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Simon Bennett

Director, Producer

Simon Bennett has worked in TV drama as a storyliner, director and producer, as well as in programme development.

His parents Robert and Jane would tour the globe as founders of company Mime International. Simon graduated from NZ Drama School Toi Whakaari in 1988. The same year, he joined forces with designer Simon Elson to relaunch Wellington's ailing Bats Theatre. Bennett later returned to Bats as a director, helming a hit season of Ken Duncum's Blue Sky Boys. The play starred future Shortland Street stars Tim Balme and Michael Galvin

Over the next few years Bennett worked across New Zealand as a freelance theatre director. His favourite stage projects included Watershed Theatre productions of Stephen Sondheim musicals Assassins and Into the Woods.

In 1995 Bennett joined the first intake of the television directors training course at South Pacific Television. Then he began work on Shortland Street as a director, and in 1997 moved into producing and executive producing for the show. He also worked as a storyliner and director on episodes of small town drama Mercy Peak.

In 2000 Bennett left television to co-found touring theatre group the New Zealand Actors' Company, alongside Tim Balme, Robyn Malcolm, and Katie Wolfe. The company toured successful productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Roger Hall's A Way of Life, before failing to find an audience with an adaptation of King Lear.

Bennett returned to South Pacific Pictures in time to oversee one of Shortland Street's big revamps. In 2004 he became SPP's Head of Drama, overseeing all of the company's film and TV drama projects. In this position he was involved in development and production of Outrageous FortuneGo Girls, Sione's Wedding, and James Griffin's Diplomatic Immunity. He also produced Maddigan's Quest, an ambitious, multi award-winning co-production based on Margaret Mahy's novel Maddigan's Fantasia.

Bennett began directing episodes of Outrageous Fortune in the show's second season, winning a NZ Screen Award for his work that year. He was later given the honour of directing Fortune's final episode, the highest rating of the entire six seasons. Bennett's directing work on the show was twice nominated for a Qantas Film and Television Award.

Bennett left his role as SPP head of drama in mid 2009, to return to freelance producing and directing. He took on both roles with 2010 tele-movie Spies and Lies. The based-on-a-true-story tale featured Anthony Starr as World War II conman Syd Ross. "Simon is a really collaborative director," Starr told Onfilm. "He gave us a lot of rope to really experiment with character and try different things."

Bennett went on to produce the first two seasons of SPP comedy drama The Almighty Johnsons, the tale of four Kiwi brothers with God-like powers, direct episodes of conspiracy thriller The Blue Rose, then returned to the Shortland Street fold. In 2012 he made his big-screen directing debut, helming Sione's 2: Unfinished Business. Although the film opened to mixed reviews, it became the most successful Kiwi local release in New Zealand that year, with a strong response from fans of the previous film.

Bennett continued to produce Shortland Street for three years, his final major project for the show being the 2015 Christmas cliffhanger, which saw an armed siege unfold in the hospital. Bennett described it in a Spinoff interview at the time as “the strongest cliffhanger we’ve ever done.” In February 2016 he passed the producing reins over to Maxine Fleming, after 20 years of on-off involvement with the show.

Bennett has gone on to direct episodes of the Power Rangers franchise — which provided challenges like "how to make people explode and disappear into the pits of Doom" — and Kiwi series Dirty Laundry. In 2017 he made a rare venture into documentary, as co-director of NZ Wars - The Stories of Ruapekapeka, with Cameron Bennett. The half-hour documentary on a remarkable battle between Maori and colonial soldiers won two awards at the 2018 NZ Television Awards: Best Documentary and Best Māori Programme.

Profile updated on 11 June 2019 

Sources include
'Simon Bennett' Outrageous Fortune website (broken link). Accessed 9 June 2017
'New Head of Development and Shortland Street Producer' (broken link) South Pacific Pictures website. Loaded February 2013. Accessed 22 February 2013
Alex Casey, 'Television: We Weren’t Going to Finish with a Whimper” - a Shortland Street Producer Talks About THAT Finale’ (Interview) The Spinoff website. Loaded 14 December 2015. Accessed 2 August 2016
Paul Little, 'Simon Bennett: the year that I left Shorty St for a new direction' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 3 November 2018
'New Head of Development and Shortland Street Producer' (broken link) South Pacific Pictures website. Loaded February 2013. Accessed 22 February 2013