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Mitchell Hawkes


Raised in Pukerua Bay, north of Wellington, Mitchell Hawkes studied law at Waikato University in the early 90s  — before a short stint at a consulting firm led to the realisation that "this could not be the rest of my life". After studies at Auckland’s South Seas Film and Television School, he got early screen experience at Wellington regional station Capital Television, where his direction of news bulletins attracted the attention of veteran TVNZ producer Norman Sievewright

Hawkes headed to Auckland to work as a studio director on TVNZ staples like One NewsBreakfast, Fair Go, and Holmes (where he won a Qantas Media Award for a story on the 1998 coalition breakdown between Jenny Shipley and Winston Peters, filmed live outside the Beehive).

Around the millennium, Hawkes directed episodes of popular TV3 youth show Ice TV. He was also in the director's chair when Jaquie Brown began her first ongoing TV gig, co-presenting TV2's late night music show Space. At university music was a constant theme: he was a student radio DJ, music editor of the student magazine, and a contributor to Rip It Up. "I wanted to get into music TV. I said yes to any music show going". 

Hawkes quickly established a reputation putting music on screen. His credits range from a 21st birthday documentary on the Flying Nun record label, to Rockquests, Silver Scroll Awards and concert specials featuring Ed Sheeran, Stan Walker, The Finn Brothers, and System of a Downs' Serj Tankian. Among the gigs that stand out are Lorde’s first show at Vector Arena, and a Shihad concert at Aotea Square, where mist rose from the crowd in the rain. "I love directing concerts. But they're only as good as the band."

A concert featuring Topp Twins Jools and Lynda Topp, and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra was named Best Entertainment Programme at the 2010 Qantas Film and TV Awards. When Hawkes rejoined the twins in 2023 for their 40-year anniversary tribute concert Topp Class, he was named Best Multi-Camera Director. Hawkes has scored two NZ TV awards in the same category while covering the Vodafone NZ Music Awards, and two nominations (he scored another win for Christchurch charity concert You Are Us/Aroha Nui). At the 2009 Music Awards show he captured The Mint Chicks performing Ray Columbus’ classic song 'She’s a Mod'

Hawkes has directed other high profile concerts. With Nigel Carpenter, he covered star-studded post earthquake concert Band Together in Christchurch, which saw the pair nominated for an AFTA Award. Dreams Lie Deeper featured a collaboration between Dave Dobbyn and Wellington’s Orpheus Choir, in tribute to the victims of the Pike River Mine disaster. Sunday Star-Times critic Grant Smithies called it "one hell of a documentary. Raw, touching and blessedly unsentimental".

With his youth and music TV credentials, Hawkes was a natural choice to direct C4’s high-rating series Rocked the Nation, which counted down 100 moments in Kiwi music. Two follow-up series charted 100 pop culture and sporting moments (the latter for TV3). Hawkes saw the series as building “an overall picture of what it is to be a New Zealander”. To accompany the pop culture edition, he wrote a book: 100 New Zealand Pop Culture Stories: From Billy T to Nuclear Free.

A tour film on music-comedy crossover act Wilson Dixon (aka comedian Jesse Griffin) scored Hawkes another nomination in 2012. Comedy features regularly on his CV; his credits include news review show Best Bits, wrap-up special The Year that Was, and the live Comedy Gala and AotearoHA

Hawkes' experience with live events has also been utilised in the "adrenaline experience" of primetime shows New Zealand’s Got Talent, and the Kiwi version of The X Factor — where his work also included directing the auditions and performance footage. Although the flagship show was a "lot of fun", the 2015 controversy over bullying comments made by judges Natalia Kills and Willy Moon proved stressful. "Just hours before we were going live, we were told there were going to only be two judges. Everything is built around a format, so we had to create a new one on the fly with 13 cameras and a huge audience tuning in to see what had gone down."

Hawkes has also directed onr Māori TV's Coast, kids show What Now?, book show The Good Word, all eight episodes of nostalgia series The New Old, and 2014's There and Back, which revisited stories from local TV archives. 

In 2015 Hawkes began the Latta years of his career, directing clinical psychologist Nigel Latta in Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up (where Latta did experiments exploring concepts behind phenomenon like extreme weather), and The Hard Stuff with Nigel Latta (which looked at contemporary issues from technology to housing). Hawkes told NZ On Screen in 2017 that his motivation was now "to tell stories that potentially have a really positive effect." He nominated the suicide episode of Hard Stuff as a good example; viewers got in touch to say they had reached out for help, after watching the programme.

In 2016 Hawkes formed company Ruckus Media with Latta and producer Arwen O’Connor (who Hawkes first worked with on Ice TV). The following year Ruckus partnered with TVNZ to make ambitious live broadcast What Next?, in which Latta and John Campbell and a panel of experts explored the future of Aotearoa. For Hawkes, the challenge of filming in a studio environment five nights live, as hosts interacted with live votes and panelists, was "massive". Later Latta shows have included Mind over Money with Nigel Latta, exploring the psychology of money, and The Curious Mind.

In 2017 Hawkes won an NZTV Best DirectorAward for Born this Way: Awa’s story, which screened on TV1's Sunday programme. It traced a Wellington teen’s gender transition from male to female. Said Hawkes: "I hoped that when others watched they would simply see a normal teenage girl who had an obstacle to becoming who she truly was."

The following year Hawkes scored awards at local documentary festival Doc Edge for both Born this Way and Stan — which follows singer Stan Walker as he deals with major health upheavals. Hawkes called the film "the most honest, raw Stan that you're ever going to see".

Hawkes' career has ranged from broadcast television to the fragmented audiences of the digital era. But he feels many of the basics remain the same. "Viewers will always watch content – so that's my job: to keep telling stories that people want to watch."

Profile updated on 21 December 2023

Sources include
Mitchell Hawkes
Joanna Hunkin, 'What rocked our world' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 2 July 2009
Erin McKenzie, 'Show me the money: how local production company Ruckus brought Kiwibank's new TV show to life' -  Idealog, 14 February 2017
Erin McKenzie, 'A look behind the scenes at the ambitious What Next? programme' - Idealog, 16 June 2017
Sarah Nealon, 'Stan Walker: I'll 'live my wildest dreams' despite ongoing health battles' - TV Guide, 15 March 2018