Tessa Tylee was raised in the Hawke’s Bay. Following a marketing degree at Canterbury University, she found work as a copywriter, and later promotions manager, at Tauranga's Radio BOP. The lure of bright lights drew her to Auckland in the early 90s, where she began doing promotions work for TVNZ, before joining Communicado series Heroes as a third assistant director on the coffee and photocopier run.
Tylee has worked her way up the production ladder to accrue over two decades worth of production and directing credits. Her reliable hand has seen her enlisted on a catholic range of projects across New Zealand TV networks.
She cut her teeth on funniest home video compilation slot The Great Kiwi Video Show. Since then Tylee has directed for Maggie's Garden Show, Tux Wonder Dogs, and done episodes across four seasons of Māori arts series Kete Aronui.
Subjects of her documentary work include biographical tributes to rally driver Possum Bourne (Possum, 2004) and actor Kevin Smith (Remembering Kev, 2003). She also produced Millennium Moments, 60 second slices of NZ history that screened every day for a year, in the lead up to the turn of the century.
Tylee was in charge of wrangling the first six series of popular TVNZ show Mucking In. After luring away an unwitting community hero, presenter Jim Mora and his team moved in, revamping the person's garden with help from local volunteers and businesses. The primetime staple made Mora a household name and won a Qantas Media Award for best lifestyle programme, plus two people’s choice awards in the same category.
In a 2003 interview with the NZ Herald, Tylee outlined her role as a TV producer and director: “Production is a backroom role requiring lots of management and planning. As an office-bound producer, I'm doing anything from working with research on the next programme, organising crews, title sequences, choice of music — while continually revisiting the brief to ensure the project is under budget and on time. As a director, I tend to specialise in field work outside a studio. This means directing shoots on location with crew and presenters. Then I'm heavily involved in the editing."
The list of one-off docos where Tylee has taken on both directing and producing roles includes TV channel history One Turns 40; a look at the realities of being a Kiwi au pair (The Nanny); and Where Are They Now? where Jim Mora caught up with local personalities from former Radio with Pictures hosts, to ex-Olympic rowing champs.
As Tylee told The Herald, “watching the whole concept for a programme evolve from go to whoa is incredibly satisfying. I enjoy the travel, and have passion for programmes that celebrate Kiwis being Kiwis in their own environment.”
In 2007 Tylee returned to hometown Hawke's Bay. These days she runs her production company Alice In Television from Napier. The company has produced material on topics ranging from the Red Cross, to World War I remembrance, to educational DVDs on pest control toxin 1080. She also offers a non-broadcast service called Looking Back, filming and producing memoirs for families, and individuals and companies.
In 2009 Tylee co-founded Film Hawkes Bay with Mirabel Brook and Gilly Lawrence, which she continues to help run. The regional film office is aimed at bringing screen productions to the region. Tylee also teaches documentary filmmaking at the Eastern Institute of Technology.
Among the books she has project managed are Kereru Station - Two Sisters’ Legacy — written by Mary Shanahan, with photographs by Grant Sheehan — about the iconic Hawke’s Bay farm. Tylee was able to bring her considerable production abilities to bear on a story close to her heart: two of her Great Aunts bought the station in 1946 and it is now run by a charitable trust they set up.