Brian Kassler doesn’t have fond memories of school days. Born in Porirua, he attended the local Catholic college, before being expelled. The same thing happened at a different college, so he was sent to boarding school. Kassler stayed one night, then his school days were over. Taking up an upholstering apprenticeship, he moved into a flat in Wellington. Most of his 15 flatmates were active participants in the late 70s creative scene. “It was infamous for dance parties", says Kassler. "Five bucks at the door, and bands playing”.
One day he answered the call for an upholsterer to cover a couch for a production at Downstage Theatre. The experience opened his eyes. He got involved with set building and pack-ins at Unity Theatre, as well as building sets for local photographer Sal Crissillo. Work on commercials followed; Kassler often followed work leads from his flatmates. “This was a time when there was probably one gaffer in the whole of New Zealand”.
Kassler became a grip, whose job is to set up and operate the equipment used to move the camera. After working as assistant grip on 1978 feature Skin Deep, he was key grip on the iconic Smash Palace.
John Blick and Norman Elder were running the country's only film equipment truck under the name Filmobile; Kassler took it over. Filmobile provided equipment for films like Skin Deep, Battletruck, and tax break epic Savage Islands. Kassler then bought his own truck and gear and started The Film Equipment Company Ltd. The government’s 1986 decision to end tax perks hit the film scene hard, and Kassler’s fledgling company felt the pain. They battled on, mainly via work on commercials. Kassler also moved into production managing and first assistant directing for Paul Carvell's company Valdini Productions.
In the mid 80s Kassler joined old mate Lee Tamahori, who was moving from crew work into directing. Together they launched long-running commercials production company Flying Fish. Kassler points to the difference in the screen industry between the 80s and 90s, and now. “In those days if you had a party — and Flying Fish were often having parties — everyone would come along, your mates from the NZ Film Commission, TVNZ, you were all together. Now it's all in silos”.
Flying Fish became one of the leading commercials companies of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Along the way Kassler produced hundreds of commercials, including Tamahori's black and white promo for the 1990 Commonwealth Games, and TV One campaign Wonderful World, which featured a shaggy dog, glorious scenery, and dozens of TV personalities.
In 1995 Kassler identified another hole in the market when he started company Hollywood Props, importing screen essentials like fake blood and gaffer tape. In 2012 Kassler sold his share in Flying Fish to concentrate on an online service he'd launched in 2008. Quickcrew was initially a crew booking service aimed at arranging the right crew for what each project needed, but in 2013 Kassler oversaw a rebrand of Quickcrew into multi-faceted film production website Showtools. Showtools caters for film production, crew and rental equipment, all aimed at avoiding what Kassler called in Idealog “the email clusterf***” that often plagues film productions. Today hundreds of companies are signed up to the product.
Profile written by Gabe McDonnell
Showtools website. Accessed 24 May 2017
Rob MacGregor, ‘Showtools cuts the crap out of collaboration’ (Interview) - Idealog, January 2014
Rosalie Nelson, ‘New Companies - Film Equipment Company fights on as demands dips’ (Interview) - The Evening Post, 23 August 1986