Richard Bluck began working as a cameraman at the Avalon Television Centre in the 1970s. Alongside a host of other projects, he has brought his skills as director of photography to features Black Sheep, What We Do in the Shadows, Second-Hand Wedding and many short films.
I am a working director of photography – I love to shoot; I love to realise a vision, tell a story, and make interesting and powerful images. Richard Bluck, in an April 2008 interview with Onfilm
Mortal Engines is set in a post-apocalyptic world where cities roam the landscape, devouring everything in their path. Tom (Robert Sheehan, from TV's Misfits) lives in London, a 'predator' city built on digger-like tracks. After encountering a mysterious fugitive with murder in mind, he finds himself touching bare earth for the first time. Showcasing the eye-opening imagery of Weta Digital, Mortal Engines is based on a book by Brit Philip Reeve. It marks the first feature directed by Christian Rivers (short film Feeder). The Weta veteran began as a storyboard artist for Peter Jackson.
Actor/director Taika Waititi teamed up with his Eagle vs Shark star Jemaine Clement for this mockumentary about life for a flat of vampires. Cameras follow the vamps as they struggle to get into Wellington pubs, squabble over chores and face off against werewolves. A roster of Kiwi comedic talent (including Jackie van Beek and lazy vampire Jonathan Brugh) feature. After winning fangtastic reviews at America's Sundance and SXSW festivals, Shadows won a run of global sales and four Moa awards, including Best Self-Funded Feature. It also spawned two TV series, and a live show.
Beyond the Edge tells the story of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of the world’s highest mountain. Award-winning director Leanne Pooley (Untouchable Girls) mixes archival material with recreations of the English-led 1953 Everest expedition. 3D cameras were used to put viewers in the crampons of the climbers, and evoke the endurance and dangers faced as they ventured to the top of the world. Beyond the Edge debuted at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, where it was one of two runner-ups for the People’s Choice Documentary Award.
JRR Tolkien's beloved novel The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins on a quest to help reclaim the lost dwarf homeland of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. Shoulder-tapped by Gandalf for the mission against some opposition, Bilbo joins a company of dwarves in an epic adventure: vying against goblins, orcs and Gollum's riddles. After the box office blitzing and Oscar-slaying Lord of the Rings trilogy, adapting the precursor novel was an expected journey. Martin Freeman (The Office, Sherlock) plays Bilbo, with Peter Jackson again at the helm in this first of a three-part adaptation.
Scriptwriter Philippa Boyens has described Alice Sebold's bestselling book The Lovely Bones as "brutal, surprising, gorgeous". A tale of murder and how the victim's family and friends try to deal with it, the story is told from the perspective of the victim — 14-year-old Susie Salmon. For the movie adaptation. Peter Jackson and his Weta FX team engaged in more Heavenly Creatures style world-building, rendering an afterlife for Susie that "alters and shifts" with her mood. Time praised the film's "gravity and grace", plus Saoirse Ronan's BAFTA-nominated performance as Susie.
Maurice Gee's classic novel about aliens running amok under Auckland has rarely gone out of print, since its debut in 1979. First adapted as a memorable 80s TV series, this movie retooling sees teenage twins Theo and Rachel stumbling across shape-shifting creatures that are hiding beneath Auckland's extinct volcanoes. American showbiz magazine Variety praised Black Sheep director Jonathan King's "solid helming", and the excellent acting of Sam Neill as the mysterious Mr Jones. Oliver Driver plays lead villain Mr Wilberforce, under four hours of make-up.
A classic case of the little movie that could, Second-Hand Wedding is a feel-good tale of garage sales, and the ties that bind. Worried that her mother’s zeal for bargains might ruin her big day, Cheryl (Holly Shanahan) delays unveiling her wedding plans. When Mum (Geraldine Brophy) finds out the information second-hand, she does not react well. Both actors won NZ Film and TV Awards for their work, and the Kapiti Coast-set film was a bonafide Kiwi hit: breaking out from its independently made origins into the all-time Top 10 for NZ films at the local box office.
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.
Peter Jackson's love affair with moviemaking and special effects was ignited by seeing the original King Kong (1933) as a child. Jackson's Kiwi-shot remake takes one of cinema's most iconic monster movies, retains the 30s setting and iconic New York finale, and toughens up the "beauty" (Naomi Watts). The film also transforms the male (non-ape) lead from lunkhead to sensitive playwright (Adrien Brody). Exhilarating, Oscar-winning CGI brings the great ape to life, alongside rampaging dinosaurs, and oversized wētā inexplicably absent from the maligned 1976 remake.
Writer-director Barry Prescott’s third short film might have been entitled Strictly Legless. Alge (Joe Taylor) is a double amputee with a photo of Fred Astaire above his bed, whose dreams of dancing appear unlikely until he gets some inventive help from his sister (Emma Kinane) and dance teacher (John Bach, in a nosy prosthetic). Featuring cameos from veteran actors Donna Akersten and Alice Fraser, the black comedy treads on some sensitive toes for humorous effect, while remaining warm-hearted. It won awards at festivals for the differently-abled worldwide.
Procrastination and denial taken to absurd lengths hammer home a point about global warming in this technically ambitious black comedy. A family living in a gully are too wrapped up in their own worlds to heed impending doom. Daughter Mary (seven-year-old Paige Shand-Haami) is the only one who sees the future. Water was shot over 14 days — with cast and crew spending 10 of them waist deep in water — on a set in a Wellington swimming pool. It was directed by Chris Graham, and partly funded from a SPADA Young Filmmaker Award won by producer Karl Zohrab.
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.
The Fellowship of the Ring was the film that brought Peter Jackson's talents to a mass international audience. A year after its release, the first instalment of his adaptation of Tolkien's beloved tale of heroic hobbits was the seventh most successful film of all-time. Critic David Ansen (Newsweek) was one of many to praise the fan-appeasing Frodo-centric take, for its "high-flying risks: it wears its earnestness, and its heart, on its muddy, blood-streaking sleeve." At 2002's Academy Awards, Weta maestro Richard Taylor became the first Kiwi to win two Oscars on one night.
Duggan stars John Bach as brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse, the show was conceived by Marion McLeod, and scripted by Donna Malane and Ken Duncum. Eleven episodes of the Gibson Group series were made, following on from introductory tele-features Death in Paradise and Sins of the Father. The turquoise waters of The Sounds make for an evocative setting in this sharp, classy Kiwi whodunit. Rachel Davies writes here about Duggan's birth.
This bawdy backblocks comedy follows the efforts of two middle-aged males to adjust after the death of their Mum (Dorothy McKegg). The somewhat dim brothers (played by Mark Hadlow and Sean Duffy) are lost without her cooking and advice on Judy Bailey’s attractiveness, and getting close to goats…until the hired help (Alison Bruce) arrives. The short film was the first production by Big House, a collaboration between director Mike Smith and editor John Gilbert. Invited to the revered Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival in 1999, it inspired a hit TV series of the same name.
Shoes is a refugee's story told with rhythm and shoes. A woman seeking shelter in a new country arrives at a railway station troubled by turbulent thoughts of her past. Walking past a shop window, she sees some familiar-looking, worn-out shoes which trigger more memories. Pairs of dancing shoes eloquently recreate her journey from dance hall to war zone. Directed by Sally Rodwell, founding member of alternative theatre troupe Red Mole, Shoes screened at international festivals including Montreal and Hof.
This short film is one of writer/director Fiona Samuel’s first directorial efforts, and is a stylish and quirky tale of a plain woman with a beautiful voice who is trapped in a difficult life caring for her cranky elderly father. The singer waiting to bloom is beautifully played by actual singer Janet Roddick (Six Volts) in a rare on-screen role, and Desmond Kelly puts in a strong performance as the cantankerous Dad. The film won the Golden Mikeldi at 1997's Bilbao International Festival of Documentary and Short Film.
Peter Jackson’s fifth feature is a playful blend of comedy, thriller and supernatural horror and was an effective Hollywood calling card for Weta FX. Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) resides in Fairwater, where he runs a supernatural scam. Aided by some spectral consorts, he engineers hauntings and “exorcises” the ghosts for a fee. When a genuine spook starts knocking off the locals, the FBI suspects Frank is the culprit. To clear his name, Frank must deal to the real perpetrator – none other than the Grim Reaper ...
Bitch is a tale of "infidelity among friends" which explores trust and romance, and stars three people and a dog. Isabel (Inside Straight's Joanne Simpson) recalls a trio of relationships — one with a man in the middle of discovering he is gay, one with a man who doesn't like the smell of Isabel's pet dog, and the last with her friend Ruth (Carol Smith). Creator Fiona Samuel (TV's Marching Girls) intended the short, one of her earliest as a director, to combine two perspectives: the world as the main character perceives it, and how things might appear to the casual observer.
Written by Fiona Samuel (Marching Girls, Bliss, Home Movie) and produced by Ginette McDonald for television’s Montana Sunday Theatre, Face Value is a trilogy of monologues delivered by three separate women. While each woman’s story and background are vastly different, they are all united by their shared quest to find happiness amidst personal trauma. In A Real Dog, Carol Smith’s performance is spot-on as Lynette, a conflicted new-age hippie who struggles to recreate harmony when a new flatmate (and her estranged boyfriend) moves in.
Written by Fiona Samuel, Face Value was a trilogy of monologues by three women with different stories to tell but who all share a quest for inner happiness. Ginette McDonald plays Steph, the pampered wife of a wealthy advertising executive in Her New Life. The action centres on Steph’s preparations for a friend’s daughter’s wedding while her husband is away on a business trip. The script cleverly subverts viewer expectations; and McDonald's performance delivers a fair dose of pathos from it. Her New Life was a finalist at the Banff and New York TV Festivals.
Written by Fiona Samuel and produced by Ginette McDonald, Face Value is a series of monologues by three women with very different stories to tell, but who share a quest for inner happiness. In House Rules, the inimitable Davina Whitehouse gives a poignant performance as Miss Judd, a housekeeper of 22 years who is forced to reassess her life and situation after her employer’s death. Propriety at all costs is the rule of the day. House Rules is another example of Samuel’s ability to create memorable and subtly complex female characters.
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).
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, South Pacific Pictures-produced Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series dramatising events leading up to NZ’s 80s anti-nuclear stand. PM Robert Muldoon (Ian Mune) calls a snap election when his MP Marilyn Waring crosses the floor on the ‘no nukes’ bill, but his gamble fails, and David Lange's Labour Party is elected. Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) is pressured from all sides (including a bullish US administration) to take a firm stance on his anti-nuclear platform. He finally accepts there is no middle ground.
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In part two, the new Lange Labour government narrowly averts an economic crisis; and under political pressure Prime Minister Lange asserts ‘no nukes’ independence at the risk of spurning the country's traditional allies. In this excerpt, Lange speaks at the Labour Party annual conference, then travels to meet with US political officials and British PM Margaret Thatcher (veteran actress Kate Harcourt).
In this dark short film debut by director Simon Baré, newly promoted Catherine (Kirsty Hamilton) is taken to an opulent restaurant by the more worldly-wise Grant (playwright David Geary) and Sarah (Smuts-Kennedy). The evening promises a “dance with our darkest fear” — but its amoral reality utterly challenges Catherine (and makes grim Greenaway-esque irony of the title). Singer/composer Janet Roddick provides the soundtrack (Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’) for this winner at the NZ Film Awards and Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival.
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In this first episode Labour sweeps into power with an anti-nuclear platform. Upon taking office, David Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) faces pressure to live up to his campaign rhetoric. In this excerpt, we see the parliamentary cut and thrust leading up to the election, with National MP Marilyn Waring defying Muldoon (Ian Mune) to cross the floor on the Nuclear Free New Zealand bill.
This 1994 ‘home front noir’ is set in World War II Wellington, where the plots — a murdered marine, exploited working girls and gonorrhea — spread amidst the invasion of US soldiers stationed at Paekakariki. Kerry Fox (An Angel at My Table) is a public health nurse who becomes romantically linked with the US investigating officer (Tony Goldwyn — Ghost, TV's Scandal) while pursuing the STDs and the truth. They’re supported by Oscar-winning US veterans Rod Steiger and Robert Loggia. John Reid (Middle Age Spread) directs, from a Keith Aberdein script.
This Steve La Hood-directed documentary provides a candid, behind-the-scenes portrait of an orchestral musician's life, following the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for 13 days on a nationwide tour. Included is footage of rehearsals, travel, and concert performances. There's a glimpse of some internal politics, and insight into how the musicians relax. Holding the baton is conductor Nicholas Braithwaite; guest pianist on tour is Peter Donohoe. Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto and Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio feature prominently.
While visiting family down under, American teen Lonny catches up with his grandfather, a man with an infectious giggle, a thirst for adventure — and two vampire-sized incisors. Released locally as Grampire, this family-friendly adventure combines local names (among them future Pluto singer Milan Borich) with a winning turn as nice guy vampire by American Al Lewis (cult series The Munsters). Director David Blyth was won over by Michael Heath’s script because it reversed convention, and “was a plea for children to be allowed to keep and develop their imaginations”.
In 1992 Australian soap star Craig McLachlan (Neighbours) landed in NZ, to tackle one of his only starring roles in a movie to date. McLachlan plays Ed — a WWll soldier who goes AWOL — in a story 74-year-old writer James Edwards drew from his own life. When Ed is shipped overseas with no leave, he feels obliged to make sure that his recently pregnant wife Daisy (Katrina Hobbs) is OK before he departs. But then the days become weeks. For director John Laing the road movie offered a chance to explore changing gender roles, as women discovered life beyond house and family.
Valley of the Stereos is a comic face-off that starts tinny, but gleefully escalates to bass heavy, as a not-so-zen hippy (Danny Mulheron) gets caught up in a vale-blasting battle with the noisy bogan next door (Murray Keane). Made by many key Peter Jackson collaborators, the near-wordless pump up the volume tale was directed by George Port, shortly before he became founding member of Jackson's famed effects-house Weta Digital. Ironically Weta's computer-generated miracles would help render the stop motion imagery seen in the finale largely a thing of the past.
This jaunty debut single from Wellington reggae band Southside of Bombay is as deceptive as the happy family sing-a-long it accompanied in Once Were Warriors (which turned it into a belated chart hit). Far from being a nursery rhyme, its lyrics are informed by composer and vocalist Ruia Aperahama’s Ratana religion and a belief in the clock ticking towards an end time. Cinematographer Richard Bluck’s Wellington-filmed video captures the band performing on the south coast, cut with archive footage of Aotearoa activism ... as Mr Wolf watches on. The song was produced by Ian Morris.
Why did the snail cross the road? The debut short from Grant (Singing Trophy, Lemming Aid) Lahood provides the answer in a four minute time-lapse adventure. With the world whizzing by at 'snail’s pace' (filmed from the snail's temporal — and aural — point of view), the mollusc on a mission faces skaters, high heels and cars in its epic quest for an iceberg lettuce (displayed outside Patel's Dairy in the Wellington suburb of Berhampore). Snail's Pace gained festival screenings and TV sales around the world, and launched Lahood from camerawork into directing.
Just days after finding out he had bowel cancer, Wellington actor Peter Vere-Jones invited a film crew to document his journey through the treatment process to the final outcome. This is a highly personal, and at times harrowing, account of a man coming to terms with his mortality. The documentary puts the audience squarely in Vere-Jones' corner. Although much of the doco is filmed inside Wellington Hospital, Vere-Jones' wit and insight paints a picture of a life far beyond those walls.
This documentary, made seven years after the death of legendary filmmaker and kinetic artist Len Lye, tells Lye's story: from being a young boy staring at the sun, to travels around the Pacific and life in New York. It includes excerpts from many of his films, and interviews with second wife Ann and biographer Roger Horrocks. Len Lye himself is often heard, outlining his ideas of the ‘old brain’ and how Māori and Aboriginal art influenced his work. The grandeur of his ideas are only matched by their scale, with steel sculptures designed to be "at least 20 foot high".
Director Grahame McLean uses the notorious (then recent) 'Mr Asia' drug smuggling saga as fodder for this Wellington underbelly tale. Hello Sailor’s Harry Lyon headlines as a musician and ex-con who partners with a beautiful journo to investigate a global drug syndicate, in between nightclub sessions with fellow musos Beaver and Hammond Gamble. High on 80s guitar licks, Should I be Good? was made in the tax break era without Film Commission investment. McLean followed it right away with The Lie of the Land, becoming a rare Kiwi to make two movies back to back.
It's the 1870s, and Māori leader Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) is fed up by brutal land grabs. He leads a bloody rebellion against the colonial Government, provoking threatened frontiersmen, disgruntled natives, lusty wahine, bible-bashing priests, and kupapa alike to consider the nature of ‘utu’ (retribution). Legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael raved about Geoff Murphy’s ambitious follow up to Goodbye Pork Pie: “[He] has an instinct for popular entertainment. He has a deracinated kind of hip lyricism. And they fuse quite miraculously in this epic ...”
Written by future Gloss creator Rosemary McLeod, this Television One sitcom satirised late 70s gender politics. It was filmed before a studio audience at Avalon Studios. In this episode, Ginette McDonald’s lippy feminist withholds the joy of sex from her hippy hubbie, and Bruno Lawrence (sporting a magnificent anti-comb over) is the unreformed motorhead neighbour whose hangover cure is beer and cornflakes. Lawrence’s larrikin performance in the show was spotted by director Roger Donaldson, who cast Bruno in his breakout lead role in a movie: Al Shaw in Smash Palace.