David Whittet's Blog
Family Physician and Film Maker

Hīkoi is more relevant than ever!

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Hīkoi becomes more relevant by the minute. Inspired by the child poverty debate in the run up to the last general election, my screenplay includes several real life events woven into the story: the 2014 minor party leaders debate, the Hīkoi of protest to end child poverty and the presentation of a petition with fifteen thousand signatures to the government.
In the film, a young Māori social worker strives to make a difference, taking risks to help a single mother hounded by loan sharks. He's enraged by empty promises from the politicians during the election campaign, all claiming that they care. Abandoned by his employer, alone and bereft of support, he takes the blame when everything crashes down around him. He drops out after losing his licence, forcing him to join cardboard city with his former clients.
With the extraordinary political developments in New Zealand over the last week, accompanied by some angry rants on social media, I have been working out how my protagonist would react to all of this. What would he be tweeting? Perhaps I need to update the script to include the latest events––or start work on the sequel as the original goes into production!

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.

A "Cathy Come Home" for our times!

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Hīkoi
is a hard-hitting drama that addresses the most critical issues facing New Zealand society today: homelessness, child poverty and burnout in the under-resourced social workers who have to deal with the fallout.
For such an inspirational and relevant project, I hope to get funding from the New Zealand Film Commission and New Zealand on Air. I am currently pitching my screenplay to prospective production partners. An influential producer has enthusiastically described my script as a Cathy Come Home for our times.
It is immensely humbling to have my work compared to Ken Loach's groundbreaking film. Cathy Come Home gave rise to the Shelter movement, founded by a New Zealander, Des Wilson.
I would be delighted if Hīkoi could bring about such positive social change.

Farewell Sundance, Hello New Orleans!

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Farewell Sundance, Hello New Orleans!
Preproduction on Hīkoi is reaching fever pitch. Inspired by the feedback from the Table Read My Screenplay Competition at the Sundance Festival, I have completed an extensive rewrite of the Hīkoi script.
Mentoring by industry professionals has taught me the importance of tightening the action to keep the audience's attention firmly focused on the film's message. With some intense new scenes and razor-sharp dialogue, the latest draft of Hīkoi has a compelling storyline about an idealistic young social worker who loses his girlfriend and licence when he takes risks to save a teenage mother and her baby from a gang of ruthless loan sharks.
I am confident that this thought-provoking story will resonate with cinema goers in New Zealand and beyond.
As the excitement of the Sundance competition begins to fade, anticipation mounts for the upcoming Table Read My Screenplay at the New Orleans Film Festival in October 2017.
American festivals have always supported my work generously. With such a vibrant culture and a dynamic music scene, New Orleans could be the perfect location to launch the Hīkoi music video!

Hikoi at Sundance

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As the Hikoi music video nears completion, preproduction for the Hikoi feature film is underway.
I have had excellent feedback from the Table Read My Screenplay competition at the Sundance Film Festival. The prize of a teleconference with a Hollywood screenwriter has afforded the opportunity for me to work one to one with a leading professional on the next draft of the Hikoi script.
As we are in an election year in New Zealand, Hikoi is as topical as ever. Inspired by the multi-party leaders' debate in the run-up to the last General Election, Hikoi is a hard-hitting drama that deals with child poverty, deprivation and burnout among the professionals who attempt to deal with with the issue.
I am looking for a co-producer and hope to pitch for funding from the NZ Film Commission for a very relevant New Zealand story.
It would be great to see Hikoi in production before this year's election!

Postproduction on the Hikoi Music Video

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The Hikoi music video grows stronger with each successive edit. The raw images have a unique dramatic potency, which shines through even in the rough cut; a poignant visual poem that speaks eloquently for the underprivileged in our society.
As postproduction progresses, I have been working on the visual texture of the video, a gritty realism to reflect the hardship of life on the streets.
Feedback from early reviewers in the music industry has been invaluable, and I look forward to bringing you a preview before the video hits the international music festival circuit.

First Table Read of the Hikoi Screenplay

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A dark rehearsal room in the shadow of the Auckland City Mission lit up with the first full table read of the Hikoi screenplay. Performing the read through in the authentic locations added poignancy and a gritty realism to the actors' delivery. The atmosphere was electric as Hikoi reached its dramatic climax.
I was overwhelmed by the end of the reading. Input from all the participants has been invaluable, and I am full of inspiration for the next script revision.

The Art of the Music Video

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In many ways, music videos are a filmmaker's dream. It's like going back to the silent era, telling a story in pictures and music. Images are much more powerful without dialogue; it's cinematic art in its purest form. The Hikoi music video certainly promises to be a compelling piece of cinema.
I am taking a short break from editing the video as I head off to Auckland on Thursday for the New Zealand Script Writer Awards. In the meantime, here are a couple more behind the scenes photos from the shoot.
While in Auckland, we will have the first table read of the full Hikoi screenplay. I have made some major revisions to the story following the feedback from the international film festival circuit, and I am looking forward to the reading with actors playing the parts. Exciting times!

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An Eloquent voice for the underprivileged

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The excitement of last weekend's shoot continues as the Hīkoi music video comes together. Nikki's powerful song and the poignancy of our child actors speak eloquently for the underprivileged of our world. Even the unedited footage is spellbinding. I can't wait to bring you a preview!

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On Location with the Hikoi Music Video

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It's a wrap on a fantastic weekend shooting the Hikoi music video. Sincere thanks to everyone who made the shoot such a success, especially Nikki and the Descendents and our outstanding child actresses, who gave up their Saturday to learn what it is like to be homeless and hungry.
Watch out for more photos and behind the scenes footage over the next few days and a sneak preview of the music video!

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Hīkoi in Preproduction

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Hīkoi was inspired by the One News Multi-Party Leaders Debate on 05 September 2014, in the run up to the New Zealand General Election. Almost two years on, I have finally completed the screenplay.
The Leaders Debate focused on child poverty. My story centres on Tipene Tapihana, a young Māori trainee social worker, and his struggle to balance the impossible demands of his work with his own personal and social problems. Tipene is an idealist - he wants to change the world, but faced with burnout, it is the hīkoi that changes him.
I have weaved my story around real life events. The film opens with Tipene's frenzied reaction to the Leaders Debate. Subsequently, we see Tipene taking part in the Hīkoi of Protest against child poverty in Auckland's Queen Street in August 2014. The film culminates with the Hīkoi on the New Zealand Parliament on 20 May 2015, when protesters presented a petition with fifteen thousand signatures to the government, calling for an end to child poverty.
I have received fantastic feedback from screenwriting forums and the international film festival circuit. Professional coverage and table readings have enabled me to hone my script into a hard-hitting drama which deals with contemporary issues facing New Zealand and the world.
We are looking for a production partner for Hīkoi. Ideally, I would like to co-produce with a local production company. I am also hoping to attach some well known Kiwi actors to the project and hopefully we will go into production in 2017!

The Cameras roll on the Hīkoi Music Video in early September!

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After so much time in front of a word processor, I can't wait to get back behind the camera!
With Amiri & Aroha at last in the hands of the publishers and the screenplay for Hīkoi in competition on the international film festival circuit, I have been turning my attention to the Hīkoi music video.
At the heart of the video is Nikki Te Ataarangi Brand's brilliantly evocative song. The video tells the touching story of an unusual friendship between a street musician (played by Nikki) and a homeless family. The music video will also introduce the lead character in the forthcoming Hīkoi feature film.
Music producers have been raving about the test footage we shot last year, with multiple invitations to submit to music festivals worldwide.
The cameras start rolling in Taranaki in early September. Keep watching for more news and a preview!

Hīkoi Music Video to hit the big time in 4K!

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I have been talking to some music producers who are as excited about Nikki Te Ataarangi Brand's song for Hīkoi as I am myself.
The song is powerful and evocative, exactly matching the mood of the film. Last year we shot a thought provoking music video, featuring Nikki playing a street musician, seeing life in the raw through her eyes as she earns a meagre existence as a busker.
When I showed a rough cut of the footage to the music executives, they were so impressed by the impact of the song and the images that they have urged me to develop the project further and reshoot in 4K. It has been tremendous to get such positive feedback from those in the industry, and I appreciate their confidence that we have a potential award winner.
I am now looking forward to returning to Taranaki this Winter for another fantastic shoot with Nikki and The Descendants and our child stars. I am convinced that we will create something exceptional.
Nikki's song speaks eloquently for the underprivileged of our world. I hope my film will prove equally inspiring.

Interview in the New Zealand Rural GP Network News

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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

The Waifs of Waitara

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One of the most rewarding aspects of film making is discovering new talent. As well as Nikki and The Descendants, these two girls graced the screen with heartrending performances.
Our Waifs of Waitara will be stars of tomorrow!

Shooting the Hīkoi Music Video

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Shooting the Hīkoi music video this afternoon, was an awesome experience. The stage of the Waitara High School came alive as Nikki Te Ataarangi Brand and The Descendants performed the powerful and dramatic song that speaks so eloquently for the underprivileged of our world.
With the performance in the can, we took to the streets of Waitara to film some poignant scenes, which amplify and enhance the message of the song.
I remain convinced this song will soon be taking the music scene by storm!

Hīkoi Music Video to Shoot in Taranaki in August 2015

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It takes more than a polar blast to deter dedicated film makers, and I am delighted to report that we are back on track with the Hīkoi music video. Nikki Te Ataarangi Brand and the band are ready and waiting, together with some aspiring child actors. Excitement is running high with an intensive shoot scheduled for 8 & 9 August in Taranaki.
The response to our previous posts has been overwhelming, and we look forward to bringing you a compelling piece of cinema!

Shooting of the Hīkoi Music Video Delayed by Polar Blast!

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We are delighted at the enthusiastic response to our announcement of Nikki Te Ataarangi Brand's powerful song. Sadly, plans to shoot the Hīkoi music video have been interrupted by the polar blast that has hit New Zealand over the past few days. We were due to film in Taranaki, but record rainfall and gale force winds meant abandoning the shoot.
Film making is intense. There is huge excitement amongst cast and crew when the cameras are ready to roll. Equally the disappointment is tremendous when circumstances beyond our control delay the project, which is particularly disheartening for new and emerging artists.
I am convinced that our music video will bring Nikki's work to the world stage, and I can't wait to reschedule the filming! Our video will make an eloquent statement about poverty and inequality, and we hope it will cause a stir on the international music festival scene.
In the meantime, negotiations with potential funders and supporters are underway, and some major announcements will be coming soon!

Previz for the Hīkoi Music Video


Pre-production for the Hīkoi music video has been intense. I have been matching images to Nikki’s striking lyrics, and I hope that the combination of the music with potent visuals will bring home the reality of child poverty.
Have a look at this clip to get an idea of the scenes we are hoping to capture.

Hīkoi Music Video - Introducing Nikki Ataarangi Brand

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I have just been listening to a demo track for an emotionally charged song that speaks powerfully and eloquently for the underprivileged of our world.
Nikki Te Ataarangi Brand has written a truly inspirational song for my new film Hīkoi. The profound and thought provoking lyrics reflect the message of Hīkoi and the music will beautifully enhance the mood of the film.
The song is a potent reminder of the inequalities that surround us, and I am excited about shooting a music video with Nikki and her band.
The video will feature Nikki as a street musician and show vignettes of poverty through the eyes of the musician. Working on the storyboard convinces me that the music video will be a compelling piece of cinema.
Nikki is an awesome talent, and I hope that Hīkoi will prove her big break.

Calling all budding singer-songwriters!

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I am looking for a talented musician to write a song to promote Hīkoi!
Hīkoi is my new film project, a gritty New Zealand drama inspired by the child poverty debate. I am planning a music video to promote the project and the song will also feature prominently on the film’s soundtrack.
Ideally, I am looking for a song in the style of Streets of London, with an urban New Zealand setting. The lyrics should convey vignettes reflecting child poverty and related issues including unemployment and Māori health inequalities.
This could be an amazing opportunity for an up and coming musician/singer-song writer. My previous films have won numerous awards on the international film festival circuit and music from these films has been acknowledged at the Global Music Awards.
If you are interested, I would love to hear from you. If you know someone who is waiting for their big break in the music industry, please forward this post to them!

Inspiration form the Child Poverty Debate - My Next Project Hīkoi

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Child poverty was a major issue in the recent New Zealand general election and watching some of the political debates stirred memories of a script I wrote some years back. Updated with an urban Māori setting, Hīkoi promises to be a gritty, hard hitting drama with an important message.

With the completion of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy, my thoughts have been turning to my next project. Whilst my publishers constantly remind me that I need to get to work on the novelisation of Amiri & Aroha, film making is so deeply engrained in my DNA that I a get very restless when I am without a film project.
Under the working title Hīkoi, my next film will be an emotive and uncompromising look at some profoundly troubling issues, wrapped up in a deeply affecting story.