Director, Producer, Camera
If there is a Kiwi filmmaker whose screen career embodies the great Kiwi OE, it is Dean Cornish: the director, producer and cameraman has filmed in more than 90 countries.
Cornish grew up in Christchurch, and studied journalism at the New Zealand Broadcasting School. He cut his screen teeth working in children’s television (including kids' TV staple What Now?), which he describes as a “free-flowing and creative environment that allowed me to try my hand at directing, writing, presenting — the lot if you wanted.”
In the late 90s the wanderlust that would come to define Cornish’s credit reel struck, and he embarked on a backpacking OE. Toting an early model mini-DV camera, he started making travel stories which aired on TV back in NZ.
In 2001 Cornish paired with Petra Bagust to host the award-winning travel.co.nz. In each episode the pair travelled to an exotic destination for a whistle-stop 72 hour tour, and tossed a coin to see who would follow the luxury or backpacker route (more often than not Cornish ended up travelling budget). This formative work led to commissions for international TV.
These included a Channel 4 documentary on dirtbike riders in the Cambodian jungle (Runaway Generation), a pilot for Channel 4 on oppressive political regimes, two Discovery Channel docos on adventure sports communities (Extreme Tribes), and a film for global network ECPAT on reducing child trafficking in Southeast Asia. While based in Asia, Cornish was also location producing for top-rating international productions like The Amazing Race and Treasure Hunt.
Cornish’s swag of air miles and adaptability made him a natural pick for NZ travel shows, from Working Holiday (on Kiwis working overseas) to long-running Jam TV series Intrepid Journeys, which he would end up producing for four seasons.
Intrepid Journeys took Kiwi celebs got out of their comfort zone to far-flung places. Starting with a 2004 episode which he directed in East Timor, Cornish would become a mainstay over eight seasons of the show: wrangling the likes of Rhys Darby, Lisa Chappell and Te Radar as they explored locations far from Shortland Street. It’s work he is especially proud of: filming in exciting and adventurous destinations, while pushing the importance of travelling "in a culturally and ecologically sound way". En route Cornish got stranded in the 'Forbidden Quarter' of Yemen's Marib desert with Paul Holmes, and held his breath as Pam Corkery tested a bullet-proof vest in Colombia.
Intrepid Journeys scored multiple televison awards, including Best Observational Reality Series at the 2010 Qantas Film and Television Awards, and a nomination in the same category in 2011.
Asked about his best place to film in a 2007 Sunday interview, Cornish replied, “I'm fond of places that leave car wrecks by the side of the road as a warning to other motorists — far more effective than speed cameras.”
Along with ‘on the road’ stories, the other topic prominent on Cornish’s eclectic credit reel is music. An early credit was shooting and directing Pepsismokefree Rockquest 2000 (featuring a tyro Nesian Mystik and Evermore). He’s shot music videos (Boh Runga and Che Fu, Shapeshifter, The Sami Sisters), concerts (Qantas award-winner Dave Dobbyn - One Night in Matata) and promo material for Crowded House album Intriguer.
In 2010 Cornish combined music and travel for series Making Tracks, and shared a Best Director award with Nick Dwyer at the Aotearoa Film and TV Awards as a result. The acclaimed travel show embeds Kiwi musicians in a foreign music culture. “Musicians are fantastic to work with because they’re already expressing themselves … I love what happens at the intersection of musical and visual storytelling, and with Making Tracks the music was a strong part of the cultural and historical context of our destinations.” The result sold to the BBC and National Geographic.
Back in New Zealand Cornish has taken on camera and field direction duties on Great Southern TV satire shows Eating Media Lunch and The Unauthorised History of New Zealand. As a senior director on the local version of business pitching show The Apprentice, he was in charge of a crew of over 100.
Further Kiwi directing gigs include Road to Athens, a TV1 series on athletes for the 2004 Olympics, Human Potential, a doco on the human body; and episodes of media review show Media 7 (now known as Media Take). Even at home Cornish has barely sat still: his ongoing jam with Jam TV includes This Town, based on people living in small towns.
Cornish put rare foundations in the ground when he invested his passion for architecture and design into The Art of the Architect , presented by Peter Elliott. The eight episodes followed the design and build of projects by leading NZ architects over a three-year period.
Further roaming has seen him investigating NGOs attempting to curb international sex trafficking (Undercover Rescue); directing two documentaries for SBS Dateline (Tropical Rehab, Return of the Refugees); and adverts for Vodofone and Fiji Tourism. In 2015 Cornish directed and developed TVNZ series Rachel’s Tour of Beauty which followed the Kiwi supermodel on a globetrotting exploration of fashion and beauty. The series screened in the US on Ovation TV in 2016.
Dean Cornish is presently based in Los Angeles, as a correspondent for Australia's SBS network.
Dean Cornish website. Accessed 26 January 2016
'The Wanderer' - The Sunday Star-Times (Sunday magazine pullout), 13 May 2007, page 47
'Producer/director Dean Cornish' TVNZ website. Accessed 26 January 2016
Jo McCarroll, 'You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em' - The Sunday Star-Times, 30 June 2002, page F7
'Seeing best of both worlds'- The Dominion Post (TV Week liftout), 1 July 2002, page 3