Christchurch-born Matthew Metcalfe grew up “really poor” in Canberra, after time in Papua New Guinea. The army offered a way to see the world (Metcalfe did time in both Australia and New Zealand), although ultimately he "really only saw a lot of the back country of both nations". While completing a Commerce and Applied Mathematics degree at Auckland University he grew increasingly interested in film, after taking bit acting parts on stage and screen.
Plans to join the Royal Australian Navy were permanently bypassed after Metcalfe promised young filmmaker Jesse Warn he would find a way to get Warn’s script for short film 9 Across on screen. The film won best short at the 1999 NZ Film and TV Awards. Metcalfe took five years to pay off the $5000 loan which represented his share of the film's production costs.
By now Metcalfe was working on short films and music videos during the day, and keeping himself alive via a host of night jobs: waiter, shelf stacker, cinema usher. Eager to gain experience, he entered the foyer of radio station bFM and announced he’d make a music video for any band with $1000. Metcalfe produced videos for Shihad and Hayley Westenra, and in 2001 produced the Tui Award-winning video for Che Fu hit Fade Away, which saw the band dressed as Māori Battalion soldiers.
Meanwhile Metcalfe and Warn were learning about filmmaking together. Their gruelling training regime included two further shorts, a TV series about the band Steriogram, and a dozen trips to the United States to drum up interest. Finally they struck a deal with Canadian company Lionsgate for their first feature, Nemesis Game. An NZ $6 million co-production between Canada, England and NZ, the mystery thriller revolved around a woman (Carly Pope) caught up in murder as she attempts to solve a series of complex riddles. Nemesis Game was nominated for multiple NZ Film Awards, including best film, director, and screenplay.
Metcalfe and Warn parted ways during the extended development of follow-up The Turkmen, which ultimately hit screens as The Ferryman. It was a busy time: alongside developing the script for this “study in fear”, Metcalfe worked with a number of emerging directors on short films, and was travelling extensively for a series of television projects, most involving military topics. In 2005 he produced the globe-trotting Air Force, a series about the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The following year he appeared on camera alongside his father in one-off documentary Vietnam - My Father’s War. The two returned to the country 35 years after Frank Metcalfe had fought there during the Vietnam war.
Metcalfe was also beginning to direct documentaries, starting in the danger zone of Baghdad. Soldiers of Fortune (aka Iraq - Kiwi Guns for Hire) follows private security forces operating in the city. He also helped develop feature-length doco Relocated Mountains, which chronicles a Kurdish refugee's trip from New Zealand back to Iraq.
The Ferryman was released in 2007, selling to 30 international territories. By then Metcalfe and producing partner Alan Harris were winning interest for a very unusual project: English shaggy dog tale Dean Spanley, starring Sam Neill and the legendary Peter O’Toole. Metcalfe had fallen in love with Alan Sharp’s 45-page adaptation a decade before; eventually he managed to persuade the veteran Scottish scribe to expand it to feature length. Metcalfe tapped Toa Fraser to direct, impressed by his handling of the dinner scene in No. 2, and the film’s feel for family. Alongside rave reviews, Dean Spanley scored seven Qantas awards, including best director and best feature (budget over $1 million).
Since then Metcalfe has been a producer on another four features with Fraser — Giselle, The Dead Lands, and two films in 2017: British hostage drama 6 Days and extreme sports film The Free Man.
Giselle features footage from the Royal New Zealand Ballet of the same name. The film debuted at the 2013 NZ International Film Festival; Fraser and Metcalfe then reconvened for te reo, pre-Euro action movie The Dead Lands. Hollywood Reporter reviewer Deborah Young called it "a remarkable film experience", thanks partly to rich visuals and "intensely involving" performances.
6 Days is based on the 1980 Iranian embassy siege in London. The cast combines international names (Billy Elliot's Jamie Bell, Abbie Cornish) and Kiwis (Jared Turner, Xavier Horan). The Free Man — for whom Metcalfe is one of the credited writers — looks at what motivates adrenaline junkies, through encounters between Kiwi skier Jossi Wells and extreme sports group The Flying Frenchies.
Metcalfe also produced romantic comedy Love Birds, starring Rhys Darby and Brit Sally Hawkins, and 3D feature Beyond the Edge, which recreates Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Everest. The latter film was directed by Leanne Pooley (Untouchable Girls). Metcalfe joined Pooley again to produce her animated feature 25 April, which tells the story of the 1915 Gallipoli landing. Like Beyond the Edge, it was invited to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, and nominated for both Best Documentary and Best Documentary Director at the Moa Film Awards.
Working alongside Fraser Brown, Metcalfe is also producing two documentary projects involving legendary racers: Roger Donaldson's McLaren, about Kiwi motor racing legend Bruce McLaren, and Wayne, about Australian motorcycling champion Wayne Gardner. Metcalfe is also a producer on Justin Pemberton's adaptation of 2013 non-fiction bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
Metcalfe has worked as New Zealand producer on successful German/NZ co-production Emilie Richards, an anthology series for television. He also served for three years on the NZ Film Commission's Screen Production Incentive Fund, and in 2012 was a member of the steering committee for the government's Screen Sector Review.
In 2009 Metcalfe took time out from producing to compete an Advanced Diploma in History from Oxford University.
Robyn Gallagher, ‘Che Fu “Fade Away”’ 5000 ways to love you website. Loaded 9 April 2013. Accessed 20 June 2013
Bonnie Summer, 'master weaver’ (Interview) - Sunday Star-Times (Sunday pullout) 11 June 2006, page 20
‘Nemesis Game to be released in Australia’ - NZ Film 70, March 2003, page 8
Andrew L Urban, ‘Dean Spanley - Our Talks with Sam Neill & Matthew Metcalfe’ (Interview). Urban Cinefile website. Loaded 5 March 2009. Accessed 12 May 2017
Deborah Young, ''The Dead Lands': Toronto Review' - The Hollywood Reporter, 9 May 2014
'Matthew Metcalfe Producer' (broken link) Love Birds website. Accessed 20 June 2013