While working on film sets in the United Kingdom, Peter Roberts discovered that some crew members don't have to be on set at dawn. “I suddenly realised that editors work gentleman’s hours.” Armed with the desire to tell stories and sleep in, he sought work as an editor, before a move to New Zealand saw him spending five years at TVNZ. Since going freelance in the early 90s, Roberts has filled out a lengthy CV with documentaries, shorts and feature films.
Surrey-born Roberts was making ice cream sodas in a London food hall when he got his first film job, as a runner. Later he impressed an editor who took him on as an assistant, after claims he could synchronise rushes (compilations of each day's footage). On his first weekend working, the editor was snowed in, so asked him to sort the rushes over the weekend. Arriving on the Monday, he was surprised to find the work done. “I thought you were lying,” said the editor. “I was!” Roberts was a fast learner.
After marrying a Kiwi, Roberts moved to New Zealand in 1985. Fears there would be little work in the country’s fledgling industry were dissipated when he got the job of editing early Alison Maclean short Rud’s Wife, a day after arriving.
Roberts then spent five years at TVNZ, across a range of different departments. Along the way he edited on all three seasons of high fashion drama Gloss, which won Best Drama Series at the 1989 Listener Film and TV Awards. At nights he was moonlighting on two light-hearted All Blacks videos directed by Ric Salizzo.
In 1992 Roberts went freelance, becoming the first in New Zealand to order the state-of-the-art Avid editing system (although admittedly he was the second person that day to actually take delivery). The same year, he worked on documentaries Race Day and The Tradition of Kings, the latter a collaboration with producer/director Robyn Scott-Vincent. The two have since collaborated on over two dozen TV documentaries, with Roberts directing a doco about P (2003's Wasted), and co-directing one on Fatherhood (presented by All Black Sean Fitzpatrick).
God, Sreenu and Me (2000) proved one of Roberts' more memorable projects. “We did something very unusual for a documentary, which was to invent a love story that never happened." Originally director Stewart Main travelled to India, to meet Kiwis searching for enlightenment. But major changes in the editing suite saw Main taking a far more prominent position in the narrative. And Roberts got very busy indeed. While Australian critic John Hughes found the result “ironic, playful and true”, back home The Listener's Diana Wichtel found it “boldly narcissistic”. At the 2002 TV Guide Television Awards, Roberts won a gong for Best Non-Drama Editing.
Roberts collaborated with Main again in 2005, for drama 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous, the first time he had edited a feature film. After unexpected rainfall broke the drought needed for the story, “all our brown grass turned green, so our continuity was shot to hell.” Extensive work was required in post-production to attain the right shade of brown. “We budgeted for thirty minutes of full digital grade and of course when the brown grass went green that wasn’t gonna work … we were actually the first 35mm film in New Zealand to be fully digitally graded.”
Further features followed, with road movie The Most Fun You Can Have Dying, Cliff Curtis drama The Dark Horse and Hip Hop-eration. Roberts was recruited to work on The Dark Horse after the project's original editor Annie Collins called to tell him “I need help! They’re shooting so much”. Roberts admits he also felt overwhelmed with the sheer volume of footage, and worried he wasn’t up to the task. “I was quite scared of what I was doing." The Dark Horse went on to win six Moa awards in 2014, and several accolades at international film festivals.
Roberts was nominated in two categories of the Moas: for The Dark Horse, and for dance till you drop documentary Hip Hop-eration. The latter marked one of his favourite projects to date. As he says in this video interview, "I wanted to work on a film that actually had some insight into being old — and how it isn't necessarily what you think."
Follow-up projects have ranged across the globe: from Dorthe Scheffmann's first feature Vermilion, shot in Auckland, to American indie drama For Izzy (produced by Kiwi actor Michelle Ang) and Kiwi-Chinese fantasy Into the Rainbow.
Roberts has also edited his share of television drama. He cut all six episodes of Oscar Kightley cop show Harry, and has worked on neighbours at war tale Rude Awakenings, Australian fantasy Cleverman, and Legend of the Seeker. In 2017 he was among the long line of award-winners on telemovie Jean, based on legendary 30s era pilot Jean Batten. His short film work includes Show Me Shorts award-winner Dive, and swimming drama Strongman.
In 2013 Roberts took a turn as President of the Directors and Editors Guild of New Zealand. He was the first editor to do so. He is an owner and director of Ponsonby-based post-production facility RPM Pictures, alongside Peter Barrett.
Profile written by Simon Smith
'Peter Roberts: From Gloss to The Dark Horse...' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 16 February 2016. Accessed 30 January 2018
'Peter Roberts: Editing' (Video Interview - broken link) Vimeo website. Uploaded 9 April 2015. Accessed 31 January 2016
'Peter Roberts' Directors and Editors Guild of New Zealand website. Accessed 30 January 2018