After growing up on Stewart Island, Geoff Jamieson found himself working as a mechanic at Queenstown's Remarkable Motors. That all changed when a television crew rolled into town, and found they could do with the combined know-how of a good mechanic and a builder. From those humble beginnings, Jamieson and his mate Vic Yarker — affectionately known as “the rat and eagle” to their colleagues — would become valuable crewmembers on a long run of TV shows.
When preparations began in 1976 for Hunter’s Gold, the first big location shoot by new channel Television Two, the crew were thinking upon how they would get all their gear into the remote filming location near Queenstown. As director Tom Parkinson remembers it, a solution magically presented itself. “Vic Yarker came over the hill carrying a deer on his shoulders. We thought anyone who could carry a bloody great stag over a mountain would have no difficulty with camera equipment.” Later, when the generator they were using broke down, Yarker had the answer to that too: “Vic told us he had a mate who could fix anything mechanical, and that was Geoff.”
Production manager Brian Walden headed down to the garage in Queenstown to seek Geoff Jamieson out. For the rest of the shoot, he hardly saw Jamieson's face, because it was usually crouched over the "turkey of a generator", coaxing it back into life. With their combined mechanical and practical knowledge, Jamieson and Yarker proved themselves invaluable on the tricky shoot.
When the crew moved on to start work on another ambitious production, The Mackenzie Affair, Walden made the call that the "A grade" mechanic and the builder were both too useful to leave behind. “We couldn't have done without these two hands on, trade-skilled, common sense blokes.” The two became ongoing members of the film crew with Yarker graduating to key grip, and Jamieson initially helping out in a variety of jobs — including driving the generator/emergency vehicle at the back of the line of vehicles, as the crew set out for each location.
In New Zealand, the grips are involved in transporting and setting up the camera gear — including laying down special rails for the camera, which allow it to smoothly move and follow the action. Walden remembers Yarker and Jamieson as "an amazing team, who interlocked on everything", with Jamieson especially skilled at creating the specialised mounts which are used to attach the camera to moving vehicles. But the job could be wide-ranging: when shooting Children of Fire Mountain at Te Henga/ Bethells Beach, the two were organising four-wheel drive vehicles to get crew in and out of the location.
Until at least 1980, according to The NZ Herald, the pair “played a part in every drama production" made by the second televison channel. On top of the aforementioned shows, that included Ngaio Marsh Theatre, Under the Mountain, Mortimer’s Patch, and Sea Urchins. Known for his dry wit, Jamieson's nickname of "the rat" was cemented by a legendary moment on the set of Mortimer, when he sneakily exchanged the director's cigarette for something that had once been animal.
In 1980 Jamieson and Yarker worked on John Laing-directed feature Beyond Reasonable Doubt. The following year, Jamieson left TVNZ for big-budget adventure Race for the Yankee Zephyr. The film saw him returning to Queenstown to work on sequences involving a waterlogged DC-3, with special effects expert Kevin Chisnall.
In 1984 Jamieson was key grip on Mortimer's Patch movie Trespasses; a year later he filled the same role on Geoff Murphy road movie The Quiet Earth. Travels even further afield saw him in the jungles of Mexico for the making of Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Predator, and in the United States as key grip on Keanu Reeves comedy Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. He was back in Queenstown for mountain scenes on Ron Howard/George Lucas fantasy Willow.
Jamieson reunited with Brian Walden down south in 1990, as key grip on Ian Mune-directed TV movie The Grasscutter, and in 1993 lent his expertise to Jane Campion’s Palme d’Or winner The Piano. Jamieson also worked on the Hercules TV movies. For much of the period after making Trespasses, he was assisted by friend John Wheeler.
Jamieson retired from the industry in the early 2000s, selling his truck and equipment to Wheeler. He returned to his passion for mechanics, rebuilding wrecked cars, but continued to lend a hand on the occasional shoot.
After suffering a stroke around Christmas 2015, Jamieson was moved into care early the following May. Geoff Jamieson passed away in Auckland on 24 May 2016.
Profile by Simon Smith
Unknown Writer, “Mountain Men Get To Grips With TV” - The NZ Herald, 20 January 1980