Wayne Leonard began at TVNZ in 1978. Since then he has become one of New Zealand’s main names to call for coverage of live events: from the opening ceremony of the Cricket World Cup, to a millennium concert by Kiri Te Kanawa that was viewed around the globe.
Leonard joined the state broadcaster at 18, as a boom operator on short-lived soap Radio Waves. The next thirteen years were spent working in sound, including two years at flagship Sydney TV station TCN9. Leonard counts himself lucky to have been able to listen in and learn from two Australian screen legends, as they directed coverage of live events: Brian C Morelli and Peter Faiman (who commanded the broadcast of the 2000 Olympics opening ceremony).
After time as a production assistant back in the TVNZ studio, Leonard began directing a range of sports coverage in the early 90s, providing a wealth of experience that would help in his later career.
Upon becoming a senior TVNZ producer in 1995, he began covering other live events as well as sports. One of the earliest of these was the 1995 Christmas in the Park, which he directed under the guidance of veteran producer Derek Wooster. Leonard’s guess is that Wooster “didn’t think I was up to it”. But when the first half of the concert finished, Wooster appeared and "gave me the biggest hug. So I thought I must’ve done alright.” The gig opened a door into larger scale events than the one-off sports matches Leonard had previously been directing.
In 1997 he won an NZ Television Award for Best Sports Programme, for documentary 30 Years of TV Sport; the following year he walked away with Best Entertainment Programme for the Michael Jones edition of This Is Your Life. The special was the highest-rating instalment of the show to date. Leonard remembers it for being allowed to run an hour over schedule, and for Paul Holmes accidentally swearing in the first few minutes.
Leonard became one of the names to call for the big events: from the opening ceremony for Auckland’s Sky Tower (TV2’s highest rating show that year), to a high profile turn of the millennium concert featuring Kiri Te Kanawa and the NZSO, which screened to an estimated two billion viewers globally.
The job of putting live events on screen requires directors to decide quickly between a multitude of different camera angles. Leonard credits his success in the field partly to his many years in sound, which taught him to remain calm while “listening to content and dealing with many sources”.
After a stint in Singapore, helping out on the branding of CNBC Asia, Leonard returned home to producing and directing again — this time as a freelancer. Although he continued to direct events for TVNZ, he was also working with independent production companies, often on long-running series. He did five years directing for SportsCafe, and helmed high rating panel show Game of Two Halves from 2001 until its cancellation in 2007, after a decade on air. The show saw ex-sportsmen and comedians like Mike King, Marc Ellis and Matthew Ridge remarking on the week’s sporting events, alongside special guests. Leonard remembers it as mayhem.
In 2004 Leonard got involved with the launch of Māori Television, directing the channel’s Launch Day coverage. Since then he has helmed a decade’s worth of Anzac Day coverage for the channel, plus sports show Code and many sporting events, including matches from the 2012 Rugby World Cup. His involvement with the channel seems apt, given his late father Ernie Leonard was a veteran broadcaster and the first head of TVNZ’s department of Māori Broadcasting.
From 2004 until 2011 Leonard directed television coverage of Style Pasifika, an annual entertainment showcase of Pasifika style. In 2006 the event won Best Event Broadcast at the Air New Zealand Screen Awards. Over this period he continued to regularly direct live events, including numerous editions of Fight for Life (TV3’s highest rating show to date) and further years of Christmas in the Park.
In 2013 Leonard got work in the United States, directing the international coverage of the America’s Cup yacht race series in San Francisco. He feels that the quality of coverage benefited from the camaraderie that developed amongst the crew working together on a long-term event, rather than a one-off match. “Every single morning we’d have a camera meeting … Every night after the broadcast the crew would come back and watch the programme. As a result the coverage became honed. It was beautiful.” The coverage of the event was nominated for five Emmy awards (plus another two for the World Series before it), including the premiere award for Outstanding Live Sport Special, against high profile events like, World Series Baseball, the finals of the NBA and the NASCAR Daytona 500.
Despite the success of his America’s Cup coverage, Leonard hasn’t jetted off to the big leagues of the US just yet. Settled in Auckland with his family, Wayne Leonard continues to direct coverage both locally and for international viewing. Since 2013 he has helmed the coverage of the Cricket World Cup opening ceremony in Christchurch, and once again found himself with an eye on the yachts, directing coverage of the 2015 America’s Cup World Series.
Elsewhere Leonard has directed The Tem Show, the Young Farmer of the Year ceremony, and 2002’s The Last Laugh, an award-nominated documentary on Māori humour.
Profile written by Simon Smith
Published on 30 November 2015
'Wayne Leonard: The art of multi-camera directing...' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Interview Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 30 November 2015. Accessed 30 November 2015