Writer Pip Hall grew up mostly in Dunedin, in a family that valued laughter. "It was a kind of prize to be won if you could make people laugh".
Her father is celebrated playwright Roger Hall, so storytelling is in her blood. It was a cultured household, full of art, with “lots of interesting people around”. Her father’s career meant the family were often travelling; Hall attended Logan Park High, but slotted in two terms at American high schools. She loved sports — basketball in particular — and represented Otago at regional level.
Hall headed off to Otago University for a degree in law and economics, but soon realised her mistake. She failed most of her papers that first year. In the early 1990s she travelled with her family to London, where Hall senior was writing for British television. Pip fell in love with the stage. "I went to maybe 50, 60 shows in London," she says. "All kinds of shows, terrible one-person stuff and huge West End musicals, Shakespeare, everything. And I thought...'I can do this'."
She returned, inspired, to Otago University. Theatre Studies was led by Lisa Warrington. "It changed my life". It was a fertile time. Hall’s colleagues included comedians and writers like Te Radar, Duncan Sarkies and Jesse Griffin. The students experimented at Allen Hall, a working theatre space at the university, and Hall "learnt by doing".
In the early 1990s TV producer Dave Gibson saw Hall perform in a comedy competition for New Zealand universities. Afterwards he asked her to to audition as a writer/performer for sketch show Skitz. Hall moved to Wellington after graduating with a degree in drama, and worked on three Gibson Group sketch shows – Skitz, Telly Laughs and Newsflash. Hall talks about the "eye-opening" experience of having to generate ideas under pressure, in this interview for TV series Funny As.
Hall soon made her mark on the Wellington theatre scene when her play Queen B was commissioned for Bats Theatre's youth season Young and Hungry. Her second Young and Hungry play Shudder premiered in 2001.
From 2002 to 2011 Hall wrote five plays, including Red Fish, Blue Fish and Who Needs Sleep Anyway?, a musical collaboration with her father and Paul Jenden. In 2009 The 53rd Victim (inspired by events after the 2005 London terrorist attack) won her Playmarket’s prestigious Adam NZ Play Award, and the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award.
Hall’s association with Shortland Street started in the late 1990s. She worked for the soap on and off over 17 years as a storyliner, scriptwriter and story editor. She enjoyed storylining the most: "being with a team of people, working collaboratively...but it was hard work, five days to turn out five shows of material".
Hall also did a stint on the offbeat WNTV, which was set partly behind the scenes on a children's show. From 2005 to 2010 she worked freelance, developing and writing scripts for production companies Touchdown Eyeworks, Greenstone TV, TVNZ and Great Southern TV, among others.
The years 2017 to 2019 were jam-packed for Hall. In 2017 she was a writer and storyliner on the third season of hit comedy drama 800 Words. A trio of uniquely Kiwi stories followed. She co-wrote TV movie Why Does Love? with Great Southern boss Phil Smith. It told the story of The Exponents and their elevation to Kiwi pop heroes, on the back of iconic song 'Victoria'. TV critic Diana Witchel appreciated the drama’s "steady 80’s groove". Hall and Smith were recognised with the Best Script gong at the 2018 NZ TV Awards, and Why Does Love? was named Best Feature Drama.
In 2018 Hall was lead writer for Jonah, a two-part miniseries about late All Black Jonah Lomu. Dramatising the life of a Kiwi rugby hero — especially one as mythologised as Lomu’s — was always going to be tough. "Everyone had ownership over him and their own version of who he was and the facts around his life, so it was picking a path through different versions of events."
The same year Hall was approached by Fearless Productions to write a TV drama based on the true-life tale of Rotorua couple Kara Hurring and Leo Gao, who fled the country after ten million dollars was mistakenly credited to their bank account. The mix of desperation and temptation was ripe for dramatisation. "I spend two weeks with Kara Hurring on my own, listening to her story.. it was a real privilege to be trusted, and a big responsibility to do justice to it”.
Runaway Millionaires screened in September 2019. Stuff critic Jack Van Beyen called it "a cracking story, and the way it’s shot..makes it feel immediate and authentic".
Hall went on to co-create One Lane Bridge, with Phil Smith. Hall wrote all six episodes. Described as a crime drama with a "dark, supernatural edge", the series stars Dominic Ona-Ariki (star of Jonah) as an ambitious Cook Island Maori detective Queenstown detective who reawakens his matakite (second sight).
The theatre fires are still burning. In 2018 Hall adapted beloved Maurice Gee’s sci fi novel Under the Mountain (also an iconic kids series, and a film) to the stage. In February 2018 it premiered at the ASB Waterfront Theatre. A longtime fan of the book, Hall felt that the theatre was a "natural place for an adaptation of this kind. Theatre is a place of magic."
Hall’s energies have extended to sitting on several industry boards, including WIFT (Women in Film and Television) and a four year stint as the President of the NZ Writers Guild. She currently sits on the board of Playmarket.
Profile written by Gabe McDonnell; published on 16 October 2019
'Pip Hall - Funny As interview' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Rupert Mackenzie. Loaded 16 October 2019. Accessed 16 October 2019
Pip Hall, 'The challenges in adapting Under the Mountain' - The Listener, 5 February 2018 (broken link)
'Pip Hall' Playmarket website. Accessed 16 October 2019
Kerry Harvey, 'True story of New Zealand’s runaway millionaires revealed' (Interview) - TV Guide, 22 August 2019
Steve Kilgallon, 'The Jonah Lomu story gets the movie treatment in TV series' (Review of Jonah) - Your Weekend, 17 August 2019
Jack Van Beynen 'Sunday Theatre’s Runaway Millionaires: Immediate, authentic take on Kara Hurring and Leo Gao' (Review of Runaway Millionaires) Stuff website. Loaded 31 August 2019. Accessed 16 October 2019
Diana Witchel, 'The Exponents biopic has that rare thing in local drama: subtlety' (Review of The Dance Exponents - Why Does Love?) - The Listener, 25 July 2017 (broken link)