After starting his TV career in his native New Zealand, David Ambler found himself in London, taking on global hit MasterChef. Ambler first honed his talents on 1990s series First Hand, then directed a run of documentaries and non-fiction shows, including Epitaph and My House, My Castle. Eventually relocating to England, he directed and produced a range of non-fiction titles, then became Head of Programmes at production company Shine TV. In 2010 he shared a BAFTA Award for MasterChef - The Professionals. In 2016 the MasterChef veteran took on the job of overseeing Britain's stable of MasterChef shows.
...as well as plenty of laughs and the odd disaster, there’s also some really ambitious and tasty food. It’s one of the most tightly fought and exciting competitions we’ve ever filmed. David Ambler on the 2018 season of Celebrity MasterChef, Endemol Shine UK website, 16 May 2018
Against the backdrop of Colonel Gaddafi’s attempted reconciliation with the West, this Pietra Brettkelly-directed doco captures a bizarre manifestation of the new international face of Libya: the predominantly Muslim country’s first beauty contest. In these excerpts, 24 unsure models arrive in Tripoli. As devout Muslim women watch on, and an English journalist struggles to contain incredulity, political realities emerge (eg military fatigues will be replacing bikinis). But will a requirement for contestants to wear Gaddafi t-shirts be a step too far for some?
In 1999 the All Blacks were off to the Rugby World Cup in Wales, with a hoard of Kiwi rugby fans following in support. One particular group, led by former captain Buck Shelford and his wife Jo, are the subject of this documentary. The group consists largely of farmers and businessmen, who have each paid the handsome sum of $12,000. Arriving in time for the quarter finals, they are sure of seeing the All Blacks raise the Webb Ellis Cup after the final at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. Opposing fans seem to have other ideas though, as does a certain underdog French team.
Coming Home chronicled Kiwi successes abroad, by profiling New Zealanders living and working overseas, then following them back to Aotearoa when they made a return visit. Each episode of the Touchdown Productions series was grouped roughly geographically, with two or three expat New Zealanders featured per episode. Among those reminiscing upon home and opportunity were businesswoman Mary Quin, motor racing legend Steve Millen, journalist Peter Arnett, model Kylie Bax, psychologist John Money, law lecturer Judith Mayhew and singer Patrick Power.
Christmas time can mix joy and stress in equal measure. Both feature in this documentary, which follows four New Zealand families in the lead up to Christmas Day celebrations. Jenny Johnson is preparing for an "old-fashioned" Christmas with her two adult daughters back in town, while the Hinds children adjust to Christmas post divorce. The Thayer family remind us that no one loves Christmas more than kids, but for Piripi and his grandparents the focus is spiritual, not material. As the day arrives, presents are ripped open and new memories are formed.
In this series, epitaphs on gravestones provide the starting point for presenter Paul Gittins to unravel skeletons in cupboards, lovestruck suicide pacts, and fatal love letters. Combining documentary and reenactment, the show used compelling personal stories to retell New Zealand history. An actor and history enthusiast, Paul Gittins became a household name on Shortland Street (as Dr Michael McKenna) before devising this series for Greenstone. Epitaph ran for three seasons, and won Best Factual Series at the 1999 New Zealand Television Awards.
First Hand was a series of mid 1990s documentaries made for TVNZ. Newbie filmmakers were armed with consumer cameras, aiming to capture “natural human behaviour” with the new technology and minimal crew. This edition, directed by David Ambler, profiles 23-year-old Newstalk ZB late-night talkback host Mike Yardley, and introduces regular callers from his nationwide audience of 150,000: service station worker Lucas channels Oprah, Petone radio poet George rhymes about detached organs, and Merle dances to an organist. Radio veteran Marcus Lush narrates.
Thinking that documentaries would benefit if film crews were much smaller, TVNZ producer Richard Thomas proposed that emerging directors take over much of the filming themselves, using consumer video cameras. Thomas organised camera workshops for First Hand's directors, and overcame opposition that this more intimate style of making documentaries wouldn't meet broadcast standards. The result gave early opportunities to a host of emerging filmmakers, including award-winners Leanne Pooley and Mark McNeill, and production executive Alan Erson.