History enthusiast Paul Gittins devised award-winning show Epitaph. As well as hosting it, he directed episodes across three seasons. The series used gravestone epitaphs to explore stories from New Zealand history. Gittins also presented historical show Shipwreck, and directed one-off documentary My Kainga My Castle. As an actor, he did extended shifts in the early days of Shortland Street, playing clinic boss Michael McKenna (father of Angela Bloomfield's character Rachel). He also plays father to the hero in two films directed by Ian Mune: The End of the Golden Weather and The Whole of the Moon

I got this appreciation of New Zealand's history through doing this series. I realised that our history ... it was raw, it was vivid, exciting, dramatic. Paul Gittins on his television series Epitaph, in an October 2011 ScreenTalk interview with NZ On Screen

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Bloopers - Shortland Street

2018, As: Michael McKenna - Television

When a show has been in production for over 25 years, the odd mistake is to be expected — as this assemblage of Shortland Street bloopers demonstrates. - Angela Dotchin invents a new word - Angela Bloomfield gets confused over who she's talking to - Peter Elliott almost gets hit by part of the set - Peter Elliott manages to stay in character after Tandi Wright hits a pot plant - John Leigh performs miracles on a sick dog - Peter Elliott has some bother with Elizabeth McRae's cheque - Michael Galvin hurts his leg - Roy Snow gets his cords confused - Theresa Healey has a bumpy kiss - Paul Ellis's face is grabbed by a baby  - Ido Drent announces he's pregnant - Craig Parker hits a pot plant - Mr Whippy distracts Nisha Madhan  - Angela Bloomfield fluffs her line - Angela Bloomfield battles dialogue and weapons - Lee Donoghue forgets a line - and more!

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Shortland Street - Past Memories

2017, Subject - Web

In these short clips from our ScreenTalk interviews, Shortland Street actors talk about the show.   - Michael Galvin on doing a rap - Martin Henderson on fast-paced TV - Robyn Malcolm on "the slut in the cardy"  - Tem Morrison on medical terms - John Leigh on his exit - Danielle Cormack on leaving first - Antony Starr on acting under pressure - Angela Bloomfield on her first day - Craig Parker on forgetting ego - Shane Cortese on his dark role - Theresa Healey on playing "sassy"   - Ido Drent on memorising fast - Stephanie Tauevihi on ravaging Blair Strang - Dean O'Gorman on relaxing on TV - Amanda Billing on farewelling her character - Mark Ferguson on playing his own brother  - Stelios Yiakmis on stumbling into the set - Elizabeth McRae on being warned away - Rob Magasiva on nerves - Nancy Brunning on her first six months - Peter Elliott on thugs and idiots - Paul Gittins on advice - Blair Strang on sleeping with his sister - Geraldine Brophy on her role - Joel Tobeck on wheelchair jokes 

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Power Rangers Dino Charge

2016, As; Mr Smith - Television

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Inc'd

2014, As: Mike - Short Film

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Aftermath

2013, Narrator - Television

Christchurch company Paua Productions has extensively chronicled the effects of the series of earthquakes that decimated large tracts of their city in 2010/11 (and claimed the lives of colleagues in the CTV building). This series of five stand-alone documentaries examines aspects of the city’s past, present and future in the light of the quakes. Individual episodes focus on the significance of heritage, the social impact, the science of seismicity, the business and financial repercussions, and the scope and challenges of such an ambitious rebuild.

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Harry

2013, As: David Bell - Television

This TV3 drama series follows the travails of a cop (Oscar Kightley) as he pursues justice on the mean streets of Auckland. Solo parent to a teenage daughter (following his wife’s suicide), Detective Sergeant Harry Anglesea is thrown into a murder investigation and an underworld of P and gang violence. Harry, not a stickler for the rules, marked a rare dramatic turn for Oscar Kightley. Sam Neill plays his policing buddy. NZ Herald reviewer Paul Casserly called it a “great, gritty crime show”. Harry was notable for using unsubtitled Samoan in primetime.

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Aftermath - Triumph of the City (Episode Five)

2013, Narrator - Television

The fifth episode in this series about the Christchurch earthquakes looks at the mammoth rebuild the city requires. It explores the competing tensions faced by politicians, planners, developers and citizens to fix the past, look to the future and ensure a result that is as safe and liveable as possible, for an earthquake-scarred populace. This excerpt features cardboard models and state of the art visualisations, as it examines the development of the blueprint to create a smaller central city anchored by the Avon River. 

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Safe House

2012, As: Detective Cliff Stout - Television

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Strongman - The Tragedy

2012, As: JK Patterson - Film

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After the Waterfall

2010, As: Sergeant Kelvin - Film

Simone Horrocks' first feature revolves around the disintegration of a man's life, after his daughter goes missing. Horrocks relocates Stephen Blanchard's novel The Paraffin Child from a washed-up UK coastal community to West Auckland/Piha. Outrageous Fortune talent Antony Starr plays the forest ranger who separates from his wife, then learns she is pregnant to the policeman investigating his child's disappearance. Horrocks says After the Waterfall investigates healing, resilience, and "how we live with unfinished business". 

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Murder on the Blade?

2003, As: Crown Prosecutor - Television

Subtitled A Journalist's View, this award-winning documentary makes the case that Scott Watson shouldn't have been imprisoned for murdering Ben Smart and Olivia Hope — because he couldn't have done it. Returning to Endeavour Inlet, veteran director Keith Hunter talks to witnesses, and argues the prosecution fumbled vital details of the murderer's yacht and description, then advanced a new theory without evidence to back it. Hunter went on to write 2007 book Trial by Trickery, further critiquing what he calls “New Zealand's most blatantly dishonest prosecution”.

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The Truth about Tangiwai

2002, Narrator - Television

On Christmas Eve 1953 a volcanic eruption caused a massive lahar to flow down Whangaehu River. When the Wellington-Auckland express crossed the rail bridge at Tangiwai minutes later, it collapsed and carriages plunged into the flooded river. 151 people died out of 285, in NZ's worst rail accident. This 2002 documentary examines events and the board of inquiry finding that the accident was an act of God. This excerpt demolishes the story that Cyril Ellis could have warned the train driver what lay ahead, and argues there was a railways department cover-up at the board of inquiry. 

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Exposure

2001, As: Paul Steerman - Film

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My Kainga My Castle

2000, Director, Writer, Research - Television

Rotorua may be famous for its picture perfect scenery, but dig a little deeper under the boiling mud and you'll find a history bubbling with warfare, adventure and romance. This TV One documentary, presented by Te Arawa's own Sir Howard Morrison, traces the iwi's origins —from a fight over a beloved dog in Hawaiki, to the shores of Maketū in the Bay of Plenty. Morrison travels around the Rotorua region visiting important historical sites like Mokoia Island and his home marae at Ōhinemutu, on the shores of Lake Rotorua. Paul Gittins (Epitaph) directed the one-off special.

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Shipwreck - The Tragedy of the Boyd

2000, Presenter - Television

This episode of Greenstone Pictures' documentary series about maritime misfortune recounts the fate of the Boyd — a shipwreck created by a bloody act of revenge. Presenter Paul Gittins travels to Whangaroa Harbour in the Far North where, in 1809, local Maori slaughtered more than 60 passengers and crew. This savagery — and the cannibalism that followed — severely strained early Maori-Pakeha relations for decades. Gittins carefully examines the lead-up to the attack and former Race Relations Conciliator, and local resident, Hiwi Tauroa provides further context.

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Shipwreck - The Wreck of the Orpheus

2000, Presenter - Television

On 7 February 1863, the worst maritime disaster in New Zealand history occurred. British warship HMS Orpheus ran aground on a notorious sandbar at Manukau Heads, with the loss of 189 of the 259 onboard. Directed by John Milligan (Trio at the Top), this documentary was part of a series examining the country’s worst wrecks. Presented by Paul Gittins, it discusses the disaster, its cause, and the consequent investigations. While the British admiralty laid blame on the harbourmaster, local Māori interpreted the wreck as utu, for a breach of tapu by a Pākehā settler the previous day.

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Epitaph - An Unforgeable Signature

1999, Director, Writer, Presenter, Executive Producer, Original Concept - Television

In the 13th episode of Epitaph's second season, Paul Gittins goes digging in Waikumete Cemetery. The epitaph for 25-year old convicted murderer Dennis Gunn, hanged in 1920  for shooting the Ponsonby Postmaster, includes an intriguing inscription: "sadly wronged". Gittins unearths the story of a post office robbery, and the first conviction in New Zealand based on fingerprint identification. The judge called the print an "unforgeable signature". Before he died, Gunn claimed innocence: "if only my brother-in-law will speak up I will be saved".

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Epitaph

1997 - 2002, Director, Presenter, Writer, Original Concept - Television

Epitaphs on gravestones are the starting point for presenter Paul Gittins to unravel skeletons in cupboards, lovestruck suicide pacts, and fatal love letters. The series uses compelling personal stories to retell New Zealand history and effectively combines documentary and re-enactment. An actor and history enthusiast, Paul Gittins became a household name on Shortland Street (as Dr Michael McKenna) before he devised this series for Greenstone. Epitaph ran for three series, and won Best Factual Series at the 1999 NZ TV Awards.

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Epitaph - Last Man Hanged

1997, Original Concept, Presenter, Executive Producer - Television

In each episode of this popular TV series, actor Paul Gittins investigated the story behind the epitaph written on a gravestone. In this third episode from season one, Gittins visits the grave of Walter James Bolton, a Whanganui farmer who was the last man to get the death penalty in New Zealand. He was hanged on 18 February 1957, found guilty of poisoning his wife of 43 years with arsenic derived from sheep dip. Gittins meets Peter Waller, a campaigner for Bolton’s innocence, who claims to be his son. Bryan Bruce revisited the case in 2007 on his series The Investigator.

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City Life

1996 - 1998, As: John Gable - Television

City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.

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City Life - First Episode

1996, As: John Gable - Television

City Life screened from 1996 to 1998 and made a direct appeal to New Zealand's Gen X apartment-dwelling demographic. Following the lives of a tight-knit group of friends, and featuring racy shots of Auckland's K-Road and nightlife set to contemporary NZ pop music, City Life was NZ's answer to Melrose Place. In this excerpt from the first episode, the friends are thrown into conflict when one of their own (played by Kevin Smith) decides to marry outside the circle. Complications ensue when Smith shares a brief, but notorious, screen kiss with Charles Mesure.

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The Whole of the Moon

1996, As: Alex Mead - Film

Teen actors Nikki Si'ulepa and Toby Fisher won acclaim in Ian Mune's fourth feature as director. Si'ulepa plays a Samoan street kid who meets a well-off white teen, when both are facing mortality in a hospital ward. The co-production between NZ and Canada (where it debuted on cable TV) won over critics in both nations. "Si'ulepa dominates the camera and the action with a natural authority", raved Metro. Moon scooped the gongs at the 1996 TV Guide Awards (including for originating screenwriter Richard Lymposs); and won notice at Berlin and Giffoni film festivals.

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Trifecta

1995, As: Henry Bennett - Television

Made for TV ONE’s Montana Sunday Theatre slot, this award-winning one-off drama stars Peter Elliott as a disgraced lawyer, who may or may not have a gambling problem. A down-on-his-luck reporter (Mark Clare) on the trail of the story finds there is more to it than meets the eye, and decides to scam the scammer, with dangerous consequences. Writer/director Jonothan Cullinane went on to make the feature film We’re Here to Help.

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Riding High

1995, As: Charles - Television

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Shortland Street - Kirsty and Lionel's wedding

1994, As: Doctor Michael McKenna - Television

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.

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Sister to the Sinners

1994, Narrator - Short Film

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Shortland Street

1992 - 1995, 1997 - 1999, As: Doctor Michael McKenna - Television

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.

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Shortland Street - First Episode

1992, As: Michael McKenna - Television

The first episode of Shortland Street starts with a pregnant woman being rushed to the clinic after an accident. Only the doctors are all missing. Visiting doctor Hone Ropata (Temuera Morrison), who is soon to join the team, makes the call to deliver the baby. Head nurse Carrie Burton (Lisa Crittenden) disagrees, and proceeds to mention that Dr Ropata is no longer in Guatemala. This first episode of the five night a week soap screened on 25 May 1992. It would go on to become New Zealand's longest running TV drama (but not our first soap — that was Close to Home).

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Shortland Street - Highlights from the first 15 years

1992 - 2007, As: Doctor Michael McKenna - Television

Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an eponymous inner city Auckland hospital. A South Pacific Pictures production, the iconic show is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the staff, family and patients. Screening five days a week on TV2 it is New Zealand’s longest running drama. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture, most famously, "you're not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!". This 2007 promo, set to the theme song, collects together highlights from the first 15 years of the show.

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You Make the Whole World Smile

1992, Performer - Music video

The video for this Red Nose Day chart-topper makes the most of a powerhouse combination: celebrities and cute babies. Although lead singer Hammond Gamble gets his share of screen time, the result is largely devoted to close-ups of perhaps the biggest pile-up of famous Kiwis to cram into a single music video. The faces include appearances early on by Simone Kessell, Ilona Rodgers, and Aussie actor Mark Raffety — plus The Wizard, sports legends Grant Fox, John Kirwan and Jeremy Coney, newsreaders Judy Bailey and Anita McNaught, and singers Tina Cross and Suzanne Lynch. 

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The End of the Golden Weather

1991, As: Dad - Film

Set over a Christmas beach holiday in 1935, The End of the Golden Weather chronicles the friendship between a teenage boy and the wild-limbed Firpo, dreamer and social outcast. Writer/director Ian Mune spent more than 15 years "massaging" Bruce Mason's classic solo play into a movie, before assembling a dream team to bring it to the screen. The finished film captures the world view of a boy for whom fantasy, hope and disappointment intermingle. Among an impressive awards haul, 12-year-old star Stephen Fulford was recognised at America's Youth in Film Awards.   

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The Boy from Andromeda - The Guardian

1990, As: Ralph - Television

On a holiday to Mt Tarawera, teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs) finds an odd shard of metal. In this third episode of the kids sci-fi series she meets its owner: 'Drom' — a survivor of an alien mission to deactivate a planet-annihilating space gun (aka Tarawera itself). They find themselves under siege from a Predator-like 'Guardian' of the gun. If Drom and Jenny and local kids Tessa and Lloyd (future What Now? presenter Anthony Samuels) can't defeat the mechanoid, catastrophe is imminent! The South Pacific Pictures series found international sales and cult repute.

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The Shadow Trader (Part One)

1989, As: Colin Dresden - Television

This is the first of a two-part "money and greed" morality tale set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' of property deals and horse racing. Working class lass Tammy (Annie Whittle) and art consultant Joanna (Miranda Harcourt, fresh from Gloss) are an unlikely duo who inherit a racehorse and a greasy spoon cafe (instant coffee rather than cappuccino). Brit import James Faulkner plays a shady developer whose scheme is blocked by the duo. Murder, underhand unitary plans, yuppie love and old gambling debts complicate life for Tammy and Joanna.

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The Shadow Trader (Part Two)

1989, As: Colin Dresden - Television

Set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' world of property deals and horse racing, the second part of this 1989 mini-series sees the brassy odd couple Tammy (Annie Whittle) and Joanna (Miranda Harcourt) in deep water. The working class battler and the art consultant have done up their inherited greasy spoon, but they're the "only fly in the ointment" of the 'Vision 2000' scheme of a nefarious developer (Brit import James Faulkner). Girl power meets utopian unitary planning as the duo find bones in the basement, and get too close to the secrets of Huntercorp HQ. 

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Hotshotz

1989, As: Brian Fraser - Television

Future Shortland Streeter Craig Parker features in this tale centred on a group of young teens fascinated by radio-controlled car racing. Screening as a TV series, Hotshotz was also recut into this telefilm. The "swift and slick" tale (The Listener) sees the teens setting out to foil a criminal gang, as a kidnapping sets the scene for espionage and counterfeiting. In scenes that echo modern-day drone use, a remote controlled model helicopter equipped with a camera plays a key role in the story’s resolution. Veteran writer Ken Catran contributed to a title that sold in 25 territories.      

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Adventurer

1988, As: Lieutenant Harry Anderson - Television

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Steel Riders - Bloodstones (First Episode)

1987, As: Councillor Coucy - Television

BMX bikes, motorcycles, and home computers — as the opening titles demonstrate, this children’s adventure series features all the hardware an 80s-era kid could want. In the first episode, Sandra, Mike and their father move into the city, arriving just in time for two jewel thieves to crash into their lives after a daring heist at Auckland Museum, and a chase through the city. Scripted by Kiwi kidult king-turned-novelist Ken Catran (Children of the Dog Star), Steel Riders was later shortened to movie length for American video release, as Young Detectives on Wheels.

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A Death in the Family

1986, As: Cal - Television

Peter Wells and Stewart Main’s acclaimed drama screened in primetime and was ground-breaking in featuring AIDS. Wells' script is based on the death of one of his friends — one of the first New Zealanders to die from the disease — but the living are the focus, as Wells creates an intimate “strange and foreign land” occupied by those close to someone who is dying. Andy’s friends confront both their own mortality and the deadly new disease stalking their community, while his conservative family grapples with never having come to terms with his sexuality. The excerpt features the opening 10 minutes. 

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Heart of the High Country

1985, As: Jonas - Television

Heart of the High Country saw NZ and the mother country getting into bed together, on and off the screen. The rags/riches/rags tale chronicles 18 years for Ceci (Valerie Gogan), a working class Brit who arrives in the South Island and fends off a series of mean-tempered pioneer males — and one long unrequited love. The Sam Pillsbury-directed mini-series played in primetime on ITV in the UK, and was funded by England’s Central TV and TVNZ. It shares storytelling DNA with earlier TV movie It’s Lizzie to Those Close; Brit Elizabeth Gowans scripted both.

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Other Halves

1984, As: Ken - Film

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Pioneer Women - Princess Te Puea

1983, As: Roy Seccombe - 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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Close to Home

1982 -1983, Actor - Television

Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977 nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac (who had initially only agreed to make the show on the condition they would get to make The Governor). The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen, and the output demands were foundational in developing industry talent.