After starting his filmmaking career at the National Film Unit, cinematographer John Blick has shot many iconic Kiwi commercials, done extended time in Asia and the United States — and worked alongside everyone from Brian Brake and Peter Jackson (The Frighteners), to Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.
As a photographer I love creating nuances with light, as a director I look for nuances of emotion and as a writer I try to inspire actors to create those emotions. As a producer I look for the money to achieve each of those things. John Blick
In this sensitive short film written and directed by James Blick, a young boy (Ted Holmstead-Scott) breaks into an old man’s house in search of dirty magazines. The intrusion is just one more trial for the man (Grant Tilly), as he copes with loss and loneliness by clinging on to keepsakes and memories. He is eager for even a small measure of human contact — and the chance to do one last thing for his wife. For the boy there is an inkling of a world beyond his friend’s narrow experiences. The film was shot by Blick's father, cinematographer John Blick.
Peter Jackson’s fifth feature is a playful blend of comedy, thriller and supernatural horror and was an effective Hollywood calling card for Weta FX. Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) resides in Fairwater, where he runs a supernatural scam. Aided by some spectral consorts, he engineers hauntings and “exorcises” the ghosts for a fee. When a genuine spook starts knocking off the locals, the FBI suspects Frank is the culprit. To clear his name, Frank must deal to the real perpetrator – none other than the Grim Reaper ...
This 1994 ‘home front noir’ is set in World War II Wellington, where the plots — a murdered marine, exploited working girls and gonorrhea — spread amidst the invasion of US soldiers stationed at Paekakariki. Kerry Fox (An Angel at My Table) is a public health nurse who becomes romantically linked with the US investigating officer (Tony Goldwyn — Ghost, TV's Scandal) while pursuing the STDs and the truth. They’re supported by Oscar-winning US veterans Rod Steiger and Robert Loggia. John Reid (Middle Age Spread) directs, from a Keith Aberdein script.
Eric the Goldfish was the star of a campaign used to promote awareness of the role of broadcasting funding agency NZ On Air (formed in 1989), and to encourage people to pay the broadcasting fee. The campaign used humour and CGI to spread the message, taking the point of view of a pet goldfish watching a family, who are watching TV. Although it attracted attention for its cost, the campaign was rated an "outstanding success" by its funders, and Eric entered popular culture. In 2017 Eric was reincarnated as the name of NZ On Air’s online funding application system.
In the 90s Spot was an acronym for the Services and Products of Telecom, and also a much loved Australian Jack Russell terrier. He starred in 43 different Telecom commercials made between 1991 and 1998 — many of them on an epic scale and seemingly at risk to his life or limb. Special mention should be made of the size of the Yellow Pages shoot, apparently featuring a warehouse full of chefs, couriers and entertainers — and of Spot’s considerable arsenal of tricks from skateboard riding to orchestra conducting. Spot died in Sydney in 2000 at age 13.
One shaggy dog, dozens of humans, and a smorgasbord of Kiwi scenery: viewers were glued to the screen for this TV One promotional campaign, which began screening in August 1991. The six-part promo followed a lovable sydney silky poodle cross travelling the country by car, train and paw. En route, roughly 50 Kiwis make blink and you'll miss it appearances: including sporting figures, local townspeople, and 20+ TV personalities (see backgrounder for more info, and clues on who is who). The popular promos were directed by Lee Tamahori, before he made Once Were Warriors.
TV One drama Shark in the Park followed the lives of cops policing a Wellington city beat. This episode from the second series sees the team bust a street fight, and search for a missing teenage girl. An elderly shoplifter and a joyrider test the ethics of the diversion scheme, where minor offences don't result in a criminal record. Actors Tim Balme and Michael Galvin (Shortland Street) feature in early screen roles, as youngsters on the wrong side of the law. Galvin plays the dangerous driver – he also happens to be the son of Sergeant Jesson (Kevin J Wilson).
Solo is a story about three people on the edge of nowhere, struggling to decide how much of themselves to share with those they care about. Young Australian hitchhiker Judy romances solo Dad Paul, who finds peace flying fire patrol planes above the forest. Paul's precocious son reacts badly to losing pole position to Judy, and takes to the air. Inspired partly by the oft-painful times when we are "more acutely in touch” with our emotions, Tony Williams' romance helped launch the Kiwi movie renaissance. But as he writes in the backgrounder, there was no fun in filming it three times.
A mainstay on cinema and TV screens for over 20 years, this commercial — reputedly NZ’s longest-running — made Kiwis feel as if the UK-born hokey pokey treasure was ‘ours’. Directed by Tony Williams, the madcap romp features a bevy of 70s acting talent caught up in chaos, after outlaws start a free for all fight for a chest of Crunchie bars. A connection with Martin Scorsese’s editor allowed access to footage from old Westerns, while the immortal tune is by Murray Grindlay. Williams overspent his meagre budget, and a lawn mower given to him as a thank you ended up his fee.
The Hum is about sailing legend Geoff Stagg, and his yacht Whispers. Directed by Tony Williams and written by Martyn Sanderson, the doco is a paean to the lure of sailing, focusing on Stagg’s colourful personality, and his veteran ocean-racing crew, as they take on the Wellington to Kapiti Island and down to the Sounds race. Fortunately for the film they deliver on reputation. Dolphins, Strait squalls, streaking, ciggies, and some fierce 70s moustaches are all in a weekend’s sailing. Stagg would go on to head renowned Farr Yacht Design (now Stagg Yachts).
This 1969 film promotes the attractions, industry and history of “contemporary Rotorua”, from the Arawa canoe to forestry, from mud pool hangi to the Ward baths (“heavenly for hangovers”). The score is jazz, and the narration is flavoured by the impressive baritone of opera singer Inia Te Wiata (father of actress Rima), who gushes about geysers and Rotorua’s evolution from sleepy tourist backwater to modern city and conference centre. Also featured: kapa haka, meter maids in traditional Māori dress, and a rendition of classic song ‘Me He Manu Rere’ in a meeting house jive.
Landscape was made by ex-National Film Unit producer Bob Lapresle (six episodes were made in 1968 and six the following year). The focus of each half-hour programme was on people and personalities rather than on scenery, which was then being covered by the NZBC’s popular Looking at New Zealand. Beginning with ‘Friday in a Country Town’, the Landscape series went on to cover such varied topics as a family shearing gang, muttonbirders exercising their customary rights, the day to day life of a policeman, and the growing awareness of New Zealanders towards the arts.
This National Film Unit documentary looks at thoroughbred racehorse breeding in New Zealand, an industry described as producing "the world's finest racing" — eg 1966 Melbourne Cup winner Galilee. Made when racing could arguably still be called our national sport, the film visits leading stud farms (such as Trelawney in the Waikato) to follow the life of a foal, from birth through yearling sales and training, to Wellington Cup race day — when roads are gridlocked with "a congregation whose bible is a racing almanac". The footage includes a 'good citizenship' school for jockeys.
On 10 April 1968 the Lyttelton–Wellington ferry Wahine ran aground and sank at the entrance to Wellington Harbour. Fifty-three people died as a result of the accident, 51 on the day. These news features include aerial footage of the ship after the storm, and NZBC reporters conducting dramatic interviews with survivors, police and the head of the Union Steam Ship Company. Coverage was only seen by mainlanders after a cameraman rushed to Kaikoura and filmed a TV set that could receive a signal from Wellington, then returned to Christchurch so the footage could be broadcast.
This 1967 documentary tells the story of 734 Polish children who were adopted by New Zealand in 1944 as WWII refugees. Moving interviews, filmed 20 years later, document their harrowing exodus from Poland: via Siberian labour camps, malnutrition and death, to being greeted by PM Peter Fraser on arrival in NZ. From traumatic beginnings the film chronicles new lives (as builders, doctors, educators, and mothers) and ends with a family beach picnic. Made for television, this was one of the last productions directed by pioneering woman filmmaker Kathleen O'Brien.
Made for the Forest Service by the National Film Unit this instructional film demonstrates essential firearms safety. Like later cautionary tales (eg. cult bush safety film Such a Stupid Way to Die) the film dramatises what can happen when things go wrong, before a hunter imparts "the five basic safety rules" (with obligatory ciggie hanging from lower lip). The rendering of the lesson might be hokey (compared to the explicit traffic safety ads of the '90s and '00s) but the message is deadly serious, as ongoing hunting tragedy headlines attest.
President Lyndon B Johnson's whirlwind visit to New Zealand on 19 October 1966 is chronicled in this National Film Unit documentary. The visit came as controversy grew over Kiwi involvement in the Vietnam War. But aside from a few protestors, the first visit to NZ by a serving US President and his wife was greeted with enthusiasm by about 200,000 Wellingtonians. State and civic receptions were followed by the obligatory farm visit to watch a shearing gang, before the President flew out at the end of 'New Zealand’s day with LBJ'.
This early children’s TV classic is a Kiwi take on a genre staple: the summer holiday adventure. Aucklanders Peter and Laura meet up with their Wellington friend Rangi and his older cousin Dan (Wi Kuki Kaa), and go on an expedition to Kapiti Island. The trio (minus Dan, who has a sprained ankle) go bush for some kids vs. wild action, peppered with a menagerie of manu (kākā, weka, kererū, tui), and tales of Te Rauparaha, whaling and ghosts. They camp, fish, skylark around cliffs and caves, summit the island, and inevitably get lost, before ... getting safely home.
Town and Around was a nightly magazine show, covering everything from current affairs and studio interviews to slapstick to stunts; including a notorious spoof on a farmer who shod his turkeys in gumboots. A popular and wide-ranging regional series, it ran for five years from 1965, and was the training ground for a generation of industry professionals (Brian Edwards, David McPhail, and Des Monaghan amongst many others). Town and Around was made prior to a national network link, and editions came out of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Launched in October 1964, Compass was the first local programme to provide regular coverage of politically sensitive topics. Alongside the job of reporting on the news from a NZ perspective, Compass was the first to file comprehensive news reports from overseas. The controversial banning of a programme on the changeover to decimal currency became a flashpoint in 1966. This led to the high profile resignation of producer Gordon Bick. Compass can now be seen as the forerunner to Close Up, Foreign Correspondent and more recently Sunday.