Celia Jaspers, director/producer of Primeval New Zealand, is modest when it comes to discussing her role in the award-winning documentary. “It was all so beautifully shot,” she says. “When you’ve got such amazing footage to work with, it’s very hard to go wrong.”
Presented with a motherlode of natural history gold from earlier NHNZ series Life Force (aka Mutant Planet), Jaspers spun in an extra coating of magic dust — thanks to presenter Peter Elliott, and her own talent as an editor. The result was a one-hour special aimed at a New Zealand audience. She was no stranger to much of the footage, having being brought in to cut two episodes in the earlier series made for channels Animal Planet and NHK Japan.
While Jaspers always pictured a career in one branch or other of the creative arts, her start in television arrived almost by accident. As a fifth former in Christchurch she had a day’s work experience in TVNZ’s Gloucester Street studios; she returned on her own time at the weekend, to watch the weekly live broadcast of What Now?
“I saw a cameraman [Geoff Clements] struggling with the cable — they had the big old Marconi cameras in those days. I reached out and grabbed it, and he nodded at me to carry on,” Jaspers says. “At the end of the show they asked me if I’d like to come back the next week. I kept turning up and got offered a job eventually.”
Jaspers — or Offwood, as she was then — quickly graduated to answering the What Now phones on set, and then supervisor of the on-air phone team while she was in the seventh form. After finishing school she was offered a full time internship at TVNZ's Children's Unit. In all she spent three four years in Christchurch's old Studio 4, working in various roles on What Now and productions like Son of a Gunn and Chatterbox. Then she moved to the Auckland office of the Children's Unit, where she pursued editing and directing under the tutelage of director Matt Sumich.
While there, Jaspers took a short course in offline editing at the South Seas Film and TV School. “I’d always been interested in post-production,” Jaspers says. “I’m quite a technically-minded sort of person. We were doing tape to tape editing at TVNZ then, and I wanted to get up to speed with this 'new' technology at the time — offline.”
Jaspers decided then that editing was the key element in storytelling. “I’d learnt to operate cameras and I enjoyed filming,” she says. “But editing is where all the decisions are made — the crunch of decisions made in the field, come to a head in editing! It’s not about the gear — they’re just the device to let you tell the story.”
Jaspers has told a lot of stories. After leaving TVNZ, she worked at a number of production companies in Auckland, Queenstown (where she cut on one of the first Avid editing suits in New Zealand), and Sydney. Along the way she has developed programme concepts, and written, directed and produced shows like Remarkable Vets and Christmas with the Lion Man for Great Southern, and childrens show Cool Kids Cooking. “Top Shelf brought me in to develop Cool Kids,” she says. “They’d found the funding and had an outline, but wanted me to flesh it out and turn into into a programme.” Taking an idea and turning it into a show, or a series, is what she enjoys doing the most.
“I love telling good stories, and finding them; to go from the beginning — the writing, the shooting, and then into the post-production. It’s all very satisfying.”
That doesn’t mean she’s been averse to working on someone else’s show. She’s directed programmes for the perennially popular Country Calendar and has been the local producer/director for international real estate show House Hunters International, handling all the New Zealand episodes, plus many in Australia, Asia and the South Pacific. The show follows as people move to a new country to buy or rent a property.
The original American version of House Hunters has been hugely popular in the United States and in New Zealand, and screens in dozens of countries with an audience in the tens of millions. The call to see if she was available to produce was totally unexpected. “They just rang me up, out of the blue — they’d found my CV and I had a few conference calls to New York. They offered me a show to make and we went from there.”
While not rejecting the role that skill and determination have played in her career, Jaspers appreciates that luck also plays its part. “Geoff Clements getting his cable tangled worked out well for me,” she says. “I'm a definite advocate for saying 'yes'! You never know where things might lead. I’ve been lucky to be able to structure my personality type to my work. I’ve been doing in television for longer than I haven’t been – it’s the only job I’ve ever had!”
Profile written by Doug Coutts
Published on 11 October 2018
Scorpio Productions website. Accessed 11 October 2018