For Vanessa Alexander globetrotting began early. Born in New York to a Kiwi-born father and an English-born mother, she was raised in California. In her final year of high school she relocated to her father's hometown of Oamaru. After a decade working in Kiwi television and film, Alexander made a home in Australia; she also lives sometimes in England. Alexander has travelled the globe in other ways, by writing scripts about Russian royals, Norse warriors, Kiwi teens and ex-pat British cops.
Alexander studied playwrighting under Roger Hall at Otago University. In 1990 she won an international student playwriting contest after writing My Nightingale has Come Unzipped, a feminist reinterpretation of TS Eliot poem The Waste Land. She went on to study film on both sides of the Tasman: aside from her English Literature degree, she has a Diploma in Film Directing from Melbourne University's Victoria College of Art, and a Master of Arts from Auckland University. A Doctor of Philosophy in Screenwriting is next on her list.
Tired of failing to win any short film funding, Alexander wrote a longer feature. When producer Larry Parr told her she could direct it, she wasn't sure whether to believe it. Set in Hokitika, Magik and Rose (1999) was a quirky female buddy movie about a visiting fortune teller and an unsatisfied chemist's assistant. It won a Jury Prize at Portugal's Oporto Film Festival, and screened at a 2001 Cannes Film Festival Forum for low-budget features. As Owen Hughes writes in this piece, the movie manages to traverse "drama, comedy, melodrama, buddy film and romance". Kiwi screen organisation SPADA named her New Filmmaker of the Year.
Alexander's energy — plus her outrageous efforts to hype Magik and Rose, which she laughingly details in this video interview — won over South Pacific Pictures boss John Barnett. Taking a gamble, Barnett invited her to produce (and also help write and direct) Being Eve. Made in an unusually collaborative fashion, the colourful comedy-drama portrayed teenage life through the eyes of an inquisitive 15-year-old. Nominated for an International Emmy, Being Eve won eight awards and sold to 40+ territories, including the United States (where it aired on Nickelodeon offshoot Noggin).
Alexander was then invited to direct the Qantas-nominated first (and second) episode of bogan classic Outrageous Fortune (the opening episodes were actually shot after other episodes of the show). She has also directed on Mercy Peak, ambitious SPP/BBC fantasy Maddigan's Quest and the Power Rangers franchise.
In 2012 she joined Being Eve co-creator Maxine Fleming to develop and write hit show Agent Anna. The comedy/drama follows a meek woman (Robyn Malcolm) who joins the cut-throat world of an Auckland real estate office. Alexander directed three episodes, including the first.
Since Agent Anna, Alexander has concentrated mostly on scriptwriting from her home in Australia (she also spends time in London — she holds British, Kiwi and Australian citizenship). She has worked in the writers' room on Aussie hospital hit Love Child, and was nominated for an Australian Writers' Guild award for series The Wrong Girl, a romantic drama about the producer of a morning TV show.
In 2019 she joined the writing team of Emmy-nominated drama/comedy The Great, which satirises the life of Russian Empress Catherine the Great. Alexander was later nominated for two Writers Guild of America awards for the show. She is also writing series Artemisia, based on 17th century Italian painter Artemsia Gentileschi. Alexander is a great fan of shows which "make history relevant to a contemporary audience by using it to look at the present. Women are still trying to find ways to hold power or get rid of their useless husbands, just like Catherine on The Great. The comedy of history is that humans just keep repeating the same mistakes."
Alexander has also written for Vikings: Valhalla, a spin-off from History Channel hit Vikings, and Tin Star, in which Tim Roth plays a Londoner who ends up as a cop in an oil company town in the Rockies. She is an executive producer on Valhalla's second season. Her Kiwi credits include political satire The Pretender, and helping develop dystopian TV drama This is Not My Life.
As a producer, Alexander has worked on a number of award-winning short films — including human trafficking tale Cargo, and Taika Waititi's Oscar-nominated Two Cars, One Night. In 2019 she joined the producing team on Netflix travel series Extreme Engagement.
Alexander's screen education has taken her to some memorable places. In 2003 she joined the script development team at powerhouse English company Working Title (Bridget Jones's Diary). She was the first international intern on their training program. She studied comedy with legendary French clown Philippe Gaulier, and was one of just eight writers invited to join European screenwriting lab eQuinoxe. In Los Angeles she interned as a director on Steven Bochco's shows NYPD Blue and Murder One.
She has taught screenwriting in Sydney, Auckland and Paris. She is a former Chair of scriptwriting organisation Script to Screen, and was a board member on the NZ Film Commission.
Alexander's extensive list of awards includes a Qantas Media Peace Award, Best Drama Series at the NZ Television Awards and Best Children's Programme at the NZ Screen Awards (all for Being Eve) and Best Comedy Script from the NZ Writers Guild (for Agent Anna).
Profile updated on 16 February 2021
'Vanessa Alexander' (Video Interview). NZ On Screen website. Director Clare O'Leary. Loaded 1 May 2009. Accessed 3 December 2020
Magik and Rose website. Accessed 3 December 2020
'Being Eve's international accolades' - Onfilm, August 2002, page 8 (volume 19, number 8)
Owen Hughes, 'Magik & Rose - A Perspective'. NZ On Screen website. Loaded 16 August 2008. Accessed 3 December 2020
Fiona Rae, 'What went right with Eve?' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 10 October 2001
'Vanessa Alexander' The Agency website. Accessed 3 December 2020
'Vanessa Alexander'(broken link). University of Auckland website. Accessed 11 March 2013