Cosic cooks up an illegal smuggling scheme to diversify a farm's income stream.
This 1994 ‘home front noir’ is set in World War II Wellington, where the plots — a murdered marine, exploited working girls and gonorrhea — spread amidst the invasion of US soldiers stationed at Paekakariki. Kerry Fox (An Angel at My Table) is a public health nurse who becomes romantically linked with the US investigating officer (Tony Goldwyn — Ghost, TV's Scandal) while pursuing the STDs and the truth. They’re supported by Oscar-winning US veterans Rod Steiger and Robert Loggia. John Reid (Middle Age Spread) directs, from a Keith Aberdein script.
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.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
Wildtrack was a long-running series that infected a generation of kids who grew up in the 80s and early 90s with enthusiasm for all-things native’n’natural. This 1991 Taylormade episode (neon-lit as ‘Wild T’) explores the mountain life of Aoraki-Mt Cook: from Māori myth, to cheeky kea and solar-powered butterflies. Peter Hayden presents from the studio with a homegrown HAL: Archie the computer. Future actor/director Katie Wolfe is the young cub in field: glacier-skiing, hanging from a crevasse, meeting Mt Cook School’s eight pupils, and hugging vegetable sheep.
Wildtrack was a highly successful nature series for children, combining a Dunedin studio set with reporting from the field. Produced by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit, it ran from 1981 through several series to the early 90s. Producer Michael Stedman sought to produce a series where “children can be excited and entertained with genuine information, while not neglecting adults”. Wildtrack won the Feltex Television Award for the best children's programme three years running (1982 - 1984).