As a child Kathryn Burnett wrote many poems and plays. As an adult, she studied English Literature at Auckland University and journalism at Auckland Institute of Technology.
Her interest in writing for television was piqued after landing a job writing links for game show Perfect Match. She began to consider screenwriting more seriously while living in London in the early 90s.
After returning to New Zealand, she worked at TV3’s publicity department. From there she successfully beat 80+ contenders, to win one of a dozen places on the writing team for sitcom Melody Rules. The series starred Belinda Todd as a mild-mannered travel agent. Though far from a hit, Burnett wryly describes the notorious sitcom as “a fantastic learning experience”.
Between 1997 and 2000 she ran the New Zealand Writers Guild (as executive director), and was a regular humour columnist for She magazine — winning a Qantas Media Award in the process — before moving to Grace magazine. Her book Has Johnny Come Lately? (1999) collects many of Burnett’s humorous columns on sex, love and singledom.
In 2001 Burnett joined the quartet of writers on The Strip. She and Paula Boock would share a 2003 New Zealand Television Award for an episode of the show. The Strip revolves around a workaholic (Luanne Gordon) who transforms her life after opening a strip club. Burnett described the series as "unusual because it's heartfelt and yet totally irreverent and whimsical". She especially enjoyed exploring the relationship between the main character and her best friend (played by Jodie Rimmer). It was refreshing to write two female characters who "truly behave like good friends" — who ultimately "accept each other as they are, and are vulnerable."
In 2003 Burnett spent two months at London company Box TV, after winning a British Council TV development scholarship. Four years later, she was a semi-finalist in the annual Big Break global scriptwriting contest. She also won a short story contest run by radio station KFM (now The Plug).
In 2008 Burnett created The Cult with Peter Cox; it was nominated for Best Drama Programme at the 2010 Qantas Film and TV Awards. The series followed a disparate group attempting to rescue their loved ones from a mysterious cult.
Burnett has also written on several shows aimed at a younger audience: period adventure The Lost Children, female basketball drama Holly’s Heroes — which won awards on both sides of the Tasman —kids in charge thriller The Cul de Sac, and award-winning superhero comedy The Amazing Extraordinary Friends.
Burnett made her theatre debut with stage play Mike and Virginia, which premiered at the 2011 NZ International Comedy Festival. Co-written with screenwriter Nick Ward (Stickmen), the romantic comedy is built around two film lecturers. Theatreview's Adey Ramsel called it “a cracker”, whose script is "peppered with well-turned phrases, belly laughs and some beautiful insights”. The play was later picked up by Wellington's Circa Theatre.
In 2012 Burnett created a series of screenwriting and creative writing workshops that she currently runs biannually. She also wrote the script for Shelved. Made to showcase students at Auckland's Media Design School, the short film about two robots who pass their use by date won audience awards at short film festivals in New York and Palm Springs.
Burnett's short play Bowled Over was produced in 2013 by the Auckland Theatre Company, as part of the Auckland Arts Festival. In 2016 Burnett took her turn in the spotlight, as one of nine women telling stories from their own life, for comedy show Dialogue: Mum's the Word. In 2017 her play The Caravan was shortlisted for the Adams NZ Play Award.
Burnett's decade plus experience as a script consultant and script assessor includes The Devil's Rock and award-winners Dean Spanley and Poppy. Further writing projects for screen and stage look likely.
Profile published on 11 November 2011. Updated on 18 February 2018
Kathryn Burnett website. Accessed 28 November 2018
Adey Ramsel, ‘The Fun is Not in Where We End Up, But How We Get There’ (Review of Mike & Virginia) Theatreview website. Loaded 2 May 2011. Accessed 28 November 2018
Unknown writer, 'Writing for (and about) women characters’ (Interview) The Strip website (broken link). Accessed 11 November 2011