Gary Scott sometimes jokes that the job of a producer is "to write the cheques and send other people out to have fun". But Scott enjoys the challenges of the job. He says producers have to be troubleshooters and peacekeepers, and adept at balancing the demands of both art and commerce — since "the commerce is what funds the art".
Scott began producing at Wellington company Gibson Group in 2001, after spells in student media, at the TV3 news desk, and making his first documentaries.
At high school, Scott was inspired to become a journalist after tuning in to Brian Priestley, host of media critique show Fourth Estate. Although Scott majored in New Zealand history at Waikato University, his degree was delayed by stints in student radio and newspapers. Those experiences provided on-the-job training, and helped steer him towards what had always been his long-term goal: getting on the postgraduate journalism course at Canterbury University.
While in Christchurch, Scott became news editor at university radio station RDU; the experience of helping start, then run a regular news service confirmed that his interests lay in broadcasting, rather than print.
Scott had contacts at TV3. When the channel launched in late 1989, he did some work experience for TV3's late night news show Nightline. Upon completing his diploma, Scott did some writing for the Waitangi Tribunal, and talked his way into his first screen job: as Wellington assignment editor for TV3‘s primetime news bulletin. The high-stress job of assigning stories to journalists proved Scott's trial by fire.
“It was pretty much seven in the morning to seven at night, sometimes longer," he says. "I did it for two and a half years. You’ve got to absorb a lot of stress, and keep a lot of things in your head. You’ve got two radios going all the time, police scanners, phones. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
Scott then began his long association with documentaries and factual shows, initially at Wellington production company Ninox Films. Scott tried on a variety of roles, including as researcher, writer, and ultimately director. After joining the directing team on reality show Emergency Heroes, he first got the chance to direct solo with 2000's Point Of Impact: Air Accident Investigators. The documentary allowed viewers a rare look inside New Zealand's Transport Accident Investigation Commission.
Having done time as a news reporter at the tail end of his TV3 stint, Scott pitched Flight 703: The Survivors, based on a 1995 Ansett plane crash he'd reported on. He interviewed survivors, including passenger William McGrory, who'd used a cellphone to guide emergency services to the hilltop where the plane went down. Flight 703 was highly commended at the US International Film & Video Festival.
In 2001 Scott joined the staff of Gibson Group, after Gordon Harcourt hired him to direct documentary Op' Stars, which chronicled the 2000 Mobil Song Quest. Originally keen to carry on directing, Scott was offered a job at Gibsons as a producer, after directing and co-producing a second doco, Tutus & Town Halls (which chronicled a ballet tour of the provinces).
Since Tutus, he has produced or executive produced a long line of one-off documentaries, from artists go climbing tale Aspiring to Tales from Te Papa, to interactive WWl documentary Spurred On. His CV also includes two-parter How to Spot a Cult (which touched on both scientology and Centrepoint), this 2003 Tom Scott documentary on Kiwi cartooning, and the acclaimed Long Lost Sons, in which future MP Kris Fa'afoi and his brother Jason visited their ancestral home of Tokelau.
Scott has also worked on a number of factual series; most of them explore his interest in Kiwi history. WWll heroes show Kiwis at War (2006) was commissioned after the Anzac Day ratings success of one-off escape tale Dare to Be Free.
Scott ranks Here to Stay as a career highlight. Each episode featured a Kiwi personality examining one of the key settler groups that make up the New Zealand tribe. "We had episodes on the Scots, on the Germans, on the English, and the Irish," says Scott in this video interview. "It just fed into my keenness to tell good social stories about New Zealand." The show's two seasons offered the opportunity to explore the origins of everything from the Kiwi sense of humour, to the tall poppy syndrome.
In 2013 Scott was busy sorting the logistics of recreating Gallipoli and the Battle of the Somme, for War News. The five-part series presented history in the shape of a news bulletin. Later he produced primetime series Along for the Ride, in which RNZ National presenter Simon Morton looks at how the bike shaped Aotearoa.
In 2017 Scott returned to directing for one-off documentary The Secret Lives of Fussy Eaters. It explored the mentality of picky eaters and the potential dangers of their food phobias. Scott enjoyed being back out in the field, and doing interviews; "getting the best of people on camera, while staying true to the terrible reality of the things they were living with as well".
In the same period Scott also produced two telemovies which combined dramatic material and interviews. Nancy Wake: The White Mouse explored the WWll experiences of the Kiwi spy who parachuted into France, while the NZ TV Award nominated Mistress, Mercy: The Renee Chignell Story revisits the high profile 1989 murder of cricket umpire Peter Plumley-Walker, whose body was found near Huka Falls.
Aside from his television work, Scott has also brought his historical and organisational expertise to the Gibson Group’s Visitor Attractions team, who handle interactive and exhibition projects. Scott has been a key creative on a long run of projects, including the award-winning OurSpace wall at Te Papa; the TouchCity multimedia project at the Museum of Copenhagen (where Scott once lived); the multimedia experience at Hokianga attraction Manea: Footprints of Kupe; and Auckland Museum's Outrageous Fortune exhibition. Scott also produces videos for Gibson’s corporate sector clients.
Profile updated on 30 March 2021
'Gary Scott: from Kiwi culture to cults...' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen website. Director Ian Pryor. Loaded 21 June 2011. Accessed 30 March 2021
'Gary Scott - Senior Producer' Gibson Group website. Accessed 30 March 2021