John Van Der Reyden's career in the film industry began shortly after he turned 18. He'd originally wanted to be a 'panel basher' — a technician who supports radio announcers by playing records and commercials — but thanks to poor grades in mathematics, he failed to get a job at the NZ Broadcasting Corporation. With his father in tow, he tee'd up an interview with Sound Director Claude Wickstead at the government National Film Unit; in February 1965, Van Der Reyden began his career in sound.
Van Der Reyden quickly learned the ropes. "I remember seeing the massive 16mm and 35mm film sound tape machines — which stood about two metres high — and thinking 'How can they be tape recorders?'" Van Der Reyden was part of a large intake of NFU trainees, including fellow soundies Kit Rowlings and Brian Shennan.
The NFU job included sound recording assignments for the NZBC's news. In the early days Van Der Reyden spent a lot of time assisting sound mixers by threading up tape machines and playing music discs during the mixing of news reports. "These were tense affairs — if anyone made a mistake, we'd have to start again."
As Van Der Reyden accrued more experience, he was allowed to operate the 16mm and 35mm sound cameras. These cameras photographed sound waves, enabling the soundtrack for a film to be printed alongside the images on the final print. The sound camera was rarely idle, thanks to the many TV commercials requiring prints (in this period, the NFU was producing more than 95% of the prints for Kiwi advertising agencies). In 1969 he married Jill Baker, who worked in the NFU's film printing department.
Meanwhile, in the late 1960s Wellington music scene, bands Sebastian's Floral Array and The Intruders had merged, eventually renaming themselves Cellophane. Van Der Reyden was the drummer. The band won the 1969 Battle of the Bands. Van Der Reyden departed soon after; but before leaving, he joined Cellophane on the backing track for Ray Columbus song 'C'Mon to New Zealand' — heard in the closing minutes of this NFU tourism film. Van Der Reyden did double duties; he also worked on the film's sound mix. It was then common for the same sound person to work on all stages of a film, from location recording to the final sound mix.
The highlight of his time at the National Film Unit was The Ride of 480. The 1971 short film followed a restored 480 steam locomotive from the West Coast of the South Island to Auckland. "I proved to the management that the music score for films could be recorded in house, on site. The score ranged from a Dixieland band to a full orchestra".
Van Der Reyden left the NFU in 1972, after working as a sound recordist on one of the organisation's only dramas, the high profile Gone North for a While. He took a brief hiatus from the film industry to pursue portrait photography, then joined Pacific Films in Kilbirnie, Wellington. The indie production company leased a small home-based sound studio from engineer Lindsay Anderson. It was his "chance to have sole charge in operating the studio".
There was also the occasional location assignment, like recording sound for this episode of groundbreaking series Tangata Whenua, and a documentary about the 1973 Heatway Rally. "I remember throwing up after joining rally driver Mike Marshall during a practice lap through the Woodhill Forest. The Ford Escort was sideways during most of the lap — I found it incredible that the car still stayed on the road."
Van Der Reyden stayed with Pacific Films for five years, leaving in 1978. He has fond memories of Pacific boss John O'Shea. "He assisted me with a mix by cueing up music records, while chain smoking roll-your-owns. A byproduct of that was tobacco spilling all over the discs!"
In 1978 Van Der Reyden started at Associated Sounds. He ran the studio, whilst company owner and producer Don Reynolds was often away on location. Amidst a mad rush of feature films, "the bread and butter of the studio" was mixing commercials for ad agencies. The work included the Cadbury Crunchie Bar ads, and the beloved Toyota series featuring Barry Crump and Lloyd Scott. Some days the gravel pit used to create sound effects was rapidly hidden under a couch, so that advertising executives could sit down to view the latest ad.
Among Van Der Reyden's Associated Sounds credits are Gaylene Preston docudrama Hold Up, TV movie Nearly No Christmas, and last man on earth classic The Quiet Earth. "What was unusual about The Quiet Earth was that due to the subject matter — the extinction of life on earth — all location sounds had to be replaced by rerecorded dialogue and effects, in the studio. It was a big post-production job."
Final sound mixes for features were often done at the National Film Unit, while the Associated Sounds studio was often used to record sound effects and replacement dialogue. Van Der Reyden recalls Reynolds summarising the state of play. "Picture the NFU as an aircraft carrier, and Associated Sounds as a PT109 patrol boat. The NFU thrives on large projects and can sustain handling the large workload, but because of its size and administrative structure, it can't react fast to change that some situations present." Van Der Reyden continues: "On the other hand, Associated Sounds was less bureaucratic and had a faster turnaround; we could handle small projects more nimbly."
Reynolds moved the Associated Sounds premises from the World Trade Centre in the middle of Wellington, to a bigger and better space close to what is now Massey University. "My memories of the old studio are of strong brewed coffee, car exhaust fumes funnelling down the hall from the main thoroughfare outside, the constant odour of 'tired' food wafting in from the nearby coffee bar, and no ventilation."
Associated Sounds' neighbour at the new premises was equipment hire company Film Facilities. The facilities at the Production Village were impressive, including a mixing theatre, machine bay, and foley studio.
In 1986, as the sound facilities began to be increasingly hired by freelancers, Van Der Reyden returned to the National Film Unit, initially as a sound mixer. He resumed his work as a sound camera operator, which involved preparing the completed soundtrack to sound at its best on the final prints of a movie. Among other movies he worked on Peter Jackson's first feature Bad Taste (1988). The NFU was eventually bought by Jackson, and morphed into Park Road Post.
When Park Road Post made the move to Miramar, Van Der Reyden became a Quality Control Technician, as part of Kodak's new Quality Assurance Standards for Dolby Stereo Sound. "This required random checking of prints to ensure the soundtrack was up to the required technical specifications."
After five years in the role — and over four decades working in film — Van Der Reyden retired in 2006. The film laboratory at Park Road Post closed soon after. Two of his six children — James and Philip Van Der Reyden — work in the visual effects team at Weta.
Profile written by Imogen Porter; published on 21 January 2023