Donna Malane is an award-winning producer and writer. She began her screen career writing short reconstructions of crimes for the long-running Crimewatch, under the "hard but brilliant" tutelage of television veteran Michael Scott-Smith. "They were all little dramas really, so it was great training."
Starting in the early 90s, Malane started writing scripts (Shark in the Park) and comedy sketches (Skitz, Away Laughing) for Wellington's Gibson Group. She would later rise to become the company's Head of Development. In the mid 90s Gibson contracted her and co-writer Ken Duncum to write a series of Duggan tele-features, following a city police inspector (John Bach) who solved cases in the Marlborough Sounds.
"Ken and I spent hours traipsing around the streets of Mt Victoria plotting crime stories," recalls Malane. "I remember walking my dog for hours in the town belt thinking up twists and turns to the plots. I'd scare myself silly!" The two-hour format provided plenty of space "for the false leads and red herrings necessary in what was essentially a whodunnit in the model of Taggart." After co-writing tele-feature Death in Paradise, Malane and Duncum were nominated for a 1999 NZ Television Award for Sins of the Father. The following year Malane won Best Script for her solo effort Duggan - Shadow of a Doubt, originally written as a tele-movie but split into two episodes after Duggan became a TV series.
After writing episodes of Kiwi-shot Ivanhoe series Dark Knight, Malane went on to produce and help write Gibson Group nature documentaries A Tale of Three Chimps (2001) and In Search of the Moa (2002) which won screenings on both National Geographic's World and USA channels. The award-winning Three Chimps tracks a trio of Kiwi circus chimpanzees, some of whom end up at a Zambian chimp orphanage. In Search of the Moa explored the possibility that the legendary extinct moa (one of the world's tallest and heaviest birds) might still be living in remote New Zealand bush.
Soon after, Malane began two years as Gibson Group's Head of Development. At Gibsons she produced and story-lined the ambitious, acclaimed drama The Insiders Guide to Happiness — which followed the life and loves of a bevy of Wellington 20-somethings. She produced and helped storyline the prequel series which followed, The Insiders Guide to Love, and helped develop awardwinning children's drama series Holly's Heroes, based around a Kiwi teen (Dominique Crawford) who starts her own basketball team after moving to an Australian town. At Gibson Group she also found herself working with writer Paula Boock.
In 2007 Malane and Boock formed production company Lippy Pictures, and wrote and produced children's drama series Time Trackers. As with Holly's Heroes, the show was a co-production between New Zealand and Australia. It was nominated as 2009's Best Children's Drama by the Australian Film Institute and an organisation of Australian media educators. Time Trackers centres around three teens from different eras who travel through time, battling a malicious hacker who wants to change history.
Malane and Boock also wrote and produced a tele-movie based on the real-life fight to overturn David Dougherty's conviction for abduction and rape. "That was the first drama that we did that was based on a real story", says Malane in this video interview. "We were all the time of the responsibility of that." One of the first Kiwi productions shot on the high-definition Red One digital camera, Until Proven Innocent would go on to win five awards at the 2009 Qantas Film and Television Awards, including Best Drama Programme.
The duo followed it by writing tele-movie Bloodlines, another true-life crime story, this time about a South African-born psychiatrist convicted of murdering his wife in 2001. As had been the case with Until Proven Innocent, Peter Burger directed. Bloodlines beat out episodes of Outrageous Fortune to take out the first New Zealand Scriptwriters Award for Best TV Drama Script. It was also nominated for multiple Aotearoa Film and Television awards, including Best Drama or Comedy script, and Best Director.
The duo's next production was one of their most challenging to date: a dramatisation of the 1953 Tangawai train disaster. Tangiwai - A Love Story, which screened on Television One in August 2011, centres around the story of Kiwi cricket player Bob Blair and his ill-fated partner Nerissa Love. Dominion Post reviewer Linda Burgess praised the tele-movie as first-rate, noting especially its depictions of 50s-era social mores, and the "consistently excellent" work of leads Rose McIver and Ryan O'Kane.
Another two Lippy Pictures telemovies hit TV screens in 2014, and both went on to be nominated for Best Television feature at that year's Moa awards. Field Punishment No. 1 dramatises the experiences of Archibald Baxter (Fraser Brown), one of 14 conscientious objectors during World War I. Pirates of the Airwaves mixes drama and documentary material in recreating the 60s era birth of pirate station Radio Hauraki.
In 2017 Jean — with Kate Elliott playing pioneering pilot Jean Batten — took away Best 'Feature' Drama and Script at the NZ Television Awards, as part of an impressive awards haul. Elsewhere it was nominated for Best Television Movie at Aotearoa's Moa Awards, and seven gongs at the New York Festival, including Best TV Movie, and another for Malane and Paula Boock's script.
The duo followed Jean with their first TV series in over a decade. The Gulf follows an outwardly tough detective (again played by Elliott) who has just lost her partner in a car accident. She finds her memory playing tricks with her as she investigates a case on Waiheke Island. Six episodes of the German-Kiwi thriller debuted in 2019; a new season is in production.
Malane has also written a number of books and radio plays. In 2010 her first novel for adults, crime thriller Surrender, was chosen from 500+ anonymous manuscripts to take the first NZ Society of Authors/Pindar Publishing Prize. Working on the book each morning, before concentrating on the action and dialogue of scriptwriting, Malane relished the "luxury" of exploring what was going on inside the mind of her characters.
Profile updated on 26 February 2021
Lippy Pictures website. Accessed 26 February 2021
'Lippy Pictures: Dramatising reality...' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 11 November 2013. Accessed 26 February 2021
Linda Burgess, 'Powerful retelling of a tragedy' (Review of Tangiwai - A Love Story) - The Dominion Post, 16 August 2011
Linda Herrick, 'Gritty crime thriller earns literary prize' (Interview) - NZ Herald, 16 June 2010
'Interview with Donna Malane, author of Surrender' (link broken) Facebook website. Accessed 3 October 2011