Michele Fantl has produced feature films, documentaries, television dramas, half a dozen shorts and many commercials.
Fantl was doing a waitressing job while studying for a law degree when she met staff from ad agency Ogilvy and Mather, at a going away party. The next day she talked her way into a job as a trainee copywriter. The job introduced her to the giddy world of commercials, and in 1988 she joined Richard Riddiford and Peter Cathro as a partner at company Zee Films. A decade later Fantl launched her own company, MF Films.
At Zee, Fantl had begun producing documentaries for television. Since then she has worked on both one-offs and documentary series, including architecture primer New Zealand at Home (presented by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins), high-rating 1999 reality series The Big OE and the ambitious Family Life. Made in four parts, Family Life checks in year by year with four first-time parents.
In the 90s Fantl began collaborating with noted gay directors Stewart Main, Garth Maxwell and Peter Wells.
Fantl's work with Stewart Main — who she calls “one of our great visual storytellers” — parallels her own development as a producer. The challenging bush shoot for Twilight of the Gods (1995), a stylish black and white short starring Marton Csokas, marked one of Fantl's first producing gigs. It was nominated for best short at the Berlin and Chicago Film Festivals. One of Them! (1997) marked 'the first of a series of Sunday telemovies she would produce, while the offbeat God, Sreenu, and Me (2000) documents (or does it?) Main's search for spiritual meaning during a year in India.
In 2005 Fantl would produce Main's first solo feature, 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous, based on the novel by Graeme Aitken. Cast and crew battled unexpectedly rainy central Otago weather for a film which is meant to be set during a drought. The serio-comic coming out story revolves around a 70s-era farmer's son imagining himself somewhere very different.
Fabulous wasn't Fantl's first experience of producing a feature: that honour goes to Garth Maxwell's When Love Comes back in 1998. The underrated ensemble drama stars Rena Owen as a singing star returning to NZ to try to get her life together, alongside a cast that includes Dean O’Gorman and Sophia Hawthorne. The Hollywood Reporter praised the “colourful performances", "energetic direction” and vibrant imagery, while The Los Angeles Times argued that Owen and co-star Simon Prast possessed “a wit and depth that lend gravity" to a tale about matters of the heart.
In 2005 Maxwell and Fantl reconvened, for their only dramatic television series to date: Rude Awakenings, a class conscious comedy about two warring families, one newly arrived in the other’s Ponsonby street. Danielle Cormack starred as social climber Dimty Rush. Although happy with the ratings, Fantl feels the show's promise was curtailed somewhat due to it having emerged at a time when TVNZ was going through a changing line-up of key executives.
Fantl went on to produce two award-nominated tele-movies with director Fiona Samuel, who had written for Rude Awakenings. Based on a novel by Renee, the high rating Piece of My Heart was a then and now adoption tale featuring Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rena Owen, Emily Barclay and Annie Whittle. The second collaboration with Samuel was the widely acclaimed Bliss - The Beginning of Katherine Mansfield, which traces the creative coming of age of the writer, as personified by Kate Elliott. After having worked on tight budgets for many of her previous projects, "being able to say yes to Fiona most of the time, rather than no, was a joy for a producer".
Having worked with director Welby Ings on his 2011 short film Munted, Fantl is also developing a feature film with him; it revolves around a teenage boxer who has a complex relationship with his father/coach.
'Michelle Fantl: On bringing her directors' visions to life' (Video Interview) Director Andrew Whiteside. NZ On Screen website. Loaded 18 April 2016. Accessed 18 April 2016
MF Films website (broken link). Accessed 19 September 2012
'Having Fab time - wish you were here' - Onfilm, March 2004, page 12 (Volume 21, Number 2)
'US release begins' - NZfilm, October 1999, page 18 (Issue 63)