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Leanne Saunders


Producer Leanne Saunders completed a BA at Victoria University, majoring in psychology.

Her first screen job was at long-running company Working Title Films, in the UK (where she worked on Vincent Ward's Map Of The Human Heart and Hanif Kureishi's London Kills Me). As part of the Manifesto Film Sales team, she was also involved in European release campaigns for Pedro Almodovar's Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down and David Lynch's Wild At Heart.

After returning to New Zealand she worked as a production manager (including on 1997 feature The Ugly and short Twilight of the Gods), and commercials producer.

From 2000 onwards, Saunders executive produced half a dozen shorts as part of the NZFC’s ‘Premiere’ short film fund (where young filmmakers were chosen and mentored by producers). She oversaw a run of NZ Film Award winners and international festival successes: Water, No Ordinary Sun, Beautiful, The French Doors and Junk. In 2006 she produced Cannes-selected short Nature’s Way, directed by Jane Shearer.

In 2000 Saunders set up her own company Severe Features, partly to guide fresh filmmaking talent towards making features. Severe’s first production was micro-budget digital film Christmas (2003) which marked the feature debut of  Junk director Gregory King. Christmas was selected for the Toronto, Locarno, Edinburgh, and Melbourne film festivals, and scooped the major categories for digital feature filmmaking at the 2003 NZ Film Awards.

Saunders then co-founded low budget feature scheme Headstrong, with Ant Timpson and Paul Swadel, in the hope of leveraging the new opportunities that digital filmmaking offered for production and distribution. Saunders has executive producer credits on two Headstrong products: Jackass-style comedy The Devil Dared Me To (2007), and King’s sophomore feature A Song Of Good (2008), which gained publicity after it was briefly released for free online. 

In 2011 Severe produced two features from first-time directors: Paul Campion’s low budget World War II-set zombie horror The Devil’s Rock, which sold to 30 territories; and South Korean-born Stephen Kang’s urban ennui tale Desert. With Curious Films she also produced Kang’s Cannes-selected short Blue (2011), which won the Grand Prix at that year's Critics Week.

In 2013 she was a producer of The Weight of Elephants, the feature debut of another Cannes-alumni, Daniel Borgman, whose earlier shorts had gained attention at the prestigious French festival. The production partners of the Dunedin coming of age tale included Zentropa, the production company of Danish enfant terrible Lars Von Trier.

Saunders went on to join the producing team on teen dance tale Born to Dance, the first feature-directing gig for Outrageous Fortune actor Tammy Davis. The film became the biggest local release of 2015.

She followed Born to Dance by joining fellow producers Carthew Neal and Matt Noonan on local record breaker Hunt for the Wilderpeople. The comedy adventure marked the first release from Piki Pictures, a production partnership between Saunders, Neal and Wilderpeople director Taika Waititi.  Saunders had earlier remarked in a 2009 interview: "making a film on a low budget isn’t the problem — actually the big challenge is how you get it out to audiences."

Wilderpeople firmly answered her challenge: its opening weekend was the highest grossing in NZ box office history.

Saunders is on the executive committee of local screen industry organisation, SPADA, and is an active member of WIFT NZ. She has guest lectured screen courses at Unitec and Auckland University. 

In April 2016 Saunders was appointed Head of Production and Development at the NZ Film Commission. Announcing the appointment, Commission head Dave Gibson described her as "one of New Zealand’s most experienced film producers ... Her regular attendance at international festivals and markets, combined with her extensive development and production experience, makes her an ideal addition to the NZFC team."

Sources include
'Morning Glory INTERVIEW Leanne Saunders' (Radio Interview) 95bFM website. Loaded 18 February 2009. Accessed 27 April 2016
Staff Writer, 'NZFC appoints Leanne Saunders as head of production and development' Inside Film website. Loaded 22 April 2016. Accessed 27 April 2016
Writer Unknown, 'Leanne Saunders' The Big Screen Symposium website. Accessed 27 April 2016
'Leanne Saunders' Internet Movie Database website. Accessed 27 April 2016