Journalist turned producer Elizabeth Mitchell is best known for hit comedy bro'Town, which debuted on Kiwi television screens in 2004. The first local animated series to play in prime time, this tale of polynesian teenagers became a major hit, and won an impressive run of international sales and awards.
Mitchell came up with the idea for bro'Town after seeing her old friend Oscar Kightley, performing as part of comic ensemble The Naked Samoans. Watching the Naked Samoans playing teenagers onstage, Mitchell realised that an animated TV show about a group of young polynesians would get around the fact that Kightley and co weren't very teenage in appearance. After the team signed on, she approached TV3 executive Kelly Martin with her idea. So began three years of development and boning up on animation.
Kightley has described Mitchell as bro'Town's "forgotten hero", and says the show "wouldn't have happened without her". "She basically put the studio together, she did the funding ... she kept us together and she kept the machinery together." In 2005 local screen organisation SPADA named Mitchell their independent producer of the year.
bro'Town mined comedy from five teenagers growing up as a minority in Auckland, the world's largest Polynesian city. As Mitchell put in in 2005, "we always knew it would work — we just didn't know if anyone would like it". It was "brilliant" so many New Zealanders had taken Vale, Valea, Sione, Mack and Jeff da Māori into their hearts. "We get emails almost every day from schools doing projects on the show, community groups, academics writing papers on bro'Town, as well as viewers who just want to say 'top dogs' to the team."
Over five seasons, bro'Town won four local awards for best comedy programme, and sold to Australia, Fiji, Canada, Russia and Latin America. Local critics labelled it "groundbreaking" and dazzling. The NZ Herald's Frances Grant noted that it left "no sensitivity unmocked". In concentrating on the show's Polynesian angle, journalists sometimes forgot there was also a white woman on the writing team. A run of celebrity guests made animated cameos, from league star Stacey Jones to John Campbell and Prince Charles, whose children were given their own bro'Town hoodies.
The challenges of commanding an animated series involving 150 crew across two countries would have tested most producers — let alone one whose previous animation experience was limited to one commercial about the white-spotted tussock moth. Much of the animation was handled at offshore studios — mostly in India, with help from China for roughly one season. Each episode took up to six months to complete, and required from 16,000 to 24,000 drawings. As of 2020 a bro'Town movie is in development.
In 2013 Mitchell produced comedy drama Tom's Dairy, which marked Oscar Kightley's drama directing debut. The tale of a Spacies-mad Samoan growing up in 80s-era Auckland was named Best Short film at the Belize International Film Festival, and was nominated for four Moa awards, including Best Short Film. A movie version is planned.
The same year the two reunited for Rooster Rooster Dragon Rat - Oscar's Guide to the Chinese Zodiac. Mitchell directed and produced Kightley's beginner's guide to oriental star signs, which screened on TV3's Inside New Zealand documentary slot.
Mitchell has also been involved in development scheme He Ara, as part of a round table group offering support to Māori and Pasifika filmmakers as they develop "culturally diverse" feature and documentary projects.
Auckland-raised Mitchell first joined the writing staff of The Auckland Star in 1988. She befriended fellow scribe Kightley on her first day at the newspaper, shortly before he went to work in New Plymouth. In 1990 she left to start a post-graduate Diploma of Broadcasting at Auckland University. Mitchell also has a Diploma in Journalism from Auckland Institute of Technology, and a BA majoring in languages.
Mitchell's first screen job was at TV3, assisting in on-air promotions. She went on to become the network's commercial producer, dealing with sales and marketing, then did time as head of on-air promotions. In the mid 1990s she went freelance, writing, producing and directing adverts and corporate presentations, before bro'Town beckoned.
Profile updated on 15 January 2019
'Elizabeth Mitchell talks bro'Town' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Clare O'Leary. Loaded 24 April 2009. Accessed 15 January 2020
'Oscar Kightley - Funny As Interview' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Rupert Mackenzie. Loaded 19 August 2019. Accessed 15 January 2020
Rebecca Barry, 'bro'Town returns as its animation empire expands' - The NZ Herald, 26 August 2005
Unknown writer, 'Welcome to Morningside, bro' - The Dominion Post (TV Week liftout), 21 September 2004, Page 3
Unknown writer, 'Top dogs going global' - The Dominion Post (TV Week liftout), 26 September 2006, Page 3
'Three Teams Selected for He Ara Funding' (Press release) NZ Film Commission website. Loaded 25 June 2014. Accessed 15 January 2020