A journeyman actor for many years, Peter McCauley is a familiar face on both sides of the Tasman, with a long string of roles in film and television. His gruff, craggy image belies a capacity for sensitivity, and his rich sonorous voice has flattered many a script over the years.
I had theories on screen acting wrapped in wads of self important integrity, later largely replaced by the old adage; remember your lines and don't bang into the furniture. Peter McCauley
This ‘salvagepunk’ film is set in a desolate future where wind turbines power a vast electric fence that (apparently) protects the survivors of environmental collapse, and keeps refugees out. A rare entry in the Kiwi sci-fi feature catalogue, Existence stars Loren Taylor (Eagle vs Shark) as Freya, a mother who dreams of the world beyond, and Matthew Sunderland (Out of the Blue) as a mysterious boundary rider. From a SWANZ award-winning script, the low budget film was shot on Wellington’s rugged south coast hills and was the feature debut of director Juliet Bergh.
Shot in modern-day North Canterbury, Netherwood is the kind of back country thriller in which few of the locals can be trusted. Black-hatted drifter Stanley Harris (one time Shortland Street surgeon Owen Black) arrives in a small South Island town, and finds himself facing off against the local bully (Will Hall), the local beauty (Miriama Smith) and the local land baron (Peter McCauley). The behind the scenes documentary follows Hall and Black on a 20-stop 'Rural Roadshow', as they tour the finished low budget feature around the country.
Nothing Trivial was a dramedy that kept score on the lives and loves of five friends in a pub quiz team called Sex on a Stick. The cast of City Lifers shifted to the suburbs and nearing middle age was led by Shane Cortese, Tandi Wright, Nicole Whippy, Debbie Newby-Ward and Blair Strang. Created by Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan, (the veteran writers behind Go Girls, Maddigan’s Quest, and Mercy Peak) the popular South Pacific Pictures production screened for three seasons on TV ONE. A fan-driven campaign saw NZ On Air fund a tele-movie to wrap up the series.
Christmas Eve 1953: Cricketer Bob Blair (Ryan O'Kane) is in South Africa, days away from batting for New Zealand. His fiancée Nerissa Love (Maddigan's Quest's Rose McIver) is boarding an ill-fated train, which in this excerpt will plunge into the Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, in the country's worst rail disaster. The Dominion Post's Linda Burgess found this TV movie retelling of the tragic romance "first-rate", noting "consistently excellent" performances from O'Kane, McIver, and Miranda Harcourt as Nerissa's wary mother. Tangiwai won four NZ TV awards, including best cinematography.
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".
Perfect Creature is set in an immaculately realised alternative colonial New Zealand where steam powers cobble-stoned cities, and zeppelins cruise the skies. A race of benevolent vampires preside over the spiritual life of humanity. When one of them turns rogue, a manhunt begins. Starring international actors (Dougray Scott, Saffron Burrows) Perfect Creature was the second feature for director Glenn Standring. It was the first Kiwi film picked up for distribution by a major Hollywood studio (Twentieth Century Fox), who ultimately dithered with its release.
In this first feature film from writer/director Greg Page, two urban bloke best friends take off on a surfing weekend. Their prospects of finding fun go down with the sun. Instead of enjoying surf and black sand, the boys find themselves lost in a rural nightmare, battling an inescapable curse and nocturnal field bogans. Page, known for his high energy music videos, wheel-spins city limits phobia into the Waikato heartland for a Kiwi twist on thriller genre thrills. Horrorview.com called it: "different and inventive enough to stand out from the crowd."
This Shortland Street episode ended the 1995 season with a missing baby, a Christmas turkey and a bizarre accident. After being set up by conniving nurse Carla Leach (Elisabeth Easther), a drunken driver aims his Mac truck directly for the hospital's reception. Amongst the injured, Kirsty wakes up with a case of memory loss, while Carmen suffers unexpected after-effects, soon after swearing everlasting devotion to Guy Warner. Meanwhile Nick potentially faces prosecution, after accidentally leaving his girlfriend's one-year-old child at the supermarket.
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.
A teenage boy's unorthodox relationship with his father (Wi Kuki Kaa) is explored as he learns about hypocrisy in this E Tipu e Rea edition, written by Bruce Stewart and starring Faifua Amiga as Thunderbox Junior. After establishing a reputation as a highly successful director of commercials, this was Lee (Once Were Warriors) Tamahori's first attempt at the helm of a longer drama. "You tend to get a bit of experience making people laugh when you direct commercials,' he said. "One thing I'm sure of is that people like to laugh at themselves."
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was New Zealand's first urban cop show. Devised by Graeme Tetley (Ruby and Rata), it portrayed a unit policing inner city Wellington, under the guidance of Inspector Brian 'Sharkie' Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, the show followed the character-based storytelling of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first season marked one of the last in-house productions for TVNZ's drama department. The next two series were made independently by The Gibson Group.
BMX, skateboards, spacies parlours and home computers — Steel Riders features all the hardware that an 80s-era kid could desire, with a motorcycling baddie to boot. Scripted by kidult master Ken Catran, the series follows a brother and sister who are targeted after inadvertently ending up with the spoils of a jewel heist. Pursued by mysterious (and irate) motorcyclist — The Spook — they enlist the help of a hacker and a BMX rider to help their father, who has been blamed for the theft. Ex-motorcycle racer Phil Thorogood provided The Spook’s stunts.
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.
Fresh from the larger than life comedy of Came a Hot Friday, Ian Mune made an abrupt turn to horror with this, his second feature as director. Friday alumni Phillip Gordon joins a brat pack of young Kiwi actors; going bush, they meet gun-totting cattleman Bruno Lawrence and a young woman. He is not happy. In this clip the group begin to crack under the strain of being the hunted. Originally written by American Bill Baer, the film was pre-sold to a US investor. Mune was later told by his LA agent that having the dog die did not help its commercial chances in the US.
The last novel by Taranaki author Ronald Hugh Morrieson revolves around a freezing plant worker (Peter McCauley) in an inter-racial marriage. The role of an English remittance man was expanded in a failed attempt to cast Peter O'Toole (the role ultimately went to NZ-born Bruce Spence). Morrieson's view of small town NZ is a dark one, as he explores racism, violence, murder, suicide and blackmail. Bruno Lawrence contributes to Jonathan Crayford's jazz-tinged score, and features in the wedding band. The freezing works scenes were shot at the defunct plant in Patea.
Open House revolved around the ups and downs of a drop-in house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten, later Outrageous Fortune's Grandpa Ted). In this first episode there's money trouble, court trouble, domestics, a pregnant teenager and an abandoned baby ... but there's community spirit aplenty as the house's whānau prepares for its first birthday celebration, complete with Scottish brass band and Samoan drums. Tony's first lines to a raving old man on Petone Beach? "Good onya mate!". Features author Emily Perkins as Tony's idealistic stepdaughter.
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.
Kingpin was the second of a trilogy of films from Mike Walker about troubled New Zealand youth (the others were Kingi's Story and TV movie Mark II) Filmed at, and inspired by residents of Kohitere Boys Training Centre in Levin, the bros-in-borstal tale follows a group of teens who are wards of the state. Kingpin focuses on the bond between Riki (Mitchell Manuel) and Willie (Fafua 'Junior' Amiga), who along with the other kids are terrorised by Karl (Nicholas Rogers), the Kingpin of the title. It was directed by Walker, who co-wrote the script with Manuel.
Heroes followed a band trying to make it in the mid-80s music biz. Teen-orientated, the show marked a first major role for Jay Laga’aia (Star Wars), and an early gig for Michael Hurst (with blonde Billy Idol spikes). Band keyboardist John Gibson co-wrote the series music; he later became an award-winning film composer. Margaret Umbers (Shortland Street, Bridge to Nowhere) was a non-musician in the cast (with Hurst), but since has sung regularly in a jazz band. A second series follow in 1986.
Shot on location in Wellington, often after dark, Inside Straight helped usher in a new era of Kiwi TV dramas, far from the rural backblocks. This Minder-esque portrait of Wellington’s underworld was inspired by writer Keith Aberdein’s experiences as a taxi-driver and all night cafe worker. Phillip Gordon (soon to win fame as a conman in Came a Hot Friday) stars as the former fisherman, learning the ways of the city from veteran taxi driver Roy Billing. A solid but unspectacular rater over 10 episodes, the show was scuttled by the launch of trucker’s tale Roche.
A State of Siege is the story of a retired art teacher dealing with isolation and loneliness, culminating in a stormy, terrifying night. This is a six-minute excerpt. Vincent Ward's acclaimed short — adapted from a Janet Frame novel — was made when he was at Ilam art school. The Evening Post called it "the most sensitive and intelligent film that has ever been made in New Zealand". San Francisco Chronicle praised: "Ward creates more horror in this low budget movie with his play of light and shadow than Stanley Kubrick was able to create in the whole of The Shining."
NFU drama Men and Super Men is a barbed chronicle of a workplace where harmony is a distant dream. Intended as a how-not-to guide for ‘management bodies’, the film sees patronising factory supervisor Ferguson (actor Eddie Wright in fine form) trying to increase productivity by constantly changing systems. Meanwhile a trio on the factory floor (Paul Holmes, Peter McCauley and Close to Home’s Stephen Tozer) react with bullying and barely suppressed defiance. It was an open secret when the film was made that some of the characters were inspired by NFU staff.