David Stubbs has worked on everything from music videos to high profile docudramas.
Raised in Wainuiomata, Stubbs was twice rejected from the Spot On filmmaking contest as a child. He is proud to say that the horror films he made with friends were deemed to be "too violent, supernatural or disturbing for the show's time slot". After getting a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Victoria University, Stubbs got his first screen job, as a runner on a cat food commercial. He worked as an assistant to advertising veteran Pat Cox, and in the production and art departments of various Wellington production companies.
It took three attempts to score a job at government filmmakers the National Film Unit. Stubbs managed to win over his interviewer after mentioning he was a dab hand with his old Austin Cambridge. Starting as a trainee editor, he worked on a range of documentaries, including one of the NFU’s last films, Antarctic doco Irresistible Forces (1989). Earlier, Stubbs made his directorial debut with Running for Empties (1987). This short film about Wellington's last milk run sold well overseas.
In 1990 Stubbs went freelance, directing a range of commercial and corporate projects — plus The Monkey King, a short film for UNICEF filmed in Beijing. An ad campaign for website Scoop saw Stubbs' work featured in the prestigious UK Shots Reel, which showcased the world’s best commercials and music videos. That decade Stubbs made further ads, while running production company Mr X with Tim Chang.
Stubbs set up Krafthaus Films in 2002. The company garnered many awards for a range of work, from advertisements to multimedia projects.
In the late 90s Stubbs had worked on two short films funded by Creative New Zealand. One of them, Helmut and Gretel — about a Kiwi couple who pretend to be German after dark — was invited to a number of European festivals. There were further festival invites in 2008 for The Handover, which starred Gareth Reeves and Loren Taylor as romantic partners dabbling in no longer being apart.
The Handover signalled a move into drama. In 2009 Stubbs teamed with actor turned director Thomas Robins to form KHF Media, which concentrates on drama projects (plus the occasional documentary).
Aware that TVNZ was looking for a web series, the two cooked up interactive mystery Reservoir Hill, sharing producing and directing between them. The result: an International Emmy for their first project together.
Reservoir Hill revolves around a teenager (Beth Chote) who discovers she is the dead ringer of a student who has gone missing. "We asked the audience to give her advice, and contribute ideas," said Stubbs. "That's how we wrote the next episode." Each instalment was made on a tight schedule, with scripts signed off on a Thursday, then filmed and loaded online at five pm the following Monday.
Reservoir Hill won a 2010 International Emmy for Best Digital Programme for Children and Young People, and a 2010 Qantas Film and TV Award for Best Children’s/Youth Programme. Stubbs and Robins were nominated as Best Director of a Drama or Comedy at the latter awards. The eight web episodes were compiled into a TV movie. A second season, subtitled Everyone Lies, was also nominated for an International Emmy.
In 2012 Stubbs and Robins followed Reservoir Hill with the light-hearted Girl vs. Boy. Season one can be watched in full here. Over three seasons, the NZ Television Award nominated show follows an inquisitive teen, as she variously investigates a disastrous relationship breakup, becomes poster girl for her suburb, and joins the rebellion against a deranged school principal.
In 2017 Stubbs won an NZ Film Award for Best Documentary Director, for his first feature-length project: Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses. The telemovie used interviews and reenactments to explore how a young Wainuiomata mother died after an attempted exorcism. As Stubbs told Radio New Zealand, he believed Moses "died because of a group dynamic that happened in a certain situation in a house to a family who were desperate to save someone".
Belief exists in both a theatrical, and a shorter TV cut, thanks to funding from a documentary fund run by the NZ Film Commission and NZ On Air. It was nominated for both Best Documentary (at the NZ Film Awards) and Best Feature Drama (at the NZ TV Awards). Following a US cinema release, it streamed on Netflix.
Stubbs followed Belief with big screen musical Daffodils. Based on Rochelle Bright's acclaimed stage musical, it features classic pop songs by everyone from Dave Dobbyn to Chris Knox. Released in March 2019, Daffodils starred Kiwis Rose McIver, George Mason (Home and Away) and singer Kimbra. NZ Herald critic Francesca Rudkin found the bittersweet love story "a delightful romp through the decades". Stuff's James Croot praised the film for reimagining classic Kiwi songs, and making them "feel organically part of the story".
The following year Stubbs directed acclaimed TVNZ miniseries Black Hands. Produced by screen veteran Robin Scholes, the five-part drama retells the story of the Bain family, before they were murdered in their Dunedin home. The only survivor was son David, who was convicted of the five murders, but later acquitted.
As a producer, Stubbs has worked on based on a true story TV movie Catching the Black Widow, and the second and third seasons of Anglo-Kiwi series Mystic.
Profile updated on 14 May 2021
KHF Media website. Accessed 14 May 2021
Krafthaus website (broken link). Accessed 27 April 2019
James Croot, 'Daffodils; Why you should give yourself more Bliss and check out this Kiwi movie-musical' (Review) Stuff website. Loaded 13 March 2018. Accessed 27 April 2021
James Croot, 'Daffodils: Crowded House, Bic Runga songs feature in New Zealand's first-ever movie-musical'. Stuff website. Loaded 1 November 2018. Accessed 27 April 2021
Francesca Rudkin, 'Movie review: Daffodils' - The NZ Herald, 21 March 2019
Evelyn Saunders and Marcus Gillezeau, 'Reservoir Hill - A Case Study with David Stubbs & Thomas Robins'
'New Zealand show wins Emmy award' (Interview) Radio New Zealand website. Loaded 13 April 2010. Accessed 22 April 2021
'David Stubbs: making Belief' (Interview) Radio New Zealand website. Loaded 8 August 2015. Accessed 27 April 2021