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

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!

Amiri's Child takes shape in Post Production

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Editing an iconic scene in Final Cut Pro X: “I want to be a gentleman!”

Editing is perhaps my favourite part of the film making process, as it is in post production that the film takes shape and develops dramatic intensity. As the film comes together, shots cease to be clips of film but a very real part of the drama.

Film making is so often a compromise. The film maker has to create their art surrounded by a traveling circus of actors, technicians and equipment. It is only in the peace of the editing suite that the film maker be like other artists and create their art at their own pace without outside influence.

Amiri’s Child has been an integral part of my life for so long. I have lived and breathed the story and characters over the extended shoots. So it is magic to at last see Amiri’s Child coming together as a film. With each new cut, with each trim of the material, the story gains more momentum and is shaping up to be a powerful piece of cinema.

Today I edited a scene which has become a particular favourite. Arapeta is besotted with Kōkā’s haughty foster daughter and is determined to make an impression on her. In an homage to Charles Dickens and Great Expectations, Arapeta plucks up courage to ask his Aunt Hinemoa for advice: “Aunty, I want to be a gentleman and win Miriama’s heart!”

Art which conceals Art

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Painstaking effects editing with Final Cut Pro


There’s an old saying in the Indy film making community that encapsulates the film makers’ dedication to their art: film making is not matter of life and death, it’s far more important than that!

I found myself musing over this quotation today as I worked on perfecting a particularly tricky effect in Amiri & Aroha. I am preparing viewing copies of the film for competition entry, taking on board recent feedback, including that from the British festival, and making some key enhancements for the next round of international film festivals.

I recently commented on the endless list of Digital Compositors on the titles in the commercial cinema and the satisfaction I feel as an independent film maker from making ever last edit and effect myself.

This scene is a case in point. Kōkā, the soothsayer, strokes her crystal ball and conjures up visions of events yet to happen in the film. To bring the scene to life, I decided to put fire and lightening into the crystal ball. I achieved this by overlaying an image of the lightening into the shot of the crystal ball (a technique we call compositing). My task was made all the more difficult as in the original camera shot, the actresses’s right index finger protrudes in front of the ball (see the screenshots below). Overlaying the fire and lightening onto the shot resulted in Kōkā’s finger being cut off behind the lightening! It took some very complex compositing work to restore the finger in front of the crystal ball and make it look real, complete with a shadow of the crystal ball on Kōkā’s finger.

If I have succeeded, and the audience are engrossed in the story, they will be totally unaware of the mountain of work behind this shot. Art which conceals art.

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The camera original shot with the actress’s right index finger in front of the crystal ball

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The intermediate composite, with the actress’s finger cut off by the overlay of the lightening in the crystal ball

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The final composite shot with the lightening within the crystal ball and the actress’s finger in front of the crystal ball with a subtle reflection of the electrical energy on her finger!

Drawing the audience into Amiri's Child

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Kōkā’s curse sets the tone for Amiri’s Child

Early feedback from film festival judges on the final cut of Amiri & Aroha is proving overwhelmingly positive, particularly for the powerful new opening sequence, which sees Kōkā appear like a mirage out of the Rere falls, with a montage of images in the fiery cauldron of her crystal ball.

Amiri’s Child needs an equally compelling opening to draw audiences back into the story. As I want the films to be stand alone works in their own right, my challenge now is to create a compelling sequence that will both recapture audiences who have seen Amiri & Aroha and engage film goers new to the trilogy.

The dramatic beginning of Amiri’s Child sees a disheveled Kōkā emerge from the mists of Rere, desperately searching for her crystal ball, which has escaped her clutches in its quest to return to the waters of Rere and break Kōkā’s mystic curse.

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Kōkā is reunited with her precious crystal ball: “My soul, my conscience, my heart!”

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!

A Road Movie

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Amiri and Aroha on the run.

A key objective of this fortnight’s shoot in Gisborne is to make an extended trailer for the final film in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy, with will hopefully prove a valuable asset as we seek funding to complete the trilogy. In this scene, Aroha is sitting on a suitcase that holds all they're remaining worldly goods and reflects on her cruel fate.

I want to give the trailer something of the feel of a road movie. My screenplay for trailer had the scarred Amiri and Aroha on the run as its framework. Amiri is a wanted man with a price on his head and they have to flee from one makeshift hideout to the next to escape detection. Aroha has moved from one kind of prison to another, escaping imprisonment by the gang for a worse fate.

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Amiri & Aroha escape to a motel and Aroha covers Amiri’s burns with bandages, making him look like the Invisible Man.

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Shooting in a new style is always exciting and I really enjoyed the challenge of filming a road movie.

The dramatic opening scene for the final film in the trilogy

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Today we shot the dramatic opening scene for the final film in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy.

A sad and lonely man is wandering at the Rere falls. It is the aged Amiri, his face badly scarred both by the burns and by the toll the passing years have taken on him. His eyes have lost their drive and passion; he is a shadow of his former self. Amiri reflects that Rere falls should have been the site of his greatest triumph, with the opening of his water bottling empire; instead they became the scene of his greatest humiliation, where he lost Aroha to Hunapo.

Amiri climbs to the top of the falls and looks down, dangerously close to the edge, cursing his bad fortune and everyone who has got in his way.

His curse provokes an unexpected reaction. A crystal ball rises up from the falls. Inside the ball is Kōkā, come back from beyond the grave to haunt Amiri; she taunts him that he will never know peace until he makes reparation to all those he has destroyed and damaged…

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Mike Hollis as the crazed Amiri

Aroha's Revenge

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Kristel Day as Aroha with a very frightened Cory Garrett as Troy

The relationship between an actor and their character is fascinating, especially on an extended shoot like the Amiri & Aroha trilogy.

When I first cast Kristel Day as Aroha, I was aware that she would bring a darker side to the part than the other actresses which I had considered. I saw Aroha very much as a troubled gangland girl, haunted by her harsh childhood and desperate to escape the gang; a rough kid determined to make good. Kristel saw Aroha as a more naive character, someone who never belonged in the gang.

Yet over the couple of years we have worked on Amiri & Aroha, I have seen more and more of Kristel come out in the character of Aroha.

We shot a dramatic scene today where Aroha threatens Troy with a knife. Kristel declared: “At last I get to play myself!”

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Kristel in her element shooting Aroha’s revenge. As an added treat we shot a scene with blood on the knife. Not the ending for the trilogy I had planned, but perhaps we can use it somewhere in a teaser!

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Old scores and a new romance

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Working with Mike Hollis as Amiri and Warren Philp as his embattled lawyer, Andrew Lamonge

Our motel room became a green screen studio again today for a series of interesting scenes which both conclude Amiri’s Child and launch the final part of the trilogy, which currently has the working title of Koriata’s Way.

First up were scenes between Amiri and his sleazy lawyer, Andrew Lamonge, for the teaser scene in Kōkā’s crystal ball at the end of Amiri’s Child. This powerful little scene, where Amiri unceremoniously sacks Lamonge and in turn Lamonge vows revenge, sets up a key plot thread for Koriata’s Way. And Andrew Lamonge has a dark secret of his own which shatters everything and everyone in the gripping conclusion to the trilogy…

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As one relationship comes to an end, another begins…

Amiri has replaced Lamonge with his old business partner Errol Troy. Acting as his minder, Troy advises Amiri to leave the country until his troubles blow over. Little does Amiri realize that this is because Troy has designs on Aroha…

But then Aroha has reasons of her own for leading Troy along…

Like everything else in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy, nothing is ever quite what it seems!

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Kristel Day as Aroha and Cory Garrett as Troy when the romance turns sour…

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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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

Family Medicine and Film Making

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As proof positive that family medicine and film making complement each other perfectly, a house visit to a patient this week resulted in a new scene for Amiri’s Child. My visit was to the Campbell Park Estate at Otekaieke, some 15 km from Kurow. As I approached this majestic stately building, it reminded me of Hatter’s Castle in the A J Cronin novel. There was an eerie, mysterious quality to this elegant mansion, isolated in the middle of nowhere. This would make wonderfully atmospheric location for my new film.

As I drove home from the visit, images flooded my mind. The young Arapeta, the main character in Amiri’s Child, is playing with his childhood friend Miriama. Out on a walk one day they come across this seemingly deserted mansion and start to explore the grounds. But who is this mysterious figure hidden in one of the attic windows? And why does he send his henchmen to scare Arapeta and Miriama away? Why is Arapeta’s aunty so angry when she discovers he has been playing there? Why are the local people so frightened by the madman who live in the castle?

This promises to add a dramatic and powerful layer to the story of Amiri’s Child.

Interestingly, the Campbell Park Estate has previously hosted film units and was the base for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe during the shooting at the nearby Elephant Rocks.