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Behind the camera

Film and television are vastly different beasts to the theatre.

I discovered that early. In the theatre, it seemed, the text was everything. It was respected. Not a word was changed. Seldom was one working on a brand new piece or - exciting/ amazing! - generating a new piece with a company of actors, playing with the language, exploring the ideas. No ‘Marat-Sade’ or ‘U.S’. No. Not in New Zealand, anyway.

In New Zealand there just wasn’t the time or the money or the cultural infrastructure to do that. I think that’s why I took up writing fast turnover satirical revue, and determinedly generating (or programming, later, when I was running a theatre company) new material.


It’s different in television.

Television is, for the most part, dealing with new material and, as a writer, you know it’s going to be subject to all kinds of change - commercial demands, organisational demands, the pressures of production, yada yada yada... You roll with the punches.

It may be just my experience but I honestly think it’s probably pretty much a universal. The writer delivers and moves on. It’s tough, but it’s necessary. I’ve found, in recent years, that I have a little more say. There’s a dialogue about scripts, which is great. I feel more a part of the process. The culture is changing. Writers are becoming more prominent in the process. And the quality of the work is evidenced by that.

Acting and directing in film and TV are another side of a coin that is endlessly flipped. It never lands on the edge. It’s one way or the other. There are givens.

I have never, either as a director or an actor, felt that I’ve had enough time to rehearse in film or TV. I guess stars can demand it. I’ve never been a star and never will be. I guess major major directors can demand it of their backers - be they investors, co-producers, studios, whatever. They can insist on them wearing the costs of time...

I’ve never had that... luxury. But guess what? That’s what’s always made it exciting to me. Looking at an impossible schedule and getting it done. Working against all the odds to get it in on time and on budget. I can honestly say I’ve never fallen short. I can honestly say I’ve got no idea how that is the case.

I think, in a way, my roots in the theatre, that totally different beast, have helped. I’ve been an actor. I think, generally, I know what they need - and knowing what the actors need is, in the end, key to getting it done.

There’s a whole lot of psychology involved in directing - and I’m not talking about emotional pandering or mollycoddling or anything like that. I’m talking about understanding the process, understanding how any one individual is dealing with the process, and making it work for them. Sometimes, it involves just asking. ie: not playing the all-wise, all-omnipotent director. Accepting that you’re just part of the team that’s getting it done.

And that’s exzctly the same in theatre, too.


Recent Writing Credits

The tragic story of New Zealand's worst fire disaster.

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