Paul Casserly won a Qantas TV Award in 2009 for directing upstart satirical show Eating Media Lunch. The show ran for six years on TVNZ. Casserly continued his creative partnership with presenter Jeremy Wells on The Unauthorised History of New Zealand and Birdland. Casserly has also directed music programmes for Neil Finn and Bic Runga, and videos for Greg Johnson, Tim Finn, and his own group Strawpeople.
...none of us really knew what we were doing. We were making it up as we went along. Paul Casserly on the early days of TV show Havoc, in his interview for 2019 TV series Funny As: The Story of New Zealand Comedy
Funny As traces the history of New Zealand comedy through archive footage, and extensive interviews with local comedy talent. Debuting on TVNZ 1 in July 2019, the five-part series explores how Kiwis "have used comedy to navigate decades of profound cultural change". Funny As touches on everything from live and musical comedy, to pioneers of Kiwi screen humour (e.g. Fred Dagg, Lynn of Tawa) and the hit exports of later years (Flight of the Conchords, Rose Matafeo). The series was made by production/creative agency Augusto, and produced by comedy veteran Paul Horan.
"I like uncovering people and getting them to fess up to **** and to be more real with themselves." So said Anika Moa to TV Guide of her late night Māori TV talk show. In the first episode, the forthright Moa has two Real Housewives of Auckland on the couch. Moa trades laughs with champagne fan Anne Batley Burton, while Gilda Kirkpatrick shows actor Madeleine Sami the high life, and Sami shows her the thug life. There’s giant knitting needles and innuendo; hip hop artist Kings performs hit 'Don’t Worry Bout It', and The Spinoff’s Alex Casey previews Sensing Murder.
Following the big-screen success of Topp Twins documentary Untouchable Girls came another chronicle of a Kiwi entertainment legend: sometime Taranaki bandito, giggling newsreader and crooner Billy T James. The film uses remastered footage and an impressive cast of interviews to capture his path from cabaret singer to fame, fan clubs and eventual financial and bodily collapse. Te Movie director Ian Mune originally cast James in the classic Came a Hot Friday, as the Māori-Mexican Tainuia Kid; Te Movie co-producer Tom Parkinson played a hand in making Billy T a TV star.
An all-star team of Kiwi talent contributed to this sketch comedy — including Taika Waititi, Rhys Darby, the bro'Town team, and 'special guest stars' Jemaine Clement and John Clarke. In-between one-off and ongoing sketches, there were regular appearances by Taika Waititi as an oddball alien character with plans for planet Earth. There were also animated inserts like laconic sheep tale The Pen, FOT (Funny Orange Thing) and the Kiwi accents of Beached Az. Eight episodes screened on TV3. Bro'Town creator Elizabeth Mitchell was producer and lead director.
American scientist Jared Diamond described Aotearoa’s animal life as the “nearest approach to life on another planet” because of its distinctive evolution. With few mammals, New Zealand before people was ‘birdland’. This 2009 series sees presenter Jeremy Wells (Eating Media Lunch) train his binoculars on birds, and meet the flocks of human Kiwis (twitchers, bird nerds, conservationists) who follow them. Produced by company Great Southern Television, Birdland screened in a primetime slot on TV One. Steve Braunias (author of How to Watch a Bird) was one of the scriptwriters.
Nearly mammal free, pre-human New Zealand was a land of birds, many of them found nowhere else. In Birdland, Jeremy Wells (Eating Media Lunch) explores all things avian in Aotearoa. In this opening episode he visits Hauraki Gulf island sanctuary Tiritiri Matangi and Christchurch’s Peacock Springs. Putting the wry into wrybill, Wells muses on manu matters from twitching to tākahe poop. Dominion Post’s Linda Burgess praised Mike Single's "marvellous camera work", and Wells’ celebration of ordinary people "who work to protect and enhance what we still have".
Matt Heath and Chris Strapp dragged their characters from bogan TV series Back of the Y to the big screen for this movie, which follows Randy Cambell's rocket car driven mission to be "New Zealand’s greatest living stuntman". Gross and petrol-fuelled mayhem ensues, as Cambell romances a one-legged female Evil Knievel and fights a family curse. Scott Weinberg (Cinematical) praised this "cross between The Road Warrior, Mad Magazine and Jackass" as "loud, raucous and adorably stupid" when it premiered at US festival South by Southwest in 2007.
In this highlights special culled from the first four years of Eating Media Lunch, presenter Jeremy Wells manages to keep a straight face while mercilessly satirising all manner of mainstream media. Leaping channels and barriers of taste, the episode shows the fine line between send-up and target. The 'Worst of EML' tests the patience of talkback radio hosts and goes behind the demise of celebrity merino Shrek; plus terrorist blooper reels, Destiny Church protests, Target hijinks, and our first indigenous porno flick (you have been warned: not suitable for children).
In this satirical series Jeremy Wells channels presenter Kenneth B Cumberland (the academic who presented 1981 history series Landmarks). The makers of Eating Media Lunch plunder New Zealand's television archives, and poke fun at the past. The show promoted itself as “the most important series in the history of history”. Each episode tackles a big issue, including ‘Crime’, ‘Visitors’, ‘Trouble’ and ‘Evil’. Alongside archive footage, the odd piece of fakery and animation gets thrown in. Michael King, this defiantly ain't!
This 'alternative' version of New Zealand history was made by the team behind Eating Media Lunch. Channelling Kenneth Cumberland —presenter of heavyweight 80s series Landmarks— Jeremy Wells plumbs the TV archives to poke fun at New Zealand, and its people. Some excruciating hilarity is mined from artifacts of visitation to southern shores, from Bill Clinton to the Beatles. Muhammad Ali's fast food tastes down under are examined; the Dalai Lama finds bad karma in Christchurch; Charles and Diana visit in 1981; and mirth is mined from all things ovine.
Jeremy Wells brings Kenneth Cumberland-seque authority to this 'alternative' version of Kiwi history, which was made by many of the team that worked on Eating Media Lunch. The Unauthorised History plumbs TV and history archives to poke fun at the pretence of the past (and present). This episode examines artefacts to do with sex and Aotearoa. With tongue planted in check (and in other places) Wells revisits everything from pole-dancing in the "hellhole of the Pacific" — colonial-era Russell — to randy Hutt Valley teenagers "getting laid" in the 1950s.
Lion Man Craig Busch, and his unlikely colleagues — African lions and white Bengal tigers — were a ratings and international sales success across three TV seasons. The Lion Man went behind the scenes at his Zion Wildlife Gardens animal park. In this first episode of the Great Southern TV show, Busch talks about his introduction to working with the big cats — and the scars that are part of the job. There's also a peek at the making of an award-winning Sky TV promo that featured his lions. Busch, and the park, were later to be the centre of regular controversy.
This documentary looks at the life and work of New Zealand's most celebrated painter, Colin McCahon. The first excerpt looks at McCahon's beginnings in Timaru and Dunedin, and his explorations of modernist techniques in paintings that reconceived 'the promised land' in an endemic landscape. The second excerpt covers McCahon's time in Muriwai in the 60s and 70s, and the influence of the environment and Māori spirituality on his work. Sam Neill reads from McCahon's letters and writings. Directed by Paul Swadel, it won best documentary at the 2005 Qantas Awards.
On a two week journey through India, Pio Terei discovers that if you want to relax, you should probably visit another country entirely. From Delhi to the deserts of Rajasthan, this full-length episode sees him trying every mode of transport — including tuk tuk, camel, elephant, motorcycle and train. Along the way he floats up the sacred Ganges River, visits the Taj Mahal, buys a Pashmina shawl for his wife, and eats a meal cooked in a dung oven, traditional-Rajasthani style. He also greets a great many locals, and remains upbeat despite the challenges of travelling in a very different culture.
Robyn Malcolm is the well-known Kiwi, and Vietnam is the far-flung place in this full-length Intrepid Journey. Writes Malcolm in her diary: "I expect to be enchanted, challenged and scared several times a day." If drinking snake wine, taking a pee in a corn field and witnessing the ceremonial sacrifice of a pig fits the bill, her expectations are fulfilled. Although some of the homestays are lacking in mod cons, Malcolm is glad for the experience. She also talks to Jimmy Pham, who runs the Koto cafe which trains street kids, visits the DMZ, and falls in love with the ex port town of Hoi An.
Craig Busch aka The Lion Man is a self-taught big cat handler who has brought Barbary lions and white Bengal tigers to New Zealand. With both species extinct in the wild, Busch launched a breeding programme to add to limited numbers remaining in captivity. Great Southern Television produced three series following the often controversial Busch and his giant feline charges, from the early days of his Zion Wildlife Gardens park near Whangarei (later relaunched as The Kingdom of Zion). An international sales success, the show has played in more than 120 countries.
Eating Media Lunch satirised mainstream media, from "issues of the day" journalism to reality television, to the society pages (lampooned in the "celebrity share market index index"). No fish was too big or barrel too small. Some of it was even true. Presenter Jeremy Wells kept a straight face over seven seasons, while investigating issues inexplicably missed by other media (e.g. the porno film made in Taranaki and shot in te reo, or ritalin-fueled reality programme Medswap). EML's seventh season won Best Comedy Programme at the 2008 Qantas Film and TV Awards.
In this 2002 documentary director Brita McVeigh heads down the aisle to explore the world of air hostesses in air travel’s glamorous 60s and 70s heyday. Seven ex-“trolley dollies” recall exacting beauty regimes, controversial uniform changes, and the job’s unspoken insinuation of sexual availability. The cheese and cracker trolley becomes a vehicle that charts the changing status of women as McVeigh argues that — despite layovers in Honolulu, and a then-rare working opportunity for ‘girls’ — the high life concealed harassment, and struggles for equal rights and pay.
After Bic Runga's debut album Drive sold — and broke — a bunch of records, another five years passed before she found time to perfect her follow-up. Fears it would join the long list of disappointing second albums proved unfounded: Beautiful Collision scored three NZ Music Awards, and became the biggest-selling local release of 2003. The album's third single 'Listening for the Weather' spent 20 weeks in the Kiwi charts. Shot mostly on DV and Super 8mm, the video offers a snapshot of life on tour: dressing rooms, concert halls, road signs...and lyrics about home not being too far away.
Produced by Greenstone Pictures, Mercury Lane was a story-driven arts show that screened late on Sunday nights on TV One, from 2001 until 2003. Each hour-long episode of this 'front-person free' show included a cluster of short documentaries covering a wide range of subjects including poetry, visual art, music and performance.
This documentary follows a 2001 Neil Finn tour of his bottom-of-the-world homeland. Finn challenged his perfectionist instincts by playing with a changing local line-up at each gig: mostly unknown fans offered a chance to “glisten like a pearl”. The performers ranged from veterans to teen guitarist-singer Jon Hume (four years away from the Australian Top 20 with band Evermore). In Dunedin the performance survives drinking rituals and uninvited stage guests; in another moment, a shy 14-year-old piano prodigy segues from Mozart into Split Enz classic 'I Got You'.
This 2001 Mercury Lane episode is based around pieces on author Maurice Shadbolt, and OMC producer Alan Jansson. With Shadbolt ailing from Alzheimer’s, Michelle Bracey surveys his life as an “unauthorised author” (Shadbolt would die in 2004). Next Colin Hogg reveals Jansson as the “invisible pop star” behind OMC hit ‘How Bizarre’ and more. The show is bookended by readings from Kiwi poets: Hone Tuwhare riffs on Miles Davis, Fleur Adcock reads the saucy Bed and Breakfast, and Alistair Te Ariki Campbell mourns a brother who fought for the Māori Battalion.
This special 1999 edition of the youth show travels to Auckland music festival The Big Day Out. Mikey Havoc and Jeremy 'Newsboy' Wells slip, slop, slap and survey the "punters, munters, sights and sounds" at Mt Smart Stadium. They meet musical acts of the era, including Marilyn Manson, Fatboy Slim and Korn (whose lead singer loves his guns). Newsboy interviews "Nelson College old girl, grunge super bride and Big Day Out recidivist" Courtney Love, who gives him the glad eye (apparently), and a strange man who may be related to Havoc goes onstage to introduce Shihad.
Irreverent 90s youth show Havoc launched the TV careers of hosts Mikey Havoc and Jeremy ‘Newsboy’ Wells (the pair was previously known for their work at radio station 95bFM). The magazine format saw Havoc and Newsboy interacting with guests, shooting in the field, music videos, satirising the TV archive and generally engaging in pop culture malarky. The series screened on MTV and then moved to a late-night slot on TV2. Follow-up series included hit road-trip Havoc and Newsboy’s Sell-Out Tour (featuring the infamous outing of Gore), before Havoc continued hosting alone.
Irreverent 90s youth show Havoc launched the TV careers of hosts Mikey Havoc and Jeremy ‘Newsboy’ Wells (the pair worked together at radio station 95bFM). This first episode played on MTV (then run by TVNZ). Guests are Shortland Street actor Angela Bloomfield, Metro editor Bill Ralston and musician Darcy Clay. Amongst pop culture montages, videos and archive (future MP Lockwood Smith hosts kids’ knowledge test The W Three Show), Newsboy meets Hustler magazine centrefold Kimberly. The show is date-stamped by Spice Girls, drum’n’bass, Sodastream and Wells’ gelled hair.
Director Justin Pemberton takes this love song by Paul Casserly and Fiona McDonald (from fourth Strawpeople album Vicarious) and transforms it into an exercise in noir influenced, brooding unease. His video takes place over a night at a rural motel (with McDonald as a receptionist, and Casserly up to no good with a range of medical equipment). A tarot card-reading, yoga-practising new-ager, a traveller with unexplained cages, and random appearances from stringed instrument-playing senior citizens contribute to the growing sense of disquiet.
Actor Miranda Harcourt directs an ode to her broadcaster father Peter in this short documentary. The film emerges from vocal chords (via an endoscope) and uses the tools of her father’s trade as a starting point for a free-ranging meditation on repression, shell shock and family ghosts. Peter’s wartime job involved vetting messages home from the troops to check that the soldier hadn’t been killed. Post-war, Peter was dumb-struck for a year, at a time when people didn’t “talk about their deeper feelings”. Voiceover won Best Short at the 1997 NZ Film and TV Awards.
Vocalist Victoria Kelly is very much the focus of this moody Strawpeople video. Singing enigmatically of dreams, knives and possible obsession— and magically changing outfits off camera, in patented music vid style — she performs in a shadowy, red-lit dive for an audience that consists of Strawpeople founders Paul Casserly and Mark Tierney. Tierney left the group in 1996. Plans for Victoria Kelly to take on a bigger role in Strawpeople would be derailed by her increasingly busy career as a film composer. ‘Beautiful Skin’ was composed by Strawpeople collaborator Greg Johnson.
Strawpeople Paul Casserly and Mark Tierney took themselves to Hong Kong (with guest vocalist Leza Corban) for this video. Corban's jazzy vocal and the chilled beats contrast with the hustle and bustle of the cityscape (still under the flight path of Kai Tak airport at the time). The trumpet is courtesy of Greg Johnson and the sampled voice is Richard Nixon talking to the Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon. Co-written by Tierney and Casserly with Anthony Ioasa, Sweet Disorder won the 1995 APRA Silver Scroll for songwriting, plus the songwriting gong at the 1996 NZ Music Awards.
Stephanie Tauevihi (Shortland Street) was vocalist of choice on this cover of Australian band The Church's biggest hit. Strawpeople founders Paul Casserly and Mark Tierney cast themselves in unlikely roles as guitarists, and share the directing duties on this typically stylish video. It captures the song’s sense of emptiness and disconnection in its tale of an astronaut’s love (although the song’s original inspiration was an Amsterdam club, not the astral Milky Way). The woman in spectacles with the mysterious office machine is played by DJ/actor Phoebe Falconer.
Condemned as "designer news" before it had even been to air, Newsnight was TV2's foray into late night news for a younger audience (with one eye on the success of TV3's Nightline). Strongly influenced by the celebrity and human interest focus of women's magazines, it received an unsuccessful BSA complaint for not covering a major story (a teacher's strike). Simon Dallow made his TV debut alongside Lorelei Mason and then Alison Mau — while Marcus Lush's idiosyncratic take on the world earned the show a degree of cult (if not always critical) success.
This black and white video is certainly not the first to adopt the patented 'are these images connected, or is it all a trick' approach. A woman crouches in a nightgown; a man waits in an expensive looking chair; a confident woman in a distinctive dress enters the room, possibly for the cash. Taken from 1994's Broadcast, probably Strawpeople's most successful album, 'Trick with a Knife' features vocals by Fiona McDonald. Strawpeople founders Mark Tierney and Paul Casserly make fleeting appearances.