2013 Arts Foundation Laureate Dean Parker has written extensively for stage, television, radio and print. Alongside his own projects, he has shown himself as a skilled adaptor of everyone from Nicky Hager (The Hollow Men) to Ronald Hugh Morrieson (movie classic Came a Hot Friday).
He knew a lot about all sorts of things, from the origins of trade unionism to our literary history. He had the instincts of a social historian, but with a very mischievous eye to go with his nose for gossip. Greg McGee on Dean Parker, in his 2008 book Tall Tales (Some True)
Loosely based on the case of a real-life computer dealer who acquired international bank records and later died mysteriously on Auckland Harbour Bridge, Spooked marked Geoff Murphy’s first local movie in 15 years (after time directing in Hollywood). Everyman Kevin (Christopher Hobbs) is caught up in a barrage of intimidation after buying some used computer equipment and unwittingly receiving corporate secrets; Cliff Curtis plays the journalist investigating his case. There are also rare cameos by director Vincent Ward and Goodbye Pork Pie star Kelly Johnson.
Over four seasons, Street Legal’s slick Kiwi take on urban crime and law genres racked up a stack of award nominations - including a 2003 NZ TV Award for best drama series. Although initially wary that the Auckland setting might alienate viewers, writer Greg McGee chose a Samoan lawyer (Jay Laga’aia) as his main character, to exploit the show’s inner-city Ponsonby setting (where cafe society bumps into Pacific Island immigrant culture). Other key characters included Silesi’s lawyer ex-girlfriend Joni, and her new partner Kees, an overstressed sergeant.
Greenstone is the tale of a beautiful, missionary-educated Māori woman (Simone Kessell) whose romantic life is subject to the shifting loyalties of her father, Chief Te Manahau (George Henare). The cross-cultural elements of this ambitious colonial bodice-ripper were reflected off-screen as well: created by Greg McGee in response to a call by TV One for a local drama 'saga', the series saw major English creative input through being developed as a co-production with the BBC. After the withdrawal of BBC funding, the Tainui Corporation helped fund the eight-part series.
Greenstone is the tale of a Māori woman whose beauty is used as a pawn by her ambitious father, Chief Te Manahau. In episode one, the missionary-educated Marama (Simone Kessell) travels to England with her father (George Henare), who sets about arranging an arms deal while she falls for their English host, ex-military man Sir Geoffrey Halford. Created for TV One by Greg McGee, the ambitious series was initially developed as a co-production between local company Communicado and the BBC. Local iwi Tainui helped fund the series, after the BBC withdrew.
Are workplaces a chance for mutual gain, or is it only the higher ups that benefit? Dean Parker's award-winning script for this Sunday TV drama certainly doesn't duck the awkward questions. Joel Tobeck and Luisa Burgess play Bosco and Selena, who get factory jobs as assembly workers, get it on, then take opposing sides on motivational talks by management. Conscious the story would be punctuated with advertisements, Parker decided to counterattack by slipping in occasional clips from an interview with legendary unionist Jock Barnes. Later Parker turned the film into a play.
This series centred on a weekly TV current affairs programme in mid-90s Wellington. Katie Wolfe stars as stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins: lured back from Australia for her tabloid style in an effort to boost the show's ratings. Tackling timely storylines and shot ‘handheld’ in the NYPD Blue-inspired style, the TV3 series was well reviewed but faced its own ratings struggles (a later series screened on TV One). It was Gibson Group’s second foray into producing a TV drama series, after Shark in the Park. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was a series writer.
Soldiers, rubber bullets and an uncertain future: for the McKenna family, memories of life back in hometown Belfast are hardly rose-tinted. Made shortly before the Good Friday agreement radically altered Northern Ireland’s political landscape, this Immigrant Nation episode opens with Irish expats Mick McKenna and mother Mary. In between making rebel music in Wellington, Mick returns to Belfast and recalls an environment that bred violence. Meanwhile presenter Teresa O’Connor (cousin of West Coast MP Damien O’Connor) delves into her own part-Irish ancestry and identity.
A death-bed confession from a touch judge leads to a repeat of a test match between the All Blacks and Wales played 25 years earlier — with the same players. Before the footy, a former Welsh star is forced to face up to a past romance. Mateships and rivalries are rekindled in this genial "what if" yarn, that celebrates and satirises two nations' rugby obsessions. It won best screenplay and supporting actor (John Bach) at 1992's NZ Film Awards. The cast saw former All Blacks and Welsh rugby reps playing alongside acting greats from both countries.
“The funniest, liveliest, most exuberant film ever made in New Zealand”. So said critic Nicholas Reid, a year after Came a Hot Friday became 1985's biggest local hit. Though Billy T’s loony Mexican-Māori cowboy is beloved by fans, he is but one eccentric here among many — as two scheming conmen hit town, and encounter bookies, boozers, country hicks, nasty crim Marshall Napier, and Prince Tui Teka playing saxophone. Until the arrival of The Piano in 1993, Ian Mune and Dean Parker’s award-loaded adaptation remained NZ's third biggest local hit. Ian Pryor writes about the film here.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular drama series following Detective Sergeant Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper) at work in the town of Cobham. Mortimer plays a city cop returning to his rural roots; Don Selwyn is Sergeant Bob Storey. The series was NZ’s first police drama, and a rare local drama to top ratings. Mortimer's Patch was made when the archetype of the ‘community cop’ everyone knew was still a powerful one, and it was a counterweight to the faceless riot policing of the Springbok Tour. Three series were made.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years, middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977, nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series, which was co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac. They initially only agreed to make it on condition they got approval for The Governor. The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen; the demands of creating a regular show helped develop the skills of Kiwi actors and crew.
Famous as New Zealand television's first ever sitcom, Buck House was a rollicking and relatively risqué series that centred on the comings and goings of university students in a dilapidated Wellington flat — the eponymous 'Buck House'. Stars of the show included John Clarke, Paul Holmes, and Tony Barry (Goodbye Pork Pie). Despite (or more likely because of) its bawdy humour, occasional coarse language and alcohol abuse, the pioneering comedy sated the needs of many Kiwi viewers desperate for TV with identifiable local content and flavour.