Wellington-born Lisa Chatfield grew up in Auckland, trained in Christchurch, and in 1999 produced definitive Dunedin movie Scarfies, before time in Sydney and a return to Wellington to work at the NZ Film Commission.
After moving from Wellington to Auckland at age eight, Chatfield ended up at Northcote College on the North Shore. The school was a hotbed of arts and media-related activity. Kidult show Betty’s Bunch was partly filmed on the school grounds; although Chatfield failed to win an acting role, she found herself growing increasingly fascinated by what was happening behind the camera.
Visiting Christchurch as a youth rep at a leadership conference, she fell in love with the city — and the idea of working in radio. But after being declined a place on the radio course at Christchurch’s NZ Broadcasting School, she went with a back-up plan of the year-long television course instead. Next came a six-month placement working for Dunedin's Taylormade Productions, the offer of a permanent job, and a fateful meeting with Robert Sarkies. Taylormade founder Ian Taylor let Sarkies and Chatfield borrow the company van and take a week off, to make Sarkies’ early short film Dream Makers (1992). The week became two, plus some weekends on top.
In the same period Chatfield stage managed a Globe Theatre production of Daughters of Heaven, and found herself fascinated by Christchurch’s Parker-Hulme tragedy. She pleaded her way onto a job as a runner, on another project inspired by the same events: Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh’s Heavenly Creatures.
Chatfield then spent a year in the United Kingdom, initially working at Hubbard Casting (who had discovered Kate Winslet for Heavenly Creatures), and working at the BBC Natural History Unit on kids’ classic The Really Wild Show.
Chatfield returned to Dunedin to be part of Rob Sarkies' fourth short, under the banner Nightmare Productions. Remembers Sarkies: “While we would moan about never having enough money, it was good training”. Chatfield proved she had the makings of a talented producer with the ambitious Signing Off, chronicling the extraordinary Indiana Jones-esque lengths a radio presenter goes to, to please a listener.
From there Chatfield and Sarkies moved to making commercials, before developing a movie with writer Duncan Sarkies: Scarfies. Chatfield was 26. Telling the story of a group of students who run into trouble when the owner of their squat shows up, it was chosen for Sundance, and became NZ’s third highest grossing Kiwi movie of the 90s (behind Once Were Warriors and its sequel). The NZ Herald Russell Baillie called it “the most outlandishly entertaining New Zealand film in years”. The Dominion declared it “a bona fide Kiwi classic”.
Chatfield’s production talents in Dunedin clearly garnered attention, and in 2001 she was appointed to the board of the NZ Film Commission. Looking to build on her feature film experience Chatfield convinced the commission to support her for a two month placement. Premiere UK film production company Working Title had just opened an office in Sydney, headed by expat NZ producer Tim White. Six months later the placement turned into a job. In her role as development and production executive, Chatfield worked on Heath Ledger movie Ned Kelly, award-winning David Wenham comedy Gettin’ Square and Working Title’s NZ film making prospects — including associate producing Toa Fraser’s No. 2. After two years, she returned to New Zealand to raise a family.
While Chatfield's boys were young she worked part-time at Touchdown/Eyeworks in production and development, with legendary producer Robin Scholes . But the south beckoned again and the family moved to Dunedin, where she spent several years at NHNZ as a production manager on National Geographic dinosaur show Jurassic C.S.I.
In 2010 Chatfield took on the role of Short Film Manager at the NZ Film Commission. There she oversaw the production of commission-funded shorts, and the development of emerging talent. Amongst the shorts produced during her term were the acclaimed Night Shift, Lambs, Ellen is Leaving, Eleven, I’m Going to Mum’s, I Kill and Ross and Beth. Many screened at prominent international film festivals. The short documentary programme Loading Docs was also funded.
Chatfield was thrilled to see the NZ International Film Festival launch their NZ’s Best Short Film programme in this period. "Watching people vote for the audience award was fantastic. I fell in love with short films watching Kitchen Sink and Stalin’s Sickle at college, and that connection is powerful — I think the festival is giving new audiences a chance to feel the same way.”
In 2013 Chatfield moved up to become Head of Production and Development, overseeing Film Commission-funded features from script development and pre-production, to completion. Under her watch 22 features were in production (11 of them feature-length documentaries). Among the list was Aotearoa’s first teen dance movie Born to Dance, documentary Hip-Hoperation, David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s controversial Tickled, Alison Maclean’s The Rehearsal, NZ’s first animated documentary 25 April (directed by Leanne Pooley), Lee Tamahori’s Mahana, and Pietra Brettkelly’s Afghanistan doco A Flickering Truth.
Looking back on her time at the Film Commission, Chatfield found it a privilege to "walk alongside" so many creatives “on the crazy journey" of making a film. "The most powerful thing for me was to see so many films made that were being watched by a diverse NZ audience — from teens seeing their world on the screen for the first time with Born to Dance, to Chris Pryor and Miriam Smith reaching out with The Ground We Won, to the joy of taking my own family to Hunt for the Wilderpeople — Ricky Baker and Taika's 'The Minister' are quoted so often they feel like part of our family.”
In May 2016 Chatfield left the NZFC to become Head of Scripted Development at Pūkeko Pictures. Founded by Tania Rodger, Martin Baynton and Richard Taylor, the company has gained international sales for programmes aimed at younger viewers. Amongst its catalogue are The Wotwots and the most recent incarnation of Thunderbirds.
Unknown Writer, 'Lisa Chatfield new Head of Scripted Development' (Press release) Pukeko Pictures website. Loaded 22 February 2016. Accessed 29 June 2016
Scarfies press kit