A video store botch up on Peter Salmon’s 13th birthday proved prescient. He requested Disney movie Flight of the Navigator, but the shop gave him Vincent Ward's The Navigator instead. "I remember my friends were pretty bored and disappointed. But I was sold, and couldn't believe films could be so visionary and compelling.”
Born on Auckland's North Shore, Salmon comes from a “long line of electricians”. His English parents settled in New Zealand in the 1960s. The youngest of three boys, Salmon attended Beach Haven Primary School and Takapuna Grammar. He wasn’t that into sports or academia, but when he was 14 a friend’s mum, a media and film studies teacher, encouraged Salmon’s interest in video production.
In year 11 (fifth form), Salmon took drama and film studies and found his groove — from then on he was rarely seen without the school’s video camera. “My other classes suffered from that point on. There was a New Zealand secondary schools short film competition at the time and I think I submitted about four films into it. I ended up winning the main prize for a very long film called The Irrelevance of Reason. It doesn’t get more teen angst than that.”
After high school, Salmon signed up for the film and TV course at Unitec in Auckland. He assumed he’d stay with the technical side of filmmaking, but chose writing and directing as his major after becoming fascinated with storytelling.
In 1998 Salmon wrote and directed short film Playing Possum. A playful "live action cartoon for adults", it screened at several overseas festivals, and won a Special Jury Award at the Antalya International Festival in Turkey. Playing Possum and his previous film, The Creakers (1997) were both comedic films that relied heavily on visual storytelling — there's no dialogue in either. For his third short, the dystopian sci-fi Letters About the Weather (1999) Salmon went the other way because "I was wanting do something serious and about an issue I felt really connected to".
Being Eve (2001-2002) was Salmon’s career breakthrough. Producer Vanessa Alexander had seen Playing Possum and loved it. Salmon vividly remembers walking onto the set of his first directing job. “I had absolutely no idea how to prep, let alone shoot a whole television episode. It was baptism by fire but I was surrounded by an amazingly supportive crew and cast. I ended up directing 13 of the 26 episodes ... Being Eve is still my favourite show I've ever made, probably because I was so naive to how everything worked”.
The quirky comedy/drama centres on Eve Baxter (Fleur Saville) as she experiences first love, family stress and teen politics at high school. The series launched several careers in acting and production (Saville and Salmon included), sold globally, was nominated for an International Emmy and was named Best Drama Series at the 2002 NZ TV Awards.
This emphasis on younger TV audiences continued. In 2005 Salmon was motion capture director for CGI children's series Jane and The Dragon. Around that time he became a writer and director on pioneering 'mobisode' drama My Story. Each episode was two minutes long and designed specifically to watch on mobile phones. The young cast included future stars like Matt Whelan and Chelsie Preston Crayford (who would later star in Salmon’s short Fog).
In 2007 Salmon was a scriptwriter for The Wot Wots, an animated series for pre-schoolers, produced by Pukeko Pictures. The series features two loveable aliens studying life forms on Earth. It soon became a Kiwi kids favourite and screened internationally.
His fourth short Fog was a story about a prickly teenage relationship set in Ngawi, a remote fishing village on the Wairarapa coast. Salmon stripped back his storytelling technique so the raw performances of Chelsie Preston Crayford and Joe Dekkers-Reihana were front and centre. The film was invited to Critics' Week at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
From 2008 to 2012 Salmon directed a list of high profile, high rating dramas. In 2008 he directed four episodes of Westie saga Outrageous Fortune. He also directed seven episodes across three seasons of Go Girls (2008–2012). Salmon especially loved being part of the first season of the show. "I enjoyed the raw energy of the characters and the style of the show, it felt like I was doing Being Eve again for an older audience."
This is Not My Life (2010) provided creative stimulation of a deeper kind. The award-winning mystery/thriller was created by Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan. Alec Ross (Charles Mesure) wakes one morning to a new reality in an eerie suburb. Salmon shared directing credits with Robert Sarkies, and together they relished putting their visual stamp on the story. Mesure was full of praise for the project, calling it “the smartest script I’ve ever worked on”.
Nothing Trivial (2011-2013) is the third major TVNZ series from the creative powerhouse of Lang and Strawhan on Salmon’s CV. He directed four episodes across two series of the comedy/drama. Salmon talks about the awkwardness of directing his new girlfriend, actor Morgana O’Reilly, during a sex scene for Nothing Trivial in this ScreenTalk interview.
In 2012 he helmed four episodes of Agent Anna, a comedy about a flailing real estate agent (played by Robyn Malcolm). That same year, Salmon and O'Reilly left New Zealand to seek work opportunities across the Tasman. He quickly got an Australian agent. Salmon’s first directing job was Mr and Mrs Murder, a comedy/drama series about a husband and wife murder scene clean up team. Work started to flow. His major Australian credits include Martin Henderson drama Secrets and Lies and four episodes of major hit Offspring, another comedy/drama series whose tone harks back to Being Eve. In 2016 he directed episodes of Rake (series four).
Salmon hasn’t stopped writing for a younger TV audience. He reunited with Pukeko Pictures in 2018 to write Kiddets, a spin-off series from the now iconic Wots Wots. In 2015, he directed for Australian series Nowhere Boys, a "high concept action adventure". Nowhere Boys went on to win several awards including a British Academy Children’s Award. Salmon has been nominated for Best Director at the Australian Directors Guild Awards for Nowhere Boys, and for the final episodes of both Secrets & Lies and romance The Beautiful Lie.
In 2018, Salmon turned to producing with the third season of Aussie series Wanted, a renegade adventure starring Rebecca Gibney. He also won Best Director at the 2018 NZ TV Awards for his work on the previous season.
Profile written by Gabe McDonnell. Updated on 8 October 2019