Auckland-based Mark Beesley has directed a wide range of television shows, from the Auckland locales of Outrageous Fortune and The Blue Rose, to the fantasy universes of Xena and Hercules.
Born and raised in Auckland — he lived in Oratia, and later Mount Roskill — Beesley was converted to movies as a child after witnessing 2001: A Space Odyssey. As a child he made "little horror films, silly things, funny but dumb". After time as a business journalist, he joined production house Communicado, and worked on reality-based shows Heroes and the rugby-themed Mud and Glory.
Then Beesley moved into drama. Shortland Steet gave him valuable experience at telling stories under tight time constraints. In the early 90s he also directed many episodes of acclaimed but shortlived ensemble drama Homeward Bound.
He also met American producer Steve Sachs, when they worked on docu-drama True Life Stories. As Sachs put it: "Mark directed three episodes and we just clicked." The two would collaborate again on Montana Sunday Theatre drama Highwater, which starred Michael Hurst as a big city advertising man reappraising his life.
Sachs would also produce Beesley's pet project, the long-in-gestation dramatic comedy, Savage Honeymoon. As Beesley told journalist Peter Calder, the movie's origins lay in a persona he originally developed for a rock band he plays in: that of Dean Savage, a passionate Kiwi male who is "extremely passionate and feels things", but can't express them.
Beesley described his script as being about "working-class West Aucklanders [who are] into loud music and motorbikes and sex and alcohol". Savage Honeymoon is also about a father worrying that his teenage children are growing up exactly like him.
Savage Honeymoon won controversy after the Office of Film and Literature Classification gave it an R18 rating, concerned about possible copycat behaviour from scenes of drunk driving, and a gas cylinder being placed on a bonfire during the family's stay at a beachside holiday park. After an appeal, the rating was downgraded to an R15. Said Beesley at the time: "The chief censor, bless his heart, has given us free publicity. We didn't have a marketing budget to match Titanic."
On release in March 2000, New Zealand Herald reviewer Peter Calder wrote that Savage Honeymoon was "a film with such a self-confident swagger that it gets under our skin". The Evening Post's Philip Wakefield praised the film's Kiwi characters and "infectious exuberance". Savage Honeymoon would win five NZ Film and TV Awards, including best supporting actress (Elizabeth Hawthorne) and best music (credited to the band Dean Savage).
It was a natural fit that Beesley become one of the key directors on another tale about a rule-breaking West Auckland family: Outrageous Fortune. After meeting him, producer Mike Smith thought Beesley had a good handle on what the show was trying to do. Beelsey has described it as a "classic" show with a dream cast, which proved locally-made one hour dramas can "rate really well".
Beesley directed episodes across the show's first four series, including the opening episodes of the third and fourth seasons. He felt a strange sense of deja vu when it came time to direct season two's award-winning Christmas Special, his second Westies in holiday park plotline after Savage Honeymoon. He won two Qantas TV awards over Fortune's run, and was variously nominated another three times.
But there is creative life beyond West Auckland. Roughly the same time as Outrageous Fortune began its path to glory, Beesley was also scoring awards for his work in Wellington on the offbeat, occasionally surreal Insiders Guide to Happiness.
Won over by the grand idea of Norse Gods who walk among us, Beesley would later direct the first episode — and many more — of James Griffin /Rachel Lang comedy-drama The Almighty Johnsons. "I loved that idea of creating a fantasy piece that was, like Outrageous Fortune, still about a dysfunctional family," said Beesley in this video interview. He believes the show's uniqueness and edginess explain its keen international following. Beesley returned to the show in its third and final season, this time as producer, with the aim of making sure the show's complex mythology did not overwhelm its human elements.
Other projects on Beesley's directorial CV include episodes of relationship comedy Nothing Trivial, kidult fantasy P.E.T Detectives, and rural medical drama Mercy Peak (starring Sara Wiseman). Earlier in his career he also helmed one-off stag night comedy Double Booking, starring the late Kevin Smith.
One of his earliest screen projects was 1997 award-winner Back from the Dead: The Saga of the Rose Noelle. The documentary told the story of four men trapped for 119 days on the wreckage of a trimaran. It was named best documentary at the 1997 NZ Film and TV Awards.
Aside from New Zealand stories, Beesley has also directed for many internationally-funded fantasy shows filming downunder. The first was a 1995 adaptation of Jules Verne's Pacific Islands adventure Mysterious Island, for which Beesley helmed two episodes.
After bonding with American producer Rob Tapert over their shared love of old Ray Harryhausen fantasies, Beesley was tapped to direct episodes of hit show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (including time-travelling two-parter ‘Armageddon Now'), and its spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess. Beesley began working for Renaissance in late 1996 with Xena episode ‘A Necessary Evil'. He would go on to helm ‘Coming Home', the debut episode of the final season, and later contributed extensively (as both director and producer) to Tapert's Legend of the Seeker - as well as directing for the Power Rangers franchise.
'Mark Beesley: Bringing the 'Westies' out of the closet...' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 15 July 2013. Accessed 15 July 2013
Peter Calder, 'West side story' (Interview) - NZ Herald, 11 March 2000, page D1
Peter Calder, 'Savage Honeymoon' (Review) - NZ Herald, 11 March 2000, page D5
James Croot, 'The Almighty Johnsons resurrect' (Interview) Stuff website. Loaded 2 July 2013. Accessed 15 April 2014
Alan Samson, 'Rocky start to Honeymoon' - The Dominion, 9 March 2000
Robert Weisbrot, Xena Warrior Princess - The Official Guide to the Xenaverse (New York: Doubleday, 1998)
Savage Honeymoon Press Kit