Over a busy producing career, Grant Bradley estimates he has raised more than NZ$200 million in finance for filmmaking. The former CEO of NZ-based company Daybreak Pacific now runs Aristos Films from Auckland, alongside younger brother Dale. The company also has offices in Brisbane and London.
During the Bradley’s extended filmmaking partnership, Grant has specialised in financing and producing, while Dale concentrates more on developing and directing. As Grant put it in one interview, "together we've been able to hone our craft and our system of making movies". En route, Grant attended the Cannes Film Festival and American Film Market for 28 years straight. He has raised screen funding through public offerings, private placements, international banks, and government funding agencies.
Bradley argues that local filmmakers ought to think with more of an eye for the audience, and rely less on the limited funding pool available from the NZ Film Commission.
Born in the Northland town of Dargaville, Grant Bradley lived in three different parts of the North Island before his family moved to Canada when he was seven. Later he did time selling menswear in a Canadian department store, and worked in a bank. After returning to New Zealand at age 21, he joined his brother in launching The Music Studio, a chain of Auckland music stores. Eventually they sold up and moved into marketing and communications — which would see them making as many as 40 corporate videos a year.
Grant guesses that the Bradley's interest in moviemaking began with their father, who'd "always had a home movie camera". It was Dale who jumped in next, successfully pitching a documentary idea to TVNZ. Contacts made through the brothers' work in sales training opened doors to American-born investment banker Alex Krem, who would provide Grant with valuable advice about financing.
By the last half of the 1980s the Bradleys were busy producing a range of television productions, including kidult adventure Hotshotz, which sold to 25 territories, and (Edmund) Hillary’s Adventurers, believed to be the first Kiwi show to play on America’s Discovery Channel.
In 1986 Grant helped raise finance for British TV movie God's Outlaw. The following year he and Dale helped produce thriller Chill Factor. Made with a combination of American and Kiwi cash, and shot largely down under, the film provided a crash course in the complexities of international productions.
In the same period the brothers Bradley launched Impact Television, which provided production facilities to TV3 — until the new channel hit financial problems. "We had the contract to do everything except news and sports", Grant told Onfilm in a 1998 interview."We set up this huge facility on the back of that — it worked great for about 60 days. And then our bill didn't get paid".
After shooting 90 minute Howard Morrison special in Kia Ora Bonjour in France, the Bradleys launched company Daybreak Pictures (aka Daybreak Pacific), and then won interest from Avalon Studios in Chunuk Bair (1991) the first official Daybreak production. This depiction of an ill-fated World War l seige at Gallipoli was nominated for NZ Film Awards for Best Film, and for Dale Bradley's directing. A making of documentary can be watched here.
By 1996, when the Bradleys were given American funding to make the hour-long Repeat Performance, they were "fortunate enough to have enough momentum to be able to focus totally on features". The NZ Film Commission provided vital early support. Alhough the Commission would provide limited funding on some of Daybreak's early features, in the mid 90s Bradley secured direct funding from the Commission's POD (Producer Orientated Development) scheme. The funding allowed Bradley to "completely focus on making and funding feature films".
From 1997 to 2004, Bradley produced or executive produced 15 features or feature-length productions, making him arguably the country's busiest film producer. Daybreak's projects were unashamedly commercial in bent, developed for specific markets and audiences. Although some were aimed at children, the majority were thrillers or action adventures filmed entirely in New Zealand, but sometimes set in America and featuring American lead actors — including Kelly McGillis, Christopher Lloyd, and Ron Silver.
New Zealanders filled many key creative roles. John Laing-directed thriller No One Can Hear You featured early performances from Kate Elliott and Emily Barclay (In My Father's Den), while Nicola Murphy (Magik & Rose) joined American actor Judge Reinhold in Otago-set romance Wild Blue.
Bradley secured funding from both New Zealand and overseas for the company's projects. "We've managed to entice some private investment and commercial funding in, but those investors and lenders have to get their money back, and have to see a return", Bradley told Onfilm in 1998. "It's absolutely essential that they do, otherwise neither we nor, in the end, the industry will be here in the long term." He argued that no two producers agreed on what made a particular project commercial. "In the end you stand and fall on your own hunches and instincts and understanding of the market."
In 2007 the Bradleys relaunched themselves in Queensland. Grant co-produced Joel Edgerton horror thriller Acolytes, and as joint head of Limelight International, began financing and producing a varied slate of projects, from Australian-shot Ray Liotta thriller Bad Karma, to TV movie Sinbad and the Minotaur (featuring Kiwi Manu Bennett as Sinbad). In 2013 Limelight was rebranded as Aristos Films. The Bradleys were also part of the multinational producing team on time travel tale The Lovers, directed by Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields). The film's cast includes Josh Hartnett, Om Puri and Kiwi actor Simone Kessell.
In 2020 Bradley was part of the 16 strong producing team on action movie Legacy of Lies. The film won awards at multiple festivals.
Kiwi projects have occasionally re-entered the picture. In 2018, Grant was one of the producers of A War Story. Shot in New Zealand, the TV movie followed the lead up to and eventual interview between Osama Bin Laden and Kiwi-born CNN journalist Peter Arnett in 1997. Bradley is also on the production team of documentary Moth to a Flame. Directed by Gaylene Preston, it follows the career of pioneering camera woman Margaret Moth, who was shot while documenting the Bosnian War for CNN.
Profile updated on 30 June 2021
Aristos Films website. Accessed May 2020
Jonathan Dowling, 'Burning Gold For Growth' (Interview with Dale Bradley) - OnFilm, December 1987, volume 5, number 1)
Unknown writer, ‘Repeat performances’ (Interview with Grant Bradley) Onfilm, September 1998, page 13'
Internet Movie Database website. Accessed 30 June 2021