For Martin Edmond, to write scripts, “you have to think visually and you have to think dramatically ... when you write film you’ve only really got two arrows in your quiver. You’ve got dialogue, which is words, and you’ve got objective description, which is what the camera sees.”
Edmond was the only boy in a family of six children. He grew up in Ohakune, and later followed a degree in english and anthropology with a Masters in the former, winning honours. A brief flirtation with academia in Wellington followed.
In the mid 70s Edmond made his first attempt at scriptwriting: adapting Maurice Duggan’s classic story Along Rideout Road that Summer with director Richard Turner (Squeeze), who he had acted for in some early short films. The film was never made.
Edmond spent time as an actor, then lighting man for experimental theatre group Red Mole, in New Zealand and the United States. The group’s artistic interests were wide, including film. Edmond appeared in offbeat NFU doco Red Mole on the Road, and a silent film screened as part of early Red Mole show Slaughter on Cockroach Avenue.
The later film was shot by rising cinematographer Leon Narbey. A couple of years later Narbey asked Edmond if he had any ideas that might make a film. Edward mentioned having read about a real-life Chinese poet known as Illustrious Envoy, who had been put in a mental hospital.
By 1981 Edmond had begun a new life in Sydney, an award-winning book of poetry behind him, with frustrated hopes of studying scriptwriting. The Chinese idea lay dormant for a few years until Narbey mentioned the idea again. The duo began researching the mysterious Chinese man, and the presbyterian missionary who had written about him. Thus the Illustrious Energy project gradually morphed from a short docu-drama, to a full-length feature about the dying days of Chinese gold prospectors in Central Otago, growing in spurts each time Edmond visited Auckland for a scriptwriting session.
“It was important not to invent things but base every detail, where possible, on documented fact,” Edmond told Illusions in 2008. But the film was more than documentary. “We wanted the film to look and sound like a T’ang dynasty poem.”
Though Illustrious Energy won eight awards at the Listener Film and Television Awards, and prizes overseas, fortune was not on its side. Sold on to an overseas company after the collapse of Mirage Entertainment, the original negative was long misplaced, until restoration in time for screenings at the 2011 Wellington and Dunedin Film Festivals.
Edmond and Narbey collaborated again for their second feature, as writer and writer/director respectively. The Footstep Man (1992) revolves around a sound effects man (Steven Grives) losing touch with reality while working on post-production of a feature film. A character in the movie he is making (played by Jennifer Ward-Lealand) becomes an object of obsession both to the soundman and — inside the film within the film — to French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Originally the film was conceived with four main characters. To Edmond’s regret, budgetary issues saw the removal of the character of the producer. None-the-less The Footstep Man was nominated for best film in both the NZ Film Awards and at Portugese fantasy festival Fantasporto; it was also selected for the San Sebastian Festival in Spain. The year it played at Fantasporto, Edmond won third prize at the Wattie Book Awards for his first book of non-fiction, The Autobiography of My Father.
Still based in Australia, Edmond’s writing output continued to include film scripts. Terra Nova (1988) revolves around a young New Zealander (Jeanette Cronin) who kidnaps her child and escapes to a boarding house in Australia. The film marked the feature debut of another transplanted New Zealander, Paul Middleditch. Terra Nova took away a runner-up prize for best debut feature at the Montreal World Film Festival.
By now Edmond’s name was popping up everywhere: aside from Terra Nova, the five years between 1997 and 2002 saw two short film scripts and the publication of five books, including the decade-in-the-writing Resurrection of Philip Clairmont (2000) and Chronicle of the Unsung, Edmond’s genre-straddling, Montana award-winning autobiography.
The two shorts were 2002‘s Earth Angel, and the Kiwi shot Philosophy, a tale of a close encounter with an eerie hearse driver, which took away an award for the best Kiwi short of 1999.
Edmond went on to be a key player in the writing of 2011 feature 33 Postcards, which marked only the second co-production between China and Australia. Selected for development at the New York-based Tribeca Film Institute, the script involves a Chinese orphan who travels to Australia to meet her sponsor (Guy Pearce), only to discover he has done jail-time. 33 Postcards screened at more than 15 film festivals across the globe.
Russell Campbell, 'Microcosm/Macrocosm - An Interview with Leon Narbey’ - Illusions 8, June 1988., Page 2
Helen Martin and Sam Edwards, ‘Interview: Martin Edmond - co-writer’ in New Zealand Film 1912 - 1996 (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997)
Laurence Simmons, ‘ “That rare thing, a film that is also a work of art’’ - Laurence Simmons interviews Martin Edmond’ - Illusions 40, July 2008, Page 21
‘Episode 22 - Martin Edmond’ (Video Interview) Cultural Icons Website. Accessed 28 July 2011