During his career as a production designer, Rob Gillies has drafted plans for subterranean caverns (Under the Mountain), 60s era Kiwi garages (The World's Fastest Indian) and a slew of palaces, forts and magical kingdoms. Along the way he has won awards for a number of productions, including Fastest Indian and Xena: Warrior Princess.
Doing 15 to 25 sets a week allows me as a designer a bit of scope to design sets, which you don’t always get in New Zealand. It’s like a mechanic always having a car to work on. Rob Gillies on designing for Hercules and Xena - Onfilm, July 1996
Following the big-screen success of Topp Twins documentary Untouchable Girls came another chronicle of a Kiwi entertainment legend: sometime Taranaki bandito, giggling newsreader and crooner Billy T James. The film uses remastered footage and an impressive cast of interviews to capture his path from cabaret singer to fame, fan clubs and eventual financial and bodily collapse. Te Movie director Ian Mune originally cast James in the classic Came a Hot Friday, as the Māori-Mexican Tainuia Kid; Te Movie co-producer Tom Parkinson played a hand in making Billy T a TV star.
Christchurch property developer Dave Henderson experienced bankruptcy, accusations of fraud, and 25 plus tax audits. This Kafkaesque comedy is based on his best-selling book about a five-year battle with the tax department, over a $924,000 bill. Kiwi/Scot actor Erik Thomson returned from Australia to play Henderson, while a near-unrecognisable Michael Hurst cameos as MP Rodney Hide. Lumiere reviewer Simon Sweetman praised the “superb” casting, and Thomson’s playful performance. The film is adapted and directed by screen vet Jonothan Cullinane.
Inspired by the ageing Burt Munro — who took his home-engineered motorbike to America, and won a land speed record — this passion project was Roger Donaldson's first locally made film in two decades. Variety called it a "geriatric Rocky on wheels”; Roger Ebert praised Anthony Hopkins' performance as one of the most endearing of his career. The result sold to 126 countries, spent five weeks in the Australian top six, and became Aotearoa's highest-grossing local film — at least until Boy in 2010. Alongside an excerpt and making of material, Costa Botes writes about the film here.
In Michael Bennett's allegorical Cow, two old men (played by New Zealand screen legends Ian Mune and Martyn Sanderson) with Confucian beards are adrift in the ocean, a placid Friesian cow in tow. A surreal study on how quickly a minor event can evolve into something far more extreme, the film features no dialogue; rather, a guitar duet that escalates to a duel. It won Best Short Film Script at the NZ Film Awards and made land internationally: Cow was selected for festivals including Cannes (Critics' Week) and Valladolid.
20/20 was a US current affairs format first introduced to NZ on TV3 in 1993, where it screened for a decade. In 2005 it was picked up by TVNZ and it became TV2’s signature current affairs show. One hour-long, it mixed content imported from the US ABC-produced show with award-winning local investigative stories; subjects ranged from infanticide to Nicky Watson. The original host was Louise Wallace, then at TVNZ it was Mirama Kamo, then Sonya Wilson from 2011. In 2014 local content ceased being made for the show, and it shifted to a half-hour late-night slot.
As a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force, Brian Deeds (Belfast-born actor Ian McElhinney) grassed on 23 fellow terrorists in Northern Ireland. Now living in New Zealand under a new identity, Deeds has to come clean to his girlfriend (Judy McIntosh) when a hit squad arrives in town for him. This clip sees guns and car crashes on the streets of Dunedin. Made in NZ, the Anglo-Kiwi funded TV movie won solid audiences on UK television, before local release on video. Ian Mune (Came a Hot Friday) directs; Marshall Napier and Temuera Morrison are the cops playing catch up.
This was a beloved six-part children’s drama about the adventures of skateboarding 12-year-old Terry Teo, based on a 1982 graphic novel comic by Stephen Ballantyne and Bob Kerr. The Auckland-set series honoured the comic’s distinctive New Zealand landscapes, people and humour, and gave them a cartoonish feel with larger-than-life acting, animated arcade game style sequences, bright costumes and oversized props. Former Goon Michael Bentine headed the cast which also featured Billy T James as a bikie, and a cameo from former PM Sir Robert Muldoon.
Kicking off with his hero Elvis Presley's song 'That's Alright,' the late Prince Tui Teka delivers a classic performance in this TVNZ-filmed variety show (one of three specials). The Yandall Sisters back-up on the smoky, Vegas-inspired set. Tui sings his hit 'E Ipo' with wife Missy, and they pay tribute to the song’s Māori lyricist Ngoi (‘Poi-E’) Pewhairangi. The songs are peppered with warmth, humour and poi action (led by a young Pita Sharples), as Tui Teka confirms his reputation as one of Aotearoa's great entertainers. The classy Bernie Allen-led band includes legendary guitarist Tama Renata.
Music legend Prince Tui Teka performs his greatest hit ‘E Ipo’ in this excerpt from a TVNZ special recorded at Auckland’s Mandalay Ballroom. Based on a traditional Indonesian folk melody, ‘E Ipo’ was written by Teka with Ngoi (‘Poi E’) Pewhairangi, when he was courting her niece (and his future wife) Missy. The two join Tui Teka on stage (along with Pita Sharples’ Te Roopu Manutaki cultural group) for a rousing rendition performed with his trademark verve and humour. The song reached number one, following te reo-dominated chart-toppers 'The Bridge' (sung by Deane Waretini) in 1981, and Howard Morrison's 1982 version of 'How Great Thou Art'.
Classic sci-fi series Under the Mountain follows redheaded twins with psychic powers — Rachel and Theo — as they battle the alien Wilberforces. This fourth episode sees the twins venture into the aliens' submarine lair for the first time. The lair's moody production design, the NZ Symphony Orchestra's score, and creepy transmogrifying special effects contributed to the slimy imprint the series left on a generation of Kiwi kids, haunted by the giant slugs slithering underneath Auckland's volcanoes. The award-winning series was adapted from the Maurice Gee novel.
Classic sci-fi TV series Under the Mountain follows the adventures of redheaded twins with psychic powers — Rachel and Theo — on their Auckland summer holiday. They meet the mysterious Mr Jones, an alien emissary who enlists them in the battle against the evil Wilberforces, who are plotting planetary destruction. Adapted from the Maurice Gee novel, the series' fx left their slimy imprint on a generation of NZ kids, haunted by the transmogrifying Wilberforces, who changed from humans into giant slugs slithering underneath Auckland’s volcanoes.
The original launchpad for Billy T’s rise to TV superstar, Radio Times travels back in time to find a fresh angle on the musical variety show. Inspired by 30s and 40s era radio shows, the series features a swinging dancehall band, fake singing stars, German villains, and coconut shell sound effects. Creator Tom Parkinson’s masterstroke: casting Billy T James as oh-so-British compere Dexter Fitzgibbons. In this episode the cast go South American, forgotten bombshell Alita Gotti channels Marlene Dietrich, and The Yandall Sisters cover Fats Waller classic 'Handful of Keys'.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular drama series following Detective Sergeant Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper) at work in the town of Cobham. Mortimer plays a city cop returning to his rural roots; Don Selwyn is Sergeant Bob Storey. The series was NZ’s first police drama, and a rare local drama to top ratings. Mortimer's Patch was made when the archetype of the ‘community cop’ everyone knew was still a powerful one, and it was a counterweight to the faceless riot policing of the Springbok Tour. Three series were made.
The launchpad for Billy T’s rise to television superstar, Radio Times recreates an era when home entertainment involved another type of box entirely. Inspired by 30s and 40s era radio extravaganzas, producer Tom Parkinson creates a show complete with swinging dancehall band, adventure serials and coconut shell sound effects. Parkinson’s masterstroke was casting Billy T as the oh-so-British compere glueing everything together (and occasionally sliding effortlessly into a different accent). The Yandall Sisters, singer Craig Scott and writer Derek Payne also feature.
'Bold as Brass', from the third Split Enz album Dizrythmia, finds the band moving on from the departure of founder member Phil Judd (replaced by a teenaged Neil Finn) and leaving behind their earlier, more complex art rock. This punchy, melodic Tim Finn/Rob Gillies composition is part off-kilter dance number, part call to arms. The video (directed by Gillies and Noel Crombie) matches the song's directness with sharp black suits and Tim Finn's combative approach to the camera — while allowing a nod to the band’s more theatrical past.