After two decades working in television, director/producer John Harris set up independent production company Greenstone in 1994. The company's factual programming won awards and overseas sales. Greenstone has also made successful forays into children's drama. Harris sold the company to Australia's Cordell Jigsaw Zapruda in 2013; Kiwi Richard Driver took over as managing director the following year.
Complacency and security are the two enemies of creativity. John Harris
The opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television travels from an opening night puppet show in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ On Air, Sky and Māori Television). Many of the major players are interviewed. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within the story.
Created by superhero fan Stephen J Campbell, this light-hearted adventure series follows teen Ben Wilson (Carl Dixon) who discovers his father and grandad have done time as superheroes. Still getting to grips with the basics of being one himself, Ben enlists family and friends to help fight assorted villians. The show ran for three seasons, and spawned web series The Wired Chronicles and Origins. Nominated for awards in Rome and New Zealand, it picked up one in Korea. The eclectic cast included the tried (David McPhail) and the new (Hannah Marshall from Packed to the Rafters).
This children's adventure-comedy is about a teenager, Ben (Carl Dixon), who becomes a superhero, Captain Extraordinary. He must save City Central from forces of evil, but first he must learn how to fly. Ben's Grandad and mentor is retired superhero The Green Termite (played by veteran David McPhail). Non-PC wit and ironic DIY effects make this light-footed series — created by Stephen Campbell (The Cul de Sac) — one for all ages. In this episode, Ben faces off against the villainous Wraith. The show also screened on Australia's ABC Kids and Nickelodeon.
Aotearoa is the last big land mass on earth discovered and settled by people (orthodox history suggests Māori arrived around 1280). Directed by Mark McNeill, this Greenstone TV documentary examines controversial evidence put forward to claim an alternative pre-Māori settlement — from cave drawings and carvings, to rock formations and statues. Historians, scientists, museum curators, and amateur archaeologists weigh up the arguments, DNA, carbon, and oral stories of the early Waitaha people, to sift hard fact from mysticism and hope.
Miranda, Gordon, Roz and Sharon deal with the life-threatening realities of obesity. Nominated for Best Documentary at the 2002 NZ Television Awards, Big explores their daily routines and difficult relationship with their size. Miranda is severely overweight and can't dress or wash without help; Roz is upfront about her bingeing and its origins in low self-esteem; Gordon undergoes lap band surgery in the hope of curing his tendency to retain weight. Big’s most poignant moments come from Miranda and Roz’s determination not to let their struggles affect their children’s well-being.
This long-running popular factual series went behind the scenes of New Zealand's auction houses, following the process as items, from cars to family heirlooms, went under the hammer. The half-hour Greenstone show screened for five seasons, from 2000 to 2006. The auctioneers included James Hogan, Ross Millar and James Parkinson (all from Webb's auction house), Penny Reid (Cordy’s in Auckland) and Kevin Hayward (then at Plumbly’s in Dunedin). Michael Hurst narrated season five. The show is not to be confused with the 1990s BBC antiques quiz show of the same name.
Each episode of Going Going Gone introduces sellers as they head to auction, and then sees if buyers agree with their valuations when the items go under the hammer. This opening episode heads to Turners for a classic car auction, and follows a woman selling off her antique family furniture, as her heirlooms are assessed then presented for sale by auctioneer James Parkinson. The show ends with a teaser: the arrival of a bejewelled solid gold bull at Webb’s auction house. The long-running popular factual show was made by Greenstone Productions for TVNZ.
Rotorua may be famous for its picture perfect scenery, but dig a little deeper under the boiling mud and you'll find a history bubbling with warfare, adventure and romance. This TV One documentary, presented by Te Arawa's own Sir Howard Morrison, traces the iwi's origins —from a fight over a beloved dog in Hawaiki, to the shores of Maketū in the Bay of Plenty. Morrison travels around the Rotorua region visiting important historical sites like Mokoia Island and his home marae at Ōhinemutu, on the shores of Lake Rotorua. Paul Gittins (Epitaph) directed the one-off special.
This episode of Greenstone Pictures' documentary series about maritime misfortune recounts the fate of the Boyd — a shipwreck created by a bloody act of revenge. Presenter Paul Gittins travels to Whangaroa Harbour in the Far North where, in 1809, local Maori slaughtered more than 60 passengers and crew. This savagery — and the cannibalism that followed — severely strained early Maori-Pakeha relations for decades. Gittins carefully examines the lead-up to the attack and former Race Relations Conciliator, and local resident, Hiwi Tauroa provides further context.
With a cast of stars from television, music (TrueBliss, Bunny Walters) and sports (Stu Wilson), this 2000 documentary offers a close-up on fame — Kiwi-style. There are insights on local paparazzi from women's magazine editors, who have lost friends over what they have chosen to publish. Angela D'Audney reveals the 'intimate' relationship between TV personality and audience — looking animated is a job requirement, if she wants to walk in public unaccosted; and swimmer Danyon Loader describes the challenges of being forced into the media spotlight as a shy teen.
Barry Crump's iconic deer hunting yarn A Good Keen Man captured Kiwi imaginations. Published in 1960, it quickly sold 300,000 copies, and with Crump cast as an "ironic, laconic sort of super-bushman", made him a legendary literary figure. This excerpt from the award-winning documentary looks at Crump's upbringing and early success as a writer. The full 72-minute documentary covers everything from his fractured family relationships, violence, a life-changing incident on a bush camp, and discovering religion, to the ads for Toyota that reignited Crump's profile in the 80s.
In the 13th episode of Epitaph's second season, Paul Gittins goes digging in Waikumete Cemetery. The epitaph for 25-year old convicted murderer Dennis Gunn, hanged in 1920 for shooting the Ponsonby Postmaster, includes an intriguing inscription: "sadly wronged". Gittins unearths the story of a post office robbery, and the first conviction in New Zealand based on fingerprint identification. The judge called the print an "unforgeable signature". Before he died, Gunn claimed innocence: "if only my brother-in-law will speak up I will be saved".
Popular Greenstone series The Zoo aired for over a decade. The show went behind the bars at Auckland Zoo to meet monkeys, rhinos, kiwi, humans, and more. A family-friendly hit, initially for TV2, it sold widely overseas. The show spawned a number of spin-offs and best of DVDs, including two Zoo Babies specials, Trent's Wild Cat Adventures — plus Two by Two at the Zoo (2005) and The Zoo: This is Your Life (2011), which each featured one animal per episode. The Zoo won the viewers' vote for Favourite Documentary Series at the TV Guide Awards, seven years running.
This Greenstone Pictures' series was a mixed plate of reality TV, cooking show and Stage One Anthropology. The (Kiwi) concept is simple: presenter Suzanne Paul invades a house with a camera crew and mystery dinner guest, while restauranteur Varick Neilson cooks the occupants dinner. Special guests included David McPhail, Temuera Morrison, Mike King and Kevin Smith. Two series were screened in 1998 and 1999, with a third screening in 2004.
During a stint in prison for importing drugs, Bill Payne reinvented himself and became a writer. Payne went on to write Staunch (an acclaimed non-fiction book about gangs), short stories, a play, and two short films. Bella was the first. It follows life behind bars for Bella (Mitch Thomas), a defiantly proud transsexual and part-time tattooist, whose mere presence arouses the ire of one of the prison guards. But the guard's taunts are more complicated than they appear. The guard is played by Tim Gordon, who would later play All Blacks coach Graham Henry in telemovie The Kick.
On 28 April 1995, the collapse of a viewing platform at Cave Creek, in Paparoa National Park on the West Coast, caused 17 students and a Department of Conservation Field Centre manager to plunge 40 metres into a chasm. 14 died, and four were injured. The documentary (from which NZ On Screen has three excerpts) explores what happened and why, with accounts by family members, survivors, and DoC staff. Made three years after the tragedy, the programme looked at its lasting impact on those left behind. It won Best Documentary at the 1998 NZ Television Awards.
This series was a mixed plate of reality television, cooking show and first stage anthropology. The (Kiwi) concept is simple: presenter Suzanne Paul invades a house with a camera crew, while restauranteur Varick Neilson cooks the inhabitants some dinner. This early episode features the under-stocked flat of a group of Auckland 20 somethings. When the week's mystery dinner guest turns out to be ‘New Zealand's sexiest man' (as voted repeatedly by TV Guide readers) Kevin Smith, the female flatmates applaud.
Ron Morrison is secretly dreading the ‘dating years’. Rebecca and Kevin have their home, their dog and more love to share, possibly with a baby. Holly Morrison isn’t that bothered with boys yet, but she is determined to pass her South American dance exam. This high-rating documentary examines the physical and emotional challenges of being a ‘little person’— someone living with achondroplasia, the most common cause of dwarfism. Ron, Holly, Rebecca and Kevin are determined to grasp opportunities, although Ron’s conflict of emotions is especially poignant.
The giant, flightless moa, could stretch up to three metres tall and weighed up to 275kg. This documentary tells the story of the "mighty moa". It covers the bird's 19th Century rediscovery by English naturalist Richard Owen who surmised that the moa existed from bone evidence (leading to ‘moa mania' bone-trade); through ignition of hope that moa may still be alive when takahe (thought as dead as the dodo) were discovered in Fiordland in 1948; to digging up bird skeletons and remains of moa hunter culture in South Island swamps.
This full-length documentary looks at the grim reality of our fast-disappearing national symbol, and the efforts of people passionate about saving it. Remarkable facts about the evolutionary oddity are framed by the point that “the nation which laments that the moa was wiped out is committing the same crime against the kiwi”. The film raises the unsettling question: do we want the stoat or kiwi as our national icon? It also makes a compelling call to action to save a unique taonga, which could be extinct from the mainland in 20 years.
In this series, epitaphs on gravestones provide the starting point for presenter Paul Gittins to unravel skeletons in cupboards, lovestruck suicide pacts, and fatal love letters. Combining documentary and reenactment, the show used compelling personal stories to retell New Zealand history. An actor and history enthusiast, Paul Gittins became a household name on Shortland Street (as Dr Michael McKenna) before devising this series for Greenstone. Epitaph ran for three seasons, and won Best Factual Series at the 1999 New Zealand Television Awards.
In each episode of this popular TV series, actor Paul Gittins investigated the story behind the epitaph written on a gravestone. In this third episode from season one, Gittins visits the grave of Walter James Bolton, a Whanganui farmer who was the last man to get the death penalty in New Zealand. He was hanged on 18 February 1957, found guilty of poisoning his wife of 43 years with arsenic derived from sheep dip. Gittins meets Peter Waller, a campaigner for Bolton’s innocence, who claims to be his son. Bryan Bruce revisited the case in 2007 on his series The Investigator.
This documentary tells the story of four men men who survived 119 days adrift at sea in an upturned trimaran. John Glennie's boat Rose Noelle capsized in the Pacific in June 1989, and washed up four months later on Great Barrier Island. Director Mark Beesley mixes raw interviews and spare reenactment to convey the physical and emotional ordeal; the quartet were sometimes trapped inside a cramped section of the boat for days on end. The epic survival-at- sea tale won Best Documentary at the 1997 TV Awards. The story was later retold in 2015 telemovie Abandoned.
This documentary offers a glimpse into the life, art, and inimitable cheeky-as-a-kaka style of late Kiwi poet, Hone Tuwhare. In the Gaylene Preston-directed film, the man with "the big rubber face" (cheers Glenn Colquhoun) is observed at home, and travelling the country reading his work; polishing a new love poem; visiting old drinking haunts; reading to a hall full of entranced students; and expounding his distinctive views on everything from The Bible to Karl Marx's love life. He reads some of his best-known poems, including Rain and No Ordinary Sun.
This thoughtful but humorous documentary offers a wry tribute to sheep in New Zealand. Interviews with Chris Knox, Dog's Show presenter John Gordon, Dick Frizzell and Michael Parekowhai (among others) pull the wool away from our collective eyes, and examine Aotearoa's much ridiculed relationship with sheep. Artists' images, souvenirs, pets, and shows for tourists all feature, as do songs and plays. The documentary also examines the foundational role of sheep in the country's economy. This was one of the first productions from company Greenstone Pictures.
This documentary follows the build-up by the Auckland Warriors to their first match in Australia’s National Rugby League competition (against the Brisbane Broncos). They are the first offshore club to compete in the NRL. The excitement and routines of a burgeoning pro sport franchise — from training to brand development — are captured alongside player profiles: Dean Bell is captain, coach is John Monie, and future Kiwi league legend Stacey Jones is an 18-year-old rising star. Presented by Temuera Morrison, the score is hard rock, and the jersey sponsor is DB Bitter.
This documentary profiles the humanitarian work of Professor Fred Hollows (1929-1993), a New Zealand-born, Australian based eye specialist who saved the sight of thousands of underprivileged people in Australia, Eritrea, Nepal and Vietnam through a mixture of boldness and common sense. The "intellectual with the wharfie's manner" became an Australian folk hero and was named Australian of the Year in 1990. Producer John Harris went on to found Greenstone Pictures, along with the film's director Tony Manson, who later became a Senior Commissioner for TVNZ.
This 80s relic was a homegrown take on US show That's Incredible!, with spectacular stunts and supernatural happenings replaced with subjects that were more kiwiana kitsch than wow! It was the first show from production company Communicado; presenters included Tim Shadbolt, Neil Roberts, Sue Kedgley, Phil Gifford and Phil Keoghan. In a Vanity Fair interview to illustrate Kiwi's "enormous understatement" Jane Campion famously quipped: "You know, they used to have a program on TV in New Zealand, That's Fairly Interesting. [...] In America, it's That's Incredible!"
This wryly-titled show was a homegrown take on US show That's Incredible!, with the spectacular stunts and supernatural happenings of the original replaced with more downbeat kiwiana kitsch subjects. It was the first series from production company Communicado. Presenters included mayor Tim Shadbolt, Neil Roberts, future Green-MP Sue Kedgley and rugby writer Phil Gifford. This highlights and bloopers episode from the first series, includes crayfish hypnotism, obese cats, a wind-turbine powered catamaran, dancing cows, and Gifford as a Gorillagram.
Thanks to BBC sketch show Not the Nine O'Clock News, Rowan Atkinson was a BAFTA-winning comedy star when he toured New Zealand back in 1983. Atkinson and Kiwi reporter Chas Toogood hatched a plan to turn the clichéd celebrity interview on its head, by Toogood never actually getting to interview his quarry. Atkinson shot each scene just once. The piece was done for regional news show Top Half in an Auckland hotel, near the end of a Kiwi tour. Atkinson's show Blackadder had debuted just two months previously. He would go on to star as Mr Bean and Johnny English.
Local news was a staple of pre-network 1960s NZ television, and retained its popularity in the network era. The amalgamation of TV1 and SPTV in 1980 produced regional shows The South Tonight and The Mainland Touch in the South Island, and Today Tonight in Wellington. Top Half covered the area spanning from Turangi to North Cape. It was presented for six years by the "dream team" of John Hawkesby and Judy Bailey (latter succeeded by Natalie Brunt in 1986). Amid some controversy, regional news on TVNZ was eased out by Holmes and the arrival of a new era of TV.
Nationwide replaced Gallery as part of the NZBC’s first foray into nightly current affairs. In 1974 and 1975, it ran for 20 minutes on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays (with Inquiry on Wednesdays and World Scene on Fridays). It was produced by Rod Vaughan; The reporters included Ian Fraser, Keith Aberdein, David Beatson and conservationist Guy Salmon. Prime Minister Norman Kirk famously took great offence at a series of skits featuring Fraser and John Clarke involving remits at the 1974 Labour Party conference. Nationwide was replaced by the equally short-lived Tonight in 1976.