Producer Arwen O’Connor — who is Head of Production at Auckland company Ruckus Media — says she always knew she wanted to get into in television; it was just a matter of where, and how.
O’Connor suspects she got the bug from hanging out with her Dad John at Avalon television studios. He was guitarist for Redeye, house band for TV One’s Ready to Roll in the 70s, and also ran his own recording studio. As a result she mixed with an incredible array of showbiz people, and decided she wanted to work in the industry. But exactly what that work would be took some time to discover.
After an eye-opening work experience stint at one of Wellington’s busiest commercial production houses, O’Connor’s first real screen-related job was as a runner at equipment company Film Facilities. She moved on to assisting with catering on a short film, freelancing on a number of commercials, and a stint in the wardrobe department on Shortland Street. There were a couple of non-industry jobs in between.
All that variety provided not only valuable grounding in the basics, but helped O’Connor narrow down her list of options. “I started on commercials, but after trying a few different jobs I knew that I wanted to do TV,” she says. “On my first film job, I remember feeling out of my depth – I was young and I couldn’t work out the hierarchy. It wasn’t my natural home.”
Finding her natural home wasn’t long coming. Jill Graham, the producer of TV3’s youth show Ice TV, offered O’Connor a job as production manager, and everything fell into place. “Ice TV was where it all jelled,” O’Connor says. “I’m an organised person – I like having systems and process, and production really matched up with that. It’s very satisfying to have a goal, follow the plan — usually – and have an outcome. And it’s fun.”
At TV3 and later TV2, O’Connor worked on other music programmes, and began producing. “I started on relatively straightforward shows,” she says. “That taught me a lot — I learnt along the way, by exploring whatever I could.”
From music clip shows to comedy specials and concerts – the Finn Brothers, and a Topp Twins orchestral special were both standouts — O’Connor produced them all, picking up some awards along the way. Then came a move into the factual arena, starting with Nigel Latta's Politically Incorrect guide to Teenagers (2010), and she knew she was home.
O’Connor has worked alongside psychologist/ author Latta, and longtime collaborator, director Mitchell Hawkes, on a large number of productions, all for TVNZ — from the whackily educational Nigel Latta Blows Things Up to the more serious The Hard Stuff and the live, interactive What Next? in 2017. In 2016 the trio formed production company Ruckus Media. O’Connor describes it as the best thing she’s ever done.
“When you’re working on someone else’s project, it's rewarding, but it’s so much more fulfilling when you’re making it for your own company. And the good thing about the three of us at Ruckus is we all bring entirely different skills, which are all valuable. And fundamentally we have the same values and beliefs in how we go about things in the world, which helps us collaborate effectively.”
Ruckus plans to continue down the factual/documentary path, and explore feature documentaries and international deals. O’Connor has lost none of her initial enthusiasm for the job. She recalls spending a day with a producer of commercials, while on work experience at high school. "It was just so exciting because they did 75 different things in the day – and I went “Gosh, you’d never get bored doing this!”
Profile by Doug Coutts
Ruckus Media website. Accessed 30 November 2017