Director, Producer, Camera
Aged 17, Max Quinn joined the NZ Broadcasting Corporation as a trainee cameraman. At 25 he was filming landmark television dramas like Hunter’s Gold. In 1980 he moved into directing and producing. Since joining Dunedin’s Natural History Unit (now NHNZ) in 1987, Quinn's many talents have helped cement his reputation as one of the most experienced polar filmmakers on the globe.
She got a sniff of me and she came right up to me. There I was on my own on the sea ice, with this beautiful big female polar bear, stalking me no more than 10 metres away. Max Quinn on filming an anestheised polar bear, for 2002 series Ice Worlds
This one-off documentary from NHNZ reveals new information about the origins of the iconic kiwi. Presenter Peter Elliott travels the country investigating how "evolutionary mutants" — like giant meat-eating snails, kiwi, and tuatara — evolved over 20 million years in the face of massive tectonic upheavals and extreme isolation. Elliott answers why Aotearoa has the "weirdest creatures", such as birds that don't fly and mammals that do. Company Weta Workshop used computer graphics to create images of extinct creatures for this TV One programme.
Ice Worlds was a three-part series from company NHNZ, about the two frozen ends of the globe. The parts were 'Life at the Edge', 'Polar People', and climate episode 'Secrets of the Crystal Ball'. Narrated by Dougal Stevenson, they covered everything from the hibernation and breeding habits of polar bears to the unique properties of the Antarctic cod (also known as the Antarctic toothfish). The people who live and work on the poles are acknowledged, as is the role the unique climate has played in developing such a unique environment.
The first episode of Ice Worlds explores animal life at the poles, both North and South. At the North Pole American scientist Steve Amstrup tracks polar bears, from their hibernation during winter, to seeking food out on the tundra during summer. Down south, Antarctica's emperor penguins are studied by Gerald Kooyman, physiologist Arthur Devries catches Antarctic cod, and biologist Brent Sinclair seeks the continent's largest land animal — a tiny insect called a springtail. Ice Worlds was narrated by former news anchor Dougal Stevenson.
For 150 years, southern right whales (tohorā) were hunted to the brink of extinction. But the discovery of a “lost tribe” in the Southern Ocean sparked hope that their numbers are increasing. This documentary — made by veteran nature filmmaker Max Quinn for The Discovery Channel — follows a research expedition to learn about the pod. Breathtaking and intimate underwater footage, including a fabled white whale and new-born calf, reveals the behavior of these gentle giants. The award-winning film also captures soaring royal albatross, vomiting sea lions, and a flightless duck.
Naturalist Ramari Stewart never tires of the view from a subantarctic hut. "This is the only place I know where I can see a whale out my window and it’s never let me down." The documentary follows Stewart as she spends a summer and winter monitoring wildlife at remote Northwest Bay in Campbell Island. Southern right whales, Hooker's sea lions and elephant seals all feature. Stewart, who later became a whale expert, displays a jaw-dropping bond with the animals. At the end of the programme, the whales cause a stir when they play perilously close to Stewart's boat.
This 1993 documentary surveys the world’s southernmost volcano, Mount Erebus. Cameras travel to never before filmed depths, 400 metres below the sea ice. They also go 3500 metres above sea level into the erupting crater. The film charts what is able to survive in the otherworldly environment, from seals to moss. Solid Water was the third part of an acclaimed Wild South trilogy on Antarctica, which helped establish a relationship between Discovery Channel and TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ). It was awarded for Best Camera at the 1994 New Zealand TV Awards.
This film tells the story of Antarctica’s emperor penguin (the inspiration behind Happy Feet) and how they survive vicious blizzards and -50°C temperatures. It also retraces the epic “worst journey in the world” which explorer Edward Wilson made to discover these remarkable birds. Max Quinn won a best director award at the 1994 NZ Television Awards for the Antarctic Trilogy Emperors was part of. The trilogy helped establish NHNZ’s relationship with Discovery Channel. As this backgrounder explains, the scene of a penguin falling through ice (clip one) became a YouTube hit.
Like the eponymous native plant this children's puppetry programme stuck to the socks of many kiwis of a certain vintage. Produced in Dunedin by TVNZ's Natural History Unit (now independent production company NHNZ) Bidibidi followed the adventures of a sheep on a South Island station for two series. Bidibidi was adapted from the children's book by Gavin Bishop. Each programme interspersed puppet scenes and musical numbers with the expected first-rate NHU-shot footage of birds and other animals that Bidibidi meets en route, from kea to skinks and bitterns.
Like the eponymous native plant this children's puppet programme stuck to the socks of many kiwis of a certain vintage. Produced in Dunedin by TVNZ's Natural History Unit (now NHNZ), Bidibidi followed the adventures of a sheep on a South Island station for two series. Adapted from the children's book by Gavin Bishop, the show interspersed puppet scenes and musical numbers with actual wildlife footage. This first episode sees Bidibidi chasing a rainbow with advice from Stella the kea; includes beautifully shot images of a menagerie of native birds.
This Christchurch-based TVNZ science and technology show put science in primetime in the 1980s (notably on Friday nights before Coronation Street). The successor to Science Express, it sought to explain how science was changing everyday NZ life; and reporters (including Jim Hopkins, Liz Grant, Peter Llewellyn and Julie Colquhoun) attempted to engage the public without alienating the scientific community, and vice versa. Its run ended in 1989 when TVNZ decided it couldn't compete with the runaway success of Australian counterpart Beyond 2000.
TVNZ series Viewfinder was aimed at making news and current affairs accessible to a teen audience. Topics ranged from underage drinking to the new breakdancing craze, to a campaign to see School Certificate exam papers after they had been marked. Reports were filed by the show's three presenters. Over the show's run these included Phillipa Dann (in her first presenting gig), Uelese Petaia (star of 1979 movie Sons for the Return Home), David Hindley (also a gay rights campaigner) and Michael Barry. The show's distinctive synthesiser opening infiltrated many young minds.
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 until the early 1990s. 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).
What Now? is a long-running entertainment show for primary school-aged children. Filmed before a live studio audience on weekend mornings, What Now? is a New Zealand TV institution; it was the first TV show to have live phone-ins. The series is known for its challenges that sometimes result in participants being 'gunged'. A roll-call of presenters includes Steve Parr, Danny Watson, Simon Barnett, Jason Gunn, Michelle A'Court, Tamati Coffey, Antonia Prebble, and more. 'Get out of your Lazy Bed' by Matt Bianco is the theme song memorable to generations of Kiwi kids.
After School was a hosted links format that screened on weekday afternoons. Its initial host was Olly Ohlson, who was the first Māori presenter to anchor his own children's show. After School also broke ground in its use of te reo Māori on screen, as well as sign language. The show and Ohlson are remembered by a generation of New Zealanders for the catchphrase (with accompanying sign language) "Keep cool till after school". After School was later hosted by Jason Gunn and Annie Roache, and was where puppet Thingee achieved small screen fame.
Died in the Wool was part of a TV anthology adapting the murder mysteries of Dame Ngaio Marsh. MP Flossie Rubrick has been found dead in a wool bale, and it's up to Inspector Roderick Alleyn (UK actor George Baker — Bond, Z Cars, I, Claudius) to unravel the secrets of a South Island sheep station. The tale of a cultured Englishman amidst World War II spies, Bach and seamy colonial crimes — like Marsh's books — found a global audience: it was the first NZ TV drama to screen in the US (on PBS). Includes a Cluedo-style sitting room inquest and a wool shed reveal.
The Mackenzie Affair told the story of colonial folk hero James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would later bear his name. This fifth and final episode sees the manhunt for Mackenzie over, with ‘Jock’ facing a sentence of hard labour and provoking sympathy from equivocal sheriff Henry Tancred. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production (with Scottish TV) imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft. It was made by Hunter’s Gold producer John McRae.
The five-part series told the story of colonial outlaw James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would bear his name. His escapades on the lam elevated him to folk hero status. Like producer John McRae’s prior series, Hunter’s Gold, the South Pacific Television ‘prestige’ drama was made with export in mind. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production — with Scottish TV, where the opening episode was shot — imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft.
This classic kids’ adventure tale follows a 13-year-old boy on a quest to find his father, missing amidst the 1860s Otago gold rush. When it launched in September 1976, the 13 part series was the most expensive local TV drama yet made. Under the reins of director Tom Parkinson, the series brandished unprecedented production values, and panned the Central Otago vistas for all their worth. Its huge local popularity was matched abroad (BBC screened it multiple times); it showed that NZ-made kids’ drama could be exported, and helped establish the new second television channel.
This classic kids’ adventure series follows a boy trying to find his missing father, amidst the 1860s Otago gold rush. The show brandished unprecedented production values, and demonstrated that NZ-made kids’ drama could be successfully exported. This first episode sees plucky Scott Hunter (Andrew Hawthorn) steal away to Tucker’s Valley, spurred on by his unsympathetic uncle. In the background pieces, writer Roger Simpson recalls creating 13 scripts at high speed, and director Tom Parkinson writes about the Kiwi landscape as character, and finding the production team.
Around 31 March 1903, eccentric farmer Richard Pearse climbed into a self-built monoplane and flew for about 140 metres, before crashing into a Waitohi gorse bush. The amount of control he maintained and exact date (before the Wright brothers?) has been oft-debated. This award-winning TV film (an early script for Hunter's Gold's Roger Simpson) dramatises the life of the reclusive young inventor and his flying machine, from his youth up until the flight itself. Actor Martyn Sanderson captures 'Mad Dick's' obsession in a Feltex-winning performance.
Play School was an iconic educational programme for pre-school children, which was first produced in Auckland from 1972, then Dunedin from 1975. The format included songs, a story, craft, a calendar, a clock and a look outside Play School via the shaped windows. But the toys, Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima, Humpty and Manu, were the real stars of the show. The title sequence ("Here's a house ...") and music were a call to action recognised by generations of Kiwis. Presenters included actors Rawiri Paratene and Theresa Healey, Russell Smith and future MP Jacqui Hay.