Leo Shelton started his television career in 1967 as a trainee cameraman at Wellington station WNTV-1. He worked his way up through the ranks to become a widely respected camera operator and cinematographer, on everything from news and current affairs to award-winning documentaries and drama. Shelton passed away in May 2017.

Leo was generous with his advice and praise. I remember him once saying that I was a better cameraman than him. It made me feel pretty special at the time, even though it wasn’t true. Fellow cameraman Peter Janes, in magazine NZ Techo, Spring 2017
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Twelve Days Of Glory - The Forgotten Athletes

1993, Camera - Television

Presented by Paul Holmes, this documentary follows the team of 13 Kiwi competitors at the Barcelona 1992 Paralympics. Swimmer Jenny Newstead won four gold medals and broke world records, but for this small team the focus was on personal bests as they headed into a more professional era. There's triumph and disappointment, mixed with the message that these were elite athletes competing strongly against the rest of the world. The lessons learned in Barcelona would lead to a much stronger showing four years later in Atlanta. 

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Men of the Silver Fern - A Winning Reputation (1870 - 1924)

1993, Camera - Television

Men of the Silver Fern was a four-part celebration of all things All Black, made in 1992 for the centenary of the NZRFU (now known as New Zealand Rugby). This first episode covers the early period from when Charles Monro kicked off the sport in NZ in Nelson on 14 May 1870, through the establishment of rules, provincial unions and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. The programme surveys the front-running international tours — from the 1884 Flaxlanders to the 1888 Natives, 1905 Originals and 1924 Invincibles — where the All Blacks’ "winning reputation" was forged.

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Erua

1988, Camera - Television

Erua tells the story of an intriguing friendship between artist Toss Woollaston (Grant Tilly) and a young Māori boy Erua (Turei Reedy) who modelled for him each Wednesday evening in Greymouth, in the early 60s. Woollaston had seen the boy playing "like one dark bead shaken in a tray of pale ones". The image made him curious to find what Erua was like, and to try to draw "that". Tilly won a 1989 NZ Film and Television Award for his performance; he argued that it was "an awesome responsibility" to play someone who was still alive. Erua also won awards for Best Drama and Screenplay.

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Country Calendar - Tim Wallis

1987, Camera - Television

"Another adventure with Tim" is how one of Tim Wallis’ friends wryly puts it. The "adventure" came about when Wallis combined an “expensive toy”, and a noxious pest: using helicopters to recover deer shot by hunters in inaccessible South Island backblocks. Next deer were captured alive, to stock deer farms; a multi-million dollar industry was born. At the peak of his operations, Wallis had a fleet of 35 helicopters. The aerial shots in and around Milford Sound are magnificent. The stories he tells of his many crashes are 'she'll be right' Boy's Own classics.

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A Master of Light - The Life and Work of Brian Brake Photographer

1987, Camera - Television

Brian Brake is regarded as New Zealand's most successful international photographer; he worked for Magnum and snapped famous shots of Pablo Picasso at a bullfight and the Monsoon series for Life magazine. In this Inspiration documentary — made shortly before his 1988 death — Brake reviews his lifelong quest for “mastery over light”: from an Arthur’s Pass childhood to a fascination with Asia. He recalls his time at the National Film Unit and is seen framing waka huia, Egyptian tombs, and punters at Castlepoint’s beach races (for a new version of book Gift of the Sea).

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A Spark of Life - James Greig, Potter, Man of West and East

1987, Camera - Television

This edition of the 1987 Inspiration series on Kiwi artists looks at potter James (Jim) Greig, and his search for the “spark of life” found in clay. The Peter Coates-directed documentary visits Greig’s Wairarapa studio to interview him and his wife Rhondda, also an artist. Greig’s influences are surveyed: the work of Kiwi potter Len Castle, nature, orphanhood, and Japan (where his work achieved renown). The film captures the visceral process of making large works for a Wellington City Gallery exhibition. Greig died of a heart attack, aged 50, while this film was being made.

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Witi Ihimaera: Roimata Toroa

1987, Camera - Television

This documentary accompanies author Witi Ihimaera on a journey with his "townie" daughters to his marae in Waituhi on the East Coast, ahead of the publication of third novel The Matriarch. Ihimaera describes his writing as a type of "tangi to a people and to a life" he experienced growing up around Waituhi in the 1950s — a way of life symbolised by the tears of the toroa (albatross) said to be held deep in greenstone. The documentary also features readings from Ihimaera's works. It is directed by Peter Coates, from Inspiration, his series on New Zealand artists.

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Close Up - Following the Leader (Jim Bolger)

1986, Camera - Television

This report from 80s current affairs show Close Up introduces the New Zealand public to future Prime Minister Jim Bolger — shortly after the “lightning coup” that saw him unseating urban lawyer Jim McLay, to become leader of the National Party. The  focus is on Bolger’s rural roots as a father and farmer. There is also praise from political historian Barry Gustafson, and a mini journalistic joust with ex PM Robert Muldoon, over whether he supports the new party leader. In 1987 Labour was re-elected for another term; Bolger’s party swept to victory in 1990. 

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Pioneer Women - Hera Ngoungou

1983, Cinematographer - Television

This episode in the Pioneer Women series dramatised the story of Hera Ngoungou. In 1874 in Taranaki, Māori kidnapped an eight-year-old Pākehā girl — Caroline “Queenie” Perrett — possibly in retribution for her father breaking a tapu. Her family didn’t see her again until she was 60, when she was a grandmother and had spent more than 50 years living with, and identifying as, Māori. A moving (Feltex award-winning) performance from Ginette McDonald (aka Lyn of Tawa) mixes stoicism with an acknowledgement of good times and a sense of loss for what might have been.

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Pioneer Women - Princess Te Puea

1983, Cinematographer - Television

This episode of Pioneer Women dramatises the life of Waikato leader Te Puea Herangi: from prodigal daughter to leader of the Tainui people. Te Puea helped establish the Kingitanga movement, and led Tainui to prosperity through wars, confiscation of their land, and an influenza epidemic. Future TV3 newsreader Joanna Paul plays Te Puea. Produced by Pamela Meekings-Stewart, the Pioneer Women series screened in a high profile slot on TV One and challenged the view that white male statesmen were the only noteworthy figures in NZ colonial history.

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Country Calendar - Daggy and the Dickheads

1982, Camera - Television

Enjoying sex, drugs and rock'n'roll is difficult when you have to be up early to shear sheep. Country Calendar visited Rangitikei to investigate the Dickheads phenomenon, and found the Taihape band ready to mumble when it came to discussing the hazards of mixing music with farming. The Dickheads are seen rehearsing at Dickheadquarters, in the stockyards, and yarning at the New Taihape Hotel as they head for the big time: an afternoon slot at Sweetwaters, 1982. As a former shearer, TVNZ director Keith Slater identified with the Dickheads' dilemmas. 

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Loose Enz - The Pumice Land

1981, Camera - Television

This episode of the Loose Enz series features small town intrigue in Hawkes Bay. Prickly, violin playing, ex-POW Austin (Derek Hardwick) refuses to retire despite handing over the farm to son Wesley (Goodbye Pork Pie director Geoff Murphy) — and the impending sale of the neighbouring property (to Japanese buyers) puts him on the warpath one boozy night at the local. Rural land politics and identities are nicely observed, the farmers’ band is delightfully chaotic (with Paul Holmes as a sax-playing fencer), and the Land Rover stuck in reverse is worthy of Fred Dagg.

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Close Up

1981 - 1987, Camera - Television

80s show Close Up had a similar brief to earlier current affairs show Compass: to present mini-documentaries on topical local issues. Stories in the primetime hour-long slot were wide-ranging, from hard news to human interest pieces, including a profile of 25-year-old foreign exchange dealer, future-Prime Minister, John Key. The show won Feltex Awards for most of the years that it was on air. Close Up is not related to the post-nightly news show of the same name, which was hosted by Mark Sainsbury until 2012.

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Mortimer's Patch

1980 - 1984, Cinematographer - Television

Mortimer’s Patch was a popular drama series following Detective Sergeant Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper) at work in the town of Cobham. Mortimer plays a city cop returning to his rural roots; Don Selwyn is Sergeant Bob Storey. The series was NZ’s first police drama, and a rare local drama to top ratings. Mortimer's Patch was made when the archetype of the ‘community cop’ everyone knew was still a powerful one, and it was a counterweight to the faceless riot policing of the Springbok Tour. Three series were made.

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Children of Fire Mountain

1979, Camera Operator - Television

While convalescing down under Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) schemes to build a thermal spa in the town of Wainamu c.1900. Conflict ensues as the spa’s planned location is on Māori land. The action is seen through the eyes of youngsters: hotelier’s son Tom, and Pemberton’s granddaughter Sarah Jane; who — along with an erupting volcano — eventually impart on Sir Charles a lesson about colonial hubris. The 13-part series was a marquee title from a golden age of Kiwi kidult telly-making: it won multiple Feltex awards, and screened on the BBC in 1980.

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Children of Fire Mountain - Tom (First Episode)

1979, Camera Operator - Television

This award-winning kidult series is set in the colonial town of Wainamu, amidst the North Island’s ‘thermal wonderland’, c.1900. It follows the challenges that Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) faces in building a spa on Māori land. In this episode local lad Tom, son of the hotelier, is piqued by the arrival of Sir Charles and his aristocratic entourage, (particularly granddaughter Sarah Jane aka “Little Miss Prim”), whose train is late due to being spooked by natives. His gang of shanghai-toting scallywags also take on the mean local butcher.

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Epidemic - Hemi Te Koaka (First Episode)

1976, Camera - Television

Part one of a four part thriller written by Keith Aberdein. In a small North Island town, a mysterious unmarked grave is believed to hold the remains of a tohunga who died ridding his people of a deadly epidemic. Now, an archaeological dig might be getting too close to that grave. A visiting doctor (Cathy Downes) arrives in town to find the locals in a state of agitation; the archaelogist (Martyn Sanderson) full of good intentions, but unaware of where his actions could lead; and relations between Māori and Pakeha strained as two cultures struggle to co-exist.

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Epidemic

1976, Camera Operator - Television

Keith Aberdein devised Epidemic after being given the brief to write a drama about “disease coming into New Zealand”. Set in a small North Island town where race relations are strained to breaking point, this four part virus outbreak thriller revolves around Māori tāpū and an archaeological dig which locals are worried will disturb the graves of their ancestors. An accomplished cast (Martyn Sanderson, Don Selwyn, Cathy Downes) helped the series break bicultural-themed TV drama ground as European education and culture, and Māori tradition and spirituality collide.

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The Savage Sport

1974, Camera Operator - Film

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They Call Me Lucky

1973, Camera Operator - Film

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Liefde vir Lelik

1972, Sound Recordist - Film

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The Killing of Kane

1971, Assistant Camera - Television

Groundbreaking 1971 tele-drama The Killing of Kane tells a story of loyalty and corruption amidst the ‘New Zealand Wars’ of the 1860s. Incorporating documentary ‘interludes’, the story involves the predicament of a pair of Pākehā deserters involved in a attack by Māori resistance leader Titokowaru on a Taranaki redoubt. Stellar performances in the dramatic scenes saw Chris Thomson-directed Kane attract praise. It was the first time the controversial subject of colonial conflict had been portrayed on our TV screens. It was also the first local drama shot in colour.

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Town and Around: Wellington Highlights

1968, Camera - Television

Nightly magazine-style show Town and Around played on New Zealand screens during the second half of the 60s. Hosted by Peter Read, this end-of-1968 special from the Wellington edition showcases highlights from over 500 items that year. The concentration is on lighter material, most famously a hoax piece on a farmer who puts gumboots on his turkeys. In another piece reporter John Shrapnell discovers that locked cars in the city tend to be the exception. Also featured: an interview with entertainer Rolf Harris, and an impromptu Kiwi street-Hamlet.

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Looking at New Zealand

1967 - 1969, Camera - Television

This popular series was an early NZBC "pictorial magazine" show that explored "New Zealand’s backyard". Synonymous with producer Conon Fraser, the it was a staple of Sunday night 60s TV. Subjects ranged from Chatham Islands lobster fisheries, to Central Otago frost fires, to Miss New Zealand contestants. The show was praised in a 1968 NZ TV Weekly review as breaking new ground in relying more on imagery and interviewees' reflective voice-overs than (then usual) omniscient narration: "one of the few pure Television productions to have originated within the NZBC."

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Country Calendar

1968 - 1991, Camera - Television

The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after 50 plus years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.

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Town and Around

1967 - 1970, Camera - Television

Town and Around was a nightly magazine show, covering everything from current affairs and studio interviews to slapstick to stunts; including a notorious spoof on a farmer who shod his turkeys in gumboots. A popular and wide-ranging regional series, it ran for five years from 1965, and was the training ground for a generation of industry professionals (Brian Edwards, David McPhail, and Des Monaghan amongst many others). Town and Around was made prior to a national network link, and editions came out of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

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NZBC Network News

1967 - 1975, Camera - Television

When television began broadcasting in Auckland in 1960, the news consisted of a days old bulletin from the BBC in London. A locally-compiled bulletin began before the end of the year, with occasional locally-filmed items. From 1962 to 1969 a five minute news summary screened at 7pm, with the longer NZBC Newsreel following at 8. TV news expanded rapidly through the 60s, with the NZBC setting up a network of newsrooms in the main centres. November 1969 marked the first time a shared news broadcast played nationwide, with the launch of the NZBC Network News.