As a teenager in Gisborne, Christina Milligan would rather have been another place entirely, preferably acting her heart out on stage somewhere. And that's exactly what happened; when she won a scholarship to Norway, to spend a year at an Oslo high school for the performing arts.
Two years followed at Wellington drama school Toi Whakaari. After a couple of years, she began to worry acting might be "a road to the poorhouse", and talked her way into a script-editing job at TVNZ. Milligan worked on TVNZ's big selling hit Hanlon, inspired by Dunedin barrister Alf Hanlon. Legal enquiry was also at the heart of mini-series Erebus: The Aftermath which she counts as a personal highlight. Milligan worked with scripter Greg McGee and the late Peter Mahon, the High Court judge who led the Commission of Enquiry into the crash of Air New Zealand Flight 901.
Her first experience as a producer came with season two of Gloss in 1988, working for "fantastically creative producer" Janice Finn. Milligan considers herself lucky to have started out at TVNZ when the drama department was run by John McRae. McRae kickstarted Erebus, and encouraged a burgeoning team of producers, many of them women. "He had a great gift for trusting people," says Milligan. "He expected the best, so naturally he got it."
It was becoming clear that producing was what she enjoyed most, since it offered the chance to work with writers, "and pull the whole structure together - script, budget, crew, cast, music, design, and post-production".
After TVNZ's drama department was replaced by new in-house subsidiary South Pacific Pictures in 1989, Milligan produced a number of television shows for the company, including Marlin Bay, horse tale Star Runner, and big-budget Franco-Australasian co-production Deepwater Haven. Producing alongside director Ian Mune, she also won "the fantastic opportunity" to join the heavyweight crew on 1992 Best Film winner The End of the Golden Weather.
By now Milligan had launched TopStory Productions with her partner Roger Grant; as with the pair's current company Conbrio, Milligan concentrated on developing projects, while Grant's specialities lie in post-production. By 1998 Milligan had began a seven year period in Sydney, working as a writer and script editor on a range of primetime dramas. Two of the longest gigs were on McLeod's Daughters and medical drama All Saints. Australian television proved "tough, but valuable — the competition is fierce, and that forces everyone to raise their game."
Since returning to NZ in 2005, Milligan has concentrated on producing. Many of her projects relate to her heritage (Milligan is Ngāti Porou on her mother's side). Among them are big screen Māori-language drama Whiria (written by Rawiri Paratene and Ngāpuhi elder Patu Hohepa), 2010 telemovie Nights in the Garden of Spain (she produced the Witi Ihimaera story adaptation with Nicole Hoey) and a number of documentaries.
The Tainui Stephens-directed Let My Whakapapa Speak, which was nominated for a Qantas award, tells the story of the Kōhanga Reo movement and the revival of te reo Māori over the last 50 years; The Price of Peace, directed by journalist Kim Webby, chronicles the 2007 police raids in the Ureweras.
Milligan was script consultant, and later became executive producer, during her multi-year association with Tearepa Kahi's Mt Zion, the highest grossing local film of 2013. Working with Paratene and Roger Grant, she has also executive produced a number of short films, including award-winners This is Her, Poppy and Aphrodite's Farm.
Milligan is Deputy Chair of Script to Screen, organisers of the Big Screen Symposium. She also lectures in screenwriting and producing at AUT, has mentored people in both fields, managed television funding for NZ On Air and served on many boards, including that of the NZ Film Commission.
Conbrio website. Accessed 23 January 2013
Trisha Dunleavy, Ourselves in Primetime - A History of New Zealand Television Drama (Auckland University Press, 2005)