Stephen Lovatt's acting career has taken him from Arcadia to Takapuna Beach, with stops in Shortland Street, Ramsay Street and ancient Rome. Award-nominated for his starring role in 2002 feature This is Not a Love Story, Lovatt's screen CV includes roles in Spartacus, Being Eve and a five-year-run in Australian export Neighbours. The Toi Whakaari grad is also an acclaimed theatre actor.
Stephen Lovatt is particularly impressive, giving a tour de force performance as the flashing-eyed Englishman Henry and his wan, shuffly grandson 80 years later. Jane McAllister, reviewing play When the Rain Stops Falling, NZ Herald, 7 June 2010
Inspired by Witi Ihimaera's Bulibasha, Mahana saw director Lee Tamahori making his first film on local soil since a very different family tale: 1994's Once Were Warriors. Temuera Morrison stars as a 60s era farming patriarch who makes it clear his family should have absolutely nothing to do with rival family the Poatas. Then romance enters the picture, and son Simeon sets out to find out how the feud first started. The powerhouse Māori cast includes Nancy Brunning (who is included in the interview clips) and Jim Moriarty. Mahana debuted at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, before NZ release.
Service station worker Tania (Sophie Henderson) is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman who identifies as Māori, working to take her little bro Pi to Surfer’s to find their Dad. But flitting Pi causes plans to go awry. Directed by Curtis Vowell (his debut) the script was adapted by Henderson from her theatre monologue, and shot in 20 days via the NZFC’s low budget Escalator scheme. The twist on the Hine-nui-te-po myth was a breakout hit of the 2013 NZ Film Festival. NZ Herald critic Dominic Corry raved: “one of the freshest New Zealand films to come along in years”.
This docudrama follows an imaginary news reporter who travels back in time to cover the days leading up to the Treaty of Waitangi’s 6 February 1840 signing. The production drops the usual solemnity surrounding Aotearoa’s founding document, and uses humour and asides to camera to evoke the chaos and motives behind its signing. Written by Gavin Strawhan, with Witi Ihimaera, What Really Happened screened on TVNZ for Waitangi Day 2011. Peter Burger won Best Director - Drama/Comedy at the 2011 Aotearoa TV Awards for his work.
Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan created Go Girls out of a desire for an upbeat show about "people who liked each other". Audiences liked the characters too: the show ran five seasons, after introducing us to a group of 20-something friends, each aiming to make a major life-change in the next year. Over five series various romantic adventures ensued, and the core cast of Anna Hutchison, Alix Bushnell, Bronwyn Turei, Jay Ryan and Matt Whelan were joined by others — before finally departing altogether, with one final season revolving around a new cast of wanna bes.
Go Girls starts from a twist, a beach and a promise. The twist is that this femme-dominated tale is narrated by a male (Jay Ryan). The promise involves four friends having a drink on the beach, and agreeing to make a major life-change within a year. Amy (Anna Hutchison) wants to be rich; whacky bartender Britta (Alix Bushnell) seeks fame; straight-talking Cody (Bronwyn Turei) wants a hubbie. The intentionally "optimistic, kind" hit show stretched to five seasons. In the backgrounder, co-creator Rachel Lang writes about the show's origins and difficult, rain-sodden birth.
The second feature film directed by writer Anthony McCarten (Ladies' Night) is a small tale with some big themes. Set in a New Plymouth car yard, the film chronicles an endurance contest in which a car will be awarded to the person who manages to keep their hands on it the longest. As night falls, solo mother Jess (Melanie Lynskey) finds herself fending off the attentions of an obstinate competitor (Craig Hall), with a much harsher vision of the world than hers. Inspired by similar real-life contests, McCarten based the film on his novel Endurance.
This sex in the capital city series centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who has shed a corporate legal career to set up a male strip revue. The Gibson Group-produced show married the fretful modern woman protagonist of Ally McBeal with the hen's night appeal of Ladies Night; it screened for two series on TV3. In this episode from the first series Melissa enjoys her towel-clad new flatmate Adam (Robbie Magasiva), while her copper boyfriend Shane (Stephen Lovatt) doesn't. And Mel's teenage daughter contemplates 'the first time'.
Being Eve was a popular and self-aware comedy-drama for teens. It launched the career of actor Fleur Saville, who played 15-year-old amateur teen anthropologist Eve. This excerpt from episode 22 of the second series sees angst and ambition collide, as Eve dreams of Hollywood success via a school Shakespeare production. Shakespeare himself makes a cameo (as Eve's muse), while she struggles with her original vision for the classic. But will she be upstaged by Sam? The series won best drama at the 2005 NZ Screen Awards, and fostered young directing and producing talent.
The Strip centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who sheds a legal career to set up a male strip revue. Created by Alan Brash, The Strip played to a certain demographic's desire for ogling naked men (warmed up by 1987 play Ladies Night and 1997 film The Full Monty), but with a focus on female characters, as Melissa juggles business with raising a teenage daughter. Taking cues from Ally McBeal (with fantasy sequences to match) the Gibson Group tale of g-strings, feminism and red light romance screened for two series on TV3 and sold internationally.
This quirky, upbeat comedy-drama looked at teen life through the eyes of 15-year-old Eve (Fleur Saville). Something of an amateur teen anthropologist, Eve questions everything in her world, musing on life to the camera and in voiceover. The series' fresh, self-aware style appealed directly to media-savvy teenagers. The TV3 series launched Saville's TV career, fostered young directing and producing talent, won many awards (including Best Drama Series at the 2002 NZ TV Awards) and sold to over 40 territories, screening in the US on Nickelodeon.
Described as a "Māori Twilight Zone", Mataku was a series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori experience with the "unexplained". Two South Pacific Pictures-produced series screened on TV3; a later series screened on TV One in 2005. Each episode was introduced by Temuera Morrison Rod Serling-style. The bi-lingual series was a strong international and domestic success; producer Carey Carter: "Our people are very spiritual ... and here we are ... turning it into stories so that the rest of the world can get a glimpse of that aspect of our culture."
Kiwi comedy-drama Being Eve "tacked the trails and tribulations of everyday adolescent life" (as website The Spinoff put it). It launched the career of Fleur Saville, starrig as amateur teen anthropologist Eve. In this excerpt from episode 10 of series one, Eve grapples with the day-to-day stuff of negotiating relationships (now that Matt is her boyfriend, does she have to sit next to him in every class?). Friends and family expose their relationship-challenging racial prejudices. Rated best drama at the 2002 NZ TV Awards, Being Eve was nominated for an International Emmy.
Mataku was a bilingual series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori mystique. Described as a Māori Twilight Zone, Mataku was produced by Māori writers, directors and actors, and was a strong international and domestic success. Each episode was introduced Rod Serling-style by actor Temuera Morrison. This excerpt from the first episode, which screened on TV3, portrays two young sisters (Nora and Naera) who are playing in the forest when events take a tragic turn; mysterious putapaiarehe (fairies) are implicated and haunt a troubled grown-up Nora.
Tele-movie Clare is based on Clare Matheson's autobiographical book Fate Cries Enough. It recreates the experiences of the author (played here by Robyn Malcolm, then fresh from Shortland Street) who for 15 years was an unwitting part of a disastrous gynaecological study at Auckland's National Women's Hospital. The study would later become known as ‘The Unfortunate Experiment', after a Metro article by Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle. It was also the subject of a Commission of Inquiry, whose official report led to major changes in law around health consumers' rights.
The Savages are a working class West Auckland family who like drinking, and living by their own rules. Savage Honeymoon is a celebration of their passion and leather pants - and a snapshot of a couple worried their children may not be as lucky as them. Mark Beesley’s debut feature won good reviews (The Herald praised its “self-confident swagger”) – and headlines, after being downgraded from an R18 to R15. The film pre-dated the Westie family of Outrageous Fortune - though Beesley then hated the Westies label, disliking the word’s negative connotations.
Duggan features John Bach as brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse, the show was conceived by Marion McLeod, scripted by Donna Malane and Ken Duncum, and produced by The Gibson Group; the series followed on from introductory tele-features Death in Paradise and Sins of the Father. The turquoise waters of The Sounds (shot in a number of episodes by Leon Narbey) make for an evocative setting in this sharp, classy Kiwi whodunit.
Duggan - Sins of the Fathers is the second of two telefeatures starring a brooding, charismatic John Bach as a city detective drawn into a Marlborough Sounds murder mystery. Marion McLeod conceived the show, Donna Malane and Ken Duncum scripted it and The Gibson Group produced it. The turquoise waters of The Sounds (shot by Leon Narbey) make for the evocative setting where Duggan, drawn by the irresistible allure of explosions and dead bodies, investigates the murder of a convicted rapist. Effects are by a pre-Lord of the Rings Weta Workshop.
A group of 20-somethings revolving around pregnant Liz (Danielle Cormack) confront a Generation X medley of 'births, deaths, and marriages' in Harry Sinclair’s debut feature, developed from the eponymous TV3 series. They experience, "the agony of failed love and ambiguous love, the agony of loneliness, the ecstasy of sex and the discovery of maturity" (Australian critic Andrew L Urban). In this excerpt from the well-received film the cast faces vexing coathangers, skirts, rubber gloves and panic attacks. NSFW caution: features actual Teutonic topless women.
The Gibson Group drama series centres on a team of TV journalists working on a weekly current affairs programme. Katie Wolfe plays stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins, who has been lured back to Wellington from Australia by a network boss hoping her tabloid style will help ratings. Her workmates are not so confident. In this excerpt from the start of the first episode, Robbins hits the news (literally) as she runs into a disturbed nightclubber (Katrina Hobbs) on a rainy night. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was one of the series writers.
The feature film Topless Women Talk about Their Lives evolved out of this late night, low budget, TV3 micro-series about the lives, loves and travails of a group of 20-something Aucklanders. It was written and directed by former Front Lawn member Harry Sinclair with a cast including Danielle Cormack and Joel Tobeck. Each four minute episode was shot over a weekend with actors not sighting scripts until just before the camera rolled. Music from Flying Nun bands featured prominently; the women remained fully clothed despite the tantalising titular promise.
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, South Pacific Pictures-produced Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series dramatising events leading up to NZ’s 80s anti-nuclear stand. PM Robert Muldoon (Ian Mune) calls a snap election when his MP Marilyn Waring crosses the floor on the ‘no nukes’ bill, but his gamble fails, and David Lange's Labour Party is elected. Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) is pressured from all sides (including a bullish US administration) to take a firm stance on his anti-nuclear platform. He finally accepts there is no middle ground.
Men of the Silver Fern was a four-part celebration of all things All Black, made in 1992 for the centenary of the NZRFU (now known as New Zealand Rugby). This first episode covers the early period from when Charles Monro kicked off the sport in NZ in Nelson on 14 May 1870, through the establishment of rules, provincial unions and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. The programme surveys the front-running international tours — from the 1884 Flaxlanders to the 1888 Natives, 1905 Originals and 1924 Invincibles — where the All Blacks’ "winning reputation" was forged.
After the assassination of scientist David Typhon, a cast of interested parties head for his secret lab in New Zealand, pursuing the truth behind rumoured experiments on humans. Among them are rabid protestors, a European infiltrator (Michael Hurst) and the strangely-gifted Cato (Greg Wise). Typhon’s People marked a rare time that writer Margaret Mahy created a story aimed at adult audiences. Blessed with an impressive cast of Kiwis, Brits (Wise, Alfred Molina), and The Castle star Sophie Lee, it sold as both a mini-series and as a 90 minute tele-movie.
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 hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week, and in 2012 the show celebrated its 20th anniversary making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture, most famously, “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!”.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
In 1992 Australian soap star Craig McLachlan (Neighbours) landed in NZ, to tackle one of his only starring roles in a movie to date. McLachlan plays Ed — a WWll soldier who goes AWOL — in a story 74-year-old writer James Edwards drew from his own life. When Ed is shipped overseas with no leave, he feels obliged to make sure that his recently pregnant wife Daisy (Katrina Hobbs) is OK before he departs. But then the days become weeks. For director John Laing the road movie offered a chance to explore changing gender roles, as women discovered life beyond house and family.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was NZ's first urban cop show and first true genre police drama. Devised by Graham Tetley, it portrayed a unit policing Wellington's inner city under the guidance of Inspector Brian "Sharkie" Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, it was firmly in the mould of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first of three series was the last in-house production for TVNZ's drama department. The other two were made independently by The Gibson Group.