Charlie Haskell's parents were teachers, and as a result their Ashburton-born son grew up at various points around Southland. That rural upbringing had a hand in Charlie's decision to study property management at Lincoln University. Bachelor of Commerce in hand, he then did some travel before beginning the studies that would feed directly into his screen career. Based at the Christchurch Arts Centre, the one year filmmaking course saw students working in a hands-on environment, often shooting on 16mm (the course was later reborn in Wellington under new owners, run as the NZ Film and Television School).
By the early 90s Haskell had begun a succession of assistant director jobs on movies and mini-series. The Piano (1993) was the project that taught him the most, thanks largely to veteran Australian assistant director Mark Turnbull – a "class act" whose attention to detail made him "interested in everything and everyone" on set.
For Haskell The Piano was a watershed movie in other ways – marking an era where New Zealand showed the world it could make quality movies (with Warriors and Heavenly Creatures following soon after). The following year was another important one, with the launch of a series that gave Haskell (and the industry) intense weekly training in stunt scenes and design-heavy production. First off the bat were five Hercules tele-movies, with Haskell as an assistant director; then a number of television series, including directing duties on Hercules spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess, Young Hercules and Jack of All Trades.
Haskell argues that Hercules was the moment when a Kiwi Second Unit graduated from being a small crew that mops up scenery and easy pick-up shots, to a fully-fledged film crew in its own right. "We were shooting quite big sequences, and crane shots that the main unit didn't have time to do." The last Hercules tele-movie saw Haskell directing in all but name, although his first official credit had to wait until 1996 episode 'The Power'.
Haskell went on to direct another 10 instalments of Hercules and Xena, including two episodes from a key story arc in Hercules' fourth season. 'Encounter' and 'When a Man Loves a Woman' saw Hercules battling the villainous Ares (Kevin Smith) for the first time, and star Kevin Sorbo marrying the woman who would later become his wife in real-life as well.
In this period Haskell also directed for two series which he believes deserved longer runs: 16 episodes of Young Hercules (starring Ryan Gosling and Dean O'Gorman), which provided a more youth-orientated take on the legendary character, and six of retro adventure Jack of All Trades, co-starring Shortland Street's Angela Dotchin.
Haskell's first feature-length project followed in 1999. Shot in four weeks on a US $3.5 million budget, Fearless was intended as a pilot for an American series. This time O'Gorman played one of a team of extreme adventurers based in Queenstown. The following year Haskell rejoined actors Kevin Smith and Angela Dotchin for Lawless: Dead Evidence, the second of a trio of tele-movies based on Smith's rough and tumble private investigator.
Since then he has rejoined Hercules/Xena producer Rob Tapert on other projects, and directed more than 40 episodes for Disney's Power Rangers franchise. He was a natural choice when it came to two very different Kiwi shows. Margaret Mahy dystopia Maddigan's Quest, for which Haskell helmed five episodes, was a rare international TV production written and made in New Zealand. Meanwhile Rachel Lang/James Griffin creation The Almighty Johnsons again saw the Hercules director melding drama, comedy and fantasy in the one show.
In 2009 Haskell helmed episodes of ensemble thriller The Cult, "a great show to work on", before signing on for his third tele-feature: the award-winning Tangiwai - A Love Story, based on the Tangiwai train disaster of 1953.
"The biggest challenge was to make something that lived up the fantastic script," says Haskell. "On the ground there were two really huge challenges: making the train crash believable, and the cricket game in South Africa." (one real-life plot strand sees a woman boarding the ill-fated train, while her fiancee represents New Zealand overseas). A 35-metre long model of the train aided the former task: careful placement of extra and long lenses to keep the crowd out of focus helped the latter.
Haskell next teamed up with Tangiwai creators Paula Boock and Donna Malane for another tale inspired by truth: tele-movie Pirates of the Airwaves is set to tell the story of the birth of Kiwi pirate radio from a boat on the Hauraki Gulf. Mixing dramatic footage, archival images and interviews with key players in the Radio Hauraki story, Pirates was nominated for Best Television Feature at the 2014 Moa Awards.
Robert Weisbrot, Hercules The Legendary Journeys - The Official Companion (New York: Doubleday, 1998)