The Amiri & Aroha Blog
The Official Blog for David Whittet's Novel and Film Trilogy

What does Hunapo have for breakfast?

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"Authors shouldn't write dialogue; they should let their characters speak for themselves."

Giving characters their own distinctive voice is the most profound lesson I have learnt from working with industry professionals. An interesting exercise at a table read of the Hīkoi screenplay was to remove the character headings from the actors' copies of the script and to see if it remains apparent to them when they are speaking.
Fascinating characters are essential for any work of fiction. I believe the success of Amiri & Aroha on the international film festival circuit is due to the audience's involvement with the characters. A competition judge told me he shed tears when the gang thwarted Aroha's childhood friendship with her cousin Hunapo.
Writing the novel has afforded the opportunity to develop these complex characters further. Understanding how they talk and react to adverse situations allows them to speak for themselves, adding tremendous depth to the story.
My old mentor, the late great David Lean, gave me this advice: "You must know what your characters eat for breakfast. It's not that you're going to show them having breakfast, but if you are to portray them accurately, you need to know them in that much detail."
During the shooting of Amiri & Aroha, I can recall some lively discussions between takes on what the protagonists would have for their breakfast. We all agreed that Amiri would be an eggs benedict man. We decided Aroha was more a muesli and toast girl, and there was no doubt that Hunapo would have eggs and lashings of bacon with black pudding, washed down with a swig of yesterday's beer.

Proofing Amiri & Aroha

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Mathew Wikotu as the young Hunapo.

Alongside working on Hikoi, I've spent the last few weeks proofreading Amiri & Aroha. It's been a labour of love on a project that has been such a vital part of my life over the past decade.
The strength of a story depends on the depth of its characters. Correcting and enhancing the manuscript has afforded me a unique opportunity to reflect on the character arcs in the novel.
Amiri & Aroha depicts a woman’s lifelong struggle to escape the misery of her gang roots, a journey defined by greed, corruption and the redeeming nature of love. A diverse cast of characters shape Aroha's rite of passage: her father Tautaru, a loathsome gang leader; her downtrodden mother Ngaio; Kōkā, a mysterious matakite; and Amiri, the hotshot businessman she believes will bring her freedom.
Of all the leading protagonists in Amiri & Aroha, Hunapo is perhaps the most complex, and judging from the response of my early reviewers, he is also one of the most engaging.
Hunapo is Aroha's cousin and her only childhood friend. It's hard to resist the mischievous rascal at the beginning of the story. But life is unkind to Hunapo. Chosen as the puppet leader of the gang and forced into an abortive arranged marriage, he lashes out at those closest to him and betrays Aroha. Seeking solace with alcohol and debauchery, Hunapo degenerates into a drunken lothario but ultimately finds redemption as a latter-day Robin Hood, risking his life to give back the protection money extorted by the gang.
One of the joys of independent filmmaking is the discovery of raw talent. I was fortunate to find two brilliant actors to play Hunapo in the films.
As the young Hunapo, Mathew Wikotu's soulful expression captured the dilemma of a lost kid in a hostile world, his childhood stolen by a bitter family feud.
Shayne Biddle, fresh from his role in the critically acclaimed New Zealand film The Strength of Water, took on the challenge of the adult Hunapo. Shayne's remarkable screen presence further defined this tragically flawed but genuinely appealing hero.
I remain hopeful that following the publication of the novel, we can entice a studio to pick up the story for a fully funded feature film. I would be delighted to have both Mathew and Shayne in the cast.

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Shayne Biddle as Hunapo

Amiri & Aroha - A New Zealand Story

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A couple of years ago, when Amiri's Child won an Award of Excellence at the Accolade Global Film Festival, a Hollywood producer asked to buy the rights for Amiri & Aroha. There was even talk of a mini-series, to be marketed as "the next Sopranos."
In so many ways, the offer was a dream come true. The sum on the table was significant and the deal hard to resist. What's not to like about a fully funded production of the story, with guaranteed distribution and a possible spin-off. So why did I hesitate?
Amiri and Aroha is a quintessential New Zealand story. In selling the rights, I would have lost control. It became apparent that the sorry would become Americanised, the Māori culture at the heart of my story would be replaced by American street gangs. After much soul-searching, I turned the offer down.
With two leading international publishers now interested in Amiri & Aroha, I am convinced that I made the right choice. The project began as a Māori take on Romeo and Juliet, and while the story is universal, it is firmly grounded in New Zealand life. The East Cape and the magnificent Rere Falls are as essential as the characters in the drama. I cannot imagine this story taking place anywhere else.
I only hope that we can find a New Zealand producer who is equally captivated by the story so that we can make the definitive film of Amiri & Aroha.

Amiri & Aroha submitted for publication

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For the past ten years, Amiri and Aroha has been an essential part of my life. I have lived and breathed with my characters; I have been there with them at every step of their journey. I have felt their pain and shared their joys and sorrows.
Following endless revisions and many months of intense book editing, I have at last submitted the manuscript to leading international publishers for consideration.
For a little while at least, the project is out of my hands while I await the editor's decision. It is a strange feeling, having been so close to the story for so long. But I have not had time to dwell on this; with the novel complete, I have at last been able to clear my mind for the next project. It is now over eighteen months since the child poverty debate in the run up to the New Zealand General Election in September 2014 inspired me to make Hīkoi. Throughout the editing of Amiri & Aroha, ideas for Hīkoi have been running through my mind, but I found it impossible to develop them while still immersed in Amiri & Aroha. Refining the vision and working on the screenplay for Hīkoi is now my top priority.
And whatever the publishers' verdict, the Amiri & Aroha saga is far from over. For those many loyal fans who have been waiting patiently, we plan a limited release of the film trilogy to coincide with the publication of the novel and the films will be available to stream or download on Vimeo-on-Demand.
My dream remains a fully financed film of Amiri & Aroha. Local producers are calling out for captivating New Zealand stories. Amiri & Aroha could be just what they are looking for.

Books aren't written, they're rewritten!

Amiri & Aroha Book Cover copy

“Books aren't written - they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it.” - Michael Crichton.

Although I am far beyond the seventh rewrite of Amiri & Aroha, Michael Crichton's perceptive words seem particularly appropriate. After seemingly endless years of work, the novel is almost ready for publication.
The experience has made me think about the difference between editing books and films. The filmmaker has an arsenal of tools at their disposal: the inflexion of the actor, the juxtaposition of contrasting images, and perhaps most evocative of all, the musical score. The writer has only the power of the written word to create atmosphere and tell their story.
Editing the novel of Amiri & Aroha has been profoundly different from cutting the film. Today's audiences demand fast moving drama, often forcing filmmakers to shorten and compress their work to deliver an ever more intense experience. In many ways, writing the book has been the opposite. My early reviewers consistently challenged me to provide more detail and background, to fill in the gaps in the story that were inherent in the film, which is, of its nature, and episodic medium.
There are similarities in technique. Where the filmmaker cuts rapidly to increase tension, the writer uses short, staccato sentences to achieve the same effect.
The novel will provide the definitive rendition of the Amiri & Aroha saga. At 500 pages and 180,000 words, the book is a genuine epic, but at its core remains a heartrending and gripping drama. It is my dream that a New Zealand production company will pick up the story, and we will see the definitive film version of Amiri & Aroha!

Interview in the New Zealand Rural GP Network News

NGRGPN Network News Cover

Movies and medicine have been my life. Friends and journalists often ask me which is the closest to my heart. I invariably answer that I am equally passionate about both cinema and general practice. The common thread is an abiding interest in people’s stories. I discussed this in this in an interview with Rob Olsen in the current issue of the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network News.

Read the interview in the current issue of the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network News

Tekapo Promotional Shoot

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As the Amiri & Aroha novel approaches publication, I have been engaged in some promotional shoots at significant real life locations which feature in the story.
The Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo must surely be the most beautiful church in New Zealand, and it plays a significant role in the developing drama.
Look out for some more pictures from our road trip to outstanding Amiri & Aroha locations.

Revisions and rewrites

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Amiri & Aroha is truly a project that refuses to end. My recent post was premature. With a major rewrite complete and book editing underway, I thought I was putting the finishing touches on the novel.
On reflection, there are still critical areas that could be improved. The three opening chapters have proved particularly challenging as they differ significantly from the films and cover a considerable amount of new material that we were unable to shoot in the original pilot film.
The most rewarding aspect is that with each successive revision, the book becomes stronger and closer to being ready for publication. I am again indebted to my mentor, Joyce Cocchi for her advice and suggestions on making these crucial first chapters as compelling as possible.
With the prospect of a new and fully funded film series ahead, I feel confident that Amiri & Aroha will be keeping me occupied for a long time into the future!

An Adventure that stubbornly refuses to end

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Tonight I have put the finishing touches to the Amiri & Aroha novel and it seems an appropriate moment to reflect on a project that has taken over my life for the past decade. When I first developed the concept for a one-off independent short film, little did I think I would still be working on it over ten years later, let alone continuing to find new and exciting plot twists!
The success of the original film on the international film festival circuit, which started with a win at the Best Shorts competition, began an amazing journey that stubbornly refuses to come to an end. With so much added depth and complexity, the novel has enough intrigue for another trilogy at the very least!
I again wish to acknowledge the contribution of everyone who has shared this journey with me. I am eternally grateful to the cast and crew of the film trilogy, whose faith in the project helped to turn my dreams into reality.
I extend my most sincere thanks to my mentors, Joyce Cocchi, Warren Philp and Nicky Sinclair, who have read and reread the novel through countless drafts and rewrites and provided me with expert feedback. I am especially thankful to Joyce who has been an unfailing source of advice and inspiration.

An extraordinary journey draws to a conclusion

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Another stage of an extraordinary journey is almost at an end. After months of intensive work, writing and re-writing, the novel of Amiri & Aroha is virtually complete. It is almost time to hand the project over to a book editor as the road to publication begins!
Thank you again to everyone who has supported me throughout this amazing voyage of discovery. Your enthusiasm has been a tremendous inspiration. I would like to add a special word of thanks to everyone who has been in touch asking about the DVD release. It is immensely satisfying to all of us who worked on the films that so many of you want to get hold of your own copies of the trilogy. Regretfully, I have to ask you to be patient just a little longer. Negotiations are continuing with potential distribution partners and they have requested that we delay the DVD/Blu-ray release until after distribution is secured. We promise you it will be worth the wait! Watch out for a major release to coincide with publication of the novel!
In the meantime, why not check out the cool new photo galleries on this site? There are loads of new and hitherto unpublished behind the scenes pictures.
With my work on the novel nearly finished, I am heading back to the cutting room to work on the book trailer. Some of the images accompanying my recent posts show a selection of the graphics I have produced specially for the trailer, with a definite literary feel and will draw the story out of the page. A trailer is a specialised short film and at its best, a work of art in its own right.
It’s great to be in the editing suite again, creating movies. Keep watching this blog for an awesome trailer in the very near future!

The Further Adventures of Amiri & Aroha

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Writing the Amiri & Aroha novel has been a wonderful experience. I have taken the characters created in the films to new levels and travelled with them on new adventures and experiences. Yet the journey has not been entirely without its downside. Working on the book has been a constant and painful reminder of the constraints of micro budget independent film making. Throughout my work on the novel, I have kept imagining what a wonderful film could be made with the depth and characterisation I have added in the book.
After discussing these thoughts with one of our distribution partners, I found myself crafting a new screenplay, incorporating all the new material and profundity from the novel. I am currently talking to film funding agencies about the possibility of shooting this new script with a full unit.
In a previous post, I suggested that the Amiri & Aroha story is just reaching its most exciting phase. I am now taking that thought one stage further.
2015 will be the year of Amiri & Aroha!

Amiri & Aroha: A remarkable Journey

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Creating the Amiri & Aroha trilogy has been a remarkable journey. I have met so many wonderful people along the way and forged such tremendous friendships, bonds that will last a lifetime.
Over the past few months, I have been privileged to make that journey for a second time, as I craft the novel based on the film trilogy.
Writing the novel has been a tremendous voyage of discovery. I have lived and breathed the story anew. I have shared in the characters’ joys and grieved with them in their sadness.
The book affords me the opportunity to tell the story as I had originally envisaged it, without the restrictions inherent in the making of a micro budget independent film.
Despite those enormous constraints, financial and otherwise, which were imposed on us during the making of the trilogy, the films continue to garner awards and engage film festival audiences throughout the world.
I extend my sincerest thanks to all those who have been in touch to ask when you will be able to see the trilogy. Rest assured I have been working hard behind the scenes to secure distribution, both for broadcast and a theatrical release. I have been working on some enhancements to the films, following feedback from film festival judges, our distribution partners and, of course, our wonderful World Premiere audience. I am grateful to you all for your unfailing support.
In so many ways, the Amiri and Aroha story is reaching its most exciting phase. Keep watching this blog!

Rere's Children wins at the Accolade Global Film Competition

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Amiri & Aroha
continues to take the international film festival circuit by storm with an Award of Merit for Rere’s Children at the Accolade Global Film Competition. We have won four international awards in as many months and the trilogy has now won a total of eleven major awards in international competition.
Since the premiere, the Amiri & Aroha trilogy has constantly been amongst the top rated films released in 2014 throughout the world on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb). Thank you to all who have had the chance to see the films and have voted us so highly.
We are hoping to give a much wider audience the opportunity to see the the trilogy in the near future, as we continue to explore distribution options.

Another Major Award for Amiri's Child

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Amiri & Aroha continues to take the international film festival circuit by storm with another major award for Amiri’s Child at the IndieFest.
Hot on the heels of an Award of Excellence in the Accolade Global Film Competition, Amiri’s Child has won an Award of Merit at the prestigious IndieFest Film Awards. Our third award in as many months keeps Amiri & Aroha up there with Hollywood’s greatest and with our latest win, in the company of the world’s foremost independent film makers.
As the organisers of the IndieFest are quick to point out, “IndieFest awardees have won Oscars & Emmys!”

IMDb Trivia puts Amiri's Child back in the news!

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Explosive images: this sequence where Miriama (Ebony Tuhaka) announces the acquisition of a fictional Mighty River Power quickly went viral when released on YouTube last year!


A new trivia item on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb) puts Amiri’s Child back in the headlines!
When preview audiences first saw Amiri’s Child last year, they were quick to point out parallels with the government’s sale of shares in the power industry. Political advocates of all persuasions saw in Amiri’s Child an allegory of what can happen when the power industry is itself engulfed in a power struggle. The David and Goliath battle between Arapeta and Koriata continues to promote discussion on asset sales.
This is particularly relevant at the present time in the run up to the New Zealand General Election. Amiri’s Child is once again central to the cut and thrust of political debate!
The goal throughout the Amiri & Aroha trilogy has been to produce top class, engrossing entertainment which is also compelling cinema, tackling important contemporary issues and giving audiences something to think about and something to talk about.

Check out the story on the IMDb trivia page here.

Rere's Children the highest rated film released in 2014 on IMDb!

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Rere’s Children has launched on the Internet Movie Data Base and today is the highest rated feature film released in 2014 in the World!

Sincere thanks to all who have enjoyed the movie at its premiere and voted us into this extraordinarily prestigious position!

Gisborne Herald Coverage of our premiere



Check out this video which Ben Cowper made for the Gisborne Herald at our premiere.

Our sincere thanks to Ben and the Gisborne Herald for their tremendous support over the years we have been working on Amiri & Aroha!

Check out also the recent coverage of Amiri & Aroha in the Gisborne Herald here.

World Premiere Photo Gallery

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The World Premiere of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy was truly a night I will never forget! After over five years of work on the trilogy, it was an amazing experience to share this story with an audience!

I am overwhelmed by the wonderful feedback I have received since the premiere. So many of our guests have told me they were gripped by the story and have taken it to their hearts. Thank you all for your kind words!

Check out our photo gallery from this momentous occasion here.

Amiri & Aroha comes to Hobbiton

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Amiri & Aroha comes to Hobbiton!

Continuing my promotional road trip around New Zealand, we have been visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata in the heart of the Waikato.

The Hobbiton set is a magic experience with many fascinating insights into the film making process. Highly recommended to all film makers and fans of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Amiri & Aroha World Premiere is a resounding success!

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Thank you to everyone who helped make our World Premiere such a resounding success. It was great to have so many of the cast and crew at the premiere and we had a wonderful reunion.

I was overwhelmed by the support of the Gisborne public. The Dome Cinema was packed to capacity and the staff worked overtime to cook pizzas for everyone!

I really appreciate all the kind comments you have all made about the films. We will be posting an album of photographs from the Premiere in the next few days. In the meantime, a very big thank you again to everyone who helped make my dream come true!

The Red Carpet is Rolled out

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Walter (The Wiz) Walsh and Mark Whittet roll out the red carpet for tonight’s World Premiere.

The final preparations are complete, the red carpet is rolled out and our guests are about to arrive!

World Premiere tonight!

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I have lived and breathed the story of Amiri & Aroha over the past five years. Likewise, our cast have lived with their characters over our extended shoots. Today we will share our story with the world!

Amiri & Aroha is the talk of the town in Gisborne!

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Excitement is reaching fever pitch with the premiere just 24 hours away!

Just about everyone in Gisborne knows somebody who worked on the trilogy and Amiri & Aroha is the talk of the town.

Let the combined magic of the Dome Cinema and the Amiri & Aroha trilogy entrance you at 6 pm tomorrow!

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Road trip to the Premiere

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A moment’s reflection on the trilogy on the shores of Lake Waikopiro in Hawke’s Bay.

With the premiere just days away, all roads are leading to Gisborne for this auspicious event!

I’ve been on a promotional road trip for trilogy, sailing over Cook Strait on the Interislander, a quick stop in Wellington to check out the Embassy Cinema and some press interviews en route!

The atmosphere in Gisborne is magic with a tremendous buzz in the city. Everyone seems to be anticipating the Premiere!

Yes, Gisborne is definitely the place to be on Saturday night!

The Most Beautiful Award in the Industry!

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The Accolade statuette is a constellation of 24K gold stars mounted on a piano finished base of rosewood. It has been called the most beautiful award in the industry.

Life has been a whirlwind in the last few weeks with the excitement of two major awards in Hollywood and preparations for the World Premiere. But it has also been an opportunity for reflection. When I first conceived the idea of Amiri & Aroha back in 2008, I had no idea of the extraordinary journey that was about to begin. All artistic endeavours have moments of both agony and ecstasy and the trilogy has certainly had more than its fair share of trauma, anxiety and sleepless nights! Yet the reward of watching the dream take shape and gradually become reality makes all the stress seem immaterial. And the joy of completing the films and sharing them with an audience is without equal.

But most important of all, I have met so many wonderful people making the trilogy. It has been a delight to work with such talented people on both sides of the camera and I have made wonderful friends during production - friendships which will last a lifetime. I look forward to catching up with as many of you as possible at the premiere.

Read our latest Press Release announcing the new awards.

The Countdown to the Premiere is on!



The clock is ticking, the Premiere is just days away!

But if you absolutely can’t wait, you can always check out our First Look Videos!

Gisborne History Lives on in Amiri & Aroha!

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Local history lives on in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy! The building with blood coming from the walls has gone!

The location for this dramatic scene in Rere’s Children has been demolished. The dark mood of this sequence was heightened by the chilling location, the sinister and eerie atmosphere had a profound effect on the cast and crew, who swore they could see blood oozing from the walls...

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Koriata (John Stainton) and Miriama (Ebony Tuhaka) play out an intense scene at an iconic location that is no more. Lost forever, now only to be seen in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy.

Nine days away - premiere arrangements confirmed

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With the World Premiere of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy now just nine days away, we all getting very excited and I am delighted to announce the final arrangements for this auspicious event.

The premiere will take place at the Dome Cinema in Gisborne on Saturday 19 July at 6 pm.

It is with great pleasure that we invite everyone who took part in the film to the premiere. We discovered so much new talent in Gisborne and this will be a showcase of your work. We will be sending invitations to all the cast and crew over the next couple of days.

I am especially pleased that we are able to host the premiere in Gisborne and members of the public will be most welcome to attend the premiere for a cost of $10 at the door. We are very grateful to the Gisborne community for their support of our project and hope that as many as possible will take the opportunity to be the first to experience this local production which is destined for the world.

Bar and refreshments will be available at the Dome Cinema (at own cost), treats including a tempting selection of pizza and ice cream.

We are particularly grateful to Sally and Katy at the Dome Cinema for hosting our very special night. Please support the Dome – it’s a local treasure!

If you took part in the film and have not received an invitation by the end of this week, please email me at davidwhittet@mac.com.

The Premiere is just ten days away!

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It seems a lifetime since we launched the pilot film at Gisborne’s iconic Dome Cinema on 9 October 2011. Since that auspicious event, the original film has been reshot and two further films made to complete the trilogy. The films have gone on to win multiple awards and commendations at intentional film festivals worldwide. At last we are ready to bring this amazing story to the world. We are holding the premiere in the heart of Gisborne to enable local people to be the first to experience this cinematic phenomenon!

The Dome Cinema will once again host our premiere. The Dome is truly unique, with a magical atmosphere and the ideal venue for our premiere:

“The Dome room has long had a reputation for bewitching its guests. Lingering between the pools of soft light glowing down from the domes, wondering where in the world they are. Many think of her thick red carpet, they've kicked off many a shoe to dance bare foot where billiard balls once fell in boisterous games of old. Likewise, the Dome Cinema is a charming mixture of the modern and fun, of old elegance and romance. Somehow it makes you feel right at home.

We invite you to come cosy up with a drink, and a pizza. For some good old fashioned entertainment, an experience to engage the senses and capture the imagination, welcome to the Dome Cinema...”


We will be making the formal announcement regarding arrangements for the Premiere tomorrow and sending out invitations to the cast and crew. Members of the public will also be welcome for a nominal fee. Watch out for the post tomorrow!

World Premiere of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy announced


Gisborne New Zealand is the place to be on 19 July 2014!

This powerful and intense trailer sets the scene for the World Premiere of the complete Amiri & Aroha trilogy, as we follow the crystal ball's journey from the cosmos back to Gisborne in time for the premiere, which will take place at the Dome Cinema on 19 July 2014.

Award of Excellence for Amiri's Child at the Accolade Competition

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The Amiri & Aroha trilogy may have been made on a zero budget, but it is up there with Hollywood’s greatest with yet another major competition win.

Check out this link to the Accolade Competition website and you will see that we are in the company of Liam Neeson and the Oscar winner for Best Short Documentary.

Following hot on the heels of our Best Shorts award, the Award of Excellence for a Feature Film at the Accolade Competition for Amiri’s Child proves once more that world class products can be produced on a minuscule budget and can compete and win against fully funded productions. We are very proud to be named in the company of such distinguished film makers.

This award has come at a very opportune time with our World Premiere just a fortnight away at the Dome Cinema in Gisborne.

We are so excited to bring this iconic New Zealand story to the world!

Amiri's Child arrives on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb)

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With our success at the Accolade Film Competition, Amiri's Child now has been granted a page on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb).

IMDb is the prime resource for film makers and audiences alike and achieving IMDb listing is a significant goal for all film makers.
Check out the Amiri's Child IMDb page here.

We have also updated the Amiri & Aroha IMDb page with the cool new trailers.
Check out the Amiri & Aroha IMDb page here.

The Broken Promises music video is released



Broken Promises
is the evocative music video that accompanies the award winning Amiri & Aroha film trilogy.

Rising star Alyssha Maynard performs her original composition at the iconic Rere waterfalls, the principal location for Amiri & Aroha.

Alyssha's poignant song takes us on a breathtaking journey through the trilogy. We meet the mystic Koka, a Maori soothsayer haunted by her past, and Aroha, the daughter of a notorious gang leader who is determined to escape from the gang and an arranged marriage to her cousin Hunapo.

Amiri & Aroha is a Maori take on Romeo and Juliet, set on New Zealand's stunning East Cape. Aroha meets Amiri, a hot shot businessman from the big smoke of Auckland, who promises Aroha a new life away from the gang. But Hunapo, a gang leader in waiting, refuses to let go of Aroha and threatens to kill her if she goes ahead with the marriage to Amiri.

Through spellbinding music and images, we share Aroha's desperate right of passage, a voyage from darkness to light as she struggles to find her own way in life.

Alyssha Maynard's music beautifully captures the spirit of Amiri & Aroha and is a perfect prelude to the trilogy.

Amiri's Child wins Best Shorts Award

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The ground breaking overture to Amiri’s Child has won a prestigious Best Shorts award!

Back in 2011, I got my big break with an award for Amiri & Aroha at the prestigious Best Shorts Competition. It feels like we’ve been on a roll since that momentous occasion with Amiri & Aroha garnering an increasing collection of awards on the international film festival circuit. So it is particularly rewarding to see Amiri’s Child, the second film in the trilogy, continuing to create a stir with festival audiences and especially rewarding that it has won another Best Shorts award.

I am especially pleased to have won the latest Best Shorts award for the overture, an innovative pre-titles sequence, a two-and-a-half minute roller coaster ride with a cauldron of explosive images of the story that is about to unfold.

In an age where we are bombarded with fast and furious images in the media, on television and on the internet, it can be hard for the film maker to seize the audience's attention. In the digital age, we must find new ways to create atmosphere and captivate our audiences and I believe an overture can be a powerful device for achieving audience engagement.

Read our full Press Release here and watch the award winning short!



With the Best Shorts win, this groundbreaking overture has taken on a life of its own and become a short film in its own right!

Broken Promises

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Alyssha Maynard performs her original composition Broken Promises which beautifully captures the spirit of Amiri & Aroha.

With the final cut of Rere’s Children at last in the can, I have been working on a music video to promote the trilogy. Alyssha Maynard has written a poignant, evocative song which eloquently captures the lifeblood of our story.

I love cutting music videos, which are truly an art form in their own right. The Broken Promises video could be subtitled The Trilogy in Two Minutes, juxtaposing scenes from Amiri & Aroha with Alyssha’s stunning performance.

Watch out for the Broken Promises video which will be premiering on this site in the very near future.

Amiri & Aroha takes on the World!

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All smiles at the end of a very long journey for Amiri & Aroha!

Amiri & Aroha is taking on the world!

I have lived and breathed this story for the past few years and it is immensely satisfying to see my dreams come to fruition as the films continue to attract enthusiastic attention at film festivals throughout the world.

Watch out for an exciting press release on our latest success on the intentional film festival circuit!

The Countdown is on!

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A dramatic explosion in Amiri’s Child changes everything. But another countdown is just beginning...

The countdown is now on for the Charity World Premiere of the entire Amiri & Aroha trilogy. And this is just the start of our journey. As Amiri & Aroha continues to take the intentional film festival circuit by storm, negotiations continue for a mini series, a feature film and an ongoing series. Keep watching this blog!

We are looking for sponsors for our charity premiere. We want to make this gala event as special as possible. The proceeds will go to developing family medicine networks in regions of extreme need in the poorest parts of the world. If you are in a position to support us, we would love to hear from you. If you know someone who might be interested, please spread the word. Associate yourself with our success story!

2014: The Year of the Premiere

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A very Happy New Year to all our followers from the cast and crew of Amiri & Aroha.

2014 promises to be a very exciting year for us! This is the year we will finally complete the trilogy and bring this amazing story to the world!

Juggling the Crystal Ball

Juggling-the-Crystal-Ball
This enchanting scene adds a new dimension to the conclusion of Amiri’s Child.

Feedback from preview audiences and film festival judging panels is a vital part of honing the release version of a film. We have had a wealth of constructive criticism which has helped sharpen Amiri’s Child for its imminent release. The conclusion of the middle film of a trilogy is always difficult, finding an ending that is both satisfactory for the film as a stand alone entity but also leads the audience into the final part. Amiri’s Child and Rere’s Children are really like two parts of the same film.

I was never entirely happy with the ending of Amiri’s Child we presented to preview audiences, but with the help of a juggling crystal ball I have at last achieved the denouement I was looking for.

A breathtaking conclusion for Amiri & Aroha!

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The great director Alfred Hitchcock once said: “start with an earthquake, then build up to a climax!”

With the explosive openings of Amiri & Aroha and Amiri’s Child, I’ve tried to do just that. And over the past few years of intensive shooting, we have been working towards that climax!

Without giving away any spoilers, I can promise our fans a spectacular and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Perhaps this screen shot will provide just a hint of the direction we are taking!

Zero Film Festival - A Fair Go for Indie Film Makers

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Amiri & Aroha has achieved astonishing success on the international film festival circuit, especially considering it is a self funded project by a small group of self made Indie film makers. We have won awards at major festivals worldwide, in competition with full budget productions from major studios. But there is a festival that gives Indie film makers on a zero budget a fair go. Not only does the Zero Film Festival, which is restricted to self funded productions, allow Indie film makers to compete on a level playing field, but also provides the option of detailed feedback on their work and a vibrant film making community.

I am currently submitting both Amiri & Aroha and Amiri’s Child to the Zero Film Festival and hope that Rere’s Children will be joining them soon. But despite our reputation for producing world class films with negligible funding, even micro budget film makers need a little help! When I first conceived this project five years ago, who could have predicted that we would now be talking to Hollywood about a major new series?

Do read about our project and if you like what you see, please help us to complete the project with a breathtaking finale!

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Amiri & Aroha - The Next Sopranos?

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We’ve been telling our IndieGoGo supporters they will be part of the next great thing - now it’s official!

As negotiations continue with satellite channels, one clear message is coming across: Amiri & Aroha could be the next Sopranos.

I have been stunned by how many media moguls have drawn parallels between The Sopranos and Amiri & Aroha. Executives have told us that both have powerful characters, compelling and well written stories which captivate audiences. Praise indeed!

Get in on the Action at our IndieGoGo site!

A Project Unlike Any Other!

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The young generation of the gang challenge the old guard, they will not tolerate Tautaru’s rule of terror and chide him that his days are numbered.

Long gone are the days when the film director could hide behind the camera! Today’s film makers have to promote themselves as well as their work. Blogs, websites, Facebook fan pages - these are all vital to secure funding and to reach audiences!

Indie film makers are passionate about their work and I believe that in Amiri & Aroha, we have created a unique piece of cinema. This is reflected in feedback from film festival audiences and this week a potential distributor told me he thought we had “a project unlike any other - a heady mixture of love, rivalry, tribal ritual, gang warfare, full of intrigue and to cap it all, shot in the heart of Middle Earth!”

Amiri & Aroha Goes Viral!

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Everybody seems to be checking out the Amiri & Aroha Campaign!

With the launch of the IndieGoGo campaign to raise finishing funds for the project, Amiri & Aroha has gone viral!

The total reach of our Facebook page has skyrocketed with a staggering increase of 1,797,000% in the past week!

A sincere thank you to everyone who has helped to spread the word about our awesome project. We believe we have have an amazing story to tell the world and we need your help as we approach the final hurdle!

Amiri's Baby

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Joanne McLean with baby Cleo on set for Amiri's Child in October 2011.

Thank you so much to all our early IndieGoGo supporters, we are really grateful to you for kick starting our campaign!

8% of our goal in the first 24 hours - that's an amazing start!

It is particularly fitting to have a donation made on behalf of Cleo Brenchley, who was the baby playing the baby Arapeta in Amiri's Child. A special thank you to Cleo's mother Joanne McLean for letting her baby take part in the film and her generous contribution to our campaign!

If you haven’t checked out our IndieGoGo site yet, please click here and share the link with your family and friends. Every contribution will help this project reach its full potential and enable us to achieve a film we can all be proud of!

Our IndieGoGo Campaign is live!



As a result of our success on the international film festival circuit, we now have the opportunity to broadcast the Amiri & Aroha trilogy as a mini series and there is even the option of a long running series using the characters we have created. Following broadcast of the mini series, we are editing a single feature film for cinema release.

Amiri & Aroha is poised to become the next big media sensation!

With such tremendous potential, we are determined to make the trilogy as stunning as possible for worldwide television and cinema audiences. Please support our campaign and together we can make cinema history!

On the cusp of something great

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This is a truly exciting time for all of us who have worked so hard on Amiri & Aroha over the past five years.

I have been negotiating options for a prime time mini series and have options for a long running series. With this and a forthcoming cinema release, we really feel we are on the cusp of something great!

Rere's Children - The Rough Cut

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The rough cut of Rere's Children is coming together beautifully and is shaping up to be a compelling piece of cinema in its own right, as well as a stunning conclusion to the Amiri & Aroha trilogy.

But with negotiations continuing for a mini series and a cinema release, it is clear that we will need another shooting session to complete the trilogy. Most significantly, we were unable to film the car chase as Cory Garrett, who plays Troy, went down with Norovirus during our last shoot. The car chase results in Amiri's arrest, a key storyline in the final film.

We also hope to shoot Lamonge's escape on a ship in a dramatic scene at Gisborne Harbour.

Keep watching this blog for more news: the current plan is an October shoot and a Christmas premiere for the trilogy.

Acclaim for the Amiri's Child Trailer


The newly released trailer for Amiri’s Child is promoting lively discussion on the international film festival circuit.

Following the success of the teaser for Amiri & Aroha at last year’s International Movie Trailer Festival, I have again used the dramatic overture for the Amiri’s Child trailer. In a two-and-a-half minute roller coaster ride, we follow the ethereal Kōkā’s search for her crystal ball in the waters of Rere and a cauldron of explosive images of the story that is about to unfold…

The enthusiastic early reaction to this powerful trailer reinforces my hope that the Amiri & Aroha trilogy will demonstrate a potent new technique for audience engagement: a dynamic and captivating overture.

The Amiri & Aroha Blog to be published

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The cover for the soon to be published Amiri & Aroha movie tie-in

The Amiri & Aroha blog is soon to be published as the official companion to the motion picture trilogy.

Over the past three years, this blog has charted the making of the trilogy from the first concept through to the final cut and chronicles the journey of a dedicated team of independent film makers.

And the story is not over yet! With post production on Rere’s Children in full swing and Amiri’s Child on the international film festival circuit, these are exciting times! Add to that a gala charity premiere later this year and the novel in the near future, the Amiri & Aroha story still has far to go!

An Assembly Edit for Rere's Children

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With Amiri’s Child at last complete and important meetings with distributors this week, the pressure is on to complete an assembly edit of Rere’s Chldren, the final film of the trilogy.

This rough cut will show potential distributors how the story concludes and will be immensely valuable to me in determining what level of reshoots and pick up shots will be required to complete the trilogy.

Working on the edit has been a voyage of rediscovery. I have been so preoccupied with completing Amiri’s Child these last few months that I had almost forgotten just how good the footage is for Rere’s Children! It has been a real joy to go back to these wonderful performances and to cut them into a compelling drama!

An Exclusive preview of Amiri's Child for North End Health Centre

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Tonight was a very special occasion with the first screening of the complete Amiri’s Child. It was a great pleasure to share this auspicious moment with my colleagues and friends from the North End Health Centre in Oamaru.

This past week has been amongst the most stressful in the whole production. With a deadline to get a viewing copy of the film to a potential distributor and tonight’s screening on the horizon, an unwelcome Final Cut software update threatened everything. The update resulted in corruption of the project render files and prevented the film being exported from the Final Cut software. But Indy film makers are not easily beaten. With the help of the ever resourceful indy film community, a complex but ultimately successful work around saved the day!

Watching the story unfold on the big screen tonight, with an appreciative audience sharing the experience, I knew all the hard work and stress have been worthwhile. Amiri’s Child has been a vision in my mind for so long, words cannot express the reward of seeing an audience enjoy the film.

Whilst it is wonderful to receive recognition from international film festivals, it is the opinions of those closest to you that mean the most.

Amiri's Child wraps with some highly effective pick up shots

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After two years of intensive shooting, Amiri’s Child is at last in the can.

At the end of a shoot, I always aim to reserve time for pick up shots. It’s a great feeling when the shooting is complete and there is an opportunity to film those elusive extra scenes that can add depth and scope to the story.

Pick ups can make or break a film. Today’s work adds a new dimension to Miriama’s character, giving her a back story and insights into her relationship with the young Arapeta. These scenes will make Amiri’s Child a more powerful piece of cinema.

Amiri's Child: The Final Conflict

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The wrap photo for the battered and bruised team following an intense shoot!

We were back in Gisborne for a long weekend of retakes and pickups for Amiri’s Child.

The youth gang scene has certainly proved one of the most difficult sequences in Amiri’s Child. It is a dramatic turning point in the story and following feedback from preview audiences and industry colleagues, I have taken this opportunity to develop Miriama’s character with a back story and deepen the potent but ambivalent relationship between the young Arapeta and Miriama.

We had a brilliant cast this afternoon and created a powerful and compelling scene.

Interview on Radio Waatea

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I was a guest on veteran Māori broadcaster Dale Husband’s Te Wahanga Parakuihi show on Radio Waatea this morning, Auckland’s influential urban Māori station.

Te Wahanga Parakuihiā provides an early morning dose of bilingual news, views, Māori events and entertainment. It was a pleasure to discuss the interest in Māori culture that Amiri & Aroha has created on a world stage and the recognition it is bringing to a very talented group of Māori actors.

As the deadline approaches for the sale of shares in Mighty River Power, Amiri’s Child continues to make the headlines!

Press Release: Award Winning NZ Film hits the headlines!

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Miriama (Ebony Tuhaka) achieves celebrity status in a montage sequence at the conclusion of Amiri’s Child.

It is now almost a decade since I first started work on Amiri & Aroha. When I plotted the story and wrote the first drafts, in what seems a lifetime ago, I had no knowledge that my work would prove so topical and create a political stir.

Read our Press Release and watch the scene that has provoked such an unexpected reaction.


The infamous teaser scene at the end of Amiri’s Child where Miriama holds a press conference to announce the takeover of a fictitious Mighty River Power. This scene was written and filmed long before asset sales became an issue in New Zealand and the sale of shares in Mighty River power was announced.

Amiri & Aroha to help children in extreme need

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As post production, reshoots and discussions with distributors continue, thoughts have been turning towards the premiere of the complete trilogy.

I am delighted to announce that we plan to have a gala charity premiere later in the year, the proceeds of which will go to support a project I am working on to develop family medicine in Cambodia.

How Indy is Indy?

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Feedback from early preview audiences has provided invaluable in refining the final cut of Amiri’s Child

How truly independent can an independent film be?

The joy of independent film making is the creative freedom to follow one’s own ideas and inspiration, free from studio pressure and influence. But can one ever be completely free of commercial constraints?

On the eve of release, following discussion with potential distributors, I have been asked to make changes to Amiri’s Child.

The film maker is particularly vulnerable in the final stages of post production. As I have reported earlier in this blog, editing Amiri’s Child has proven particularly challenging, with critical rewrites and reshoots late into post. After months of work, cutting and recutting to get the structure and pacing right, in the last few days I have at last felt a sense of accomplishment, the film has achieved what I intended, my vision has been realised.

The pressure from exhibitors to make changes, particularly to the ending, was therefore not entirely welcome and my first real experience of commercial forces. After taking some time out to consider the suggested changes, I can see that the difference lies in my desire to make three companion films which are complete in their own right and the distributors requirement for a continuing series.

One suggestion is to follow the modern story telling trend of beginning with the dramatic crux the story, starting with the denouement as a teaser and then showing the audience how events come to reach this climax. It’s a technique we have become accustomed to in TV shows like Revenge, where it works very well. But in Amiri’s Child? I haven’t got my head round that yet!

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the digital age is the ability to make multiple cuts of the film for different audiences. When working on 16mm or 35mm film this proved prohibitively expensive. Now it is so easy to make different versions of the project and try out editing suggestions from preview audiences and distributors - however outlandish they may seem at first -without any additional cost. Other than time! All this does mean many more hours locked away in the editing suite!

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More long hours lie ahead in the editing suite to complete the theatrical release cuts of Amiri’s Child and Rere’s Children.

Amiri's Child Hits the Headlines!

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A frame from a montage sequence dramatising Arapeta’s meteoric rise to the top in the power industry.

Amiri’s Child hits the headlines with a timely message for New Zealand!

The release of the first look videos of Amiri’s Child has provoked an extraordinary and totally unexpected response. Preview audiences in New Zealand have been fast to point out the parallels between the government’s sale of shares in the power industry and Amiri’s Child, a David and Goliath story of intense conflict between the directors of two rival power companies.

Does Amiri’s Child foreshadow the dangers of power generation becoming a political hot potato and falling into the wrong hands? Could the deadly rivalry between the two power companies in Amiri’s Child predict a similar confrontation here in New Zealand? Will life imitate art?

Asset sales are a hot issue right now in New Zealand. The Amiri & Aroha trilogy has taken on some important contemporary issues and now Amiri’s Child is at the centre of current debate!

A Powerful Overture for Amiri's Child

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Kōkā sees a vision of the unborn Arapeta in the “overture” to Amiri’s Child.

Perhaps the most ground breaking aspect of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy will prove to be the striking overture that draws the audience into each of the films.

In Amiri & Aroha the overture featured the mysterious Kōkā discovering the crystal ball in the waters of Rere and a cauldron of images in the crystal ball. With Amiri's Child we follow the crystal ball's journey back to Rere and Kōkā’s infamous curse which exerts a powerful influence on the course of the trilogy.

In an age where we are bombarded with fast and furious images in the media, on television and the internet, it can be hard for the film maker to seize the audience's attention. Gone forever are the days when cinemas had overtures and intermissions. The overture played to the expectant cinema goers in a darkened auditorium.

Film makers in the digital age must find new ways to create atmosphere and captivate their audience. I hope that Amiri & Aroha will lead the way, demonstrating a powerful approach to achieving audience engagement!

Detonation Films

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When I wrote the script for Amiri’s Child, I set myself some pretty difficult tasks. None more impossible than exploding a hydroelectric power station!

As post production on Amiri’s Child progresses, I have been forced to confront this challenge!

Thanks to the good people at Detonation Films, who blow up anything that takes their fancy, the task that has been weighing so heavily on my mind has become both achievable and fun, as demonstrated by these dramatic screen shots.

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Thanks so much for your contribution to our project, guys! Keep blowing stuff up for the good of independent film makers!

Prestige Award Presentation

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The news of our success in the Prestige Awards was a major boost during the last shoot of Rere's Children in Gisborne.

Likewise, presentation of the award has been most encouraging at a critical time in post production on the trilogy.

It's tremendously satisfying to have done so well, with an essentially self funded independent film, especially when in competition with the world's top film makers and  fully resourced Hollywood productions.

We look forward to continuing our high profile as the competed trilogy will soon be hitting the international film festival circuit.  

Read our updated Press Release.

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The growing collection of awards for Amiri & Aroha.

First Look Amiri's Child



Amiri's Child is now close to completion and we are pleased to present a first look at a key sequence from the film.

This excerpt starts right where Amiri & Aroha left off with the long awaited confrontation between Kōkā and Aroha following the post titles teaser at the end of the original Amiri & Aroha.

The clip will reveal the direction we have taken with the story and you will see Kōkā’s notorious curse!

As post production of the trilogy continues, we will be posting more first look videos as a curtain raiser to release of the complete Amiri & Aroha trilogy.

A critical rewrite for Amiri's Child

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Shooting the original youth gang scene in Gisborne in October 2011.

Success in Film Making, as in so many artistic endeavours, relies on being prepared to go back to the drawing board when a scene is not working and chiseling away at a production until it is as good as you can possibly get it.

In my last post on the January 2013 shoot, I indicated that there were still problems with a critical scene in Amiri's Child. Whilst continuing post production, I have been trying to determine why the scene isn't working after two reshoots.

As is so often the case, I am convinced that the answer lies with the concept of the scene. The young Arapeta saves Miriama from an attack by a youth gang and wins her heart, a crucial plot point. Where the problem lies is the motivation for the fight. The original story was a score to settle with Miriama's foster mother, Kōkā. For the scene to work, the youth gang’s hostility must be specifically directed at Miriama, a vendetta because she thinks she’s better than the gang. Miriama thinks she's a cut above everyone else, having been to finishing school in Switzerland.

As well as being a better fit with the rest of the story, the change will give much more meaning to Arapeta and Miriama’s subsequent relationship. Miriama is humbled by the experience and is forced to face reality. In doing so, she comes to understand Arapeta’s strengths.

So it's back to the script for another rewrite of the screenplay. I have been working on pre-viz  for a restructured sequence. Now I have to arrange yet another shoot to complete Amiri's Child!

Digital Anarchy

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Perfecting burns in post - using Digital Anarchy's Beauty Box/Ugly Box plug-ins for Final Cut.

One of the main reasons why post production on Amiri's Child is taking so long is the painstaking digital enhancement of Amiri's burns makeup.

I have been using some brilliant software from Digital Anarchy. Whilst famed for their award winning Beauty Box skin retouching technology, it is the companion Ugly Box which is proving invaluable for Amiri's Child.

Whereas Beauty Box smooths wrinkles and blemishes, instead of smoothing the skin texture, Ugly Box enhances it to bring out all the variations, wrinkles and blemishes. This is ideal for adding edge to Amiri's grossly burnt skin and for dramatically ageing Kōkā on her fateful return to Rere.

The January 2013 Shoot wraps - where to from here?

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Young Arapeta (Mark Whittet) and Miriama (Sophee Hills) work out their troubled relationship in the spectacular setting of the Elephant rocks. This touching scene is a highlight of the January 2013 shoot.

With some beautiful scenes between Arapeta and Miriama at the Elephant Rocks and some pick up shots up and down the Waitaki Valley, filming for the January 2013 shoot wrapped.

The difference in Mark and Sophee’s performances during this session has been amazing. Both young actors brought a wealth of experience from the previous shoots and a new depth and maturity to their characters. I am so pleased that we expanded and re-shot these scenes. They will make Amiri’s Child a much more powerful film.

Yet this excitement is tempered by some concerns. There are problem areas that are proving difficult to resolve. I remain uneasy about the youth gang scene in Amiri’s Child. Despite the re-write and some promising new footage, the scene just doesn’t have the gritty realism to carry the audience through Miriama’s change of heart. I fear further retakes will be necessary. Will the Amiri & Aroha trilogy ever be completely in the can?

Yet more tough decisions lie ahead in post production!

Lessons from an unofficial Film School

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Director David Whittet views the footage shot this morning over lunch at the Flying Pig Cafe in Duntroon.

Of all the lessons I have learnt over the years at my unofficial film school of competition judge’s comments, festival adjudicators and DVD director’s commentary tracks, perhaps this is the most important: during production planning, always make contingency plans to reshoot those inevitable scenes that disappoint in post production.

Peter Jackson discusses the value of this in his director’s commentary on the extended DVD of King Kong. He always contracts his actors and crew to be available for pick up shots after the completion of principal photography, so those scenes which just haven’t worked out - for whatever reason - can be put right.

The value of this week’s shoot is proving immeasurable. With the hindsight and knowledge of the entire trilogy production, I have been able to get my young actors to really understand their roles and for those few moments that the camera is rolling, to believe that the are the characters in the film.

Refinements at the Elephant Rocks

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Director David Whittet setting up for today’s shoot at the Elephant Rocks in the Waitaki Valley, North Otago.

Each shoot in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy has proved a mission, there are always a huge number of scenes to film in a short space of time. We were all tired today after yesterday’s filming marathon and it proved another swelteringly hot day, making concentration difficult for cast and crew alike.

I had deliberately set a whole day aside for the work at Elephant Rocks. It is an important and emotional scene for the young actors and I was determined to allow myself sufficient time to draw the very best out of Mark and Sophee.

Both Mark and Sophee exceeded expectations and brought a charming innocence to the scene. I can’t wait to edit this footage!

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Sophee Hills - still smiling after a week of intense shooting!

Trains and Transitions

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Frame enlargement from this evening’s footage: the passing train adds the perfect atmosphere as Arapeta and Miriama walk back from their frightening experience at the castle, only to be apprehended by a youth gang.

Trains have always fascinated me. Indeed trains have proved significant characters in a number of my films. Trains were a symbol of departure and loss in one of my earliest films Andante and the dramatic climax of Phaedra’s Friend took place on the London Underground.

Back in Gisborne, I had shot some very atmospheric scenes of Shane Luke as the adult Arapeta wandering along a disused railway track when his life falls to pieces at the end of Amiri’s Child. Tonight’s scene will add unity to the locations as well as a dramatic transition between the scenes at Campbell Park and the youth gang sequence.

David Lean always maintained that: “good films can only be made by dedicated maniacs”. After a long and punishing day on location, camping out by the train track to get this elusive shot was definitely dedicated and, in the view of the cast, quite maniacal!

Introducing Miriama

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Sophee Hills and David Whittet discussing her opening scene in the Oamaru Public Gardens.

A character’s first appearance on screen is all important and a striking first scene can create an indelible impression on an audience, which will resonate throughout the film.

When we shot Miriama’s opening scene in Gisborne, we were hampered by some poor weather and the scene never created the impact I was looking for. The audience must empathise with Arapeta’s need to win Miriama’s heart. The beautiful evening sun in the Oamaru Public Gardens added the perfect visual texture for this scene.

Filming at the Campbell Park Estate

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David Whittet directs Sophee Hills as Miriama and Mark Whittet as Arapeta at the Campbell Park Estate in the Waitaki Valley.

In today’s scenes, we see a different side of the young Miriama. Previous iterations of the script have concentrated on Kōkā’s grooming her to be a lady, with the legacy of an exclusive Swiss finishing school and a disdain for Arapeta’s gangland origins. But as Miriama begins to escape from Kōkā’s control, we see a more wistful side to her personality. Sick of their nomadic existence, Miriama fantasises about a life away from the claustrophobic gypsy caravan.

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Young Miriama (Sophee Hills) and the castle of her dreams.

Young Arapeta's Vision at the Waitaki Dam

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David Whittet directs Sophee Hills as the young Miriama at the Waitaki Dam in North Otago.

Today’s shooting provided an ideal opportunity to deepen the audience’s insight into the relationship between the young Arapeta and Miriama and in particular to develop Miriama’s character.

The Young Arapeta’s Vision sequence is all important to the story but has proved very difficult to get exactly right. I have re-written the scene may times and today marks the third time we have filmed the scene.

Coming midway through Amiri’s Child, whilst out walking with Miriama, the young Arapeta sees a hydroelectric dam and knows instantly that he wants to be in charge of the power station. Whilst Arapeta eulogises about clean raw energy, Miriama takes a more pragmatic approach, she’s learnt about harnessing energy at finishing school. And we get a glimpse of Miriama’s playfulness as she teases Arapeta that she might beat him to it, a hint of plot twists ahead.

Today’s shoot was made special by the pounding water on the spillway at the Waitaki dam. On our previous shoots, the cascading water had to be added digitally in post production. Recent heavy rain in the Waitaki Valley has filed the lakes and the roar of the water from the dam today truly equalled the might of the Rere falls!

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Shooting at the mighty Waitaki dam today, with the intensity of the pounding water and the beauty of the Waitaki lakes, I could empathise with the young Arapeta’s fascination with “clean, raw energy”.

The January shoot is underway with a confrontation in gangland!

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Ryan Esselink, Chris van der Salm, Caitlin Kearney, Georgia Tangney, Brittany Mare and Eilee Robinson as the youth gang with a score to settle with Miriama.

The first day of shooting is always a mixture of excitement and blind pain and today was no exception!

Despite weeks of planning, for this shoot we have been scouring second hand clothes shops for young Arapeta’s distinctive costume and working with knives, razor blades and matches to make the your gang costumes look suitably live in.

Yet there is always so much to do at the last minute. No sooner had we picked up Sophee Hills, who plays the young Miriama, from Timaru airport than we were on the road to shoot the youth gang scenes by the railway track in the industrial area of Oamaru.

Mark and I had worked on the choreography for the fight in which Arapeta defends Miriama and at last wins her heart. The scenes needed to by gritty and ugly for Miriama’s transformation to have meaning. Despite all the preparation and a great new cast of gangsters, the shoot was difficult and radix cutting in post production will be needed to give the footage the edginess required for the story.

Preparing Another Shoot for Amiri's Child

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Mark Whittet and Sophee Hills will reprise their roles of the young Arapeta and Miriama.

With shooting set to commence on 21 January, preparations are once again in full swing for yet another major shoot for the Amiri & Aroha trilogy.It is always an exciting time, honing the script, location scouting, storyboarding the sequences. Creativity is at a peak!

My main aim for this shoot is to more fully develop the relationship between the young Arapeta and Miriama. They start out like Pip and Estella in Great Expectations with Miriama, just back from an exclusive finishing school in Switzerland, decrying Arapeta for his gangland origins. Miriama’s journey as a child is a vital precursor to developments in Rere’s Children, as the trilogy reaches its conclusion.

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Sophee Hills is flying down from Gisborne to Oamaru next week for the filming which will expand the role of the young Miriama. The new footage will give Miriama more back story and make her initial hostility to Arapeta and her subsequent transformation more understandable.

Tough Decisions in Post Production

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There is agony and ecstasy in the creation of any artistic endeavour. In film making, joy and despair come together in post production.

My current work completing Amiri’s Child has certainly brought some highs, as the rough cut takes shape and promises to be a compelling piece of cinema. But there are some problem areas where the material is just not working.

In particular, the scenes between the young Arapeta and Miriama are not sufficiently developed. Whilst the scenes have been through a number of revisions already, more work is required if these sequences are to achieve their full impact.

So over the next few days, I will concentrate on re-writing the scenes, with the benefit of hindsight from the previous shoots and an overview of the entire project. I hope to set up a shooting session for later in January for these scenes.

Movie Magic, illusion and painstaking compositing!

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Working on a complex compositing shot using Apple’s Motion software.

I am falling behind with post production work on the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. I was hoping to have Amiri’s Child complete by the end of this year, but release will now be well into the New Year.

The reason for the delay is the painstaking work on special effects. I have previously commented in this blog on the endless list of Digital Compositors on the titles in the commercial cinema and how this contrasts with the Indy film maker, who does all the work themselves. Amiri’s Child in particular is heavy on effects shots. As well as images in Kōkā’s crystal ball, there is a complex opening sequence, an overture in which the crystal ball travels back to Rere and Kōkā foresees the birth of Amiri’s child.

I have spent the last fortnight working on Kōkā’s return to Rere, a dramatic scene towards the end of Amiri’s Child. Kokā must take the crystal ball back to Rere and smash it on the rocks to break a curse, and as she travels back to Rere in her caravan, she asks her beloved crystal ball to show her the future one last time. Creating these effects (using Apple’s Motion programme) has been laborious, which single shots taking several days to achieve the level of perfection essential to make the audience believe in the illusion.

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Creating a travelling matte around the actress’s fingers so that they appear in front of the lightening, which has been superimposed on the shot to create the illusion that the lightening is inside the crystal ball.
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The completed effect, with the fire in the crystal ball on Kōkā’s final journey.

Digital compositing may be an exacting task, but the results are rewarding when they work!

Koriata rules the boardroom

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Another full-on shoot today with the Jensen Industries boardroom scenes. As well as Koriata’s triumphant victory speech to his board which comes early in Rere’s Children, we re-shot the boardroom scenes for Amiri’s Child. With the casting of Lisa Beach as Koriata’s muse Alice, I was eager to have Lisa in Amiri’s Child. In the footage we shot back in August, I didn’t feel Koriata came across as sufficiently aggressive in the boardroom. Mark took on the role of dialogue coach and worked with John on getting some real anger into his performance.

At the end of the day’s shoot, there was no doubt whatever that Koriata ruled the boardroom!

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Assistant Director Mark Whittet rehearses a boardroom scene with John Stainton as Koriata.
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Lisa Beach as Alice and John Stainton as Koriata. Alice has secretly held a candle for Koriata over the years, and today we started developing this relationship which will have a surprising impact on the resolution of the story.

Lamonge strikes again!

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Lamonge (Warren Philp) brings the young Arapeta (Mark Whittet) news of his change in fortune.

We first meet Andrew Lamonge midway through Amiri’s Child, as the lawyer who brings Arapeta news of his endowment. What’s not apparent at this time is that behind the smooth talking professional hides a troubled soul with a secret that will shatter lives in the dénouement of the trilogy.

Like his alter ego, Warren Philp (who plays Lamonge) has also been leading a double life! As well as acting and developing Lamonge’s character on screen, Warren has tirelessly campaigned to raise funds for our film, promoting the IndieGoGo campaign and meeting corporate sponsors. Warren has been successful in attracting major sponsors to the project.

Warren introduced Bronwyn Kay to Amiri & Aroha, which has proved so successful, both financially and artistically. Bronwyn’s scene plays a key role in the story.

We truly appreciate your efforts on our behalf, Warren. Keep up the good work!

Koriata's Dilemma

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A gang henchman (Ayden Malone) reminds Koriata (John Stainton) where his loyalties lie…

Reshooting all the material featuring Koriata from Amiri’s Child with our new actor, John Stainton was a bold decision. Our faith has been richly rewarded with compelling performances and a different take on Koriata’s personality, make him a deeper and more complex character.

One of the huge advantages of a reshoot is the ability to create new scenes that add dramatic impact at critical points in the film.

Amiri’s Child is midway through post production and I have been working on the pacing and structure of the mid section of the film. Today we shot a dark scene where a gang henchman makes it clear to Koriata that he is a puppet of the gang. Ayden Malone contributed yet another cameo performance to the Amiri & Aroha trilogy, a menacing performance which sent a shiver down the spine of everyone on set!

The scene is important as it emphasises Koriata’s dilemma, he is not a free man who can choose his own path. A theme which we explore further in Rere’s Children.

Mediation? With that pōriro?

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David Whittet directs Shane Luke as Arapeta, Deborah Vallois as the Mediator and John Stainton at Koriata.

When arch enemies Arapeta and Koriata are forced to meet each other for mediation, the sparks are bound to fly. This is the first time they have met face to face since they were children and their confrontation is destined to be explosive. Both are powerful businessmen, chief executives controlling rival power companies and used to getting their own way in a cut throat industry. But both also have a dark history which spills over in the scene.

We first shot this scene in October 2011 and an excerpt from this version survives on the IndieGoGo campaign video.

Shane Luke and Deborah Vallois reprise their roles from the original shoot, acting opposite our new Koriata, John Stainton. Today’s shoot was made special by the electric atmosphere between Shane and John as Arapeta and Koriata. John brought a superiority to Koriata, smugly mocking Arapeta and winding him up until he snaps.

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Shane Luke and John Stainton read through the script prior to the shoot.

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In a key revision of the scene, Koriata taunts Arapeta that he’s dressed up in his Sunday best for the meeting but can’t even get his tie right!

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David Whittet directs Shane Luke and John Stainton in the explosive scene where the two arch enemies meet for the first time since childhood.

Amiri & Lamonge

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David Whittet with Warren Philp as Lamonge and Michael Hollis as Amiri

The conflict between the manic Amiri and his equally volatile lawyer Lamonge are potent drivers of the storyline in Rere’s Children.

Amiri blames Lamonge for allowing his son Arapeta to marry Miriama, the daughter of his enemy Kōkā. Little does he realise Lamonge has an ulterior motive.

The tense scene, which we filmed in an atmospheric alleyway in Gisborne today, turns the tables on Amiri. With his enemies closing in on him, Amiri realises that he needs Lamonge’s help. This doesn’t sit well with Amiri. We see a new side to the relationship as Amiri has to control his rage to persuade Lamonge to help him find a safe haven.

Aroha's Swan Song

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Farewell to Aroha: Kristel Day reprises the role of Aroha one last time as we shoot Aroha’s final scene.

There is always a tinge of sadness when an actor shoots their final scene in a production. For Kristel Day, playing Aroha has been a marathon over the last couple of years as the trilogy has unfolded and extended.

We have shared Aroha’s tumultuous journey and shared her pain and passion. We first met Aroha as an unhappy child, the daughter of a ruthless gang leader, her life dominated by an arranged marriage to her cousin Hunapo. We have lived through Aroha’s right of passage, shared her aspirations for a new life away from the gang with Amiri, felt her sorrow as she is imprisoned by the gang, cruelly separated form her son Arapeta.

So what is Aroha’s ultimate fate? Is she forever doomed to be a star crossed lover?

You will have to wait and see Rere’s Children to find out!

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Whilst Kristel Day completed her role as Aroha today, she continues as a producer for the trilogy.

A Cinema Release for Amiri & Aroha

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Finishing touches that can make all the difference: a new animated title graphic for the release prints of Amiri & Aroha

With the imminent cinema release of Amiri & Aroha, I have taken a break from production of Amiri’s Child and Rere’s Children to perfect the release prints of Amiri & Aroha.

With sound and picture enhanced with the very latest post production finishing software, Amiri & Aroha looks better than ever. And I have amen taken the opportunity to tweak the film, incorporating the latest feedback from film festivals. Small refinements can make a huge impact. I am particularly pleased with enhancements to the sequence building up to the fire, adding to the dramatic tension.

The eve of a cinema release is always a very nervous time for the film maker. Amiri & Aroha has been an integral part of my life in recent years and I look forward to sharing the film with the world.

It's a wrap for the July Shoot!

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David Whittet directs Shayne Biddle as Hunapo and John Stainton as Koriata in the final session of the July shoot.

This morning was pure magic. Both Shayne and John were in top form, bringing depth and compassion to their roles. Shayne showed us a new side to Hunapo and John played Koriata to perfection.

What a brilliant scene to wrap the July shoot! We have shot some amazing footage in the last fortnight.

The October shoot will certainly be intense and there’s a huge amount of preparatory work to be done. But this afternoon I could relax. On the strength of the work we have done in this shoot, Rere’s Children promises to be an outstanding film and a stunning conclusion to the trilogy!

John Stainton joins the cast as Koriata

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John Stainton takes over the role of Koriata

The search for a new leading actor to play Koriata has been a priority since Chris Mills left for Australia.

Whilst we were sad to lose Chris, who brought a definite panache to Koriata’s character, as with Kōkā and Matakite last year, a casting change provides an opportunity to fine tune the character.

I wrote in yesterday’s post that preview audiences for Amiri’s Child have been universal in their praise of the dramatic intensity between Arapeta and Tamati. They were less impressed with the scenes between Arapeta and Koriata. As arch rivals (David & Goliath) all their lives, their first face-to-face meeting as adults (ironically at a mediator’s office), needs to be an almighty clash of the titans. At the time, I was very pleased with the hostile confrontation between Arapeta and Koriata that we shot last October. Indeed this scene is included in the IndieGoGo campaign video. However, after talking to preview audiences, I realize that I did not build up the adult Koriata sufficiently for the sequence to have maximum impact.

So I made the decision that we would reshoot all Koriata’s scenes with a new actor, for both Amiri’s Child and Rere’s Children. This has the obvious advantage of continuity between the two films (I have had discussions with satellite television channels who are interested in broadcasting the trilogy as a mini series on consecutive nights, so having the same actor for Koriata throughout would be essential) and the opportunity to strengthen Amiri’s Child, developing the antagonism between Arapeta and Koriata, culminating in an explosive meeting.

I was disappointed not to find a new actor for Koriata at last night’s auditions. Half way this morning’s shoot (the electric scene between Arapeta and Tamati), our Casting Director Walter Walsh (living up to his nickname of The Wiz), gave me call to say he had found an actor keen to play Koriata. I met with John Stainton this afternoon and I knew straight away that we had found our Koriata. John is perfect for the part and will bring depth to Koriata.

I am hoping to shoot a scene between John and Shayne Biddle as Koriata’s father Hunapo in my last couple of days in Gisborne for this shooting session. This is a key scene in Rere’s Children where the aging lothario Hunapo implores hiss estranged son not to make the same mistakes that have ruined his life. This will be a great introduction to Koriata for John!

An electric scene between Arapeta & Tamati

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David Whittet directs Shane Luke as Arapeta and Brent Forge as Tamati in this dramatic scene for Rere’s Children.

Preview audiences for the work in progress rough cut of Amiri’s Child are universal in their praise of the electric atmosphere in the scenes between Arapera (played by Shane Luke) and Tamati (Brent Forge). Arapeta and Tamati have been friends and business colleagues for years. They thought they knew everything about each other until Tamati discovers a bitter secret which is forcing Arapeta on a path of self destruction.

Shane and Brent played the parts to perfection in Amiri’s Child, creating chemistry between the two characters which galvanized the screen whenever they were both present. Determined to capture this in Rere’s Children, I wrote a scene where Tamati visits his friend after Miriama has left and Arapeta has lost his job following the revelations about his father Amiri. Arapeta is now living in a modest flat, which we recreated this morning in our motel room.

The atmosphere was every bit as charged as Shane and Brent played out the scene this morning. As a director, it is a delight to work with two actors on the top of their form, bringing such intensity and meaning to the scene.

Today’s scene reaches a heart-rending conclusion which is a defining moment in the final film and will be a definite highlight of Rere’s Children.

Our IndieGoGo funding campaign reaches $2,000

Fantastic news! Our IndieGoGo campaign has reached $2,000 and we are two-thirds of the way towards our goal with 21 days left!

Thank you so much to all our supporters. We truly appreciate your faith in our project and I believe we are making a truly compelling piece of cinema.

Please keep up the good work and spread the word in the last three weeks of our campaign. Help us reach our goal and beyond! Every dollar helps us to create the film we visualize! Like us on Facebook! Tweet us! Tell all your family and friends about us! Even if you are unable to pledge, you can still help us by getting the message out to everyone you can! Thank you all a million times!

Young Arapeta's Vision

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Little touches that make a big difference: a linking shot of the young Miriama (Sophee Hills)

Mark was unhappy with his performance in the key Arepeta's Vision scene which we shot at Kurow last December. This is where the young Arapeta is out walking with Miriama and stops to look at a hydroelectric power station, foreshadowing his career in the power industry.

Our motel room was once again transformed into a green screen studio to reshoot a rewritten version of the scene with Sophee Hills reprising the role of Miriama.

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Star Crossed Lovers

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Amiri and Aroha are truly star crossed lovers. Despite everything that has happened to them they ultimately cannot live without each other. Today we filmed their final reconciliation at Rere falls.

This is the first time I have photographed the falls in winter and a beautiful stark evening light added a unique visual texture.

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The trilogy reaches a dramatic climax at the Gypsy Rose Caravan!

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Ebony Tuhaka, David Whittet and Shane Luke on location at the Gypsy Rose caravan.

Like Kōkā’s crystal ball, the Gypsy Rose caravan has become a central character in the film, exerting an influence far beyond its role in the story, even determining fate of the protagonists. The caravan has featured in each shoot during the extended filming of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy.

As we drove out to Morere this morning, Ebony commented that I hard given her and Shane all the emotionally demanding scenes in these first two days of shooting! Certainly today’s climactic scenes at the caravan were intense and powerful, these scenes forming the penultimate sequence of the trilogy.

Shane and Ebony were again on top form, even eclipsing yesterday’s exceptional performances. It is testament to Shane and Ebony’s consummate skills that they could pull off such an achievement working out of sequence and in the cramped conditions of the caravan.

I can’t wait to edit this gripping scene and see these performances come to life!

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Shane and Ebony do a run through of the scene in the barn next to the caravan at Marie Lepper’s farm.

Life imitates art - The road to the Gypsy Rose Caravan

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Life sometimes really does seem to imitate art. Or is it just that Amiri & Aroha has taken on a life of its own and threatening to become master of our destiny?

In the dramatic conclusion to the trilogy, Arapeta goes back to Kōkā’s caravan one last time, hoping to find answers to the turmoil his life has become. Years have passed, so the caravan needs to look run down and following Kōkā’s death, abandoned at a remote location.

Whilst trying to work out how to achieve this look, I spoke to Marie Lepper, the owner of the Gypsy Rose caravan. Marie told me how the caravan was deteriorating in the harsh conditions out at Morere Hot Springs and how since our last shoot, she has moved the caravan to her home, retire in a sheltered corner of her property. Perfect for our final caravan scene!

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The journey to Marie Lepper’s home to shoot the final caravan scenes proved equally momentous. The property is only accessible via a deep ford (and with the heavy rain in the Gisborne region of late, getting through was touch and go!) and a precarious swing bridge. We shot some atmospheric shots of Arapeta reflecting on his life as he walks across the swing bridge on his way to the caravan. Whilst the shots were very effective, whilst filming it occurred to me that this would be the perfect location for Amiri’s hideaway whilst on the run from the authorities and his enemies. Such an isolated and inaccessible property would be the perfect fortress for Amiri! And I could see a wonderful shot with Amiri hustling a terrified Aroha across the swing bridge...

Yes, truly life does imitate art!

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Our precarious journey to the Gypsy Rose caravan for today’s shoot proved far reaching, inspiring a dramatic sequence of Amiri’s flight from his enemies.

Powerful scenes for the first Day of the July 2012 Shoot - and two rising stars!

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David Whittet directs Ebony Tuhaka as Miriama and Shane Luke as Arapeta in a tense scene at Gisborne’s Botanical Gardens.

The first day of a new shoot is always exciting and nerve wracking in equal measure. It is also great to catch up with old friends; the Amiri & Aroha cast and crew have become an extended whānau.

Today and tomorrow I am working with Shane Luke as Arapeta and Ebony Tuhaka as Miriama, tidying up some voice overs and lip sync work from Amiri’s Child, and filming some tense and highly emotional scenes for both Amiri’s Child and Rere’s Children.

Shane and Ebony were both in fantastic form for the two park bench scenes which we shot in the botanical gardens at Gisborne today. Our first scene was a reworking of the scene in Amiri’s Child where Arapeta meets Miriama in the park after his explosive meeting with Koriata at the mediator’s office. The second scene was a particularly demanding scene as Arapeta and Miriama’s relationship is destroyed by the return of Amiri.

There was tremendous chemistry between Shane and Ebony in both these emotionally charged scenes. I believe the Amiri & Aroha trilogy will prove a big break for these two very talented actors. Discovering new and raw talent is one of the great joys on Indie film making and Shane and Ebony are definitely stars of the future.

Be the first virtual assistant director in cinema history!

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Beam me up to the Amiri & Aroha set!

Central to our IndieGoGo campaign is providing all our supporters with the opportunity to experience the joys of independent film making.

For locals and those able to travel to our locations in New Zealand, we encourage you to get involved, in front or behind the camera, with one of our unique rewards.

The challenge has been to enable those unable to travel to New Zealand to take an active part in the film.

In the digital age, we are all familiar with videoconferencing. Our supporters will take this to the next level, joining us on set with an interactive video link.

I always say to assistant directors that they are the director's eyes and ears on location, keeping a sharp lookout for continuity errors that can so easily creep in on a busy shoot. Our virtual assistant directors will be able to view both the set and the video feed from the film camera remotely and alert us to potential issues.

Our groundbreaking new technology brings some industry first screen credits. Be the first virtual assistant director in cinema history!

A new music video with Tia Takarangi-Chan

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Tia Takarangi-Chan composed and performed the haunting original music for Amiri & Aroha The iconic image of Tia singing at the Rere falls appears on our DVD and Blu-ray menus and is our logo for the current IndieGoGo campaign.

I am delighted that Tia is going to write the original music for Amiri’s Child and we will make a music video during our shoot in Gisborne in July. We intended to make a music video during the shooting of the original Amiri & Aroha but regrettably time constraints conspired against us and with festival deadlines looming, we had to be content with Tia’s music tracks on the DVD menus - a kid of mini music video!

We are giving the music video priority this time with a dedicated day set aside early in the forthcoming July shoot. The music video will be released simultaneously with Amiri’s Child, as our IndieGoGo campaign reaches its conclusion!

I am delighted to have a Tia on board again and really excited about the music she is writing for Amiri’s Child. Tia is an extreme talent and I hope that the Amiri & Aroha trilogy will prove to be her big break into the music industry!

A new look - and a new meaning

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The childhood ceremony between Aroha and Hunapo from Amiri & Aroha gets a new look in Amiri’s Child with an atmospheric filter

It is important that the individual films in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy work as standalone productions that can be viewed independently. They are companion pieces with their own individuality, which confer wider meaning when they come together as a trilogy.

Enabling Amiri’s Child as a film in its own right requires retelling some of the background from the original film.

Creating a visual look for the backstory in Amiri's Child is proving both a challenge and an opportunity. My goal is to reprise aspects of Amiri & Aroha in a new and striking way, not by simply regurgitating footage from the original film.

I played around with a couple of sequences, editing a sixty-second précis of the story of Amiri & Aroha. I then experimented with some filters, giving the footage an old world feel, a slight sepia tint providing historical texture. With some refining, applying this technique to these flashback scenes looks very effective, giving the footage a completely new look.

The new look also confers new meaning. I have subtly changed perspectives in the retelling of the story. We have only Kōkā’a word that it was an enemy of Amiri who started the fire, what if it was really the gang? What if it was Hunapo and not an assassin that fired the shots at Aroha’s wedding?

Visual metaphors echo throughout Amiri’s Child!

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Using the advanced features of Apple’s Final Cut X to create striking visual metaphors in Amiri’s Child

The camera never lies - or does it?

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Editing a key scene in Amiri’s Child in Final Cut Pro X

Whoever coined the phrase the camera never lies was definitely not a film maker!

I am editing one of the key scenes in Amiri’s Child which is a case in point. I have been talking about digital compositing techniques in recent posts and this scene presents a specific challenge.

In this pivotal sequence, the young Arapeta confides his vision of the future with Miriama. As they walk past a hydroelectric power station, Arapeta is entranced by the force of the pounding water and eulogizes about energy, foreshadowing his turbulent career in the power industry.

I flew the cast to my home in Kurow to shoot this sequence with the magnificent hydroelectric dams of the Waitaki Valley as the backdrop. As fate would have it, water levels in the lakes were low and there was no surging water in the spillway of the dams during the week the cast were at Kurow!

The force of water is crucial to the scene; the power of the dam precipitates Arapeta’s vision. This mirrors the scene in Amiri & Aroha where Aroha find solace with at the mighty Rere falls, connecting Arapeta with his mother’s fate.

With time constraints and a micro budget, I only had the one week available for these scenes. So I was forced to shoot with the empty spillway and add the water in post production.

When working of a key scene like this in post production, it is essential that every last detail is absolutely perfect if the audience are to believe that the scene is real. The slightest imperfection can loss the audience and make them aware that they are watching a film. I have spent many hours lining up the spillway on the camera original shot with a superimposed shot of cascading water, getting the shadows and currents created by the flowing water exactly right…

As I have said before, it’s art that conceals art!

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The camera original shot with the dam spillway empty.

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Work in progress: a digital intermediate showing pounding water composited into the dam spillway. The next task is to create the ripples and water flow in the lake below the dam, the details that make the scene look real!

An amazing start to our IndieGoGo campaign

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We have had a fantastic response to the launch of our IndieGoGo campaign and have reached 10% of our funding goal in the first two days! Everyone on the Amiri & Aroha team sends a huge and heartfelt thank you to each of our early funders. We truly appreciate your support!

We've had some great feedback regarding our perks, especially the virtual rewards! We already have one contributor destined to be the first virtual assistant director in cinema history! I'll be covering how this technology will work in future updates, both on this blog and in the updates tab on our IndieGoGo campaign page. So stay tuned and see how you can get an industry first screen credit!

Kia ora to all our wonderful supporters! We are eternally grateful. Do please keep up the good work and spread the word to all your family and friends!

Our IndieGoGo Campaign goes live!



Please support our IndieGoGo campaign to fund completion of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy!

Amiri & Aroha has truly become a global sensation and we need your help to make the final film a stunning conclusion to the trilogy.

We’ve got some awesome rewards for our backers. Everyone who contributes to our campaign will be offered a role in the film, either in front or behind the camera, in person or via video link up. We are using the latest technology to allow those who cannot get to the film’s location to participate in the film. And this affords some absolutely unique, industry first screen credits. Be the very first virtual assistant director in cinema history!

Click on the cool widget to go to our campaign home page. Please support us if you possibly can and forward this blog to all your family and friends!

Thank you so much. Together we have the opportunity to create something really great!

An interview with Chris Mills

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Today we caught up with Chris Mills, who plays Koriata, Arapeta’s arch rival.

Chris gave Koriata a powerful presence in Amiri’s Child in a David and Goliath setting with Arapeta. The name Koriata is Māori for Goliath and had immense significance in the film. If Amiri & Aroha was a Maori take on Romeo & Juliet, then Amiri’s Child is a Maori David & Goliath.

I have developed Koriata into the lead character in the third film of the trilogy, which has the working title of Koriata’s Way. Koriata is chief executive of Jensen Industries, a leader in hydro electric power, but he has been put there by the gang as their puppet. When Koriata wants to start a new life away from the gang, then there’s trouble. Add in a romance with Miriama, Arapeta’s estranged wife, and the scene is set for some explosive drama!

We did a short interview with Chris today for our forthcoming IndieGoGO campaign for the third film.

I am really looking forward to working with Chris again on Koriata’s Way.

Arapeta and Miriama face the fallout from Amiri's return

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Today we shot some tense scenes between Arapeta (Shane Luke) and Miriama (Ebony Tuhaka) in the aftermath of the wedding and Amiri’s return. Arapeta has been disgraced by the revelations and suspicion of his involvement with his father’s increasingly bizarre behaviour. Both Shane and Ebony delivered powerful performances with palpable friction between the characters.

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Ebony Tuhaka in a green screen shot for the teaser at the end of Amiri’s Child.

Arapeta is shocked to learn that Miriama has replaced him as chief executive of South Pacific Power and in this teaser scene she informs the board that she will be leading the company in a very different direction.

Shooting the perfect end to the trilogy

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Shooting the perfect happy ending for Amiri & Aroha at the Rere Falls. Not quite the ending we filmed a couple of days ago with Aroha’s Revenge!

Insurance is an important consideration for a film maker. Shooting films with the complexity of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy, I can understand why the studios pay such huge sums of money for completion bonds. So much can go wrong and sabotage the production!

Today I did a little bit of insurance of my own. Just in case we are unable to complete the third film in the trilogy, I shot the perfect ending that I could use to conclude an extended version of Amiri’s Child and release the two films as companion pieces.

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We all know that nothing is quite as it seems in the Amiri & Aroha Trilogy. How will the trilogy end? I promise you a thrilling climax!

Film Making - A Family Affair

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Each of the films in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy have involved my entire family. Mark has been assistant director throughout the trilogy and played the lead part of the young Arapeta in Amiri’s Child. Rebecca played the young Aroha. And today, Ooy took part again as an extra, stealing the scene with a horrified look at the scarred Amiri.

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Ooy in a scene stealing moment in Amiri’s Child

I am your father!

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Today we shot the dramatic conclusion to Amiri’s Child, a father and son confrontation in a church. This seems to be set to become the iconic scene in Amiri’s Child, in the same way as Hunapo’s “Get off our land, before I throw you and your caravan over the waterfall” became the defining scene in Amiri & Aroha.

We shot the scenes at St Luke’s Church at Waerenga-a-hika by kind permission of the vicar, Joan Edmondson. It was especially significant for me to be filming at this beautiful church as I used to drive past the church every day of life taking my children to school when we lived at Te Karaka.

Mike Hollis and Shane Luke were in cracking form as the deranged father and dumfounded son and we achieved some very powerful footage in this atmospheric setting.

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Preparing for a dramatic return!

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Assistant director Mark Whittet applying the burns make up to Michael Hollis as Amiri

Being coated in many layers of latex and blood is not fun, as Mark discovered earlier in the week when he was the guinea pig for practicing the burns make up for today’s big shoot. Today Mark had the opportunity to experience the process from the other side as he helped apply the make up. We are shooting the climactic scenes in Amiri’s Child today and giving Mike exactly the right look is absolutely critical!

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Mike Hollis, fully made up and ready for his dramatic entrance at the church!

Converting a motel room into a green screen studio!

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Perhaps one of the reasons that there are so many successful independent film makers in New Zealand is that good old kiwi ingenuity. With the Amiri & Aroha trilogy we are used to working miracles and making a low (no) budget film look like a million dollars! Tonight our motel room became a green screen studio as we shot the special effects shots of the young Aroha to match the material we had shot at Rere falls this afternoon.

Another shoot at Rere falls

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A shooting session for the Amiri & Aroha trilogy would not be complete without at least a couple of shooting sessions at Rere falls. As well as the filming, our trips to the Rere falls are enjoyable days out and like today, often involve a family picnic.

The Rere falls are the principal location for the Amiri & Aroha trilogy and have become a character in the films, imbuing the films with a mystic element and a distinctive visual feel.

On today’s shoot, we filmed the teaser scene for the end of Amiri’s Child, where the young Aroha finds the magic crystal ball, with Kōkā, the mysterious soothsayer trapped inside it.

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Perfecting burns makeup

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Fire is a key element in all three films of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. Without giving away too many spoilers, it follows that burns make up is a vital skill for us to develop!

Whilst the burns in Amiri & Aroha were all fresh burns from a dramatic house fire, in the two subsequent films we are faced with the challenge of creating the scars resulting from old burns. This is difficult to achieve consistently on numerous different shoots under the unforgiving eye of the camera’s lens!

Assistant Director Mark was excited to be the guinea pig for our make up practices, but after several hours of being coated in latex, he began to think it wasn’t so much fun after all and felt sympathy for the actors who have to go through this before every shoot!

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Recording voice overs for Koriata's gang

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As the editing of both the reshoot of Amiri & Aroha and of Amiri’s Child continues, so an increasing number of issues with the footage materialize, especially with location sound.

Today, Mark and his friend Finn Simpson helped me with their voice over talents, providing the voices for multiple members of Koriata’s gang.

Tekapo Shoot

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Our first film making activity of the year: pick up shots of the Church of the Good Shepherd at Takapo for Amiri’s Child. A beautiful lakeside church in an idyllic setting, this ideally compliments the setting of Amiri’s child in the world of hydroelectric power, lakes and dams.

Shooting at the Elephant Rocks

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We concluded the Waitaki Valley shoot with a scene at the Elephant Rocks, made famous in the film of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A short but telling scene as the relationship between the young Arapeta and Miriama begins to develop. The evening light was perfect for this scene with touching performances from Mark and Sophie.

It is my hope that these scenes down at Kurow will expand the canvas of the film and add a new dimension to Amiri’s Chid.

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David Whittet directs Mark Whittet and Sophee Hills in this heart rending scene for Amiri’s Child where Arapeta is at last reconciled with Miriama. The impact of this emotional scene is heightened by the beautiful Elephant Rocks in the Waitaki Valley, deep in North Otago’s rural heartland.

Young Arapeta's key scene

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I had told Mark all along that his key line was in this scene where he wistfully looks to the future. After a lifetime of rejection, Arapeta has at last gained a scholarship and a future. Inspired by the power of a giant hydroelectric dam, he talks to Miriama about his vision of the future.

I have dubbed this sequence Young Arapeta’s Vision. It is significant to the plot development of Amiri’s Child at many levels: the transition between the young and adult Arapeta, the change in the relationship between Arapeta and Amiri and we get the first glimpse of Arapeta’s driven personality and his determination to reach the top.

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Shooting at the Campbell Park Estate

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Today was our first day of shooting in the Waitaki Valley. Sophee Hills, who plays the young Miriama, has flown down with her mother to film these scenes in the South Island with Mark as the young Arapeta.

As these scenes directly follow the shots of Arapeta and Miriama leaving the caravan, which we shot in October, it was vital that costume and appearance were identical. We spent some time prior to leaving for location getting Sophee’s hair exactly right.

Nathan Tompkins, the owner of the Campbell Park Estate, kindly gave us remission to film this iconic castle, which has been home to a number of major films, including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and more recently Mr Pip.

These were critical scenes between the young Arapeta and Miriama, where Miriama dreams of escape from the confines of the caravan which has been home all her life, and chides Arapeta that he will never be able to buy girl a house like that.

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Rere Reshoot

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The final day of our reshoot was another whirlwind experience!

I have devised a new beginning for Amiri & Aroha with the soothsayer Kōkā appearing out of the waterfall like a mirage, clutching her crystal ball. First impressions are vital and this shot had to be perfect. It took a lot of patience to get the scene exactly right.

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Over successive shoots, I have learnt the impossibility of recording live dialogue at Rere with the thundering noise of the waterfalls, so we went back to Kristel’s house to shoot these scenes with a green screen.

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Kristel working as Mariel’s Dialogue Coach during the green screen work

New scenes for both Amiri & Aroha and Amiri's Child

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One of the great things about reshoots is that enables the addition of new scenes to increase dramatic intensity at key points in the film.

Whilst working on the re-edit of Amiri & Aroha and the rough cut assembly of Amiri’s Child, it was clear that the story needed to emphasize the tension between Aroha and Hunapo and we shot a very dark scene where Hunapo tells her that he will never let go of her and threatens to kill her if she marries anyone else. Shayne found us an atmospheric gangland alleyway which was perfect for the scene.

We also shot the long awaited follow up scene from the teaser at the end of Amiri & Aroha.

Small scenes but with a huge impact on both films.

Aunt Hinemoa and Arapeta's Cousins

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Principal photography on Amiri’s Child continued today with some of the most technically difficult scenes in the shoot, the scenes with Arapeta and his cousins at Aunt Hinemoa’s house.

The scenes were also especially challenging as we had a large cast with six new characters, Alexandra Christie as Aunt Hinemoa, Willie Grace as Uncle Ben, Warren Philp as the lawyer Lamonge, and three children playing Arapeta’s cousins, all on their first day of shooting. Add to this by now veterans of Amiri’s Child, Mark as young Arapeta and Mariel Ceballos as Kōkā and we had a very full set and with many cast member’s children present, a large audience as well!

The heart of a gangland family is the kitchen and I wanted the scenes to have a gritty reality. This meant working in a very confined space under the extremely hot movie lights, which the children in particular found very difficult. It was a long and tiring day!

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Alexandra Christie as Aunt Hinemoa

Reprising the role of the young Aroha

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Rebecca reprises the role of the young Aroha, but in a more mystic and surreal scene than in the original film. Walking at the Rere falls, she stumbles on the soothsayer’s crystal ball, emanating a bright firelight from under the rocks at Rere. Inside the crystal ball, she sees Kōkā, the soothsayer, seemingly imprisoned within the ball.

It was a much more difficult role for Rebecca than in Amiri & Aroha as she has to talk to an imaginary figure in the crystal ball, as the image of Kōkā will be added in post production. With a complex mix of live action and effects shots, it takes real talent to give a convincing performance.

Another love scene in the waterfall

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A love scene in the Rere falls was a highlight of Amiri & Aroha. Today, Hunapo (Shayne Biddle) reprised the scene for Amiri’s Child with the latest love of his life, Anna.

Hunapo’s son Koriata, the main protagonist of Amiri’s Child would be conceived in the Rere falls. Koriata is Māori for Goliath and Amiri’s Child was originally conceived as a Māori David and Goliath, with a clash of the titans between Hunapo’s son Koriata and Aroha’s son Arapeta.

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Working with Mariel Ceballos as Kōkā, the new soothsayer

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The soothsayer has proved one of the most difficult roles in The Amiri & Aroha trilogy and starting again with a new actress brought its own challenges. It was difficult for Mariel Ceballos to bring her own stamp of identity to a character who had been so closely developed in the previous film. These early days working with Mariel were an opportunity for both of us to determine the path of Kōkā through the trilogy, retaining the best of Cushla’s performance but adding a new dimension from an older, more mature and worldwide soothsayer.

I think Mariel’s greatest contribution to the film was a mystic quality, never more potent than in a witch’s cursing scene which we shot today.

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Recreating an iconic scene

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Get off our land, before I throw you, and your caravan, over the waterfall - Hunapo in Amiri & Aroha

Our decision to substantially reshoot Amiri & Aroha with a new soothsayer meant that today we had to recreate an iconic scene from the original film. The scene where Hunapo threatens to throw the soothsayer and her caravan over the waterfall was one of the most memorable in Amiri & Aroha. Shayne Biddle and Mariel Ceballos faithfully recreated the scene at Rere today for both the new Amiri & Aroha and for a flashback in Amiri’s Child.

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Filming in gangland

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Today’s shoot would be difficult and I was tense as I prepared to film Aroha’s mock trial in gangland. Aroha is punished for bringing a pōririo into gangland, a child born outside the gangland whānau or family. The scene had to be uncomfortably realistic and painful to watch if the real horror of gang rule was to have meaning in the film.

Fortunately, I had a great group of actors as Aroha’s captors and we were able to capture the true terror which Aroha faced, dragged away from her child, tied up and abused by the gang.

Shayne Biddle was brilliant as Hunapo today, a causal indifference to Aroha’s suffering belying a deep sense of guilt that he deserted Aroha in her hour of need. A theme which I will develop further as the trilogy progresses.

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It was a tough shoot and I was relieved when it was all safely in the can!

The Team for Amiri's Child

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The cast and crew for Amiri’s Child at Morere Hot Springs at the beginning of today’s shoot

Today we were back at the Morere Hot Springs to film the scenes at the Gypsy Rose caravan scenes for Amiri’s Child. The soothsayer plays an equally critical role in the second film and we had a very full day’s shooting today. Whilst I had given Sophee some simple scenes to help get her into the role of the young Miriama on the first day of shooting at Rere, today was her big challenge with many of her most crucial scenes. Sophee stepped up to the challenge admirably with a cool professionalism.

I had forgotten just how small the caravan is and how hot it gets in such a confined space on swelteringly hot day! I guess a big budget film maker would make a replica of the caravan in a studio with moveable walls, but as an independent film maker we have no option but to shoot on location!

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Sophee Hills, who plays the young Miriama, on her first big day of shooting today

David and Goliath

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“David ran fearlessly towards the giant Goliath, he put some stones into his sling, and skillfully flung it so that it hit Goliath on the forehead. Goliath fell dead to the ground”. Arapeta, my darling. You must be like David in the story. You must be strong. You must avenge anyone who stands in your way. Be strong. Make Mummy proud of you. Mummy has to go away. Be strong. You must be strong when I have gone away.
- Aroha reading Arapeta a bedtime story in Amiri’s Child

A Māori David and Goliath was the original working title for Amiri’s Child and was the concept I had in mind when I wrote the teaser scene at the end of Amiri & Aroha. Kristel delivered the scene beautifully today. I was close to tears watching the scene behind the camera, but perhaps even more telling is that Kristel’s sister, watching the scene from a corner of the set, was in tears.

Green Screen

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It is impossible to record usable live sound at the Rere falls due to the noise of the waterfall. We therefore needed to mix live action shots at Rere with green screen work in the controlled environment of a green screen studio.

Also, without giving away too many spoilers, for a portion of the film, Kōkā is imprisoned within her crystal ball and this required careful planning to match up live action shots of the young Aroha holding the ball and green screen work of Kōkā within the ball. And if we do our job properly, it all looks seamless on the screen.

Matakite is Dead, Long Live Kōkā!

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Mariel Ceballos as Kōkā, a mystic Māori soothsayer

Matakite, a mystic Māori soothsayer played by Cushla Tangaere, had a very significant role in Amiri & Aroha and I had developed her character to play an equally important role in Amiri’s Child.

Cushla had moved away from Gisborne and was not available to participate in the second film. We toyed with the idea of having an older Matakite in Amiri’s Child and making her the aunt of the original Matakite. But circumstances required more decisive action…

Two separate factors brought about this rethink of the Matakite role. The only negative feedback we received from the premiere came from a Māori lady who was told us that a Matakite does not use a crystal ball and was concerned that we had therefore misrepresented a Matakite. Despite the extensive research I had done for the film, including interviews with Matakites who do use crystal balls, I did not wish to cause offense to anyone and considered renaming the character,

Casting the Matakite had been the most difficult part of Amiri & Aroha and Cushla had stepped in as a favour when the Hobbit factor threatened the survival of our production. As a result, I felt the Matakite was the weakest link of the original film. Cushla did not look old enough to be Aroha’s wise confidante and did not have that other worldly look so important for this part.

Now we had the opportunity not only to recast for the second film but to go back and reshoot the scenes in the first film with a new actor. At the auditions, Mariel Ceballos had impressed me with exactly the right look for the film and real enthusiasm for the part. So we made the brave decision to cast Mariel and reshoot a significant portion of Amiri & Aroha alongside the new film. We renamed the character Kōkā, after the Māori word for astronomer, and removed all reference to Matakite.

Shane Luke as Arapeta

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Kristel Day with Shane Luke at today’s impromptu audition

The one part we had not been able to successfully cast at last nights auditions was the title role of Arapeta Hollis. As Kristel and I went through the audition footage which I had shot last night, we became painfully aware that we had not found our Amiri. Fortunately, Kristel suggested Shane Luke, who had auditioned for another of her productions, Fred Potts’ Tukino. After a quick phone call, we got Shane round for an instant audition and straight away we both knew that he was our Amiri.

Amiri is a difficult role; embittered by life experiences and vengeful over wrongs of the past, he must still engage the audience and earn their empathy.

Auditions for Amiri's Child

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David and Wiz with Mariel Ceballos whom we cast as Kōkā, the mystic Māori soothsayer

Today we held the auditions for the lead parts in Amiri’s Child. The extensive press coverage of last night’s World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha has created huge local interest in the film and the response to the audition call was overwhelming. With Co-producer Kristel Day and Casting Director Walter Walsh supervising, the auditions ran smoothly and we auditioned over 50 actors. So many of the parts we could have filled many times over with the exciting talent we discovered. We were able to immediately cast most of the leads but would need to review the audition footage which I shot throughout the evening for the more difficult decisions. I was determined to be inclusive and to offer smaller parts to those unsuccessful with the lead characters.

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Deborah Valois auditioning for the role of the mediator. Deborah is a master of disguise, playing several parts in Amiri & Aroha and surpassing that with no less than four roles in Amiri’s Child!

World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha

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Kristel Day, David Whittet and Walter Walsh with the awards presented for Amiri & Aroha

Amiri & Aroha received its Gala World Premiere today at the iconic Dome Cinema in Gisborne.

First here was a private screening for the cast and crew and their families and their invited guests. Tia Takarangi Chan sang one of the songs which she had composed for the film prior to the screening. Walter Walsh (the Wiz) was master of ceremonies and presented me with the four awards won in the Best Shorts and Accolade film competitions.

A second public screening was held this evening and Gisborne turned out en masse to support this locally produced independent film. It was a wonderful atmosphere and a tremendous launch for Amiri & Aroha.

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David talks to Alexandra Christie who has a key role as Arapeta’s Aunty in the new film Amiri’s child

First Day of Principal Photography on Amiri's Child

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On the eve of the World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha and after months of preparation, the cameras rolled today for the first time on Amiri’s Child.

Back on location at Rere falls, I shot the opening scenes with Rebecca reprising her role as the young Aroha and introduced Mark and Sophee to their roles of the young Arapeta and Miriama respectively. Some role play and test shots helped Mark and Sophee to get into their parts.

It felt so good to be back at Rere, shooting a new film!

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Pre-production for Amiri's Child

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Pre production is an immensely exciting time, when dreams and visions become reality.

Amiri’s Child is now taking shape and is on schedule for shooting in October together with the World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha at the iconic Dome Cinema in Gisborne. I am again working closely with my two key collaborators from Amiri & Aroha, my co-producer Kristel Day and Casting Director Walter Walsh (The Wiz).

I think we have a wonderful script and Amiri’s Child promises to be an exciting development of the Amiri & Aroha story. It is a huge challenge to shoot a feature length film in a two week period, but then Kristel, Wiz and I are used to working cinematic miracles!

Film Making: A matter of life and death?

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Film making is not a matter of life and death - it’s far more important than that!

This quotation, immensely popular amongst film makers, seems especially appropriate for me at present! Just as I am beginning to get my life back after the completion of Amiri & Aroha and reclaim some time for my other projects, my next film threatens to take over!

Who was it said that success was a double-edged word? Certainly, the success of Amiri & Aroha in international competition has both inspired me and propelled me into the next production. My head is buzzing with the storyline of Amiri’s Child, the next chapter in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy and a companion piece to Amiri & Aroha. I believe I have another really compelling story in my mind and I have been battling to get this down on paper and shape the script.

Film making is an all consuming passion and the creative impulse is a very hard force to resist...

First Recce for Amiri's Child - the next chapter in the Aroha Trilogy.

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Inspired by the success of Amiri & Aroha in the Best Shorts competition, I have started work on my next production, Amiri’s Child.

Nothing seems to speak louder than awards in Hollywood, and since the press release for the Best Shorts competition, I have received many offers to buy the script and the concept of Amiri & Aroha. Despite some very significant offers, I have resisted the temptation to sell out as I want to develop the characters and progress the story into the Amiri & Aroha Trilogy, which will consist of three companion films, and I want to write a novel covering the entire story.

I have just completed the first draft of the script for Amiri’s Child. The film will follow on directly from the teaser at the end of Amiri & Aroha and tell the story of Arapeta, Amiri and Aroha’s son.

Since moving to Kurow, I have been inspired by the powerful hydroelectric dams in the Waitaki Valley and believe that they will provide a dramatic background for the new film. Arapeta proves a true son of his father and a powerful businessman; struggle in the power industry seems a natural extension of Amiri’s conquest of the water bottling industry at Rere…

Today we made our first recce for Amiri’s Child, scouting locations and making some test shots. There is a tremendous excitement when pre-production gets started and dreams gradually turn to reality...