David Whittet's Blog
Family Physician and Film Maker

Pianos, Packing and Post Production!

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Packing up at Te Karaka: Farewell to my pianos. I had decided that my two pianos were both too large and to fragile to travel to Kurow and I had decided to give them to Kristel Day as a token of appreciation for her work on the film.
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Whilst I knew that my pianos were going to good homes, there was a twinge of sadness as I watched them being loaded onto the truck.
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The timing of the move to Kurow and the completion of the film turned into something of a nightmare. The delays in production, largely as a result of the Hobbit Factor had put us so far behind schedule that the editing was now being squeezed into the time I had set aside for packing up for the move.

I had so hoped to have the film completed in good time so that the move to Kurow would not be a rush, but that just was not to be. The next few days will be a juggling act to get everything finished!

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Post Production sandwiched between boxes - a race against time to finish both the film and the packing! It is strange and almost surreal to see our lives and possessions packed up in boxes!
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Working with Tia at on the opening music track at the Turanga FM studios. Just one of the many tasks I must complete in the next few days! Tia and I had such wonderful ideas for the music of the film yet here we were in a rush to get the recording finished. And this song is so important, our waiata, or welcome to the film, the first sound the audience will hear as the lights go down and the film starts!

An all night editing session as festival deadlines are fast approaching!

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With film competition and festival deadlines fast approaching, not to mention the equally pressing deadline for completing our packing for the move to Kurow, this was becoming a very stressful time. There was nothing for it but a couple of all night editing sessions to get Amiri & Aroha finished. Sometimes the pressure of a deadline and the quiet of the middle of the night can be strangely conducive to inspired work in the cutting room. This certainly proved the case with Amiri & Aroha; at around 3 am this morning, the montage scenes had come together with extraordinary power and by 7 am, as the rest of my family woke up, I was feeling bleary eyed and sleep deprived but elated that the film was virtually complete!

Music Recording, Dubbing and Voice Overs

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Tia Takarangi-Chan recording the beautiful song which opens the film at the Turanga FM studios

Amidst the frenzied activity of packing and making the rough cut assembly edit of Amiri & Aroha, the music recording, dubbing and voice overs where an important task and a major challenge. Virtually all the sound recorded at Rere falls was inaudible due to the noise of the falls and would require dubbing and post-synching. This is difficult and time consuming work, exact lip synch is essential for the film to be believable and the actor’s performance relies so much on the delivery of the lines in a compelling way.

Recording the music was equally challenging; to get a performance which both works and achieves exact lip synchs is a huge ask of any artist! And Tia and I were absolutely determined to get this right as this song opens the film and is vital to setting the mood of the film. The lights go down and this is our waiata, welcoming the audience and drawing them into the film.

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Kristel Day recording the voice over tracks which are so vital to the film but so difficult to achieve; vocalizing inner thoughts in a way that will be believable and meaningful to an audience.

Palm Springs Medical Centre Christmas Party

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I have had a magical week working at Palm Springs Medical Centre in Papamoa. I have been working here part time over the past few weeks, in between completing my film Amiri & Aroha, developing the Wonca Cambodia project, RNZCGP Council in Wellington and all the other commitments which my life so interesting!

This week at Papamoa has been so special because Mark came with me and we had such an awesome time together. Christmas shopping at the Bayfair Centre after clinics and Mark was Father Christmas - and life and soul of the party - at the Medical Centre’s Christmas party this evening!

View the gallery of pictures from the Christmas party!

Post Production and Packing

Editing the title seqience of Amiri & Aroha

When the principal photography for Amiri & Aroha commenced back in September, I anticipated having all the shooting in the can by the end of October. This would leave me two clear months for the editing before the festival submission deadlines started to loom early in the New Year.

Little did I realize that I would still be shooting into December! When we finally wrapped on 5 December, I had shot a tremendous amount of material - I stopped counting the footage and just thought in terms of the terabytes of digital media (4 terabytes and counting!).

Editing this into a compelling film by the beginning of January will be a huge challenge, especially considering it coincides with moving my family from Te Karaka to Kurow, packing up after living fifteen years in one house! But I am always up for a challenge and editing is the part of film making which I love most!

This short clip shows assembly editing of the tattooing ceremony at the Takipu Marae, using Apple’s Final Cut Pro.

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An important part of post production involved creating artwork for inclusion in the montage sequences of the film. The flier advertising the protest march and the mock newspaper article for the find of a precious mineral in the rocks below Rere play an important part in making the film real and engaging.

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As the packing for the move to Kurow neared completion, it felt like our lives were on hold and packed up in these boxes! Soon it would be time to pack up my editing suite and the pressure to complete the film before that deadline was becoming ever more intense!

Chroma Keying

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Amiri's Demise 2

Perfecting the art of chroma keying in Final Cut pro has been a steep learning curve for me to make the fire sequences as effective and gripping as possible. One of the challenges has been that the scenes of Amiri and Aroha’s attempt to escape from a raging fire in Amiri’s mansion, caused by an incendiary device, which they assume has been planted by Hunapo.

I am indebted to film making colleagues who have given me advice on those finishing touches which make so much difference, such as putting the background into slightly soft focus, providing a realistic separation between the character and the background. Compositing with multiple overlays of flames and smoke adds tremendous effect to these scenes which provide the dramatic climax to the film.

Escape from Fire

More from our Location Scrapbook

Location Scrapbook

Now shooting is complete, I can get down to the most exciting part of film making, the editing. It is here that the director can compose their art and fashion the material into a compelling piece of cinema. With each successive editing session, the material becomes more alive, the story a more real and involving drama.

Going through all the footage on the editing bench is also a good opportunity to reflect on the shooting. It is in the cutting room that you discover which shots work and which don’t. Difficult editing decisions highlight if your work as a director has been successful. Does that long shot match that close up? Have I a cutaway for this scene? Does this sequence really work and convey the meaning I intended?

Today’s video podcast is another compilation of production stills and behind the scenes footage. This slide show covers the frantic rush to finish the shooting, the green screen for, the burns make up and the shooting at the wedding which wrapped the production, Take 2 of our Location Scrapbook.

Location Scrapbook Take 2

Another Haunting Song from Tia Takarangi-Chan

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I mentioned in a previous blog that Tia was writing a second song for the Marae ceremony where the young Aroha is pledged to Hunapo in a mock wedding, a rite of passage that changes Aroha’s live irrevocably.

Tia has composed another hauntingly beautiful song, bringing so much to the film, adding depth and meaning to this critical part of the film.

We filmed Tia preforming the song at the Te Poho-O-Rawiri Marae on Sunday, our last day of shooting.

Tia is certainly an amazing emerging talent and I hope that Amiri & Aroha will prove an important springboard for her recording career.

Today’s podcast video features a rough cut of Tia’s performance which I have just been editing.

It's a Wrap!!

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Four months after commencing principal photography, Amiri & Aroha wrapped today with the re-shoot of the wedding and the introduction to the Marae ceremony at the Te Poho-O-Rawiri Marae.

The shoot was a logistic nightmare, with a large number of extras for both the wedding scenes and the Marae shoot. And a wedding on film is every bit as stressful as a real life wedding, with last minute adjustments to the bride’s dress and make-up, the bridesmaid and the bridal party looking just right... Indeed, the stress levels of our screen bride and groom were high throughout the shoot! Not to mention the director!

One of the movie lights caught fire, the generator broke down, the best man couldn’t make it and had to be recast at the last minute, all these potential disasters added to an already demanding day’s shooting.

But the results were amazing, every bit justifying that difficult decision I had made some weeks back to re-shoot the wedding. I had wanted to - quite literally - get blood on Amiri’s hands. Michael and I had developed Amiri’s character into a very smooth, very controlled business man and today the character lost that self control and we saw the raw anger beneath the surface.

On a personal level, it was wonderful to have my wife Ooy involved in the film; she played a wedding guest. That means all my family have been involved and indeed we all appear in the film!

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Dying Swan

Perfecting the art of burn make up

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One reality of being a self funded independent film maker with a zero budget is that you have to multitask and learn to do so much behind the scenes work yourself!

One of the skills I have had to have had to acquire for Amiri & Aroha is burn make up. After extensive research and experimenting with concoctions of latex, liquid skin and stage blood, the results were looking frighteningly realistic.

In fact, I knew I had perfected the technique when, whilst practicing creating a burn on my arm, my wife Ooy walked in and was in a state of shock, thinking I had really burnt myself!

Filming the Fire Sequences

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A house fire was central to my last major film, The Best Place for Joe. At that time, I had to create the fire without any of thee benefits of new technology, backwinding the film in the camera for double exposure, to create the effect of the actors escaping from the fire. Nonetheless, I believe I achieved a believable fire scene which added dramatic impact to the film.

However, as I was developing the script for Amiri & Aroha, I was really excited about a fire sequence using the technology available to the independent film maker today.

I used many different elements in the fire sequence. I went out with fire brigades over many months to get the fire shots I wanted. I combined these shot of real fires with special effects shots using compositing and chroma key techniques possible in editing software like Apple’s Final Cut Pro.

Tonight we shot the green screen work of Amiri and Aroha escaping from the fire and Hunapo’s rescue of Aroha. WIth budgetary constraints, the independent film maker has to do all their own behind the scenes work, and I have spent the last week immersing myself in instructional videos on making realistic burn scars with latex. I practiced on myself and I knew I had succeeded when I my wife Ooy came into the room and was shocked thinking I was really burnt!

The make up on Amiri as he met his untimely end looked really amazing!

Amiri's Demise
Digital compositing to achieve effects which I could only dream about when I made The Best Place for Joe in 1991!
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I have started post production work on the fire scenes whilst we have been shooting to ensure that it is achieving the desired effect. With fast cutting, sound effects and music it is shaping up to be a powerful and dramatic sequence!

Compositing, putting the images into Matakite's crystal ball

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This shot of the crystal ball form Matakite’s perspective forms the basis for the sequences where we enter Matakite’s world, sharing the visions of the future which she experiences.

I wanted the crystal ball to be the Matakite’s conscience. Whist she sees images of the tragedy which is to befall Aroha reflected in the ball, she feels powerless to prevent them.

I couldn’t wait to start experimenting with compositing, the post production technique of superimposing images into another scene. I must admit that perfecting the effect in Final Cut Pro proved a steep learning curve, but the joy of getting it right is priceless.

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In theses two composited scenes, Matakite sees a premonition of the fire which will so devastate Aroha.

Novelization of Amiri & Aroha

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Exciting news! Whist working on the publicity and distribution of Amiri & Aroha, I have been in discussions with a friend of mine who is a publisher. He has encouraged me to write a novel based on my script for Amiri & Aroha and to expand the story beyond that which I have been able to tell within the confines of an independent film. He assures me that the public has a voracious appetite for this kind of epic story!

With publication of a novel and exposure of Amiri & Aroha at international film festivals, he believes there is a very real possibility of getting commercial funding for a further film! I'm not keen on the terms 'sequel' and 'prequel,' so we'll call it a companion film.

I have long wanted to write a novel and this is a truly wonderful opportunity!

A critical day's filming at Morere Hot Springs, the most challenging shoot to date

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The scenes where Aroha tells her story to the Matakite (the Māori soothsayer) form the narrative framework of the story. They take up a significant amount of screen time and I was determined that they would not simply be a narrative device to tell Aroha’s childhood story. They must be an integral part of the film and an important part of my task today was to ensure that Matakite as significant a player in the story as any of the other characters.

It had been my hope to have these scenes in the can in early October, before principal photography commenced, but this was not to be. The weather, the Hobbit factor and many other logistic nightmares resulted in the shooting being delayed until today, nearly at the end of principal photography. I was uneasy about leaving such significant scenes so late in the shoot and having a new actor joining the cast so close to completion. However, Cushla Tangaere took it all in her stride, easing herself into the role of the Matakite and investing her with a unique personality.

Whilst the Gypsy Rose caravan at Morere Hot Springs was a tremendous find, the technical challenges it produced were immense. Positioned in a field outside the entrance to the Morere Hot Springs, the caravan was close to the main road (New Zealand’s State Highway 2) and dialogue scenes had to be filmed in between cars and heavy trucks roaring past. Inside the caravan, we were working in extremely cramped conditions on a swelteringly hot day. We had to close up the door and windows of the caravan to minimize the noise levels and this coupled with the heat from the portable lights I was using turned the caravan into a veritable sauna. The shortage of space also restricted my camera angles, making it harder to show the developing relationship between Aroha and Matakite.

Oh for the budget to be able to create a mock up in a studio with moveable walls!

Despite all these issues, and the pressure of completing such a huge part of the film in one day, we had a lot of fun together. Cushla and Kristel were great to work with and shooting was punctuated by a lot of laughs, despite the less than ideal working conditions on set. Most important of all, we did not allow any of these difficulties to impact on the quality of our work, which was a significant achievement in the circumstances and a great tribute to both Kristel and Cushla’s professionalism.

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My original was that Matakite would glide effortlessly between Māori, her native tongue, and English. Cushla Tangaere achieved this beautifully adding great depth to the work.

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This scene where Matakite and Aroha part prior to Aroha’s wedding was particularly effective and comes at a critical phase in the story’s development.

We were late back in Gisborne this evening and and feeling pretty exhausted, but encouraged to find a great article in tonight’s Gisborne Herald on our film.

Director's Cameo

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We had an exciting day’s shooting today at Chelsea Hospital in Gisborne, filming the scenes where Aroha receives surgery for a gunshot wound.

Working around the hospital’s theatre list, we were able to shoot Aroha coming round from her operation in the recovery suite. We were very fortunate that one of theatre nurses on duty agreed to take part in the film, giving the sequence a gritty reality.

I was persuaded, in Hitchcock style, to play a small part as the surgeon who treats Aroha. In a short but key scene, the surgeon explains just how close Aroha came to death. Michael Hollis as Amiri took the cues beautifully, his character totally outside his comfort zone.

I couldn’t wait to get this material edited and got a made a quick assembly edit as soon as I got home. The footage looked stunning.

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Beyond Amiri & Aroha: Thinking ahead to my next film productions

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Aramoana, the serpent of Lake Wakatipu

As Amiri & Aroha nears completion, I have already started to think about my next productions.

After the long gap between The Best Place for Joe and Amiri & Aroha, I want to make up for lost time and I have several projects lined up for 2011 and 2012. My head is bursting with ideas!

First up is Max and the Monster. After such a large scale production, I want to do something shorter, simpler and in totally different genre.

Amiri & Aroha has certainly been a long and indeed sometimes stressful journey. With a large cast (over one hundred and still counting!), multiple locations and a hugely complex shooting schedule, this was a large scale feature length production.

Max and the Monster was born out of a pitch I made for the 100% Pure New Zealand Your Big Break Competition. This was a competition to pitch for a three minute film to promote New Zealand as the youngest country on earth. I produced three entires, my personal favourite being Max and the Monster, the story of an arrogant, unprincipled American film director who is in New Zealand to front the Tourism Board’s latest ad campaign. Max has persuaded the board to have a lovable monster fronting the campaign, Aramoana, the serpent of Lake Wakatipu. The film is a comedy with a serious edge; Max has an apocalyptic life changing experience on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

My second project is Connor’s Calling a contemporary drama which I originally wrote for a British Film Institute screenwriting competition back in 1986. The film explores the conflicting demands of personal and professional lives, through the eyes of a young social worker, who is so involved in his job that he loses his girl friend to a less dedicated colleague. His life in turmoil, he cannot cope with the demands of the demanding, high needs clients which he serves and they feel he has deserted them. But after an emotional crisis has passed, he seems able to adjust to the situation. He goes back to his work and makes his peace with a deprived family he abandoned during his meltdown.

For more on these projects, keep reading my blog!

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A concept drawing for Max and the Monster

Watch my pitch for Max and the Monster here

Finding the Right Church for the Wedding Scenes

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Whilst finding the right locations for Marae scenes and the gangster’s houses proved difficult, they were nothing compared with the challenge of getting the right church for the wedding of Aroha to Amiri, the centrepiece of the film.

My first choice was St Luke’s Anglican church at Waerenga-a-hika, a beautiful rural church which had special significance for me. I approached the vicar, Joan Edmundson, who was most helpful. However, the final decision lay with the Vestry Committee and despite being impressed with the script, they did not want us to film inside the church, especially as there was a shooting during the ceremony.

It seems that the Anglican church has been understandably cautious following their experiences with The Da Vinci Code, where film makers offered generous donations for restoration appeals but then felt aggrieved as the film went against the church’s beliefs.

With some re-writing of the script, I adapted the wedding scenes so that Aroha was shot after the wedding as the bridal party left the church. We shot these revised scenes at St Luke s Church on 15 November. During the interminable wait whilst the costumes and make up were adjusted, I got talking to Hohepa Haenga, a Māori minister who has agreed to play the part in the film. Hohepa told me that he could have got us permission to film at his former church at Kaiti Hill and there would be no problems shooting inside the church as it was deconsecrated.

After that, my heart wasn’t in the shooting for the rest of the day. I just new it was wrong, we needed to shoot Hunapo shooting Aroha during the ceremony. A key script point was the ambiguity this created for Aroha as the shooting happened before they were actually married.

So I made the decision (not universally popular with the cast!) to reshoot the wedding. This is now scheduled for 5 December. I want to see Amiri, who comes across as a very smooth operator in Mike Hollis’s portrayal, really out of his depth, blood all over his hands and face from Aroha’s wound...

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The wedding scenes we filmed at St Luke’s Church at Waerenga-a-hika, which were not used in the finished film.

Shooting at Takipu Marae

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All to often, shooting a film is a compromise. At best you hope to get what you saw in your mind’s eye onto the screen.

Today was the exception. Shooting the tattooing sequence at Takipu Marae exceeded all my expectations with some outstanding footage.

As the camera was rolling, I could feel Hunapo and Aroha’s pain as the uhi (the Māori bone chisel traditionally used to apply a Moko or tattoo) cut into their flesh...

Margy Poi really got into her part as Ngaio, Aroha’s mother, showing real distress about what was happening to her daughter. And the children, Mathew Wikotu and Rebecca Whittet were stunning. Mathew has a soulful look, and his performance today had real depth, he captured Hunapo’s dilemma, knowing this ceremony ostracized him from his father but unable to stop it. And Rebecca was outstanding, looking both sick and lost on the frightening journey that this ceremony represented for Aroha. I was so proud of Rebecca today.

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A Teaser for a New Film!

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In keeping with modern tradition, the credit titles will appear at the end of Amiri & Aroha. For international film festival screenings, it is essential that the titles follow current conventions, with individual titles for the principals followed by a roller title with the full cast and crew. This leads to a long sequence which can appear out of place in a relatively short film. To overcome this, I decided to introduce a teaser scene in between the principal titles and the roller, with Aroha and Hunapo talking after the closing ceremony.

I decided that Aroha should give Hunapo some earth shattering news which would send the audience away with something to think about.

What was the worst possible news Aroha could give to Hunapo? The answer suddenly hit me - that she was carrying Amiri’s child.

This would be devastating news for Hunapo. A daily reminder of Amiri and all the angst. And Amiri’s well to do family would want nothing to do with a child whom they associated with Amiri’s shame.

This child had all the makings of a Heathcliffe like character, unloved by everyone, growing up bitter and twisted. A publisher friend has suggested that I write a novel, expanding on the material from the film, to help secure commercial funding for a sequel. What if Hunapo has a child from his affair with Mere? What if Aroha and Hunapo’s children become deadly rivals?

The scene is set for a Māori David and Goliath!

Today’s podcast video features this teaser sequence which will be inserted into the closing titles of the finished film.

Location Scrapbook

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Shooting the iconic opening and closing scenes at the Rere falls.
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I have been working on a slideshow today to show our location photographs and behind the scenes film clips.

Our Location Scrapbook takes you behind the scenes on the shooting to date. Good behind the scenes still photography is an important element of the presentation and marketing of any film and is especially critical for an independent film.

Watch the “Location Scrapbook” in today’s podcast video.

Script Conference

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One scene in particular proved especially problematic. In the story, the women of the whānau conspire to have the cousins Aroha and Hunapo pledged to each other in an arranged marriage. Aroha’s father Tautaru and Hunapo’s father Maahanga are brothers and sworn enemies. They fell out over a failed gangland business venture when Tautaru shifted all the blame onto Maahanga and had him arrested. The women of the whānau see the friendship between Aroha and Hunapo as their only hope of uniting the family from the senseless feud which is losing them all money. Only Aroha’s mother Ngaio can see that this will end in tears.

The scene has been through many different incarnations and several different cast members, from a verandah scene to a gangland kitchen scene.

In today’s podcast video, Mark and Kristel read the final version as we hone the dialogue prior to shooting.

Location Research for the Marae Scene

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The Marae ceremony in which the young Aroha and Hunapo are made blood cousins is a key scene in the film and getting it right has been weighing heavily on my mind.

Finding the right Marae proved a challenge. There were important logistic considerations, including transporting the cast and a large number of extras to the location and associate budgetary considerations. Walter Walsh (the Wiz) again proved an amazing asset to the team, with contacts on all the local Marae committees he was an invaluable help in negotiating permission for filming on the Maraes.

This afternoon, Mark and I travelled round all the Maraes in the region, including Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae at Kaiti Hill, Pokowhai andRongo Pai Maraes at Patutahi and the Manatuke Mearae. But eventually I decided on the Takipu Marae in Te Karaka. I have driven past this Marae practically every day in the past fifteen years and it holds a special place in my heart. The beautiful rural setting is perfect for the film, with the rolling hills in the background leading to the Rere falls!

Shooting the Music Video with Tia Takarangi-Chan

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The opening moments of a film are critical. The lights go down, the audience’s expectations are high... Those first images on the screen are vital to engage the audience and create the atmosphere.

I decided to open Amiri & Aroha with dawn over the Rere falls and camped out at Rere to get the scenes I was looking for to achieve a mystic, ethereal introduction to the story.

The opening sound and music is equally important. I wanted a waiata, a Māori song to introduce the film and to draw the audience into the film. As a result of our interviews on the Turanga FM radio station, I was very fortunate to meet Tia Takarangi-Chan who composed a beautiful waiata for the film and performed the song on the banks of the Rere falls. Tia appears at the beginning of the film as a kind of Māori goddess, a mystic spirit, inviting us into the story.

Tia’s soulful music adds so much depth and feeling to those precious opening moments of Amiri & Aroha.

Tia is also composing a haunting song for the Marae ceremony where the young Aroha and Hunapo are pledged to each other in a mock wedding. Tia has given me a preview of this song and it is going to be wonderful and add amazing atmosphere to this pivotal scene...

Tia is an awesome talent and I am absolutely confident that she will be a major recording star of the future.

Today’s video podcast features Tia’s beautiful song in a rough cut edit which I have quickly put together.

Love Scene in the Waterfall

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Amiri & Aroha is a story of love, betrayal and corruption. The script called for a dangerous, edgy, passionate love scene...

Hunapo, a gang leader in waiting, has countless affairs with the girlfriends of other gang members, leading to jealousy, animosity and inevitable retribution.

We shot a powerful love scene today with Hunapo and Mere in the Rere falls. Both actors (Shayne Biddle and Rahira Himiona) were nervous, but in many ways this enabled me to obtain the tense feel that I wanted for this scene.

Rehearsing on the Swings!



I love this delightfully candid shot of Margy and Rahira rehearsing their lines on the swings in between takes at the Rere falls!

A Successful Day's Shooting at the Rere Falls

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We had a really successful day’s shooting at the Rere falls today.

Despite waking up to heavy rain and a doubtful weather forecast, we decided to go ahead with the shooting. This was quite a bold decision, given the escalating production budget and the cost of transporting the cast, crew and extras to the location, risking a totally wasted day.

Happily, this brave move was rewarded with some amazing lighting conditions for those all-important opening and closing sequences of the film.

This was especially significant for the childhood ceremony scenes, where we got just the right balance of foreboding that I was looking for, an awe-inspiring visual texture.

It was one of those magical days as a film maker when everything added up to create the perfect atmosphere. The location, the falls, the lighting, the cameras and the actors all in perfect harmony...

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Today’s podcast video takes a look at the shooting and includes a rough cut assembly of the childhood ceremony, a key sequence at the beginning of the film.

Searching for Gangster's Houses!

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For the past few days, Kristel and I have been doing a tour of the most run down houses in Gisborne, looking for locations for the gangster’s houses. We had help from many of the real estate agents, but understandably, many of the owners did not want their properties linked with references to gangsters, even in a fictional scenario.

Wiz again came to rescue with his seemingly inexhaustible local contacts with a perfect house for Aroha’s family home and friendly owners who were happy to have their house immortalized on film!

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The top illustration shows one of the derelict houses we looked at on our location recce and the lower illustration the house that Wiz found for us which was used as Aroha’s childhood home. In this photograph we are shooting a scene on the verandah where the women of the whānau plot the arranged marriage of Aroha and Hunapo. This scene was eventually cut from the finished film.

Wiz Pacifies the Gangsters!

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Walter Walsh (affectionately known as The Wiz in Gisborne), who we cast as Tautaru (Aroha’s father), proved a great asset on set.

As well as being a fine actor who brought tremendous power and mana to the role of Tautaru, Wiz’s experience playing an Orc in The Lord of the Rings worked wonders when some of our cast became very bored and difficult.

It was a particularly difficult shoot today. We were working in extremely cramped conditions in the Wikotu’s house, filming the scenes of Aroha’s childhood home. Our make-up team were having extreme difficulties applying Wiz’s tā moko (Māori tattoo). This led to interminable delays for the for the supporting cast playing the gangsters. They consumed a large quantity of beer and complained vociferously about the long wait hanging around waiting.

Wiz was quick to respond. He had spent three days in an Orc’s costume before he was even called onto the set!!

Casting Call with Turanga FM

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As a result of the Hobbit factor I was well into production without three of my leading players and the majority of my supporting cast.

It was Kristel’s hard work on the local casting call in Gisborne which saved the film. Throughout the development of Amiri & Aroha I had felt I was without one key person I needed to make the film, someone with organizational skills who would take on the casting and production liaison roles. In Kristel I had found that key player and it was great to welcome her on board as co-producer.

Following the radio interview on Turanga FM and the successful audition, the film as suddenly back in production with another great ensemble cast.

We had seasoned actors - we cast Shayne Biddle, recently seen in The Strength of Water, as Hunapo and Walter Walsh, who played an Orc in The Lord of the Rings, as Aroha’s father Tautaru.

Perhaps most exciting development was the undiscovered talent we uncovered at the audition. Michael Hollis and Cushla Tangaere, both presenters from Turanga FM, were cast as Amiri and Matakite respectively. Margie Poi, a raw talent, plays Aroha’s mother Ngaio and local Te Karaka boy Mathew Wikotu is the young Hunapo. Mathew has a soulful look perfect for the confused boy who must become a gang leader.

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Click here for a slide show of the updated cast following the Gisborne Casting Call

Rere Residents Think the Prostest is For Real!

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We shot the protest march scenes at Te Karaka today, recruiting lots of locals to join in the march. We filmed in the most run down part of the township, with derelict shops and graffiti giving a real feel of gangland.

Our scene must have been extremely realistic as some Rere residents, who were passing though Te Karaka whilst we were filming, were convinced it was for real and set up a local action committee. Despite my protestations to the contrary, they believed I was a documentary film maker shooting a news feature for television. They kept thanking me for bringing this threat to Rere to their attention!

The "Hobbit" Factor

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We had assembled an ensemble cast for Amiri & Aroha, with an interesting mix of up and coming acting talent from various casting agencies and local talent from my local Te Karaka community.

Not longer after principal photography commenced, the Hobbit dispute hit the headlines, resulting in a stand off between actors and producers. Whilst all the cast had agreed to work for the experience and potential exposure in lieu of payment, their agents started making impossible demands for an independent film maker. One by one, the lead cast members dropped out leaving the production in jeopardy.

The one cast member who did not leave was Kristel Day. I had cast Kristel in the lead role of Aroha. Kristel told me that she really believed in the story and saw the film’s potential and she didn’t want to see the production collapse. Using contacts in the local iwi radio station, Turanga FM, Kristel set about recasting the film.

Kristel came on board as my co-producer. We did a radio interview together on Turanga FM which ignited local interest. Our audition had an amazing turnout and thankfully the film is now back on track with a new cast!

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Shooting on location in the caravan at Morere Hot Springs, work was frequently interrupted by calls from disgruntled agents, and as if to rub it in, a Dominion Post billboard at the Hot Springs proclaimed the Hobbit dispute!

This story made it as a trivia item on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb)

Real fortune telling!

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Over the years, I have heard of - and taken part in - some interesting ceremonies prior to commencing shooting. In India, a film cannot start without a blessing of the camera and the film, a wonderful celebration with a priest cracking a coconut in front of the camera lens, the cast and crew garlanded. In New Zealand we have the traditional Māori welcoming ceremony, the pōwhiri, performed at the beginning of shooting a New Zealand film.

Today, with the first day of shooting at the Gypsy Rose caravan at Morere Hot Springs, we had a ritual of a rather different kind. Marie Lepper, the owner of the caravan, offered our leading actress Kristel Day, a genuine palmistry session which Kristel later told me came very close to the truth.

An interesting side line was that Marie felt I had made a casting error and that Kristel was morse suited to the role of the soothsayer in the film!

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Location Research: Finding a Gypsy Caravan

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This was the ill-fated caravan which I had originally hoped to use as the Matakite’s caravan before it was written off!

The scenes with Aroha and Matakite, the Māori soothsayer form the framework of the story and therefore the Matakite’s caravan was a vital location. I had relaxed as I had a friend with the perfect gypsy caravan, full of atmosphere and had promised I could use it for the film. I had already made test shots, having used the caravan as a location in the promotional film. Today came the devastating news from my friend that he had crashed the caravan and it was written off!

The search for another caravan was desperate. Shooting of these scenes is scheduled for next week! A colleague from the clinic at Te Karaka offered me her caravan, but it lacked the gypsy feel which was so vital for the film. Kristel Day, the actress I had just cast as Aroha, came to the rescue, telling me about the genuine soothsayer’s caravan at Morere Hot Springs, an hour’s drive from Gisborne.

So today, Mark, Rebecca and I drove down to Morere on an urgent recce. We met with Marie Lepper, who owns the Gypsy Rose caravan at Morere. The caravan had the perfect look and atmosphere I needed for the film. Marie was genuinely interested in the film and was wonderful, giving us permission to use her caravan for the filming.

Driving home from Morere, I felt a huge relief that this unexpected dilemma had been resolved so happily. But it would also present some challenges. The caravan was very small which would restrict my camera angles and be a very confined working space for the actors and myself. It was also beside a main road which could present problems with sound recording - most of the caravan scenes have dialogue. Lighting could also be problematic, the caravan being distant from any power sources. I would need to hire a generator or invest in battery operated lights. I certainly had plenty to think about over the next few days...

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My relief at finding this pivotal location is immense. The caravan is so full of atmosphere and intrigue, perfect for the story, I am already composing the shots in my head...

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Marie Lepper in her Gypsy Rose caravan. We are indebted to Marie for her generous help with the film.

An Homage to Romeo and Juliet

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As Romeo and Juliet had been the original inspiration behind my story, it seemed fitting to include a couple of homages to William Shakespeare in my script. When Hunapo’s father Maahanga is mad that Hunapo intends to go through with the arranged marriage to Aroha, he shouts “God’s bread it makes me sick”. This line, considered very risqué in Shakespeare’s time, comes when Juliet’s father Capulet disowns Juliet for not agreeing to the arranged marriage he has set up for her with County Paris. An interesting inverse parallel to the situation in my film.

My second homage is a paraphrasing of Mercutio’s immortal line “A plague on both your houses”. Maahanga is a lone and dissenting voice at the Marae ceremony and mutters to himself: “Curse you both, you have brought shame to the whānau.”

Today’s podcast video features these two clips in a rough cut assembly.

Discovering Local Talent at Te Karaka

As well as discovering the next James Rollerston in Mathew Wikotu, the Te Karaka community got behind the film and we discovered a host of undiscovered talent in our local population. Mathew’s uncle Errol Peta was brilliant as the maverick gang leader Maahanga, a lone figure, alienated from the rest of the gang, ruthless in his desire to mould Hunapo into a future gang leader.

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Carla Cookson, who had been my receptionist at the Waikohu Medical Centre in Te karaka for many years, acted as my local Te Karaka casting agent and had a tremendous ability to match local talent to the parts in my script.

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Although a number of the Te Karaka cast members dropped out during production, it was great to have the support of a community which has been my home for the past fifteen years on a project so dear to my heart.

Filming the young Aroha and Hunapo at Rere Falls

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We had an early wakeup call this morning for a full and important day’s shooting, the scenes between the young Aroha and Hunapo at the Rere falls.

Today was Mathew Wikotu’s first day playing the young Hunapo and I believe we have discovered a real talent. Mathew reminds me of James Rollerston from the recent New Zealand film Boy and I am sure Mathew will go just as far!

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This scene between the young Aroha and Hunapo was especially touching, with real chemistry between Rebecca and Mathew. The scene underlined the escape the two cousins sought in their friendship, away from the unhappiness in their gangland homes.

Greerton Health

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Whilst I am taking four months away from medicine to make my new film “Amiri & Aroha”, I am doing some part locum work to keep my hand in (and to help finance the film!) in between leaving Te Karaka and starting at Kurow.

It has been a great pleasure to work at Greerton Health in Tauranga over several weeks. Greerton Health is a modern family practice with a great practice team and I have really enjoyed working with them. Having worked in one practice for over 15 years, it is especially interesting to see how another practice works and copes with the day to day issues of family practice. I have learnt so much from Greerton.

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The First Day of Shooting

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Principal photography on Amiri & Aroha commenced today at the Rere Falls today. This is always a very exciting - and nervous - moment in the film’s genesis. After so long in pre-production, I had to pinch myself all day to be sure that it was all really happening and I wasn’t dreaming!

The Rere falls looked so beautiful on this spring day and Rebecca captured just the right wistful look for the young Aroha. The footage looked wonderful. If we can keep this up for the rest of the shooting, we will have a winning film.

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Rebecca reprised the role of the young Aroha, the role she had played in the original promotional film which I had made as a “pitch” to get the film off the ground. Today’s scenes broadly followed the shots we had filmed for the pitch.

Making the placards for the protest march scene

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Film making has become a part of our family way of life, with everyone in the family involved in the production of Amiri & Aroha and taking on multiple roles.

Mark and Rebecca made the placards for the protest march scenes, an important sub plot in the story where the Matakite leads the locals in a protest against the development of the Rere falls. The scenes also brings important local interest to the story.

Here Mark is hard at work building the placards.

Buying Properties: Finding the Crystal Ball

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My time this week has been dominated by searching for properties for the film, scouring second hand and antique shops, trolling websites and on-line auctions for properties which will look right in the film.

Of all the properties for Amiri & Aroha, by far the most important is the Soothsayer’s crystal ball. It significance to our story is something akin to the one ring in The Lord of the Rings.

Our Matakite (a Māori soothsayer) sees everything in her crystal ball, she sees what will happen to Aroha. I want to experiment with shots which will show the action as she sees it in her crystal ball, experimenting with compositing techniques in Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing software.

So finding the right crystal ball was my top priority on the buying list. I eventually found the prefect crystal ball on Trade Me, New Zealand’s popular on line auction site and made a successful bid!

The lead role of Aroha is cast!

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Today we cast Kristel Day in the lead role of Aroha.

Kristel has recently moved back to her hometown of Gisborne from the Bay of Plenty and has been looking for a project in the Gisborne region. This is perfect timing for us! Kristel brings a wealth of modeling experience and has worked on some interesting film projects. Her last film - as yet unfinished due to artistic differences between the creative team - was a dark, surreal production. I believe Krystal will bring a slightly darker side to Aroha which will add depth to the story.

At the end of today’s meeting, I promised Kristel that unlike her last film, my project will be completed. As I drove home, I realized how much work is ahead and the magnitude of that promise!

Rebecca is going to reprise the role of the young Aroha, which she played in the promotional film, and as this photograph demonstrates a believable likeness between the young and adult Aroha.

Perhaps today’s headline should read: The lead roles of Aroha are cast!

Family Visit to Kurow

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It was at Kurow in January 1995 that I first experience rural practice. I did a locum for Dr John Chambers, who was the Kurow GP at that time.

Rural practice has been a passion for me since that date. I have worked for over 15 years at a rural practice in Te Karaka, held the Rural Portfolio on the RNZCGP Executive and worked on the international Wonca Working Party on Rural Practice.

Back in 1995, I little realized that I would have the opportunity to come back and work at Kurow. Some places cast a magical spell on you and I have always wanted to come back to Kurow.

We have spent the last few days on a family visit to Kurow before we move here in the New Year.

Click here to see our photos of the visit to Kurow

Farewell to Te Karaka

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After fifteen years at Te Karaka, today was my last working day at the Waikohu Medical Centre. It has been a tremendous privilege to live and work in the Waikohu Community and I am so grateful to everyone who has made my family and I feel so welcome and so much a part of this wonderful community.

It was inevitably a very sad and highly emotional day as I had to say goodbye to so many people who have been so much a part of my life over these fifteen years. The community held a farewell party for me at the Te Karaka Fire Station this afternoon, which was a moving and very touching ceremony.

In my valedictory address to the people of Te Karaka, I recalled my very first morning at Te Karaka, on 1st May 1995. Each successive patient that morning addressed me in French: “Bonjour docteur!” “Comment allez-vous?” I began to think I had stumbled on a small outpost of French Polynesia when one patient thankfully said: “Would you mind awfully if we continued in English?” I later discovered that the locum who had worked at the clinic before I arrived had mistakenly told them that I was French!

This little anecdote for me sums up so much of what is wonderful about Te Karaka. A community that would take the trouble to learn some French just to make their new doctor feel at home, that is something very, very special.

Click here to view all the photos from the farewell parties at the Te Karaka Fire Station and the Bushmere Arms

Designing the look of the film

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Pre visualisation (“Pre-Viz”): I used a lot of photographs and images to design the look of the film. Ceremonies play and important role in Amiri & Aroha and getting the look right will create the atmosphere that I am looking to achieve.

A vital part of early preproduction is deciding on the visual style for the film. The director must have a clear vision of the film in his mind from the outset.

Peter Jackson advises running the whole film through in your head every couple of days. I’ve certainly been running Amiri & Aroha in my mind recently and I can visualise how I would like the finished film to look!

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My first draft of the screenplay featured a Māori soothsayer who will play an important role in the story’s development and in each revision of the script her role has become increasingly significant. Getting the look and the feel of the character in Pre-Viz is vital.

Storyboarding and Script Development

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For me, one of the most exciting parts of making a film is that getting that initial flash of inspiration, finding an original idea and shaping it into a story.

The script for Amiri & Aroha went through countless revisions right up to the final draft. One way in which I visually developed the story was to get lots of photographs and arrange them into a storyboard, to give a flavour of how the film would look.

Today’s podcast video shows an animated storyboard, with some of the artwork from my original pitch and drafts for the story.

New Directions in My Life

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After fifteen wonderful years at Te Karaka, it is time for new challenges.

Leaving Te Karaka has been a very difficult decision, but the opportunity to pursue two projects that are both very close to my heart has proved to great to resist.

I have secured funding through the World Organization of Family Doctors for my project to develop family medicine in a rural part of Cambodia. This work promises to make a real difference to some of the most disadvantaged communities on our planet.

I have also promised myself that I will have another film in the can by the end of 2010. Since my teenage years, film making has been an integral part of my life and I have been a prolific independent film maker over the years. Yet life has been so hectic that it is some years since my last film.

So I am thrilled to be back behind the camera, shooting a distinctly New Zealand story set in the beautiful East Cape which has been my home for these fifteen years.

I am indeed fortunate to be able to realize these two projects which I have dreamt about for so long.

I plan to spend the next six months working on these two projects. The pre-production planing for my new film Amiri & Aroha is almost complete and am currently working on the casting. I hope to start shooting in mid September, shortly after finishing work at Te Karaka. The principal location, the Rere falls, is close to Te Karaka and I am hoping that many of my former patients will be “extras” in the film.

The Cambodia project is also taking shape. I am working with a number of professors of family medicine in Cambodia and hope to progress the work of setting up community clinics in the rural areas of most extreme need by the end of the year.

On completion of these two projects, I am planning to return to rural practice and am currently looking at Kurow, the practice in South Canterbury which first awakened my love of rural practice.

It has been a tremendous privilege to be the doctor at Te Karaka for the past fifteen years and these have proved some of the happiest and most challenging years of my professional life. Both my children were born during my time at Te Karaka and we have always felt a part of the local community. I extent my most sincere and heartfelt thanks to the people of Te Karaka for making us so welcome.

Doing Something Nice “Just Because” Mark on the front page of the Gisborne Herald

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Doing Something Nice “Just Because” - Mark on the front page of the Gisborne Herald.

I was so proud of Mark today. His photograph was on the front page of the Gisborne Herald for his contribution to helping the family of a bereaved friend.

Pre-Production: Making a Successful Pitch

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A good pitch is essential to an independent film maker to secure funding for a project. A short promotional film which gives a flavour of the proposed production can work wonders for a backer. And when it comes to marketing the finished film, a well made Promo is almost as important as the film itself!

These days the film director can no longer hide behind the camera. Introducing the Promo, discussing the films development, and giving interviews are an integral part of the directors role.

This slideshow takes you behind the scenes for my original pitch for Amiri & Aroha. I took the audience with me on a recce whilst scouting locations at the Rere falls and filmed scenes of Aroha’s childhood with my children Mark and Rebecca playing the cousins Aroha and Hunapo.

I subsequently produced a more sophisticated Promotional Film for marketing the film and promoting it to audiences at international film festivals.

Today’s video podcast is a slideshow of productions stills taken during the making of the promotional film.

View the Amiri & Aroha Promotional Film here

The Initial Concept - A Māori Romeo and Juliet

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This opening blog looks at the genesis of the project, from that initial flash of inspiration, through numerous revisions and re-writes to the draft treatment and ultimately the final draft of the screenplay.

I have not made a major film for almost nineteen years and decided that my new film would have a distinctively New Zealand flavour. I have been looking for a subject with a background of gang rivalry, a story of love set against a rough and hostile background. My defining moment came when my son Mark told me about a dream he had with two star-crossed Māori lovers, coming from rival enemy tribes. Here was my subject - a Māori take on Romeo & Juliet.

This concept initially found favour whilst looking for backing for the new film. However there was considerably more interest in the idea than solid investment! Whilst it was obviously a disappointment not to secure significant funding, it did enable me to make a truly independent film and meant I was free to develop my own story.

I am intent on making a layered story which will work on many different levels. Perhaps most important of all, I am determined that Amiri & Aroha will be a drama with interesting and engaging characters. I also want to move away from the high tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and initially considered a Māori version of Lorna Doone. I have always loved R D Blackmore’s classic story and it seemed much more readily adaptable to a Māori setting, with a background of tribal rivalry. My character Hunapo was original inspired by Carver Doone, but as the story developed he moved away from this irredeemable villain. The redemption of Hunapo became a key element of the story, Hunapo’s journey from light to darkness contrasting sharply with Amiri’s journey from light to darkness.

The story has all the elements for compelling drama, love, betrayal, family vendettas, revenge... But one element is still missing - corruption. Amiri will be a hot shot Māori business from Auckland who comes to Rere with his own agenda, to turn the Rere falls into a lucrative mineral water bottling factory. Aroha will be charmed by Amiri and believe that he is the one to take her away from the gang and give her a new life. To her peril, Aroha becomes unwittingly caught up in Amiri’s shady business dealings.

Introducing the Blog and Podcast

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Writer and Director David Whittet introduces the podcast

Welcome to the Amiri & Aroha podcast where you can follow the progress of our film from the initial concept, project development and casting, through to the shooting and editing and hopefully exhibition at international film festivals in the New Year.

We hope to include some raw footage as we begin to assemble the rough cut and take you behind the scenes with slideshows and material from our video monitor camera.

Film making is a huge adventure and I am both excited and extremely nervous as I set out on my new film, especially as it is so long since my last production. However, I am confident I have a great script, an engaging, layered story with some genuinely interesting and rounded characters. Add to this a great cast and the scene is set for a compelling piece of cinema.

Join us on this momentous journey!

Producing a Blog and Podcast for "Amiri & Aroha"

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So much has changed since my last film! An official blog for the film and a podcast are essential tools for today’s independent film maker.

Today I launched our official Amiri & Aroha blog and podcast on my website, which will be an ongoing journal of the making of the film from the initial concept, project development and casting, through to the shooting and editing and hopefully exhibition at international film festivals in the New Year. I aim to keep the podcast alive with raw footage as we begin to assemble the rough cut and take our podcast subscribers behind the scenes with slideshows and material from our video monitor camera.

When I think back to the facilities available to me when I made The Best Place for Joe, the opportunities the opportunities for today’s independent film makers are awe inspiring. Video hosting sites, blogs and podcasting can instantly bring your work to a vast audience on a scale inconceivable a couple of decades ago. And software such as Apple’s Final Cut Pro brings professional facility house features to every independent film maker.

Wonca Foundation Award

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It was a tremendous moment for me to receive the Wonca Foundation Award in support of my project to develop family medicine in rural Cambodia at the Wonca awards ceremony at the Cancun Conference.

I had previously won a Wonca Foundation Award in 1998 to support my project in Orissa state in India. The project proved very successful in bringing family practice to an area of extreme need.

I feel extremely fortunate to have secured funding for the two projects closest to my heart, this project with the chance to make a real difference to a community in Cambodia and my new film Amiri & Aroha.

Wonca Working Party on Rural Practice

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We had a two day meeting of the Wonca Working Party on Rural Practice immediately prior to the 19th Wonca World Conference of Family Doctors in Cancun, Mexico.

It was wonderful to catch up with so many old friends and hear their stories and their journeys in rural family practice.

The Working Party is an amazing group of committed family physicians, with a single vision to “change the world” by improving the health status of rural communities worldwide.

The Next Peter Jackson?

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Mark worked closely with me on the promotional film for Amiri & Aroha, as my assistant director. Mark took on more and more responsibility, shooting the scenes where I narrate the story on camera at the Rere falls. In this clip, I am working with Mark as we shoot a scene with Rebecca as the young Aroha.

Watching Mark at work, I really believe I could be looking at the next Peter Jackson. Mark has already made several highly accomplished animation films, using both stop frame animation techniques and traditional drawings. He has an exciting, raw talent, waiting to break free.

Back Behind the Camera: Shooting the Promotional Film for “Amiri & Aroha”

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Here I am at last, back behind the camera, shooting the Promotional Film for Amiri & Aroha at the Rere Falls.

What an emotional moment it was, back on location shooting a film after such a long absence! I was both excited and nervous in equal measure as the camera rolled on the promotional film for my new production, Amiri & Aroha.

Most significant of all, film making is again an integral part of my family’s way of life, with my children Mark and Rebecca taking part in the film.

I see in Mark a budding Peter Jackson. Mark has already made some very original and enterprising animation films of his own and Mark will be my assistant director on Amiri & Aroha.

Up all night editing a new entry for the New Zealand Your Big Break Competition!

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Filled with last minute inspiration, I was desperate to complete the screenplay and promotional film for my latest entry to the Your Big Break Competition Max and the Monster.

This project was born out of feedback from the Your Big Break community on my previous entry Finding the Right Pitch which was the story of a group of hopeful but disparate film makers pitching for the Tourism New Zealand promotion contract.

The competition proved a wonderful forum for aspiring film makers, encouraging and inspiring each other.

It was a race against time to get the promotional film shot in time with some complex animations and computer generated monster shots. The film is the story of a brazen American film maker who wants to make a lovable monster front the New Zealand ad campaign. However, Aramoana, the serpent of Lake Wakatipu turns out to be far from lovable...

Perhaps my greatest reward came when my eleven year old son Mark watched the promo film and said: “Did you really make that awesome film, Dad?”



My pitch for Max and the Monster.

Vote for My Entry in the 100% Pure New Zealand Your Big Break Competition

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My entry to the 100% Pure New Zealand film competition is “Amazing Journey” The film shows how the first settlers on these magical islands, the indigenous Māori, had to battle the great Pacific Ocean as they came to New Zealand on a fleet of wakas (canoes). You will meet Kamaka, a Māori warrior and share his hopes and fears as he brings his whānau across the mighty Pacific Ocean to a new life in Aotearoa New Zealand.



My one minute pitch for the film, submitted to the Your Big Break Competition.

Writing a Proposal for the Wonca Foundation Award

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Since my project to develop family medicine in rural India, I have received many requests to work on similar projects, particularly in South East Asia. I have done some work with a group of professors of family medicine from Cambodia about a project in Samrong Tong, an area of extreme need in Northern Cambodia. My work as Deputy President of the RNZCGP has not allowed me time to pursue this further, but now that my term of office with the RNZCGP is concluded, I would like to progress this work.

My work in Orissa was supported by a Wonca Foundation Award and today I am getting a proposal together for the Samrong Tong poject.