Commonwealth Games swimmer Kirk Torrance reinvented himself as an actor in 1994. His career took flight in 2001 with roles in movie hit Stickmen (as the mysterious narrator) and TV's acclaimed Fish Skin Suit. Torrance went on to win fans as ex-cop Wayne Judd on Outrageous Fortune, and host a number of TV shows. He is also a writer; 2003's Strata won him a Chapman Tripp award for outstanding new playwright.
There’s the preparation and the training that you do for swimming, for an event, the routine and the discipline. That’s very similar to acting. All that sense of performing above yourself is the same as the arts. Kirk Torrance on swimming and acting, in a 22 February 2005 NZ Herald interview
The Dark Horse is the story of a Māori ex-speed chess champ who must “overcome prejudice and violence in the battle to save his struggling chess club, his family and ultimately, himself”. Genesis Potini has a bi-polar disorder; his nephew Mana (Boy’s James Rolleston) faces being pressed into a gang. A near unrecognisable Cliff Curtis won international acclaim as Potini. James Napier Robertson's acclaimed second feature was picked to opened the 2014 Auckland and Wellington Film Festival, and scored six Moa awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Supporting Actor.
Supposedly shot in five days on a budget of $423, the first season of award-winning web series High Road introduced audiences to lovable loser Terry Huffer, an ex rocker who DJs from a caravan in Piha. Writer/director Justin Harwood created the role of Huffer for his Piha neighbour Mark Mitchinson (Siege). Two further seasons were funded by NZ On Air. Video on Demand site Lightbox then compiled them into half-hour episodes, and commissioned a fourth. Harwood has played in indie bands The Chills and Luna, and the show's soundtrack offers fans of classic rock much to savour.
On 7 May 2009, police executing a search warrant in a Napier suburb were shot at by Jan Molenaar. Senior Constable Len Snee was killed, two officers and a neighbour injured; a 50 hour siege ensued. This adaptation of the events into a telefeature dominated the 2012 New Zealand Television Awards, winning Best One-off Drama, Script (John Banas), Performance (Mark Mitchinson as Molenaar), Supporting Actress (Miriama Smith), and Best Sound Design (Chris Burt). Hawke's Bay Today reviewer Roger Moroney said of the Mike Smith-directed drama: "They got it right".
In the five years since Sione's Wedding, the Duckrocker quartet have experienced marriage, children, Australians and the good lord. Then their minister reunites them on a quest to find Bolo (Dave Fane) — once their driver and conscience, now MIA. The sequel to the break-through PI-Kiwi hit reunites the original cast, and adds in a dodgy minister (Kirk Torrance) and a new director (Outrageous Fortune's Simon Bennett). On the burden of following Wedding, Stuff.co.nz reviewer Steve Kilgallon adjudged: "seen on its own merits, it [Sione's 2] proves worth the wait".
Charlotte Yates produced Ihimaera Live for the 2011 Auckland Arts Festival. The concert featured lyrics especially written by author Witi Ihimaera, set to music by 12 New Zealand composers and 55 musicians. This short documentary for Māori Television includes clips of the performances at Manukau's Events Centre, and interviews with Ihimaera and musicians Warren Maxwell, Horomona Horo and Waimihi Hotere as they search for the rhythm of word and sound. Yates and director Lala Rolls also collaborated on Tuwhare, which documented a musical tribute to Hone Tuwhare.
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.
The award-winning directing debut of actor Tammy Davis (better known as Outrageous Fortune’s Munter) is a South Auckland-set Christmas tale. Young Vinnie (Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson of Ghost Chips fame) and Jonah (James Ru) are bored on the mean streets — tagging, BMX-ing — when Jonah peer pressures Vinnie to join him in breaking and entering a house. When they find more than Christmas pressies inside, it tests mateship, moral codes and festive spirit. Crowned Best Film at Flickerfest, Ebony Society was selected for the Berlin and Sundance film festivals.
This first episode of NZ's most popular and critically acclaimed drama series revolves around Wolf West being sentenced to four years in prison — and his wife, Cheryl, deciding it's time for her and her children to get out of the "family business". Wolf and the local police are dubious. But even this early in proceedings, it would be foolish to underestimate Cheryl. Whether she can take her daughters (ditzy wannabe-model Pascalle and the cunning Loretta) and sons (yin and yang twins Van and Jethro) with her is another matter altogether. And so begins a dynasty.
After her husband is jailed, matriarch Cheryl West (Robyn Malcolm) decides the time has come to set her family on the straight and narrow. But can the Wests change old habits? So begins the six-series long saga of the Westie dynasty. Hugely popular at home (beloved by public, critics and awards-nights alike), and imitated overseas, Outrageous Fortune has been a flag-bearer for TV3 and contemporary NZ telly drama; the series proved — in all its grow-your-own glory — that genre TV in NZ could be so much more than overseas stories pasted to a local setting.
Described as a "Māori Twilight Zone", Mataku was a series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori experience with the "unexplained". Two South Pacific Pictures-produced series screened on TV3; a later series screened on TV One in 2005. Each episode was introduced by Temuera Morrison Rod Serling-style. The bi-lingual series was a strong international and domestic success; producer Carey Carter: "Our people are very spiritual ... and here we are ... turning it into stories so that the rest of the world can get a glimpse of that aspect of our culture."
Three friends tour the Wellington pub scene, playing pool with ever-increasing stakes. Then they enter a tournament run by vicious crime boss ‘Daddy'. Narrator Kirk Torrance (Outrageous Fortune) guides us through their mission to pocket the money. Hamish Rothwell's only feature to date was a Kiwi take on the UK urban underbelly genre (Lock, Stock etc). "Smart, stylish and effortlessly entertaining" (Dominion Post) the film was a hit with young males and won several 2001 NZ Film and TV Awards (including best director, script, and actor). It sold to over 30 countries.
While playing at the beach with their grandmother, two children witness an Elvis impersonator walk out of the sea. They believe he's the "fishman" lover of a female taniwha, Hine Tai. Magic realist mayhem — and tragedy — ensues as the stranger stirs up the life of their whanau in the quiet fishing village. The fable, written by Briar Grace-Smith and directed by Peter Burger, received six nominations at 2002 NZ TV Awards, winning Best Drama, and Camera. It screened on TV3 and features the Bic Runga song 'All Fall Down'.
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.
Swimming Lessons is the story of jaded swimming coach Jim Sadler (Marshall - Came a Hot Friday, The Navigator - Napier) and a spirited seven-year-old delinquent who comes under his instruction. The troubled Samoan boy is a potential champion, but the challenges of training him force the coach to confront his own failings in life: one as seemingly straight as the pool's lane line. Directed by Steve La Hood, Swimming Lessons won two NZ TV Awards. It screened as part of Montana Sunday Theatre and was the TV producing debut for Philippa Campbell.
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.
Iconic serial drama Shortland Street is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the staff, family and patients of the eponymous hospital. This 1994 cliffhanger episode, written by Rachel Lang, features the wedding between receptionist Kirsty and muffin man Lionel. But will hunky Stuart be able to deny his love for Kirsty? Countless familiar characters appear; and three actors who have since launched Hollywood careers — Temuera Morrison, Martin Henderson, and Marton Csokas — as Dr Ropata, Stuart Neilson, and Leonard Dodds respectively.
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.
Regular Māori programmes started on Television New Zealand in 1980 with Koha, a weekly, 30 minute programme broadcast in English. It explored everything from social problems, tribal history, natural history, about weaponry, to the preparation of food, canoe history, carvings and their meanings, language and how it changed through time. It was a window into te ao Māori for Pākekā, and provided a link to urban Māori estranged from their culture. It was the first regular Māori programme to be shown in prime time.