Producer, Production Manager [Te-Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngāti Porou]
Desray Armstrong has built up a diverse slate of production credits since she entered the screen industry in 2004. Aside from producing acclaimed short films (Meathead, Ellen is Leaving) and TV programmes (police drama Harry, Māori musical instrument series Haumanu), she has also been a production manager or production coordinator on a run of feature films — from international projects shooting downunder (Slow West, Mortal Engines), to Kiwi stories (What We Do in the Shadows, Predicament). In 2018 Armstrong produced her debut feature film, acclaimed romance Stray.
Desray is beloved in the industry, not just because she cares deeply for everyone who works on her projects, but because she so obviously loves what she does. Jonathan Brough, director of short film Snowmen
This hit TV series was spawned from big screen mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows (2014). After stumbling across the vampiric goings-on of the original movie, dim-witted police officers Minogue (Mike Minogue) and O'Leary (Karen O'Leary) are enlisted by a paranormal obsessed sergeant (Maaka Pohatu from The Modern Māori Quartet) to investigate unusual events— from cows up trees, to werewolves and zombie cops. Six episodes debuted on TVNZ 2 in 2018; four were directed by Shadows co-creator Jemaine Clement. A second season of 13 episodes is set to follow.
Merata Mita argued forcefully that the voices of Māori and of women were sorely lacking on-screen. Best known for her Springbok tour documentary Patu!, the straight-talking director and actor later set up an indigenous filmmaking programme in Hawai'i, and spoke about indigenous film around the globe. After Mita passed away in 2010, her youngest son Hepi began making a film about her — discovering new sides to his mother as he trawled through footage, and interviewed his older siblings. The feature-length documentary debuted at the 2018 NZ International Film Festival.
Mortal Engines is set in a post-apocalyptic world where cities roam the landscape, devouring everything in their path. Tom (Robert Sheehan, from TV's Misfits) lives in London, a 'predator' city built on digger-like tracks. After encountering a mysterious fugitive with murder in mind, he finds himself touching bare earth for the first time. Showcasing the eye-opening imagery of Weta Digital, Mortal Engines is based on a book by Brit Philip Reeve. It marks the first feature directed by Christian Rivers (short film Feeder). The Weta veteran began as a storyboard artist for Peter Jackson.
Director Dustin Feneley’s first feature is set in a wintry Central Otago landscape. It charts the relationship between a man on parole (Kieran Charnock from The Rehearsal and short Cub) and a woman just out of a psychiatric facility (Arta Dobroshi, from Belgian film Lorna’s Silence). A highly successful crowdfunding campaign raised $125,000 towards the film. Stray won the first of many awards (for actor Charnock) when it premiered at the 2018 Moscow International Film Festival. Critics found it "compelling and haunting" (The NZ Herald) and "indelibly beautiful" (Stuff).
Wellington Paranormal was dubbed 'Police Ten 7 meets The X-Files' . These excerpts from episodes three and five of the first season demonstrate the show's mix of deadpan commentary with (sometimes) mysterious subject matter. Officers O'Leary (played by Karen O'Leary) and Minogue (Mike Minogue) deal with two call outs. A report of a pale, translucent figure floating 'airily' around a Lower Hutt car park is the definition of an 'open and shut 'case, but a stake out in a supposedly haunted house isn't so straightforward. Officer Minogue's enthusiasm for tasers comes a cropper too.
Director Alison Maclean (Kitchen Sink, Jesus' Son) returned to New Zealand for this adaptation of Eleanor Catton's acclaimed debut novel. The psychological drama stars James Rolleston (The Dead Lands) as one of a group of acting students who use a real-life sex scandal involving a tennis coach, as creative fuel for their end of year show. The cast mixes experienced names (Kerry Fox and Miranda Harcourt as drama teachers) with emerging talents (Ella Edward). Connan Mockasin supplies the soundtrack. The Rehearsal debuted at the 2016 NZ International Film Festival.
With web series The Watercooler, the audience provides the stories (by submitting them online). Each episode sees true tales reenacted, as far-fetched yarns get shared over the office watercooler. The stories range widely, from a nurse engaging in an ill-fated arm-wrestle with a patient, to trouble with “urinal politics”. The Watercooler was created by actor Mike Minogue, who also appears in a number of episodes. The cast features Cohen Holloway, Jonathan Brugh and Abby Damen. For the second season, Minogue's Wellington Paranormal co-star Karen O’Leary was added to the mix.
This first series of The Watercooler features stories about sauna etiquette, nurse-patient relations, Trans-Tasman cricket rivalry and urination. The web series is based mostly on yarns provided by the show’s Facebook audience, supplemented by creator and star Mike Minogue’s own sauna story. The allegedly true stories are reenacted by a cast that includes Jonathan Brugh, Cohen Holloway and Abby Damen (The Māori Sidesteps). Each story is introduced as a chat over the office watercooler, with the storyteller and their audience also playing the main characters.
Actor/director Taika Waititi teamed up with his Eagle vs Shark star Jemaine Clement for this mockumentary about life for a flat of vampires. Cameras follow the vamps as they struggle to get into Wellington pubs, squabble over chores and face off against werewolves. A roster of Kiwi comedic talent (including Jackie van Beek and lazy vampire Jonathan Brugh) feature. After winning fangtastic reviews at America's Sundance and SXSW festivals, Shadows won a run of global sales and four Moa awards, including Best Self-Funded Feature. It also spawned two TV series, and a live show.
This telefeature follows the gruelling journey of Archibald Baxter, a pacifist who defied conscription and chose, on moral grounds, not to fight in World War I. The Otago farmer (father of poet James K), was one of 14 Kiwi 'conchies' who were jailed, disenfranchised and shipped to the war in Europe. There Baxter, played by actor Fraser Brown, was tied to a post in freezing conditions, then forced to the Front. The film continues a run of TV movies from company Lippy Features adapted from true events (Tangiwai, Until Proven Innocent). It screened on TV ONE on 22 April 2014.
This docudrama recreates the story of Radio Hauraki: a bunch of rebel DJs whose cause was bringing rock’n’roll to the radios of 60s NZ youth. Their fight for the right to broadcast involved a pirate vessel in the Hauraki Gulf. Director Charlie Haskell films the recreations from the point of view of late DJ Rick Grant, and cuts them together with interviews with the protagonists, animation and Hard Day’s Night-style japes. Based on Adrian Blackburn's book Radio Pirates, the telefilm debuted on TV One on 27 July 2014. It was nominated for a Moa Award for Best TV Feature.
Filmed in New Zealand’s deep south, this feature follows the vicissitudes of Adrian: a sensitive 11-year old haunted by the disappearance of three local children, who befriends mysterious new-in-town Nicole. The adaptation of Sonya Hartnett’s coming of age novel Of A Boy, is the feature debut of Denmark-based Dunedin-born director Daniel Joseph Borgman, following on from his lauded shorts Berik, and Lars and Peter. The creative team behind the 'informal' Danish-NZ co-production included frequent collaborators of directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.
This TV3 drama series follows the travails of a cop (Oscar Kightley) as he pursues justice on the mean streets of Auckland. Solo parent to a teenage daughter (following his wife’s suicide), Detective Sergeant Harry Anglesea is thrown into a murder investigation and an underworld of P and gang violence. Harry, not a stickler for the rules, marked a rare dramatic turn for Oscar Kightley. Sam Neill plays his policing buddy. NZ Herald reviewer Paul Casserly called it a “great, gritty crime show”. Harry was notable for using unsubtitled Samoan in primetime.
This first episode of this 2013 crime drama begins with a meth-fuelled bank heist gone very wrong. Harry is a Samoan-Kiwi detective (played by Oscar Kightley, a million miles away from Morningside) pursuing justice in South Auckland. Sam Neill, in his first role on a Kiwi TV series, plays Harry’s detective buddy. Off the case, Harry struggles with his teen daughter in the wake of his wife’s suicide. The Chris Dudman-directed series screened for a season on TV3. Broadcaster John Campbell tweeted: “Not remotely suitable for kids. But nor are many excellent things.”
“This song is called ‘Medicine Man’ because music is my medicine, and failing all else in life, music remains the constant no matter who else is there.” So said Tama Waipara of the first single from his third album Fill Up the Silence, which was rated Best Roots Album at the 2014 NZ Music Awards. The song’s beat is credited to a Papua New Guinean influence, but Jessica Sanderson’s video roams widely: from Pasifika and colonial drummers to carpark breakdancing and getting lost inside headphones in a laundromat, from poi to pop and lock — to where “love is in the music”.
In this award-winning short film Michael is a 17-year-old who gets the abattoir blues during his first day at 'the works'. Fitting in turns out to be the least of Michael’s worries as young blood is welcomed on the line in the old fashioned way, and rite of passage is interpreted literally to meaty effect. Meathead was filmed at the Wallace Meat plant in Waitoa. Based on the true story of a mate of his, director Sam Holst’s debut short was selected for Cannes and won the Crystal Bear in the Generation (14plus) section of the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.
TV movie Rage recreates the 1981 Springbok tour, which saw violent clashes between protestors and police. Ryan O'Kane (Second Hand Wedding) plays the protestor whose girlfriend (Maria Walker) is actually an undercover cop who has infiltrated the anti-tour movement. The script was written by Tom Scott — who protested, in-between writing a humour column in The Listener — and his brother-in-law Grant O'Fee, who was a detective sergeant in Wellington. Rage was nominated for five NZ TV Awards, including Best One-Off Drama, Director (Danny Mulheron) and Actor (O'Kane).
Christmas Eve 1953: Cricketer Bob Blair (Ryan O'Kane) is in South Africa, days away from batting for New Zealand. His fiancée Nerissa Love (Maddigan's Quest's Rose McIver) is boarding an ill-fated train, which in this excerpt will plunge into the Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, in the country's worst rail disaster. The Dominion Post's Linda Burgess found this TV movie retelling of the tragic romance "first-rate", noting "consistently excellent" performances from O'Kane, McIver, and Miranda Harcourt as Nerissa's wary mother. Tangiwai won four NZ TV awards, including best cinematography.
New Zealand, 1903. A veteran of the Boer War (Sexy Beast’s Ray Winstone) is hired to hunt a Māori seaman (Temuera Morrison), who has been framed for murder. So begins a cat and mouse chase where pole position keeps changing, and the South African is pressed to open up about his past. Directed by Brit Ian Sharp (Mrs Caldicot’s Cabbage War) and scripted by Dutch-born emigre Nicolas van Pallandt — who died before it got to the screen —Tracker was one of the last productions to win cash from the UK Film Council. The extras include interviews with both lead actors.
The award-winning directing debut of actor Tammy Davis (better known as Outrageous Fortune’s Munter) is a South Auckland-set Christmas tale. Young Vinnie (Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson of Ghost Chips fame) and Jonah (James Ru) are bored on the mean streets — tagging, BMX-ing — when Jonah peer pressures Vinnie to join him in breaking and entering a house. When they find more than Christmas pressies inside, it tests mateship, moral codes and festive spirit. Crowned Best Film at Flickerfest, Ebony Society was selected for the Berlin and Sundance film festivals.
Based on a novel by the late Ronald Hugh Morrieson — whose stories painted hometown Taranaki as a hotbed of colourful characters and dodgy dealings — Predicament is a prohibition-era tale of blackmail, anxiety and criminal partnerships. Awkward teen Cedric (Hayden Frost) meets two oddball misfits (played by Conchord Jemaine Clement and Australian comedian Heath 'Chopper' Franklin), and becomes entangled in a plot to blackmail adulterous couples caught in the act. Jason Stutter's film went on to win six Aotearoa Film Awards in 2011.
Home by Christmas sees Gaylene Preston returning to the hidden stories of ordinary New Zealanders. Inspired by attempts to get her father Ed to reveal his WWII experiences, this finely-balanced docu-drama moves between three strands: Preston’s father (Goodbye Pork Pie's Tony Barry, in a Qantas award-winning performance) retelling his story; recreations of Ed’s wartime OE; and life for the woman he left behind in Greymouth. The dream cast sees Preston’s own daughter Chelsie Preston Crayford playing Preston's mother Tui, alongside Martin Henderson.
This short follows Joe Warbrick (Calvin Tuteao, from Nights in the Gardens of Spain), captain of the New Zealand Natives rugby team, as he tries to rouse his battle-weary players to head unto the breach once more, for a test against England. It’s midwinter during the trailblazing, 17 month long 1888-89 tour which left a black jersey legacy. In a changing room that resembles a casualty ward, Warbrick draws breath and leads a stirring haka. Made by brothers Pere and Meihana Durie, Warbrick inspired the All Blacks the day before they demolished Australia by 33-6 in 2009.
The second feature film directed by writer Anthony McCarten (Ladies' Night) is a small tale with some big themes. Set in a New Plymouth car yard, the film chronicles an endurance contest in which a car will be awarded to the person who manages to keep their hands on it the longest. As night falls, solo mother Jess (Melanie Lynskey) finds herself fending off the attentions of an obstinate competitor (Craig Hall), with a much harsher vision of the world than hers. Inspired by similar real-life contests, McCarten based the film on his novel Endurance.
This documentary presents insight into the man most New Zealanders know as the Māori radical with a moko. Delving beyond the sensational headlines, it presents Tame Iti in the context of his whānau and beliefs. Iti tells his own story: from growing up in his beloved Urewera, and his role in organisation Ngā Tamatoa, to heroes (Rua Kenana, Che Guevara), moko, match-making and a late-starting art career. Iti’s children reflect on an activist father who “is a kid at heart”. Chelsea Winstanley's documentary screened on TV2, before Iti’s arrest during the infamous 2007 ‘Urewera raids’.
This 2000 reality TV show was the Kiwi version of a 1998 Belgian concept, which sold to 40 countries. The show involved contestants completing challenges to avoid elimination and win a cash prize — the complication being that one of them is a mole, planted to sabotage their efforts. The host was actor Mark Ferguson (Living the Dream) in his first outing as a reality TV host. NZ Herald reviewer Fiona Rae argued that Ferguson's "low-key approach and easy rapport with the team" hid a devious underbelly, as he kept pushing the players and ensured all were under suspicion.