The adventures of Grant Morris - Scriptwriter have seen instalments in Israel, Auckland supermarkets and Hollywood development hell. Christchurch-raised Morris was stacking shelves in a Karangahape Road basement when he was invited to write for television. His boss at a wholesale supermarket was so surprised to hear the news, he wrote out an unsolicited reference on the spot.
Having already tried to get inside the doors of state television with their own script, Morris and friend Stephen Stratford had been offered the chance to write for long forgotten sitcom Fuller’s Earth. Unfortunately on reading the result, the cast and crew were so unimpressed they refused to do it.
Thankfully South Pacific Television script editor Graeme Farmer gave Morris a second chance. Farmer had come up with a show whose glitzy big city stylings had few precedents in local television. Radio Waves centered on the lives and loves of some DJs (including Andy Anderson) at a commercial radio station. Morris — who would later reinvent himself as a DJ — worked on 23 episodes. The show was soon canned, partly a victim of rural viewers who had better things to do than watch extroverted Aucklanders wearing flares. Morris would later redeem himself by writing episodes — including the pilot — of popular rural policier Mortimer’s Patch.
Morris was soon writing for a wide range of TVNZ shows. He contributed 12 episodes to early soap Close to Home, and whole seasons of The Kids from OWL and milk-obsessed vampire series It is I Count Homogenised. Having written sketches for Ray Woolf and McPhail and Gadsby, he also joined the writing team for the launch of The Billy T James Show.
In the mid 80s Morris helped create two very different series. The first was originating teen-orientated drama Heroes, whose two seasons followed the trials of a pop band trying to make it big. The actors playing the band were all up and coming talents: Jay Lag’aia, Margaret Umbers, future film composer John Gibson and a peroxide-blonde Michael Hurst.
In the same period, producer Chris Hampson had the bright idea of putting Morris together with writer Keith Aberdein to create series Inside Straight. Inspired by Aberdein’s time as a taxi driver, the show revolved around a young out of towner (Came a Hot Friday‘s Phillip Gordon) who gets caught up in a world of small time hustlers, prostitutes et al. Shot on location in Wellington, Inside Straight arguably helped usher in a new era of Kiwi TV dramas, set far from the rural backblocks. Hampson had already used his talents before, commissioning Morris to write an episode of anthology show Loose Enz. His contribution was Tough at the Bottom, a comedy about three disabled flatmates.
“I loved everything I worked on back then,” says Morris. “Everybody got along, it all seemed very easy and nobody seemed to take anything too seriously. I guess looking back that was because nobody ever got fired from TVNZ and there were no other TV channels to watch, so there wasn’t much pressure on anybody to perform – which was maybe why the shows were by and large pretty good.”
In the mid 80s Morris left NZ, following his girlfriend to her native Israel. Through her friends, he ended up co-writing Israeli-shot series The Orchestra, which in 1986 won a Golden Rose of Montreux. The show was largely silent comedy, showcasing “genius British mime” Julian Chagrin.
Since then — despite occasional New Zealand projects — Morris has been based in the United States. After helping out on the script of Kiwi-shot adventure movie The Leading Edge, Morris found himself working on a range of projects. Some were released, while others remain in development. Morris learnt the 'too many cooks spoil the broth' lesson early, after being asked to rewrite the script for fish-out-of-water comedy Shrimp on The Barbie — almost certainly the only film in history to pair stoner comedian Cheech Marin with Gary McCormick.
“My intention was to make Cheech Marin into a sort of Mexican Peter Sellers in Australia,” recalls Morris. "As we read through the finished script, Cheech would take many of my vaguely clever lines or gags and change them to something stupid or cheesy. When I pointed out he was, in my humble opinion, ruining the script he reassured me, ‘don’t worry, I do this for a living’.” Though set in Australia, Shrimp on the Barbie was shot largely around Auckland. It saw a limited video release locally as Boyfriend from Hell.
Other projects with Grant Morris’s name on them include Euro co-production Does This Mean We’re Married, in which Patsy Kensit arranges a green card marriage in Paris, no-budget Kiwi obscurity Hotel Hitler, and 1999 black comedy Dead Dog, in which Jeremy Sisto (Law and Order) tries to avenge the hit and run driver that killed his golden retriever. Morris hopes his script about legendary New Orleans muso Professor Longhair will make it to the screen before he stops broadcasting.
Morris has been a DJ on various New Orleans stations since the 90s, including early webcasts from the city’s famed French Quarter. An occasional voice from America on Radio New Zealand, Morris has also produced music videos, and written lyrics for Brit popster Thomas Dolby and Grammy-nominated Israeli singer Ofra Haza.
Dench Arnold agency website. Accessed 16 August 2011
Trisha Dunleavy, Ourselves in Primetime: A History of New Zealand Television Drama (Auckland University Press, 2005)