Philippa Campbell debuted as a producer with 1995 tele-play Swimming Lessons, after time as an actor, stage director, script editor, and and head of the script unit at TVNZ's drama department. Campbell went on to produce the debut movies of playwrights Anthony McCarten and Toa Fraser, plus acclaimed coming of age tale Rain and comedy horror Black Sheep. In 2013 she was Emmy-nominated, as producer of TV drama Top of the Lake.
There are many similarities in bringing screenplays to the big screen and plays to the stage – it’s all about giving audiences a terrific evening’s entertainment. Philippa Campbell
The first feature from Jackie van Beek was born from the idea of three very different people in a house, after a crisis. The central character is teen runaway Tia, who after a car crash moves in with a family who are connected to the accident. To find their lead actor — newcomer Gloria Popata — writer/director van Beek and casting director Yvette Reid did an epic casting call across Aotearoa. Reid auditioned 340 people. Van Beek is best known as an actor herself, often in comic roles. She directed seven shorts, before The Inland Road was invited to debut at the Berlin Film Festival.
Described by writer/director Paolo Rotondo as a “drama about how adults need kids as much as kids need adults”, Orphans & Kingdoms follows three teens on the run, who break into a holiday home to hide out. Then the owner (Colin Moy, who played the brother of the main character in In My Father’s Den) arrives home, followed by the police. Shot on Waiheke Island, the low-budget Escalator film had a sell-out world premiere at the 2014 Auckland Film Festival, before winning a Moa award for best editing. Best known as an actor, Rotondo won awards for writing short film Dead Letters.
Rubbings from a Live Man is a semi-dramatised biography largely performed by the subject himself — legendary theatre actor and director Warwick Broadhead. He recounts his dramatic life story by adopting a number of personas. The collaboration with director Florian Habicht marked a rare time the camera-wary Broadhead performed on screen. He describes his troubled upbringing as a lot of cover-up and pretence. "Then I went into the world of theatre," he says, "which is cover-up and pretence." Broadhead passed away in January 2015, having predesigned a memorable funeral.
A mutant lamb escapes from the lab after dodgy genetic experiments, and herds of sheep are turned into bloodthirsty predators. Three hapless humans are stranded on the farm as the woolly nightmare develops. They discover a bite from an infected sheep has an alarming effect on those bitten. With his first feature, director Jonathan King (Under the Mountain) provides splatter thrills and attacks a few sacred cows. Black Sheep was invited to 20+ international festivals, where it scored acclaim and multiple awards. The interviews include King, Weta's Richard Taylor, and the cast.
Nanna Maria (Ruby Dee), the matriarch of a Fijian family living in Auckland, feels that the heart has gone out of her clan. She demands that her grown grandchildren put on a traditional feast, at which she will name her successor. The grandchildren — Soul, Charlene, Hibiscus, Erasmus, and Tyson — reluctantly turn up. But tiffs send the day into chaos. Nanna calls the whole thing off. This lovo-warmed love letter to his Mt Roskill hometown was the debut film for director Toa Fraser (Dean Spanley). It screened at many festivals; it won the World Cinema audience award at Sundance in 2006.
Rain evokes an idyllic 1970s beach holiday. But as the title hints, all is not sunny at the bach. Mum (Sarah Peirse) is drowning in drink, Dad is defeated, and 13-year-old Janey is awakening to a new kind of power. Adapted from Kirsty Gunn's novel, Rain marked the acclaimed first feature for director Christine Jeffs. Invited to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, it won awards back home for actors Peirse, Alistair Browning and teenager Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki. Neil Finn and Edmund Cake composed the soundtrack. LA Times critic Kevin Thomas called it "an important feature debut".
Backch@t was a magazine-style arts and culture show that appealed, from the opening acid-jazz theme tune, to a literate late-90s arts audience. Fronted by media personality Bill Ralston, the show included reporters Mark Crysell and Jodi Ihaka, and Chris Knox appears as the weekly film reviewer. In keeping with Ralston’s journalistic background, Backch@t took a ‘news’ approach to the arts, debating topics in the studio and interviewing the personalities, as well as covering the sector stories.
Backch@t was an award-winning magazine-style arts and culture show that appealed, right from the opening acid-jazz theme tune, to a literate late-90s arts audience. Fronted by media personality Bill Ralston, these excerpts from the first episode come out guns blazing with a debate by panellists about Tania Kovats's controversial artwork 'Virgin in a Condom', the sculpture that caused national upset when it was exhibited at Te Papa in 1998. Managing to keep a panel discussion convivial rather than confrontational, Ralston handles the catholic debate with aplomb.
The first movie written and directed by playwright Anthony McCarten is a portrait of a family melting down under the media spotlight. The comedy/drama stars Danielle Cormack in two roles — as a swimmer on the cusp of Olympic glory, and as the twin sister back home, looking on as her family descends into spats and bickering as they find the pressure to perform too much to bear. Via Satellite showcases a topline cast, including Tim Balme, Rima Te Wiata, and a scene-stealing and heavily-pregnant Jodie Dorday, who won an NZ TV and Film Award for her work.
Two 14-year-old girls discover that they have a lot in common in this two-part 1995 children's fantasy drama. They live in the same street, same house, same bedroom, but 76 years apart. An antique mirror/portal leads them on a time travel adventure involving nerve gas, a Russian Tsar and an English soldier. Created by Australian Posie Graeme-Evans (who devised TV hits Hi-5 and McLeod's Daughters) this award-winning trans-Tasman co-production between the Gibson Group and Millennium Pictures was sold to more than 60 countries. A second series followed in 1997.
Swimming Lessons is the story of jaded swimming coach Jim Sadler (Marshall Napier, from Came a Hot Friday and Bellbird) and a spirited seven-year-old delinquent (Sam Masina). The troubled Samoan boy is a potential champion, but the challenges of training him force the coach to confront his own failings in life: one as seemingly straight as the pool's lane line. Directed by Steve La Hood (documentary Numero Bruno), the TV movie won two NZ Television Awards, for actors Masina and Catherine Wilkin. It screened in the Montana Sunday Theatre slot.
In this children's fantasy drama, the everyday trials of teenager Jo Tiegan — school, an archaeological dig — are soon forgotten as a mysterious antique mirror sends her back in time to her house in 1919. There, Jo (Australian actor Petra Yared) encounters 14 year-old Louisa Airdale (Michala Banas). In the time honoured tradition of time travel tales, Jo's excursion threatens alarming present day consequences. The award-winning trans-Tasman co-production was created by Australian Posie Graeme-Evans (who devised TV shows Hi-5 and McLeod's Daughters).
Made to mark 100 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand, Bread & Roses tells the story of pioneering trade unionist, politician and feminist Sonja Davies (1923 - 2005), who rose to prominence in the 1940s and 50s. Directed by Gaylene Preston and co-written by Graeme Tetley, the acclaimed three-hour production played on television screens, and also got a limited cinema release. Australian actor Geneviève Picot (as Sonja Davies) and Mick Rose (as her husband) won gongs for their roles at the 1994 NZ Film and TV Awards. Bianca Zander writes about Bread & Roses here.
Classic Kiwi play Joyful and Triumphant followed the Bishop family over four decades, from 1949 to 1989. Written by Robert Lord, it charted changes in New Zealand society by focusing on the minutae of Christmas Day family dynamics. The play was first performed to sellout audiences in 1992, a month after Lord died. It won multiple Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards. Directed by Peter Sharp (The Fire-Raiser), this TV adaptation features Robyn Malcolm and Goodbye Pork Pie's Tony Barry — plus Catherine Downes and Bruce Phillips, who both appeared in the original production.
This film tells the story of Antarctica’s emperor penguin (the inspiration behind Happy Feet) and how they survive vicious blizzards and -50°C temperatures. It also retraces the epic “worst journey in the world” which explorer Edward Wilson made to discover these remarkable birds. Max Quinn won a best director award at the 1994 NZ Television Awards for the Antarctic Trilogy Emperors was part of. The trilogy helped establish NHNZ’s relationship with Discovery Channel. As this backgrounder explains, the scene of a penguin falling through ice (clip one) became a YouTube hit.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
In this 1992 Wild South documentary, pioneering underwater photographers Wade and Jan Doak investigate how fish have evolved over 400 million years on the Northland coast. They explore ocean dwellers off the Poor Knights Islands, where myriad nimble life forms thrive — from radar-like sensory systems and kaleidoscopic colouring, to the intricacies of jaw and fin shape. The Doaks conduct novel experiments to showcase them on camera in this Natural History New Zealand production. This episode was narrated by nature documentary filmmaker Peter Hayden.
Actor and casting legend Diana Rowan (who discovered both Anna Paquin and Keisha Castle-Hughes) turns her hand to writing and directing, with this darkly comic half-hour television drama based on an original story by Shonagh Koea. Veteran actor Helen Moulder (Fallout) gives a stand-out performance as a recently widowed woman, who arrives at a novel solution to well-meaning but hideous friends and family. The Wall is dedicated to director of photography Bayly Watson, who passed away soon after working on it.
The unknown has long captured the imagination of explorers and visitors to Antarctica. One hundred years after first setting foot on its icy shores, scientists are only beginning to discover its secrets. This award-winning film was the first nature documentary to be filmed under the Antarctic sea ice. Innovative photography reveals the otherworldly beauty of the submarine world, and the surprisingly rich life found in sub-zero temperatures — including dragonfish, weddell seals, and the giant sponge. Under the Ice was an early offshore success for company NHNZ.
Writer Maurice Gee’s experiences growing up in West Auckland during World War II were the basis for this home front drama expertly realised by the producer/director team of Ginette McDonald and Peter Sharp. Twelve-year-old Rex Pascoe (Milan Borich — future singer in the band Pluto) is a war-obsessed schoolboy worried about his father’s black-market dealings. Meanwhile, American soldiers are making their presence felt but not all of their attitudes are welcome. The locals’ prejudices are about to be tested by the arrival of a GI to stay with Rex’s family.
This is the first of a two-part "money and greed" morality tale set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' of property deals and horse racing. Working class lass Tammy (Annie Whittle) and art consultant Joanna (Miranda Harcourt, fresh from Gloss) are an unlikely duo who inherit a racehorse and a greasy spoon cafe (instant coffee rather than cappuccino). Brit import James Faulkner plays a shady developer whose scheme is blocked by the duo. Murder, underhand unitary plans, yuppie love and old gambling debts complicate life for Tammy and Joanna.
Set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' world of property deals and horse racing, the second part of this 1989 mini-series sees the brassy odd couple Tammy (Annie Whittle) and Joanna (Miranda Harcourt) in deep water. The working class battler and the art consultant have done up their inherited greasy spoon, but they're the "only fly in the ointment" of the 'Vision 2000' scheme of a nefarious developer (Brit import James Faulkner). Girl power meets utopian unitary planning as the duo find bones in the basement, and get too close to the secrets of Huntercorp HQ.
Erua tells the story of an intriguing friendship between artist Toss Woollaston (Grant Tilly) and a young Māori boy Erua (Turei Reedy) who modelled for him each Wednesday evening in Greymouth, in the early 60s. Woollaston had seen the boy playing "like one dark bead shaken in a tray of pale ones". The image made him curious to find what Erua was like, and to try to draw "that". Tilly won a 1989 NZ Film and Television Award for his performance; he argued that it was "an awesome responsibility" to play someone who was still alive. Erua also won awards for Best Drama and Screenplay.
Created for television by author Maurice Gee, The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown school kids against a balaclava-clad figure with fire on the brain. In this episode, the children sneak onto the property of the man they suspect of terrorising their town. The police arrive after Kitty is trapped inside a room that has tragic memories for the suspect’s mother, the memorably moody Mrs Marwick. This WWI-era gothic adventure went on to score four Listener TV awards, including best drama; and Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas.
Open House revolved around the ups and downs of a drop-in house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten, later Outrageous Fortune's Grandpa Ted). In this first episode there's money trouble, court trouble, domestics, a pregnant teenager and an abandoned baby ... but there's community spirit aplenty as the house's whānau prepares for its first birthday celebration, complete with Scottish brass band and Samoan drums. Tony's first lines to a raving old man on Petone Beach? "Good onya mate!". Features author Emily Perkins as Tony's idealistic stepdaughter.
The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown World War I era school kids against a mysterious figure with fire on the brain. Inspired partly by a real-life Nelson arsonist, the five-part gothic adventure was created for television by author Maurice Gee. Peter Hayden plays the town’s unconventional teacher ‘Clippy’ Hedges, while the lead role went to Royal NZ Ballet star Jon Trimmer. The Fire-Raiser won four Listener TV awards, including best overall drama and best writer. Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas. He writes about the show's birth here.
"...I mean to say, shouldn't I be in love with a fella or something?" Mandy (Richard Hanna), a man who dresses as a woman, describes his relationship with transsexual Jewel (future politician Georgina Beyer). Jewel's Darl concentrates on the fine details of their relationship: tea and biscuits in bed, Jewel's belief in staying strong against other people's mockery, and Mandy's memories of a troubled childhood. Nominated for multiple NZ Film and Television awards after finally getting a TV slot, Peter Wells' drama was inspired by an Anne Kennedy short story, which won the 1983 Katherine Mansfield Award.
The Country GP (Lani Tupu) takes a back seat in an episode set in the first week of 1950, which centres around the arrival in Mason’s Valley of the parents of local teacher Tim Bryant (Duncan Smith). The discovery that Tim’s father Sid (played by Vigil scriptwriter Graeme Tetley) is a unionist and paid up member of the Communist Party shatters the township’s apparently relaxed way of life. Sid has come to warn his son of difficult times ahead that could see him back in prison, but his presence inflames some of the locals and leads to a questioning of the true meaning of freedom.
Country GP was a major 80s drama series that charted the post-war years 1945 to 1950 in a rural central South Island town. Using fast-turnaround techniques that anticipated later series like Shortland Street, 66 episodes of Country GP were shot in 18 months at a specially built set in Whiteman’s Valley, Lower Hutt. It was groundbreaking as the first NZ series to cast a Samoan in a title role (Lani Tupu as Dr David Miller); but it also provided a nostalgic look back to an apparently kinder, gentler time than mid-80s New Zealand with its major social reforms and upheavals.
This Loose Enz edition follows a theatre group developing a play about Greek Gods. The full gamut of am-dram tropes are featured: know-all director, a lecherous lead (Jeffrey Thomas), zealous extras, drunk techies, an existential playwright (Colin McColl), shambolic dress rehearsal etc. Estranged couple Tom (Grant Tilly) and Helen (Liddy Holloway) find the play’s lofty themes echoed in more earthly realities. With a who’s who of NZ luvvies of the era it’s not quite Carry On, but there are japes aplenty, the show must go on, and it’ll be all right on the night.
TVNZ’s Natural History Film Unit was founded in Dunedin around 1977. The first Wild South documentaries began filming a year later. The slot's initial focus was on New Zealand’s perilously endangered birds, eg the Chatham Island black robin (then the world’s rarest bird). The results won local and international notice, and a loyal audience. Wildtrack was a sister series showcasing natural history for young viewers. Wild South ended in 1997 when the Natural History Unit was purchased by Fox Studios; it later became internationally successful production company NHNZ.