In fifteen fast-paced minutes, Signing Off manages to turn an afternoon's shift at a radio station into the stuff of an Indiana Jones-style adventure. In the process, the film also helped launch the career of Scarfies director Robert Sarkies.
It's the 1960s, and with the Beatles sweeping up the hit parade, the times are a changing. After almost 30 years on air, dulcet-voiced radio announcer Walter Perryman is called into the office of the station manager, and given his marching orders.
Perryman is offered one more Sunday afternoon shift to sign off and say goodbye. Come the final day, he takes a call from a devoted listener. But after finding the record she requested, the announcer accidentally drops it out the window, kick-starting an epic adventure into rat-infested sewers, and the bowels of radio station 4WO. Time is running against him, in more ways than one.
Signing Off is a confident, witty piece of work, delivering the kind of old-fashioned adventure where the good guy wins through against impossible odds. The film gains much of its freshness from how it manages to wrap its action movie trappings around a grey-haired gent, spinning sentimental records. No matter how much stunt work is going on behind the scenes, you can't help but feel sympathy for the indignities this poor man goes through, in order to keep his listeners - and viewers - satisfied.
Actor David Corballis (Dream-makers) gives us a winning portrait of this kindhearted veteran of the airwaves. Director Robert Sarkies first worked with the teacher and amateur actor back at high school, while directing a prizewinning short for the Spot On film contest. Signing Off offers a rare case of an upbeat role being offered to a member of the older generation, in the centre of a Kiwi film.
Sarkies and his director of photography Stephen Downes were both longtime members of Nightmare Productions, a collaborative group of filmmakers who had previously won attention for the shorts Dream-makers, and Flames from the Heart. They also had hopes of one day making a Dunedin feature film.
Having been turned down three times for Film Commission short film funding, the pair put sizable amounts of their own cash into Signing Off's $100,000 plus budget. They also won funding from Creative New Zealand and the Dunedin City Council, and support from a host of local businesses.
Clearly dreams can emerge from nightmare. Signing Off would go on to become New Zealand's biggest selling short of 1997, and recover all its debts. It also won best film awards in Canada, Denmark, Spain, and a runner-up prize in Germany.
Some of the income from Signing Off went towards helping develop the script for Scarfies (1999). So it wasn't just the radio announcer who triumphed in the big finale. Many of the Nightmare Productions team - including Stephen Downes, production designer Gaylene Barnes, producer Lisa Chatfield, and director Sarkies - would be key in helping make Scarfies the first feature film from Dunedin to reach the screen.