Peter Burger's CV includes a run of TV movies, including based on truth drama Until Proven Innocent, which won five Qantas Awards. Burger got his own awards for What Really Happened: Waitangi, a 2002 episode of Mataku, and co-directing docudrama Erebus: Operation Overdue. From an editing background, he won early success directing adverts, short Turangawaewae (which played at the Cannes Film Festival) and mockumentary Fish Skin Suit. Since then he has helmed TV movies Field Punishment No 1 and Resolve, and episodes of The Cult and The Dead Lands. He was profiled for a 2006 episode of Kete Aronui.
A good day is a day when I have created something at work that makes me feel emotional in some way, and then at home, the family can make it through the evening without getting too emotional. Peter Burger in an interview with Te Karaka, July 2013
This miniseries was made for the centenary of New Zealand’s involvement in the Gallipoli campaign. Created by Gavin Strawhan and Briar Grace-Smith, the six one hour episodes explored the impact of World War l on characters connected to a Pākehā family. Each episode was framed around a letter written home. The characters include a nurse and doctor caring for wounded in Egypt, a lawyer turned officer in Gallipoli and his wayward brother, and a Māori preacher turned soldier and his sister. Directed for TVNZ by Peter Burger, the series was produced by Robin Scholes.
This miniseries is built around the fortunes of the fictional Smith family during World War l. Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), the first episode is framed around a letter home by nurse Bea Smith (played by Westside's Esther Stephens). This 10 minute opening excerpt jumps from a war hospital in Egypt, back to trysts on the home front: an illicit romance at medical school, high times on Auckland's Grey Street, and a mysterious arrival at the family store. Funded by NZ On Air’s Platinum Fund, When We Go to War debuted on Anzac weekend in 2015.
This telefeature follows the gruelling journey of Archibald Baxter, a pacifist who defied conscription and chose, on moral grounds, not to fight in World War I. The Otago farmer (father of poet James K), was one of 14 Kiwi 'conchies' who were jailed, disenfranchised and shipped to the war in Europe. There Baxter, played by actor Fraser Brown, was tied to a post in freezing conditions, then forced to the Front. The film continues a run of TV movies from company Lippy Features adapted from true events (Tangiwai, Until Proven Innocent). It screened on TV ONE on 22 April 2014.
In September 1893 New Zealand became the first country to grant all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. This fly on the wall docudrama reimagines this major achievement, following Kate Sheppard (played by Sara Wiseman) throughout the final push of her campaign. The 70-minute TV movie follows the template set by director Peter Burger and writer Gavin Strawhan in their 2011 docudrama on the Treaty of Waitangi, with key characters directly addressing their 21st century audience. At the 2012 NZ TV awards, Wiseman won for Best Performance by an Actress.
Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), this top-rating tele-feature dramatised the life story of legendary comedian Billy T James. Billy screened on 21 August 2011 as a Sunday Theatre drama on TV One, 20 years after Billy T’s death, aged just 42. Actor Tainui Tukiwaho (Step Dave) plays Billy T. Touted as revealing "the man behind the chuckle", the drama traverses Billy T’s life from childhood. This excerpt follows Billy as he reaches the peak of his career, fronting TV skits and pub stand-up. It was adapted by Briar Grace Smith and Dave Armstrong from the Matt Elliott biography.
This docudrama follows an imaginary news reporter who travels back in time to cover the days leading up to the Treaty of Waitangi’s signing on 6 February 1840. Dropping the usual solemnity surrounding Aotearoa’s founding document, it uses humour and asides to camera to evoke the chaos and motives behind the treaty. Written by Gavin Strawhan, with input from novelist Witi Ihimaera, What Really Happened screened on TVNZ for Waitangi Day 2011. Its nominations at the Aotearoa TV Awards included Best Drama, director (Peter Burger) and actor Jarod Rawiri (who played Hōne Heke).
This 2010 telefeature is based on the true crime story of South African-born Dr Colin Bouwer (played by Mark Mitchinson), who used his medical knowledge to poison and kill his wife Annette. A Dunedin doctor and policeman foiled his plot to get away with murder. Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), Bloodlines won gongs for actors Mitchinson and Craig Hall at the 2011 Aotearoa Film and Television Awards, and nominations for Burger's direction, Donna Malane and Paula Boock's script, and the work of actor Nathalie Boltt.
In the first episode of The Cult, headstrong lawyer Michael Lewis (Shortland Street's Renato Bartolomei) joins a volatile group in a Northland house. Each of them has lost a family member or friend to commune Two Gardens, and wants to get them out. Meanwhile, inside Two Gardens, Michael's son is asked to "renounce" his own brother. Created by Kathryn Burnett and Peter Cox, The Cult won Qantas awards for acting, design, music, cinematography, and editing — and was nominated for another four acting awards. Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent) directs this first episode.
Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan created Go Girls out of a desire for an upbeat show about "people who liked each other". Audiences liked the characters too: the show ran five seasons, after introducing us to a group of 20-something friends, each aiming to make a major life-change in the next year. Over five series various romantic adventures ensued, and the core cast of Anna Hutchison, Alix Bushnell, Bronwyn Turei, Jay Ryan and Matt Whelan were joined by others — before finally departing altogether, with one final season revolving around a new cast of wanna bes.
The Cult follows two groups: the members of a commune, who have renounced all contact with the outside world, and a loose-knit team of 'liberators', keen to reestablish contact with commune members they care about. The first prime time drama from Great Southern Film and Television won six of its 11 nominations at the 2010 Qantas Film and Television Awards — including for the acting of Lisa Chappell and Danielle Cormack (as a devious doctor). It was nominated for Best Drama. The moody 13-part thriller was created by Kathryn Burnett and Peter Cox.
Until Proven Innocent is based on the case of David Dougherty, and the lawyer, scientist and journalist who concluded he had been wrongly convicted. In 1993 Dougherty was jailed for the rape and abduction of an 11-year-old girl. This dramatisation follows the campaign to prove his innocence: court appeals, journalism, and a key piece of DNA evidence. Chosen to open 2009's Sunday Theatre season the tele-movie was nominated for 10 Qantas Awards, and won five, including best drama and best actor (for Cohen Holloway's standout performance as Dougherty).
In this six part TV One series, suburban Mum Jodie (Jodie Dorday) accidentially kills her ex-rock singer husband Brian (Shane Cortese) and is convinced by her friends to bury the body. The comedy drama was devised by Maxine Fleming and Gavin Strawhan, and produced for Eyeworks Touchdown by screen legends Julie Christie and Robin Scholes (Once Were Warriors). Scholes was onboard to develop drama at the production company renowned for its popular factual television. It was the first NZ television drama to use high definition cameras. A planned sequel was never made.
In this first episode of the six part comedy drama, a suburban Mum (Jodie Dorday from movie Via Satellite) reaches the end of her tether with her washed-up rock singer husband Brian (Shane Cortese), and he comes to the end of his life — atop a broken bong. After her three closest friends convince her she’ll face a murder rap, Jodie makes a fateful decision to dispose of the body. The show marked a move into drama for reality TV supremos Eyeworks Touchdown. "Think Sex and the City meets Desperate Housewives in an Outrageous Fortune kind of way." wrote Listener critic Diana Wichtel.
Qantas-nominated 'dramedy' Rude Awakenings revolved around the conflict between two neighbouring families, living in the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby. Rush family matriarch Dimity (Danielle Cormack) has her eyes on climbing the property ladder, by acquiring the house next door (occupied by solo Dad Arthur and his teenage daughters). Created by Garth Maxwell (movie Jack Be Nimble), the 2007 series was produced by Michele Fantl for TV One. The Listener’s Diana Wichtel welcomed it as a rare contemporary satire on New Zealand television, but it only ran for a single season.
Tattoo artist Jake Sawyer (Jason Behr, American star of Roswell) travels the world looking for ethnic designs to exploit for his art. At a tattoo expo in Singapore, he is introduced to the traditional Samoan tattoo, and falls for Sina (No. 2's Mia Blake) the beautiful cousin of tattooist Alipati. When Jake recklessly steals a Samoan tattooing tool, he unwittingly unleashes a powerful spirit that endangers everyone he touches. This inaugural Kiwi-Singaporean co-production was directed by Peter Burger and produced by Robin Scholes (Once Were Warriors).
Drama and commercials director Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent, Fish Skin Suit) is profiled in this episode from a bilingual Māori Television series about artists. In this extract, he traces the origins of his career to a “crazy little accident” in the form of drama lessons taken to correct a childhood lisp. His early aspirations to be an actor were soon eclipsed by a fascination with the process of directing. Making adverts provided him with a chance to develop and hone the storytelling skills he would apply to television and film.
This children's post-apocalyptic fantasy series follows a circus troupe, Maddigan's Fantasia on their quest to save the world's only remaining city, Solis. The show was created by children's writer Margaret Mahy, developed for television by writers Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang for South Pacific Pictures, who produced the 13 x 30min series for TV3. Award-winning and successfully exported, it marked a debut lead performance from Rose McIver (future Tinker Bell in US TV show Once Upon a Time) acting with Michael Hurst, Peter Daube, Tim Balme and Danielle Cormack.
After her husband is jailed, matriarch Cheryl West (Robyn Malcolm) decides the time has come to set her family on the straight and narrow. But can the Wests change old habits? So begins the six season saga of the Westie dynasty. Hugely popular (beloved by public, critics and awards givers alike), Outrageous Fortune was a flag-bearer for TV3 and New Zealand television drama. The series proved — in all its grow-your-own glory — that television in Aotearoa could mield comedy and drama, and be so much more than overseas stories pasted to a local setting.
The second, but prequel, series to The Insiders Guide to Happiness is chaos theory in action: seven young strangers whose lives intersect are linked together by a bizarre incident. Produced by the Gibson Group, The Insiders Guide mix of meta-tangle story-telling with fresh shooting and faces, saw Love become a hit with the same youth demographic as Happiness. The show went on to win a clutch of Screen Director's Guild Awards and most of the major drama gongs at the 2006 Qantas Film and TV Awards, including Best Drama, Director, Script, Actor and Actress.
In this mockumentary series, hapless property developer turned politican Dennis Plant (played by Bob Maclaren) campaigns to win a fictional Queenstown seat, then later launches party Future New Zealand. Made by Great Southern, the first season screened on TV3. A second season on TV One coincided with the 2008 election; it was thrice nominated at the 2009 Qantas NZ Film and TV Awards (Best Comedy, plus Actor and Supporting Actor, for Maclaren and Andrew King respectively). Reality met fiction when Plant's 2008 election blog appeared on the NZ Herald website.
Six Māori Battalion soldiers camped in Italian ruins wait for night to fall. In the silence, the bros-in-arms distract themselves with jokes. A tohu (sign) brings them back to reality, and they gather to say a karakia before returning to the fray. Director Taika Waititi describes the soldiers as young men with "a special bond, strengthened by their character, their culture and each other." Shot in the rubble of the old Wellington Hospital, Tama Tū won international acclaim. Invited to over 40 international festivals, its many awards included honourable mentions at Sundance and Berlin.
Actor Wi Kuki Kaa (1938 - 2006) plays Tiare, a Vietnam War veteran who is dislocated by his experiences of war, and homelessness. He wanders the city streets, collecting ephemera in plastic bags. Nancy Brunning plays his daughter, who, with her own daughter, visits their reluctant koro (old man) to convince him to visit his ancestral home. The result is a moving story about a man jolted to find his turangawaewae (place to stand), and the whanau that helps him get there. Directed by Peter Burger, the film was selected for Critics' Week at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
In this early 2000s teen series skaters Jeff and Noodle stumble upon an alien conspiracy in the town of Middledon. Terry Teo’s slacker successors are the only ones who can resist being mind controlled, save the town, and stop their beloved skate park being 'wasted' and turned into a mall. In the Ritalin-fuelled caper, future World fashion designer Benny Castles plays Jeff, Rawiri Paratene is Gran (!) Pekapeka, and Antony Starr's Stevo channels teen slacker icon Jeff Spicoli. The Screenworks production featured dream segments from Animation Research Limited.
The Strip centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who sheds a legal career to set up a male strip revue. Created by Alan Brash, The Strip played to a certain demographic's desire for ogling naked men (warmed up by 1987 play Ladies Night and 1997 film The Full Monty), but with a focus on female characters, as Melissa juggles business with raising a teenage daughter. Taking cues from Ally McBeal (with fantasy sequences to match) the Gibson Group tale of g-strings, feminism and red light romance screened for two series on TV3 and sold internationally.
Described as a "Māori Twilight Zone", Mataku was a series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori experience with the "unexplained". Two South Pacific Pictures-produced series screened on TV3; a later series screened on TV One in 2005. Each episode was introduced by Temuera Morrison Rod Serling-style. The bi-lingual series was a strong international and domestic success; producer Carey Carter: "Our people are very spiritual ... and here we are ... turning it into stories so that the rest of the world can get a glimpse of that aspect of our culture."
While playing at the beach with their grandmother, two children witness an Elvis impersonator walk out of the sea. They believe he's the "fishman" lover of a female taniwha, Hine Tai. Magic realist mayhem — and tragedy — ensues as the stranger stirs up the life of their whanau in the quiet fishing village. The fable, written by Briar Grace-Smith and directed by Peter Burger, received six nominations at 2002 NZ TV Awards, winning Best Drama, and Camera. It screened on TV3 and features the Bic Runga song 'All Fall Down'.
This film records the devising of a “work in progress” by theatre director Ashley Thorndyke (Jason Hoyte). The concept — by Duncan Sarkies (Two Little Boys, Scarfies) — mocks the gamut of thesp and drama school cliches: from ‘wanky’ director to wacky warm-up exercises (animal impersonations, primal screams, Love Boat theme song). Peter Burger, fresh out of Broadcasting School, co-directs, and the willing cast is drawn from the 90s Wellington theatre scene orbiting around Bats and Victoria University. Future Conchord Jemaine Clement memorably learns to get loose.