David Brechin-Smith is an award-winning screenwriter whose career spans game shows, light entertainment, primetime comedy-drama, drama series, documentary, shorts and feature films.
Brechin-Smith broke into television in the mid-90s writing bad jokes for game show Celebrity Squares, and was soon writing for local light entertainment shows including McPhail & Gadsby, Bloopers and ventriloquist David Strassman’s talk show Strassman. He also wrote material for Strassman’s touring international stage show.
He then joined the scriptwriting team on 2002 comedy-drama series Lovebites. Inspired by Stephen Hickey-directed movie Hopeless (2000), the show centred on the messy love lives of a group of 20-somethings. Two of Brechin-Smith's Lovebites scripts were nominated for the same award (Best Comedy Script) at the 2003 NZ Television Awards. Another nomination in the same category came at the 2005 NZ Screen Awards, this time for his work on Gibson Group show The Strip (2003). The comedy-drama series centred on a workaholic lawyer (Luanne Gordon) who decides to change her life and run a male strip club.
Then came work on the ambitious The Insiders Guide to Happiness (2004), including the episode excerpted here. Created by Peter Cox, it followed the interconnected lives of eight characters searching for happiness. Making a TV series underpinned by chaos theory was risky, but it won acclaim and solid ratings; Happiness was followed the year after by prequel series The Insiders Guide to Love. In the Dominion Post, writer Jane Clifton wrote of Love: “where else where would you find a ladybird, a hearing aide, a rolling pin and a Great Dane called Batman as key plot ingredients?”
Brechin-Smith won Best Drama Script at the 2005 NZ Screen Awards for The Insiders Guide to Happiness; the follow-up series netted him Best Drama Script at the 2006 Qantas TV Awards. Both Happiness and Love won gongs for Best Drama Series. The first episode of The Insiders Guide to Love, written by Brechin-Smith, was studied as part of the Advanced Diploma of Professional Screenwriting at Melbourne’s RMIT University.
He then created and wrote The Hothouse (2007), a contemporary urban drama series about people crossing the line between right and wrong into messy grey moral areas. Brechin-Smith wanted to show “what happens when someone who upholds the law commits a terrible crime and realises they might get away with it”. The series was nominated for 10 awards at the 2008 Qantas TV Awards, including Best Drama.
In 2008, he co-wrote (with Kelly Kilgour) 48 Hour short Māori Detective and the Boogie Fever, which scooped the Wellington regional section of the competition. In 2009, Brechin-Smith joined the writing team on The Cult, a mystery-thriller series about family members attempting to rescue their loved ones from a dangerous cult. He co-wrote this first episode (with Insiders Guide's Peter Cox). The show's sales spanned from Portugal to Brazil; Russian state broadcaster Rossiya 1 also commissioned their own remake.
He also wrote for both series of comedy-drama Paradise Café (2009-2011), a NZ-UK co-production about a group of children running a café on a tropical island, while dealing with ghosts. He also co-wrote (with director Brendan Donovan) 2011 movie The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell, set in the world of top-level karting. In the Sunday Star-Times, Barney McDonald called it "lovingly observed", praising the humour and "Kiwiness" of the characters.
Brechin-Smith was the writer of five-part docudrama War News (2014), which used a modern day current affairs approach to revisit World War One. Dominion Post reviewer Linda Burgess praised a "fluent script", "well realised". Brechin-Smith contributed to documentary series Christchurch: Ever Evolving City, and wrote feature-length docudrama Doubt: The Scott Watson Case. He is also one of the producers of Slavko Martinov's quirky birdbreeding documentary Pecking Order.
He holds an Master of Arts (with Distinction) in Scriptwriting from Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters. He was awarded the David Carson-Parker Embassy Prize for best MA folio project.
Brechin-Smith was on the team that created the 2011 Rugby World Cup Exhibition in The Cloud on Auckland’s waterfront. Called We Do Things Differently Here, the exhibition showcased New Zealand industry and innovation. In 2016 he became head of the writing team at national museum Te Papa Tongarewa.
Profile published on 10 March 2010; updated on 15 October 2018
Redfilm website. Accessed 15 October 2018
Linda Burgess, 'Old footage made like new' (Review of War News) - The Dominion Post, 23 June 2014
Jane Clifton, Review of The Insider's Guide to Love - The Dominion Post, 8 November 2005, page B7
Barney McDonald, Review of The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell, The Sunday Star-Times, January 2010
'Cracks in the thin blue line' - The Dominion Post (TV Week pullout), 27 February 2007, page T3