Since starting as a cameraman in 1977, Richard S Long has had a prolific and globetrotting career, moving on to direct music videos, commercials and even a feature film. “I have had the most fun any of us could ever imagine,” he says, Long's credits include his debut feature Not For Children, more than 200 television commercials and 50 music videos. He added an S to his name in order to stop receiving payslips for the TVNZ newsreader of the same name.
Fuelled by “an uncontrollable desire to work in the film industry”, Long first began filming on an old Bolex camera with a friend, and joined Auckland co-operative Alternative Cinema — “a small club of likeminded filmmakers hellbent on making their film projects come to life”. He helped out on Test Pictures, only the second dramatic feature made in New Zealand in the 1970s.
In 1977 he managed to score a trainee camera position with Hamilton company Cinevision, who supplied news footage for both state television channels. Over the next few years Long shot news footage in Hamilton, Rotorua and Auckland, covering everything from the 1977 timber workers strike to a Lake Taupo plane crash and a Whakatane knitting group.
Often he found himself facing the challenge of very low light conditions. “I’d hold up my light meter, and think ‘my god it says nothing.’ 7242 was such a slow film stock. I’d shoot what I could, and pray it was usable.”
In the early 80s Long moved to the drama department, where he began working his way up the camera ladder as a clapper loader on Mortimer’s Patch. He was also dealing with some terrifying situations on the streets, as part of the camera team on Merata Mita’s Springbok tour film Patu! “It was the hardest documentary I’ve ever worked on," says Long. "I’m really proud to have been a crew member on such an important documentary.”
Fair Go also provided some memorable shooting days. “If you were staking out someone who was obviously not playing the game you’d find yourself hiding in the back a van parked across the street from their house. The van had tinted windows. Scary stuff if you had the target come ripping open the van door.” Long has good memories of Fair Go “rottweiler” Philip Alpers, and less pleasant ones of the crew occasionally being kicked and punched.
By 1984 Long had made it to camera operator on the first of two seasons of Heroes, a drama about a band trying to make it big (and later a Communicado series of the same name, based on examples of real-life heroism). In the same period he began shooting across three seasons of arts show Kaleidoscope, including shooting images for a special episode by Japanese artist Ko Nakagima. Later came five years of globetrotting for Holiday — including three years as field camera supervisor, co-ordinating a camera team of 17. During this period videotape was becoming the norm, instead of shooting on film.
While at TVNZ Long also worked as a camera operator on documentaries, both for TVNZ, and freelancing for the BBC, ABC and Channel 7.
In 1993 Long went freelance and launched company Lamina Films, directing on numerous TV commercials and music videos, as well as shooting the occasional drama. He had begun directing in 1990 while still at TVNZ, with a series of TV One promotional videos, including for One News and Holmes. He continued making TVNZ’s promos until 1997. “It was one of the most enjoyable periods I can remember — flying a small team around the country for two weeks …waiting on a West Coast hillside for the magic hour light to turn the late summer grasses to golden wheat, and the sky to a mix of plush pink and baby-blue.”
In 1997 Long was asked to be director of photography on landmark historical series The New Zealand Wars, by friends Colin McRae and Tainui Stephens. At one point the crew hung a camera crane off the side of a mountain. “The grips put the pivot right on the edge of this rock, and then bagged it up, threw me on the front. Then they lowered Long and the camera over the edge below the horizon line so the shot would come up and over, revealing the vista and the top of the mountain.” The time he lay on the bonnet of a moving vehicle for Heroes felt scarier.
Then Long moved abroad. After six months making commercials in North America, he found himself directing the first of many ads in Singapore and Malaysia — including two years alongside Australian actor turned commercials producer Joe Hasham. ”He taught me so much about directing and working in Asia.” Long shot commercials in Hong Kong, India and the United Arab Emirates.
He also produced 24 episode series English for You, made by the Malay government to help teach English in schools, and directed on Malaysian TV series The Art of Living Design (2008).
Since returning to New Zealand in 2009, Long has kept busy making commercials and developing his own movie scripts. 2015 saw the first screening of Not for Children, his debut feature as a director and writer. The terrorist tale was shot largely around Auckland, although it was set in seven countries, including Russia and Libya. “It’s not a New Zealand story film,” he argues. “It’s a global story, made in New Zealand.”
Profile written by Simon Smith
Richard S Long
'Richard S Long: A lifetime of shooting pictures' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 22 February 2016. Accessed 22 February 2016