Growing up in West Auckland, Mark Everton was a lover of books, rock music and, perhaps most surprisingly, current affairs — he shocked his mother when at age five, he asked about Georgios Papadopoulos, the military dictator of Greece. After watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau on TV, he wanted to become a marine biologist. But in retrospect, maybe it was the show's storytelling, not the science, that he plugged into. As Everton told NZ On Screen, "storyteller" is the best description for his professional life.
After thriving in high school English — and being told by a teacher that he had a broadcaster’s voice — Everton was inspired to study journalism, and attended the Auckland Technical Institute in lieu of doing a final year at school. He found he wasn't interested in print journalism, but was "absolutely fascinated" with radio, which was further solidified by an internship at Radio Hauraki.
At only 17-years-old Everton was hired straight out of the course by Whakatane station 1XX, but he soon returned to Radio Hauraki. He moved back home with his parents in Auckland, albeit briefly, as his love of punk and post-punk collided with the traditional, religious household. The late 1970s was an exciting time to be living in Auckland and working in music, but his passion became a double-edged sword. "I got very disillusioned with radio, because I didn’t realise — I was hopelessly naïve — that it was starting to become very formatted."
Searching for a better fit, Everton left to study acting at Wellington drama school Toi Whakaari, but found that wasn’t quite right either. He returned to radio (and continued reviewing music for Rip It Up), only to encounter the same problems as before. The programme director at 89FM Auckland, Keith Williams, eventually sat Everton down and gave him some advice: "The problem is, you like music too much to be in radio."
It was the push he needed, and not long after leaving, Everton got the phone call that would set his screen career in motion – an opening on Eyewitness News. Everton began as a sub-editor one day a week, but it eventually grew into a full-time role. As he puts it in this video interview, "I just straight away went 'yep, this is where I belong'". After the solitary experience of being a radio DJ, he was energised by the collaborative nature of television, and stayed in news and current affairs until his early 30s. Throughout the mid 80s to early 90s, he worked for shows such as Foreign Correspondent, Newsline, Nightline, One News, and even did a short stint in the newsroom of MTV London. During this era he gained more and more responsibility, taking on roles such as producer, programme editor and field director.
In the early 90s Everton was a key player in the birth of gardening show The Living Earth as a writer, director, producer and occasional presenter. He also wrote an accompanying book of the same name. Enjoying this break from news, he saw the opportunity to do more long-form series. Since the birth of NZ On Air in 1989, there was more demand for one-off documentaries for television. Everton made the jump to freelance and joined forces with like-minded production companies, as well as forming his own, Picture This Productions.
Everton's journalism background stood him in good stead as he jumped into the major roles of writer, director and producer on a range of one-off documentaries and non-fiction shows. Throughout the 90s he worked consistently: he wrote and directed on the long-running Epitaph (including this episode), co-wrote and produced award-winning doco Back from the Dead – The Saga of the Rose-Noëlle, and produced Havoc and Newsboy’s Sell Out Tour.
In 1998, Everton made The Five of Us – The Life of the Lawson Quins. The Lawson siblings — Kiwi quintuplets who'd endured great tragedy in their lives — had previously been media-shy, and their participation was a coup, plus a big responsibility. The family were pleased with the final product, which won Best Documentary at the 1999 NZ TV Awards. "It wasn’t my story, it was their story", Everton told NZ On Screen. "We asked 'what do you need in order for you to have faith and trust in us, that we can tell your story?'"
This collaborative and flexible approach is emblematic of Everton’s style as a director — he tries to ensure that both the subjects of his productions, and the crew, are empowered in the storytelling process. "Part of it was just me protecting myself from looking like an idiot," he laughs. "Like you're the professional, you're the cameraman — I'm not here to tell you how to do it."
In the early 2000s Everton directed, co-wrote, and did 50+ interviews for the ambitious Give It A Whirl, which told the story of Kiwi rock'n'roll from its birth to the present day. The series marked a full circle moment, as Everton returned to telling stories about music, but in a way he was proud of. "It was a rare privilege to do it. And I think it still stands up today....We gave the storytellers, who were mainly musicians, the respect and time to tell their stories." Music was also to the fore when he joined Melanie Rakena to co-direct Dave Dobbyn – One Night in Matatā. It won for 'Best NZ Entertainment' at the 2006 Qantas Television Awards.
In the same period Everton wrote and directed his cherished four-parter Captain’s Log, which traced James Cook’s voyage around New Zealand. Much of the production took place out at sea. Meanwhile Explorers, the show's spiritual sibling, chronicled the land journeys of prominent early settlers.
It was a busy time of jumping from one big production to the next, and Everton was understandably feeling the effects of a fast-paced lifestyle. A severe bout of glandular fever eventually convinced him to switch gears, and in 2006 he became Director of Production at E-cast. Amongst other services, the digital media company produced commercial video, educational content and documentaries. During his time there, he worked with clients Fonterra, Westpac and NIWA, and on a number of projects with renowned physicist Paul Callaghan.
After five years away from prime time television, Everton was ready to get back into the fray, and was serendipitously called to join travel show My Kind of Place at the perfect time. He was fully back into the swing of TV from that point on. Throughout the 2010s he worked as a director, producer and writer for such productions as lifestyle series Kiwi Living, hiking chronicle Te Araroa: Tales from the Trail, and history series Making New Zealand ("an absolute corker", said The NZ Herald of the first episode). Everton was also a story producer on reality TV shows MasterChef and Real Housewives of Auckland. Although he was initially sceptical of working on the Real Housewives franchise, the experience was largely "fabulous fun".
After another break spent "playing a lot of lawn bowls", Everton took on a new role in 2016, as a post-production director and writer on international documentaries for Natural History NZ. This overlapped with him joining the Grand Designs team in varied roles across multiple seasons — director, post-production director and writer, plus producing and co-directing Prime TV's architecture show Designing Dreams.
These days, Everton lives on the North Shore with his wife and when at work, is mostly behind his computer, as a writer and director of post-production on Grand Designs. In all that he does, he tries not to overcomplicate the story — but instead, find the heart of it.
"Being simple is the hardest thing to do — just doing something with simplicity and authenticity, and with genuine good heart."
Profile published on 31 May 2022
'Mark Everton: From TV news to classic documentaries...' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 16 March 2015. Accessed 31 May 2022
Greg Dixon, 'How the Shaky Isles got rockin' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 24 May 2003
Nick Grant, 'TV preview: Constructing Godzone' (Review) - The NZ Herald, 18 May 2014
'Give it a whirl' - the NZ docu-series covering Kiwi rock and roll' (Radio interview) - Today FM website. Loaded8 May 2022. Accessed 31 May 2022
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision catalogue