Geoff Murphy, Iconoclastic Filmmaker

When Geoff Murphy died last week, he left a film industry very different from the one that he entered in the 1970s. In those days it couldn’t be called an industry – just a bunch of mates trying to make movies. Geoff was at the forefront of the renaissance and deserves the accolades bestowed later in life: a lifetime achievement award at the Moa New Zealand Film Awards, one of twenty Arts Foundation “arts icons”, New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2014 Queen’s New Year Honours.

Colourful, irreverent, his anti-authoritarianism was a badge of honour to the end, his signature gesture an up-thrust middle finger to the establishment. I remember, a decade ago, sitting with him on the porch of his man-cave in Holloway Road as, a roll-your-own stuck to his lip (Diane wouldn’t let him smoke inside) he carved miniature cannons for his model warships and railed against the mendacious moguls of Hollywood and bumbling bureaucrats of Wellington.

A budding teaching career didn’t have a hope when he discovered jazz, drugs and Bruno Lawrence. They created BLERTA – Bruno Lawrence’s Electric Revelation and Traveling Apparition. A bunch of hippy musos, partners, their kids and assorted hangers-on toured the country in their bus jolting the locals awake with a crazy mix of theatre, jazz, rock, pyrotechnics and psychedelics. And film. They were experimenting with film in their concerts and from this grew their first films – Wild Man and Dagg Day Afternoon.

Some of the BLERTA crew – including Alun Bollinger, Martyn Sanderson, Bruno and Geoff – put their 60s principles into practice scraping together enough to buy some land at Waimarama and establishing a commune focussed around making music and movies.

With no money and no gear, they built their own. He and Andy Grant built the first camera crane in the country. His very kiwi ability to find creative solutions to problems stood him in good stead all his career.

In 1981 I remember coming out of a screening of Goodbye Pork Pie with a silly grin on my face. It was this tongue-in-cheek road movie that established Geoff as New Zealand’s pre-eminent action director and Alun Bollinger as a highly-rated cinematographer. The film somehow captured the zeitgeist of the time and New Zealanders took it to their hearts. To Geoff’s surprise it set box-office records that took years to surpass.

His next film, Utu, is regarded by many as his best. Quentin Tarantino possesses an intimate knowledge of New Zealand cinema and Utu is his favourite. However, the cut that was released had been “improved” by the producers and Geoff was not happy. When, in 2013, Nga Taonga Sound and Vision (the NZ Film Archive) was restoring Utu, Geoff was given the chance to recreate his director’s cut. He leapt at the opportunity. The result was released as Utu Redux. More recently Tarantino was putting together a season of screenings of his favourite films. He rang Geoff to ask for permission to screen Utu and explained that he needed a 35ml print. Geoff insisted he screen the Redux version and when he realized that they could only access a 16ml print of Redux, and Quentin would have to screen the original version, Geoff withdrew permission.

After Quiet Earth Geoff headed to Hollywood to work on action block-busters like Young Guns II, Freejack, Under Seige II and The Last Outlaw. Despite mixing with Hollywood royalty, Geoff, ever the outlaw himself, refused to be impressed by fame. His battered Toyota station-wagon stood out among the Ferraris and Bentleys in the studio carpark.

By this time he had left both his wife Pat and long-time lover Diane and married film-maker Merata Mita. Their son Hepi remembers growing up in Hollywood: “Mickey O’Rourke used to hang out on our couch. One day Mick Jagger rang and invited us down to stay on Mustique, his Caribbean island, so off we went. Dad and Mick got on like a house on fire.”

When Peter Jackson invited Murphy to be second unit director on the Rings trilogy, he returned to Wellington where he moved in with old flame Diane Kearns. A solid unit, they were together till the end.

In 2009 I had the privilege of working with Geoff on Tales of Mystery and Imagination, a genre-bending music film based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe with music by Lucien Johnson.

In 2014 his last film was released: Spooked, a cyber-thriller starring Cliff Curtis.

Despite his time in Hollywood, he was very clear about both the difference between Hollywood and New Zealand films, and his identity as primarily a New Zealand film-maker telling “our stories”.

He is survived by his brothers John and Roy, and a number of children, several of whom are in the screen industry – Robin (production manager and producer), Paul (director – Second Hand Wedding, Lovebirds), Matt (director – Pork Pie – the remake), Linus, Miles (director – commercials and short films), Heperi (director – Te Taki A Merata Mita – How Mum Decolonised The Screen), Rafer, Richard, Rhys, Awatea, and step children Joe and Paul Kearns.

 

Howard Taylor
President

8 December 2018

In The Zone film

Film Talk: Q&A Screening of In The Zone

In the Zone posterFrom DEGNZ member Robyn Paterson comes the inspiring, challenging and emotional feature documentary, In The Zone.

Join us on December 6 for a Film Talk of In The Zone at Rialto Cinemas Newmarket, Auckland. After the film, Robyn Paterson and Terrance Wallace, founder of the InZone Project, joins DEGNZ for an audience Q&A. We’d love to see you there.

Throughout its powerful narrative, In The Zone raises poignant questions about education, privilege, diversity, and cycles of inequality across the Western world. A visiting African-American businessman establishes a home for minority teens in New Zealand’s most sought after school zone. But with political and racial tensions rising in the USA, he must choose between the teens in his care, and his own community back home in Chicago.

When: Thu 6 December 2018, 6pm
Where: Rialto Cinemas Newmarket, 167-169 Broadway, Newmarket, Auckland

Book Tickets

 

Stray key still

Watch: Stray Q&A with Director Dustin Feneley

Writer/director Dustin Feneley answers questions about his debut feature film Stray (2018). Dustin talks about not compromising his cinematic, arthouse vision, despite modest means while making the film.

 

“We wanted a very formalised, considered cinematography in kind of like master shots and I want things to play out longer. But the implication production-wise was that we could milk all of that one hour set aside for that scene … It meant that art department, lighting, camera, everyone had so much time relatively speaking to nail that one shot.”

 

This event was part of the Film Talk Series, presented by DEGNZ and Rialto Cinemas in Auckland.

 

Directing Actors workshop

Call for Applications: Directing Actors Workshop with Ian Hughes

DEGNZ is now accepting applications for a one-day Directing Actors Workshop in Wellington with highly experienced actor and director Ian Hughes.

Ian HughesIan Hughes’ breakthrough role was in acclaimed TV series and movie Topless Women Talk About Their Lives. Topless was followed by multiple TV guest parts (Xena, Bliss, The Brokenwood Mysteries, Go Girls) and film roles (He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, Memory and Desire). He wrote, starred and directed in his own Kafkaesque short, The Waiting Room, and toured his acclaimed one-man play Ship Songs.

Ian has worked with many of New Zealand’s top directors including Niki Caro, Peter Jackson and Michael Hurst, and is now primarily a TV and commercials director himself, with work on Step Dave and nearly 300 episodes of Shortland Street.

The class shall explore a range of principles, tools and techniques that address issues that arise in casting, rehearsal and shooting. Ian will help directors increase their confidence and creativity when working with actors.

The workshop has ten places and is aimed at emerging directors with some directing experience. Prospective participants may be developing projects for Fresh Shorts, Premiere Pathways, or with features in funded development.

Selected participants will be required to do a bit of prep before the workshop.

When: Saturday 1 December, 9.30am – 5.30pm
Where: The New Zealand Film and Television School, 86 Vivian St, Wellington

A travel allowance may be available to some DEGNZ members travelling from outside of the Wellington Region.

Cost: DEGNZ members – Free, Non-members – $100. Lunch provided.

To Apply

Application Deadline: 3PM, Thursday 22 November 2018

STEP 1: Submit the form below.

STEP 2: You will be redirected to the File Upload page, which can also be found here. Upload your application file(s) in PDF or Word Document. Submit before the deadline:

  • your CV/filmography with links to examples of your work
  • a brief, maximum one-page letter on why you would like to attend and what you hope to gain from the workshop

Late or incomplete applications will not be accepted.

 

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This workshop is brought to you with the generous support of the New Zealand Film Commission.

NZFC

2018 Screen Guilds Christmas Parties

Come have a drink with us to celebrate 2018 at the Screen Guilds Christmas Parties in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch!

Cash Bar
Nibbles provided

You must RSVP on Eventbrite in advance. Only financial members (+1 partner) of the participating New Zealand guilds and associations will be eligible to attend. Proof of membership required.

Auckland – Wednesday 28 November – RSVP here

Christchurch – Monday 10 December – RSVP here

Wellington – Wednesday 12 December – RSVP here

 

Christchurch invite