David Brechin-Smith counts himself fortunate to have written for TV shows like The Insiders Guide to Happiness, The Strip and The Cult. The shows were not only fun to work on — "they gave me a licence to be creative; we were given a lot of freedom to experiment."
Born and raised in Invercargill, Brechin-Smith showed an interest in writing at school, then did two years of an arts degree at Otago University. Intrigued by the idea of writing or directing for the screen, he was unsure where to go to learn more. Instead he got a hospitality job in Wellington, where he began writing scripts on the work computer in the late 90s. After reading one of them, producer Di-Oliver Zahl picked him to join a trio of writers working on an office sitcom (it never got made).
Six months later, fellow sitcom writer Doug Coutts invited him to write questions for a game show. Within weeks Brechin-Smith had quit the hospitality job to write for game show Celebrity Squares and other light entertainment shows produced by Denis Spencer — including Bloopers, McPhail Gadsby and Strassman.
Brechin-Smith then joined the scriptwriting team on comedy-drama Lovebites. Inspired by ensemble movie Hopeless (2000), the series followed the messy love lives of a group of 20-somethings. Two of Brechin-Smith's eight and a half Lovebites scripts were nominated for Best Comedy Script at the 2003 NZ Television Awards. Another nomination followed in 2005, this time for his work on Gibson Group show The Strip (2003). The comedy-drama series centred on a workaholic lawyer (Luanne Gordon) who opens a male strip club.
Arguably the strangest show to date was the acclaimed The Insiders Guide to Happiness (2004). Brechin-Smith's contributions included this episode, in which Kiwi bloke James (Will Hall) learns about chaos theory. Created by Peter Cox, the show followed the interconnected lives of eight people. Brechin-Smith feels the show took a number of risks — both in terms of narrative, and in the many emerging talents who worked on it. The result won solid ratings.
Happiness was followed by prequel show The Insiders Guide to Love, after a request from the network that Hall's beloved character return. Wrote The Dominion Post's Jane Clifton: "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 Insiders Guide, and was nominated for a Qantas TV Award. The follow-up series netted him a Qantas Award for Best Drama Script. Both shows 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), an urban drama series about people crossing the line between right and wrong into messy 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, Brechin-Smith co-wrote (with Sam Kelly and Kelly Kilgour) 48 Hour short Māori Detective and the Boogie Fever, which scooped the Wellington regional section of the competition. The following year he 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 has co-writing credits on every episode with Insiders Guide's Peter Cox, including this first episode. The show's sales included Portugal and Brazil. Russian state broadcaster Russia 1 also filmed a remake in Cuba.
Brechin-Smith also wrote five-part docudrama War News (2014). The idea was to tell stories from World War One using modern day technology. "It was an interesting way to reenergise century-old history. For example we were able to cross live to the front line and get updates from Passchendaele". Dominion Post reviewer Linda Burgess praised the fluent, "well realised" script.
Feature-length docudrama Doubt: The Scott Watson Case proved to be another research-heavy assignment. Brechin-Smith argues that since Watson's murder trial in 1999, much of the evidence against him "has been recanted, discounted or dismissed".
Brechin-Smith has worked on two features to date. With director Brendan Donovan, he co-wrote The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell (2001). The film is about "a father who has never really grown up, who is trying to make his boyhood dreams come true through his sons". In a four star Sunday Star-Times review, Barney McDonald praised it as "lovingly observed", and complimented the humour and Kiwiness of the characters.
Crime comedy Lowdown Dirty Criminals was released in August 2020. James Rolleston (Boy) and newcomer Samuel Austin play young men in way over their heads with the wrong people. Brechin-Smith says the film is "about looking the devil in the eye, and walking straight past him". Paul Murphy (Second-Hand Wedding) directs. Stuff critic James Croot praised the film's pace, comedy and "terrific one-liners", and namechecked Brechin-Smith for "a track-record of creating colourful characters who spout colourful dialogue".
Brechin-Smith came up with the idea for He Paki Taonga i a Māui (2019) while working at national museum Te Papa Tongarewa (he spent three years there as head of the writing team). Nominated for Best Children's Programme at the 2020 NZ TV Awards, the 18 episodes tell stories based around objects in Te Papa’s Taonga Māori Collection. Brechin-Smith developed the series with Ranea Aperahama and director Yvonne Mackay, working closely with Te Papa and iwi. He describes it as one of the highlights of his career to date.
Brechin-Smith has also written episodes of Kiwi-UK comedy-drama Paradise Café, set on a ghost-ridden tropical island, and helped produce Slavko Martinov's quirky 2017 bird breeding documentary Pecking Order.
In 2015 Brechin-Smith got a Master of Arts (with Distinction) in Scriptwriting at Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters. He was awarded the David Carson-Parker Embassy Prize for best MA folio project.
In 2019 he began teaching the screen production course at Whitireia in Wellington. The same year he founded content creation company Te Wuruhi / Lean Dog.
Profile published on 10 March 2010; updated on 16 April 2021
Te Wuruhi/Lean Dog website. Accessed 16 April 2021
Redfilm website (broken link). Accessed 10 September 2020
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
James Croot, 'Lowdown Dirty Criminals: James Rolleston's Kiwi crime caper a swaggering triumph' (Review) Stuff website. Loaded 20 August 2020.Accessed 10 September 2020
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
Unknown writer, 'Russians put new spin on $15m remake of edgy Kiwi TV drama' - The NZ Herald, 19 December 2015