David Whittet Films Blog
Independent New Zealand Film 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.

Proofing Amiri & Aroha

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Mathew Wikotu as the young Hunapo.

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

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Shayne Biddle as Hunapo

Amiri & Aroha - A New Zealand Story

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

Amiri & Aroha submitted for publication

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

Books aren't written, they're rewritten!

Amiri & Aroha Book Cover copy

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

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

Interview in the New Zealand Rural GP Network News

NGRGPN Network News Cover

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

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

Tekapo Promotional Shoot

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

Revisions and rewrites

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

An Adventure that stubbornly refuses to end

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

An extraordinary journey draws to a conclusion

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

The Further Adventures of Amiri & Aroha

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

Amiri & Aroha: A remarkable Journey

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

Rere's Children wins at the Accolade Global Film Competition

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Amiri & Aroha
continues to take the international film festival circuit by storm with an Award of Merit for Rere’s Children at the Accolade Global Film Competition. We have won four international awards in as many months and the trilogy has now won a total of eleven major awards in international competition.

Since the premiere, the Amiri & Aroha trilogy has constantly been amongst the top rated films released in 2014 throughout the world on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb). Thank you to all who have had the chance to see the films and have voted us so highly.
We are hoping to give a much wider audience the opportunity to see the the trilogy in the near future, as we continue to explore distribution options.

Another Major Award for Amiri's Child

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Amiri & Aroha continues to take the international film festival circuit by storm with another major award for Amiri’s Child at the IndieFest.

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

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

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


A new trivia item on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb) puts Amiri’s Child back in the headlines!

When preview audiences first saw Amiri’s Child last year, they were quick to point out parallels with the government’s sale of shares in the power industry. Political advocates of all persuasions saw in Amiri’s Child an allegory of what can happen when the power industry is itself engulfed in a power struggle. The David and Goliath battle between Arapeta and Koriata continues to promote discussion on asset sales.

This is particularly relevant at the present time in the run up to the New Zealand General Election. Amiri’s Child is once again central to the cut and thrust of political debate!

The goal throughout the Amiri & Aroha trilogy has been to produce top class, engrossing entertainment which is also compelling cinema, tackling important contemporary issues and giving audiences something to think about and something to talk about.

Check out the story on the IMDb trivia page here.

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

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

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

Gisborne Herald Coverage of our premiere



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

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

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

World Premiere Photo Gallery

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

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

Check out our photo gallery from this momentous occasion here.

Amiri & Aroha comes to Hobbiton

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Amiri & Aroha comes to Hobbiton!

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

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

Amiri & Aroha World Premiere is a resounding success!

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

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

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

The Red Carpet is Rolled out

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

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

World Premiere tonight!

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

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

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

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

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

Dome Premiere 2 Detail

Road trip to the Premiere

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


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

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

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

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

The Most Beautiful Award in the Industry!

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

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

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

Read our latest Press Release announcing the new awards.

The Countdown to the Premiere is on!



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

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

Gisborne History Lives on in Amiri & Aroha!

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

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

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

Can't wait for the Premiere? Check out these first look videos!



The premiere is now just seven days away, but if you can’t wait, check out our trailers and previews on our Video Portfolio page.

Koriata’s Dilemma is the latest addition to the collection. This key sequence from Rere's Children sees a desperate Koriata (John Stainton) face his inner demons. Koriata’s Way was an early working title for the final film in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. Koriata’s journey from the son of a gang president to a business leader and company director is no ordinary rags to riches story. Koriata’s desire to shed his gangland roots and follow his own path is fraught with danger and will reveal some sinister secrets.

Nine days away - premiere arrangements confirmed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Premiere is just ten days away!

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

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

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

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


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

World Premiere of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy announced



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

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

Amiri's Child up with Hollywood's Best!

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

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

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

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

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

Rere's Children Theatrical Trailer Released



Rere’s Children
is the stunning conclusion to the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. The heart wrenching finale to the saga is full of passion, intrigue and raw emotion!

In the best Amiri & Aroha tradition, this intense theatrical trailer provides a dramatic ride through the story a breakneck speed.

Enjoy the ride and we hope you will come and see the film. We can’t wait to bring this story to the world!

Creating an awesome trailer for Rere's Children

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With the countdown to the premiere of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy well underway, it has been back to burning the midnight oil for me, creating a trailer for Rere’s Children.

I have been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to the newly released trailers for Amiri & Aroha. This has also set me a formidable challenge, to make an even more dazzling trailer for Rere’s Children!

The trailer will be released tomorrow and promises to be another roller coaster ride of emotion, intrigue and passion, a montage of compelling images and intense music as we experience the story of Rere’s Children in just under three minutes!

Trivia: Amiri & Aroha and The Hobbit

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Amiri & Aroha has become the subject of a favourite trivia question at the very popular pub quiz nights up and down the country.

When we posted the unusual story of an inextricable link between Amiri & Aroha and The Hobbit in the Trivia Section on the Amiri & Aroha IMDb page, little did we expect that this would provoke such interest amongst quiz enthusiasts and become a hot topic for pub chatter.

Find out what all the intrigue is about here.

Amiri & Aroha on Trivial Pursuit? Who knows!

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

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

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

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

Cool new trailers for Amiri & Aroha

With the completion of Rere’s Children, the countdown is on for the World Premiere of the complete Amiri & Aroha trilogy. As a result of our recent competition success, media interest in Amiri & Aroha is high and we have released two exciting new trailers for the original Amiri & Aroha film.



Theatrical Trailer
Amiri & Aroha began as a Maori take on Romeo and Juliet, set against a background of gang rivalry and tribal warfare, set on New Zealand's stunning East Cape.
This dramatic theatrical trailer highlights Aroha's rite of passage as she tries to escape her gangland origins. Amiri is a hotshot businessman from the big smoke of Auckland, who promises Aroha a new life away from the gang. But Aroha is haunted by a childhood ceremony, which threatens to prevent her from ever breaking free of the gang.
We hope this minute plus trailer gives a flavour of Aroha's tumultuous journey!


Teaser Trailer
The dramatic opening (or overture) to Amiri & Aroha forms the basis of this award winning teaser trailer. A fiery cauldron of images, a roller coaster ride through the story of Amiri & Aroha in just under three minutes!

Check out all our first look and blog videos on our portfolio page.

The Broken Promises music video is released



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

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

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

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

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

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

Amiri's Child wins Best Shorts Award

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

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

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

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

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



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


Broken Promises

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


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

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

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

Amiri & Aroha takes on the World!

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


Amiri & Aroha is taking on the world!

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

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

Piecing the Jigsaw together

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Much of my life in the past couple of months has been spent in a darkened room, colour grading Rere’s Children. This key scene of Miriama’s first meeting with Koriata has been a particularly difficult scene to balance and getting it right has become an obsession!


Making a film is like doing a jigsaw. Both films and jigsaw puzzles are made up of a large number of pieces which must come together to make a satisfying entity. In the case of a film, those tiny pieces are shot out of order and often in isolation of each other. The challenge for the film maker is getting each shot, each little piece of the jigsaw, as close to perfection as possible. And just like a jigsaw, one piece that doesn’t fit can ruin the entire picture.

Editing a film always entails shuffling scenes around into a different order in search of that elusive prefect fit. Juggling story lines, juxtaposing images, this is where a film is made or broken.

For Rere’s Children, the jigsaw is at last compete. All the elements have come together to produce a compelling story, that elusive fit has been achieved!

This First Look video is a rough cut of the scene which has given me so much heartache in post production! A tense, edgy scene where Miriama and Koriaita first meet in a dockside cafe.

The Countdown is on!

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


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

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

Carl de Malmanche, our new Executive Producer



Welcome to Carl de Malmanche, our new Executive Producer.

It’s great that all of our supporters have got so involved in the production, and Carl and his friend Morino Ravenberg have played Interpol officers in the dramatic arrest of Amiri in Rere's Children.

Without giving away any spoilers, we've put together this short clip to give you a feeling for the scene!

Welcome to the crew, Carl.

Rere's Children is in final post production

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With Rere's Children in the final stages of post production, the Amiri & Aroha trilogy is almost complete. There is a certain amount of agony and ecstasy in any artistic endeavour and the last couple of months have proved something of an emotional roller coaster ride, working round the clock to finish the film.

Perhaps the most exciting - and nerve wracking - experience has been test screenings with preview audiences. Recent work has concentrated on fine tuning as a result of immensely valuable feedback from our preview audiences.

Honing the editing is immensely satisfying, with each successive enhancement, the film becomes more powerful and ready for exhibition!

With such intensive post production work, there just haven't been enough hours in the day to keep up to date with this production blog. But with an end now very clearly in sight, in the run up to the World Premiere of the trilogy, we will be catching up with our posts and bringing you the latest news of the final stages of production.

It's a wrap - finally!

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The cameras have been rolling for the last time on the Amiri & Aroha trilogy, with the final pick ups for Rere’s Children at last in the can.

There were some scenes we were unable to film during the November shoot and I have been casting round for actors for some of the small but significant small parts.

For the most significant of these roles, the detective who interviews gang leader Tautaru, I had to look no further than my colleague Andrew Wilson.

Andrew proved a natural in front of the camera. It's always difficult doing green screen work out of context but Andrew had no problem getting to grips with the laconic detective who unwittingly draws the truth out of Tautaru.

The shoot was in the best tradition of Indie film making, Andrew and edited the green screen footage into the sequence as soon as we completed the shoot. Thank you for being past of the film, Andrew.

This gritty sequence, near the conclusion of Rere’s Children, is one of my personal favourites from the trilogy.

2014: The Year of the Premiere

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

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

Juggling the Crystal Ball

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


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

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

The November shoot ends up in the cells!

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The November shoot has wrapped with this dramatic scene between Tautaru and Lamonge in the police cells. A fitting climax to a punishing couple of week’s filming!

As I work through the rushes, we certainly have some amazing footage and I look forward to cutting this material into some compelling scenes which will make Rere’s Children an even more powerful climax to the trilogy.

Yet it's not quite a wrap. There are some scenes we have not been able to complete and there are still a few parts to cast. I’m looking for a detective to interview the notorious Tauataru!

Shooting under pressure!

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When John Stainton landed in Gisborne for the 24 hour intensive shoot, he confided with me that he works best under pressure. That was definitely put to the test with this scene.

With the clock ticking and time evaporating, we completed this critical scene between Koriata and his unwilling fellow conspirator Alice (Lisa Beach) just minutes before John's flight back to Wellington.

John clearly does work best under pressure - I have just been editing the scene and it is one of his most powerful.

Koriata's Way - An Intensive 24 hour shoot!

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John Stainton (Koriata) flew in from Wellington this afternoon for 24 hours of intensive shooting. Early work on the rough cut of Rere's Children identified the need to increase the dramatic tension of the climactic scenes where Koriata has to decide if he is prepared to risk his life to do the right thing. A priority of this shoot is to make these scenes as powerful and heart rending as possible.

It was straight down to work on John's arrival with some emotional and moving scenes in gangland. Koriata’s naive attempts to bring down the gang result in tragedy to those closest to him. Tonight’s scenes see Koriata with blood on his hands - literally - as he confronts his friend Alice (Lisa Beach), whose life is destroyed by Koriata’s actions.

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A desperate Koriata (John Stainton) looks at the lights of Gisborne from Kaiti Hill as he contemplates his inner turmoil.

Koriata’s Way
was an early working title for the final film in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. Koriata’s journey from the son of a gang president to a business leader and company director is no ordinary rags to riches story. Koriata’s desire to shed his gangland roots and follow his own path is fraught with danger and will reveal some sinister secrets.

I was determined that this shoot would take Koriata out of his comfort zone. After the intense scene with Lisa Beach and the gangsters, I took John up to Kaiti Hill for a night shoot, where Koriata must face his demons and decide if he is going to do the right thing. Tonight’s shoot captured some raw emotion and will make Rere’s Children a much more powerful drama.

A Powerful Scene in Gangland

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Alice (Lisa Beach) with her man Dan (Te Hamua Shane Nikora) who suffers the consequences of standing up for what is right. This touching scene at the end of the evening’s shoot brought tears to the eyes of everyone watching on set.

Tonight we shot a climactic scene for the Amiri & Aroha trilogy as a brave man takes on the gang. Te Hamua Shane Nikora joined the cast as Dan, a security guard whose attempt to bring down notorious gang leader Tautaru ends in tragedy. It was necessarily a disturbing scene, which gives the resolution of our story its meaning. Te Hamua and our group of gangsters acted with such force and conviction that everyone on set was deeply affected by what they saw.

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Beauty and the Beast - All smiles following the shoot! There was palpable relief amongst cast and crew when we finally wrapped this intense and heart rending shoot.

The Power of the Green Screen!

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Our great casting find today was Wendy Adams, played our news anchor beautifully, an all important role which brings a gritty realism to the story.

Another great day's shooting - today was the day of the paparazzi hounding Arapeta following the explosion at the power station. These scenes come early in Rere’s Children and set the tone for the dramatic conclusion to the trilogy.

The Dialogue Coach is an unsung hero in film making. Today's shooting was entirely done against a green screen, making it particularly difficult for our actors to get into their roles and visualise the finished picture. Lisa Beach worked tirelessly throughout the shoot, role playing all the parts and making our actors feel they were in the thick of the action!

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David Whittet with Associate Producer Lisa Beach and today’s discovery, Wendy Adams.

Brief Encounter - Lamonge & Bronwyn

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Parting is such sweet sorrow...The painful end to an all too brief encounter between Lamonge (Warren Philp) and Bronwyn Kay in an emotional scene for Rere's Children, shot at Gisborne Harbour this afternoon.

Amiri & Aroha
began as a Māori take on Romeo and Juliet. But Amiri and Aroha are not the only star crossed lovers in the story! First up for the final shoot has been shooting a bitter sweet affair of the heart between the infamous lawyer Lamonge and Bronwyn Kay.

Bronwyn was our principal sponsor from the IndieGoGo campaign and has proven a consummate actress as her part has developed into a major storyline in Rere’s Children.

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Lamonge and Bronwyn - a sad wave and a last look back.

You ain't seen nothing yet! The final shoot of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy is underway!

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I am back in Gisborne for the final shoot of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. Whilst the trilogy has seen some intense excitement - from a raging furnace to exploding a power station - I can confidently say you ain't seen nothing yet! The combination of explosive action and high drama to be shot in the next ten days will bring the Amiri & Aroha to a stunning conclusion!

Previz for the Pickups

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With an intense shoot ahead, pre-visualisation (known as Previz) is essential preparation. This storyboard is for Bronwyn Kay’s scene, a pivotal sequence for the November shoot.

With the final shoot of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy just weeks away, preparations are now reaching fever pitch! It certainly promises to be another full on shoot with an intense mix of pickups and some exciting new scenes. This is our opportunity to make the trilogy something really special and to take advantage of the amazing distribution opportunities ahead.

Over the past five years, working on the trilogy has proved a tremendous voyage of discovery and I have met and worked with so many awesome people. The extended shoots have enabled real character development. I am really looking forward to developing Bronwyn Kay’s scene as Bronwyn plays a key role in the story’s development.

Return of the Invisible Man!

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The invisible man, with piercing eyes that could kill!

The Amiri & Aroha trilogy has been an amazing journey and it has been wonderful to share the experience with so many fans and supporters through this blog and my Facebook page. It is great that we have a worldwide audience eagerly anticipating the conclusion of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy.

The wait is almost over and we are feeling the pressure as we approach the final shoot! We are determined to bring you a stunning climax which will match everyone’s expectations!

We’ve already heard that one of our characters will escape on a boat, another key protagonist plans his escape disguised as the invisible man!

All will be revealed when Amiri & Aroha reaches a screen near you!

Lamonge's Last Stand

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This tranquil scene at Gisborne Harbour is about to be shattered by a spectacular escape in Rere’s Children. But who is escaping? And from what? The wait is nearly over for the dramatic conclusion of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy.

With the November shoot fast approaching, Warren Philp (aka seedy lawyer Lamonge) and I have been working on this powerful scene which will see a key character take to sea to escape inevitable comeuppance. With the help of our principal sponsor Bronwyn Kay, we have found the boat that will take our fugitive into the distant sunset! Kim Currie, of Currie Construction, is making his boat Spindrift available for this pivotal scene. Thank you so much Kim and a huge thank you to Bronwyn for her continued support of our project!

The World Charity Premiere of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy will support Children in Need in Cambodia

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Put a smile on these Children’s faces - support the Charity Premiere of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy.

Be a movie mogul and help some of the most disadvantaged children on our planet!

Amiri & Aroha is poised to become the next media sensation, dubbed by many as the next Sopranos. As one executive put it: “Amiri & Aroha is a project unlike any other - a heady mixture of love, rivalry, tribal ritual, gang warfare, full of intrigue and to cap it all, shot in the heart of Middle Earth!”

With our IndieGoGo campaign, YOU have the opportunity to be part of this global cinematic phenomenon AND to help some of the World’s most disadvantaged people. We are planning a World Charity Premiere for the Amiri & Aroha trilogy early in the New Year, to support a project I am working on to develop family medicine in rural Cambodia, a region of extreme need.

Read about our project in Cambodia here.

These children need your help. We need finishing funds to complete Amiri & Aroha and to launch the charity premiere. Put a smile on these children’s faces!

Check out the fantastic rewards on offer at our IndieGoGo site, there are tremendous opportunities on both sides of the camera. Become a film star or a movie mogul!

BUT HURRY! Our IndieGoGo campaign only has another 7 days to run! These children need your help!

First Look Video: Koriata's Nightmare



In Rere's Children, we follow Koriata's desperate attempts to escape his gangland origins and follow his own path in life (an early working tittle for the film was Koriata's Way). In this dramatic First Look video, despite outward success in the business world, the gang will not let him forget that they remain his master.

A breathtaking conclusion for Amiri & Aroha!

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

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

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

Koriata's Way

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Editing of Rere's Children is at an immensely exciting stage, with the dramatic conclusion of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy already exerting its power in the raw footage of the rough cut. This screen shot comes from a montage sequence signalling Koriata's dominance of the power industry. But Koriata's victory comes at an immense personal cost...

Watch out for a First Look video of this scene, coming in the next couple of days!

Wiz is a Wanted Man!

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This front page is one of many newspaper and magazine covers created for the montage sequences of Rere’s Children, accurate down to the last detail of the text!

The arrest of Gang President Tautaru (Walter "The Wiz" Walsh) is a key turning point in Rere's Children. This newspaper front page features in a montage sequence, pronouncing the repercussions of Tautaru's arrest.

Events which occur in the immediate aftermath of Tautaru’s arrest will be a key part of the upcoming November shoot and final refinements to the script are being made as the story takes shape in the cutting room!

Amiri in the Asylum for the Criminally Insane

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Another dark and edgy scene I'm working on in post production: Amiri in the asylum for the criminally insane, writing increasingly bizarre letters to his estranged son Arapeta. Mike Hollis's performance is astonishing, lucid one moment, descending into madness the next.

Rere's Children comes alive in the editing suite!

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Our story begins and ends at Rere falls, with some spectacular adventures in between. As post production continues, I have been editing the climactic scenes of the trilogy.  It's wonderful to work with such awesome material and even in their raw state, these scenes are powerful and compelling.

Observers sitting in on editing sessions have found themselves drawn into this gripping story. Watch out for some new first look videos, coming soon!

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“The Pōriro is accepted” - Editing the dramatic conclusion of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy.

Zero Film Festival - A Fair Go for Indie Film Makers

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

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

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

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Another Powerful Scene takes shape!

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With the November shoot on the horizon, I'm working round the clock on post production to ensure that this amazing story is ready for the gala World Premiere early in the New Year.

I've just finished working on another very powerful scene, where ruthless gang leader Tautaru despatches one of his minions to dispense gang justice to someone who can't pay their protection money. The young generation in the gang will not tolerate Tautaru's reign of terror. Desperate for a better future for their whānau, they are determined to bring Tautaru down.

Look out for some more First Look videos very soon.

November shoot confirmed - And a New Year Premiere

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Cameras will roll once more in November for the final shoot of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. It promises to be an intense shoot, with a spectacular car chase, a dramatic escape at sea and many other sensational scenes for an unforgettable conclusion to the trilogy!

Meticulous planning is required for the complex and hair-raising stunts. This shoot will be the most dazzling and electrifying to date and will send off the trilogy with a bang!

Post production continues alongside the preparations and we are on course for the Gala Première early in the New Year.

These are exciting times for all us of who have worked so hard on this project for so long. And new adventures lie ahead as Amiri & Aroha takes on Hollywood!

Please help us make this finale as special as possible by supporting our IndieGoGo campaign!

Planning and Post Production

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"Amiri, Amiri, have you truly learnt nothing? You can explode power stations and wreak havoc everywhere, but you won’t be happy until you make good..."
- Kōkā to Amiri


Planning and post production are progressing with renewed vigour with all the exciting news we have been receiving this week!

I have been working on this dramatic scene, which opens Rere's Children. On top of the Rere Falls, Amiri faces his demons, in the shape of the etherial Kōkā, who haunts him from her crystal ball!

Amiri & Aroha - The Next Sopranos?

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

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

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

Get in on the Action at our IndieGoGo site!

A Project Unlike Any Other!

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

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

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

Amiri & Aroha Goes Viral!

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

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

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

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

Amiri's Baby

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

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

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

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

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

Our IndieGoGo Campaign is live!



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

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

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

On the cusp of something great

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

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

Rere's Children - The Rough Cut

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

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

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

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

Shooting a new Promo

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Introducing the promo video at Rere Falls.

I've been busy shooting a new promotional video for a forthcoming IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds to complete Amiri & Aroha.

We ran a highly successful campaign last year to fund Rere's Children, the final film of the trilogy. Highlights of the campaign included developing a tense and atmospheric scene featuring our principle sponsor, Bronwyn Kay. We named a lead character after Hayden Searle, another key supporter. Jonathan Fox became the first virtual assistant director in cinema history.

With exciting possibilities in the offing, including broadcasting the three hour-long films as a mini series and a feature film cut for cinema release, we need funding for pick up shots and additional photography.

Help us to bring this amazing story to the world. Watch out for the IndieGoGo campaign, launching very soon!

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Acclaim for the Amiri's Child Trailer


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

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

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

The Amiri & Aroha Blog to be published

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

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

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

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

An Assembly Edit for Rere's Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amiri's Child: The Final Conflict

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

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

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

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

Interview on Radio Waatea

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

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

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

Press Release: Award Winning NZ Film hits the headlines!

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

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

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


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

Amiri & Aroha to help children in Cambodia

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I am delighted to announce that we plan to have a gala charity premiere for the Amiri & Aroha trilogy, the proceeds of which will go to support my project to develop family medicine in Cambodia.

I have highlighted the extreme need of the project community and the difficulty we have had in funding the project, despite the generous support of the World Organization of Family Doctors (Wonca). I mentioned in a previous post that we hope to use the experience I have gained with crowd funding for Amiri & Aroha to launch an IndieGoGo campaign for the Cambodia project. It is particularly rewarding to find a direct was for Amiri & Aroha to help the project through a gala premiere!

How Indy is Indy?

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

How truly independent can an independent film be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amiri's Child Hits the Headlines!

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

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

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

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

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

A Powerful Overture for Amiri's Child

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

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

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

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

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

Detonation Films

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

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

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

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

Prestige Award Presentation

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

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

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

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

Read our updated Press Release.

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The growing collection of awards for Amiri & Aroha.

First Look Amiri's Child



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

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

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

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

A critical rewrite for Amiri's Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Anarchy

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

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

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

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

A special screening of Amiri & Aroha for the Waitaki Multicultural Group

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The Waitaki Multicultural Women’s Group attended a special screening of Amiri & Aroha today.

It was a pleasure to host the meeting and it is always valuable to experience the film with a new audience and receive their feedback. Insights from a multicultural group are especially important.

The Waitaki Multicultural Group are the first audience to see the enhanced Amiri & Aroha with the additional scene described in the last post.

The group has requested another meeting in the near future to see Amiri’s Child and Rere’s Children as soon as they are complete! They will certainly amongst the first to see the entire trilogy!

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The Waitaki Multicultural Women’s Group have a question and answer session with the director following the screening of Amiri & Aroha

Feedback from the international film festival circuit enhances Amiri & Aroha

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Fringe benefits from success on the international film festival circuit: an effective new scene for Amiri & Aroha.

One of the most exciting aspects of the success of Amiri & Aroha on the international film festival circuit has been the feedback from festival adjudicators and audiences. It is invaluable to use these insights to enhance the film.

Like many independent film makers, my training has been from getting out there and making films. I have posted several blogs extolling the virtues of my unofficial film school of competition judges comments.

There has been a consensus amongst early audiences that the fire sequence in Amiri & Aroha requires a slightly longer build up and I have gone back to the rushes - the camera original footage - and added a new scene of Amiri and Aroha struggling to escape before the fire becomes established. I have gained so much experience with digital compositing and have put all this expertise into crafting the scene.

A small enhancement perhaps, but a major  impact on the film.

The January 2013 Shoot wraps - where to from here?

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

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

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

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

Yet more tough decisions lie ahead in post production!

Lessons from an unofficial Film School

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

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

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

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

Refinements at the Elephant Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

Trains and Transitions

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

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

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

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

Introducing Miriama

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

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

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

Filming at the Campbell Park Estate

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

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

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

Young Arapeta's Vision at the Waitaki Dam

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

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

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

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

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

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

The January shoot is underway with a confrontation in gangland!

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

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

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

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

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

Bronwyn Kay finds Amiri the perfect property

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The perfect refuge for Amiri & Aroha, complete with its own waterfall - thanks to Bronwyn Kay!

Bronwyn Kay is our major supporter from the IndieGoGo campaign last year and we are most grateful to Bronwyn for her generous support of our project.

As regular followers of this blog will know, in addition to her financial contribution to the film, Bronwyn also took on a starring role in a key sequence in Rere’s Children.

Amiri is on the run from both his enemies and the authorities and he must find a remote hideaway where he can live with Aroha in secret. He entrusts his lawyer Lamonge to find him a luxurious mansion, far away from the prying eyes of his adversaries. Lamonge turns to Bronwyn Kay to find the ideal sanctuary for Amiri. Bronwyn delivers a property to die for, only accessible by a precarious swing bridge, and complete with its own swing bridge, to remind Amiri & Aroha of their first meeting at the Rere falls.

As Amiri’s Child is nearing completion in post production, I have been turning my attention to Rere’s Children and I have been working on Bronwyn’s scene. It is a very tense encounter between Lamonge and Bronwyn, with Lamonge inadvertently saying to much during the meeting and Bronwyn realises that his client is indeed the notorious Amiri.

Bronwyn was a true star and played the part to perfection. You can read about the shooting here.

I have put together this preview of Bronwyn’s scene. Enjoy!

We remain externally grateful to Bronwyn. Your contribution has made a huge difference to our project!

Preparing Another Shoot for Amiri's Child

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

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

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

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

Tough Decisions in Post Production

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

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

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

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

Movie Magic, illusion and painstaking compositing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewing the Rushes for the October Shoot

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Importing the footage from the October shoot into Final Cut Pro X for cataloguing. Each shoot has generated several terabytes of material!

Each of our extended shoots on the Amiri & Aroha trilogy has produced a mass of material to be viewed, catalogued and assessed prior to getting down to editing proper.

With the huge amount of work in the October shoot, this has been the biggest import of footage in the trilogy. As the material is downloaded and backed up to multiple off-site locations, I am constantly looking to see if it matches up to expectations and will cut together.

Will that long shot match that close up? Is that shot believable? Is the actor plausible in the role?

These are the questions that race through the film makers head as the new martial is ingested!

Principal Photography wraps with Aunt Hinemoa

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Payback time for Uncle Ben: David Whittet directs Shane Luke (Arapeta), Willie Grace Senior (Uncle Ben) and Kohi Marama Rogers (Aunt Hinemoa) in a tense scene where Arapeta confronts demons from his past, which wraps principal photography on Rere’s Children.

The October shoot has been by far the most challenging of the trilogy. I always knew it would be tough to complete such a massive amount of visual story-telling in a two week period, but didm’t realise just how much I was asking of myself and stress levels were high at times during this fortnight!

It felt fitting to wrap principal photography with the Aunt Hinemoa scenes, as it is this encounter that clears Arapeta’s mind and shapes his outlook on the future. Shane Luke and Willie Grace worked beautifully together at the role reversal from earlier in the trilogy and Kohi Marama Rogers took over the role of the older Aunt Hinemoa, bringing depth to the person who has been Arapeta’s rock throughout his life.

A wrap at last? There are still some pick up shots to be done and there will inevitably be some retakes. But at the end of today’s shoot, I felt a sense of achievement. Once more we had accomplished the impossible and created a powerful piece of contemporary cinema with virtually zero resources. And that is an achievement.

Bruised, yes. But still smiling!

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A look of relief from director David Whittet as the shooting is at last completed with all major scenes in the can.

Tautaru's Arrest

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Tautaru is arrested at gang headquarters as his henchmen look on in total disbelief. The New Zealand Police threw everything into the scene and showed actor Walter Walsh (the WIz) no mercy as Tautaru was unceremoniously handcuffed and dragged away!

Tonight was another mammoth shoot at Smash Palace, an atmospheric bar in Gisborne which was the perfect location for gang headquarters. Unfortunately, we only had Smash Palace for one night and it was a huge ask to get through the mountain of scenes at gang headquarters in one night!

The evening started with the New Zealand Police joining us on set to film Tautaru’s arrest. The two officers who performed the arrest were brilliant and totally entered into the spirit of the film. We are so grateful the the New Zealand Police for participating in the film and bringing such gritty realism to these all important scenes.

Otherwise, it was a long hard night of filming, ploughing through seemingly endless pages of script to complete the shoot. But as always, we pulled it off and got all the material in the can. But the night took its toll and I have to admit to wondering - if only for a fleeting moment - why I make films!

Watch a first look video of Tautaru’s arrest and hear actor Walter Walsh (the Wiz) talk about the experience!

Lamonge's Reward

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Director David Whittet confers with Assistant director Mark during the shooting of a tense scene where Lamonge (Warren Philp) claims his reward for money laundering, a gangland slut (played by Juvana Rangi).

This morning we filmed an extraordinary sequence at an amazing location. It was one of those shots where everything just worked, the camera angles all felt right and stalwarts of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy, Warren Philp, Ayden Malone and Edward Tipene delivered powerful performances. We were joined by a new addition to the cast, Juvana Rangi, who played the gangland slut who turns out to be Lamonge’s reward. Juvana played the role with a definite edge which added to the gritty realism of the scene.

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We had a wonderfully atmospheric location for this morning’s filming. The mattresses in front of the graffiti covered walls are home to several vagrants every night.
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Edward Tipene and Ayden Malone play the gangsters who deliver Lamonge his reward.

Press Release - The Prestige Film Awards

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Today we released our press release following the success of Amiri & Aroha at the Prestige Film Awards.

This prestigious award has come at an opportune moment and proved a great stimulus as we near completion of principal photography for the Amiri & Aroha trilogy.

Read our press release here.

Hunapo's Redemption

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A troubled Hunapo (Shayne Biddle) returns to the place where he betrayed Aroha.

It was a great pleasure to work with Shayne Biddle again today, once more reprising the role of Hunapo. Tonight we filmed Hunapo’s redemption, the key scenes where a guilt ridden Hunapo is forced to confront his demons and do the right thing, redeeming an otherwise wasted life. Shayne was on top form for these emotionally demanding scenes.

Mrs Brown's Boys

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The cast and crew for today’s shoot which we affectionately called “Mrs Brown’s Boys”.

The turning point in Rere’s Children comes when the youth of the gang refuse to tolerate the reign of terror of the old guard. This comes to a head when the youngsters witness the harsh treatment of older people who cannot pay their protection money. These brave young men decide to take action and plot to overthrow the gang leader, Tautaru.

These scenes were difficult to film and our cast delivered a moving and forceful performance. There is huge unrecognised talent in Gisborne!

Very special thanks to Lisa Beach who coordinated today’s shoot and involved her friends and whānau on both sides of the camera.

Amiri's Doctor

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We shot some breathtaking shots today of the crazed Amiri being incarcerated in the asylum for the criminally insane. Michael Hollis was in top form and onlookers on set were terrified by his maniacal performance!

Every director has their own personal trade mark which is stamped on each of their films. Alfred Hitchcock started the tradition with a personal cameo role in every film.

With Amiri & Aroha, I have developed my own personal stamp by playing the doctor in each part of the trilogy. It is a fitting touch for an Indy film maker whose day job is a medical practitioner.

In a moment of megalomania, whilst struggling for a title for the third film, I considered calling it Amiri’s Doctor and starring in it as an ace plastic surgeon who repairs Amiri’s face!

Instead, I reduced my role back to playing the psychiatrist who is brought in to determine Amiri’s fitness to stand trial for the explosion of the power station.

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Director David Whittet prepares for his cameo role as the psychiatrist assessing Amiri at the asylum for the criminally insane.

Koriata rules the boardroom

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

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

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

Amiri & Aroha wins a Prestige Film Award!

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Amiri & Aroha has won an award in the Prestige Film Awards, a major film competition in California USA!

Whilst working late preparing tomorrow’s shoot for Rere’s Children, I received the following message from the organisers of the Prestige Film Awards:

“Congratulations! You have won a Prestige Film Award! You can be justifiably proud of winning a Prestige Film Award. The judging standards are high and winning means the technique and imagination exhibited by your entry is outstanding and stands above other productions. Your winning entry will be listed on The Prestige website within a few days.”

The continued success of the original Amiri & Aroha film on the international film festival circuit is fantastic news for us as we complete the trilogy. The Prestige award follows our success in the Best Shorts and Accolade competitions and we are confident that the forthcoming release of Amiri’s Child and Rere’s Children will continue to captivate film festival audiences.

Koriata's Abduction

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Each film in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy has featured the rite of passage of a principal character. In Rere’s Children, we share Koriata’s journey from a puppet of the gang to a brave leader who stands up to corruption and bullying and forces the gang into a new and more just direction.

This transformation comes at immense personal cost to Koriata. The old guard of the gang are determined to beat him into submission and today we shot dramatic scenes where Koriata is abducted and threatened with dire consequences if he does not toe the gang line.

The sequence needed to be harsh for Koriata’s redemption to have meaning. Our stellar cast brought professionalism to a challenging shoot and a dark, brutal reality to the scenes.


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These Productions Stills demonstrate how the atmospheric location adds to the darkness of the scene. We shot day for night and in the completed film will be at night as Koriata walks home through the deserted car wrecker’s yard.
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Lisa Beech acting as Dialogue Coach on set today, helping to facilitate a tough shoot.
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Perhaps this scene, more than any other, defines Koriata’s rite of passage, as he learns the cost of dissent from the gang and doing the right thing. The sequence marks a key turning point in Rere’s Children and it felt good to have such an important - and difficult - scene in the can today.

Amiri & Lamonge - The Final Conflict

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The final showdown as Amiri accuses his former lawyer of secretly coveting Aroha.

The volatile relationship between Amiri and Lamonge has been an ongoing highlight of the continuing story of Amiri & Aroha.

Amiri entrusted his lawyer Lamonge to manage his son Arapeta’s endowment, not realising that Lamonge had a shady past, which conflicted with Amiri’s instructions. Add to the mix Amiri’s increasing paranoia and manic behaviour as his enemies hunt him down, and we are in for a delightfully explosive climax!

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Lamonge goes to the dogs!

Amiri lives in fear that his enemies will catch up with him and guards his mansion with some aggressive dogs, as Lamonge discovers to his peril in this scene. Lamonge has been summoned to Amiri’s mansion, but only the guard dogs are there to greet him! Note the appropriate personalised plate on Amiri’s car!

Farewell to Ebony

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In this key scene, a confident Miriama (Ebony Tuhaka) delivers her first press conference as Chief Executive of South Pacific Power.

Today was our last day shooting with Ebony before her flight out of Gisborne this afternoon. Ebony delivered an outstanding performance as the supremely confident Miriama at her first press conference after taking over Arapeta’s job as Chief Executive of South Pacific Power.

We wrapped with a short but important scene where Miriama and her flatmate Annie are chatting and the advert for Arapeta’s old job catches Miriama’s eye in the newspaper.

A huge thank you, Ebony, for your outstanding contribution to the film and we wish you every happiness in your new life in Australia!

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Miriama and her flatmate Annie (played by Lisa Le Compte) see the advert for the job at South Pacific Power in a scene shot minutes before Ebony’s departure.

Finale at Rere

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Film making is a compromise and it is often impossible to shoot a scene exactly as I visualised it when writing the script. This evening at Rere was one of those wonderful occasions when the scene exceeded my expectations.

I have been picturing this scene in my mind’s eye for so long, it was magic to see it materialise tonight and to capture such awesome footage.

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Ebony Tuhaka and Shane Luke as Miriama and Arapeta in a beautiful scene at the Rere falls.

Hayden Searle

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Bruce Burn plays Hayden Searle, the overseas executive brought is to rescue South Pacific Power following Amiri’s sabotage. The character is named after our generous IndieGoGo supporter.

Hayden Searle supported our IndieGoGo campaign and chose as his reward to have one of the characters named after him.

We have named a pivotal character in the script after Hayden. Bruce Burn plays a successful company director brought in to rebuild South Pacific Power after Arapeta is blamed for his father’s actions and is unceremoniously sacked. Searle is a strong character who’s saved a number of companies from collapse and he’s not about to take any nonsense at South Pacific Power. But Bruce brought a dry sense of humour to the part and we developed this to bring some welcome relief to the tense boardroom scenes!

Our sincere thanks to Hayden Searle for his contribution to our film. We hope you will enjoy seeing yourself portrayed on screen!

Watch our greeting to Hayden from the set of Rere’s Children.

Miriama's rise to power

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Miriama (Ebony Tuhaka) faces the board of South Pacific Power as she is interviewed for Arapeta’s old job. Questions are bound to be asked about her involvement in the explosion at the Aoraki Power Station.

With the deadline ever closer, we continued today with Miriama’s scenes, following her rise to the top of the corporate world.

One of the advantages of a tight schedule is that it definitely concentrates the mind! Shooting Miriama’s relationship with Koriata in one day yesterday, and her rise to power in one session today, certainly added dramatic intensity to the scenes.

Miriama & Koriata - A true Romeo & Juliet story

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A hand held tracking shot reflects the turbulent nature of Miriama and Koriata’s relationship.

Amiri & Aroha has always been described as a Māori take on Romeo & Juliet. But perhaps it is the story of Miriama and Koriata in Rere’s Children which most accurately mirrors the famous star-crossed lovers.

Today we shot the entire story of Miriama and Koriata’s ill fated relationship, from first meeting to their final parting. Koriata is a puppet of the gang, in search of his own destiny, Miriama is upwardly mobile and destined for the top. They face enormous barriers which threaten to keep them apart.

My choice of locations for today’s scenes reflects the transient nature of their relationship. They have nowhere to go, meeting in the botanical gardens, a gangland cafe and finally at some wasteland, all very public places where gangland spies can watch Koriata’s every move.

Despite all the obstacles, Miriama and Koriata share some precious moments together, reflected in the beautiful performances of both Ebony Tuhaka and John Stainton in today’s filming.

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David Whittet directs John Stainton and Ebony Tuhaka in a heart-wrenching scene in Rere’s Children.
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Ebony Tuhaka and John Stainton with assistant director Mark Whittet

Filming is underway for the final shoot of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy

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David Whittet directs John Stainton as Koriata and Ebony Tuhaka as Miriama in Gisborne’s Botanical Gardens.

With just three days to shoot Miriama’s remaining scenes before actress Ebony Tuhaka leaves for Australia, the pressure was on for the final shoot of the trilogy. Starting with a tense encounter between Koriata and Miriama in a park, I was delighted to see the obvious on screen chemistry between John Stainton (who plays Koriata) and Ebony. This will make the next couple of days much easier!

Despite the pressure of our looming deadline and the intensity of today’s scenes, the shoot was a joy! Great performances and good fun in between takes. The very best of Indy film making!

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David Whittet, Ebony Tuhaka and John Stainton

Final Preproduction for Rere's Children

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Kristel Day working on the schedule for Rere’s Children.

Sometimes I ask the impossible of my team! Kristel Day is used to working miracles. Shooting films of the complexity of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy can be a scheduling nightmare at the best of times, but with the added complication of working around actors availabilities and limited shooting times, completing the trilogy is an amazing achievement in itself.

Kristel is currently working as a magician’s assistant in Hamilton and has thus had limited time to spend on the film. We have all worked hard to pull off this shoot with what can only be described as a miracle schedule!

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David Whittet on a recce to find a menacing gangland alleyway for an encounter between Amiri & Lamonge

Talent in abundance at the auditions for Rere's Children

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David Whittet with Joelene Hohapata doing a read through at today’s auditions for Rere’s Children

Once again, there was an abundance of talent at our auditions for the remaining parts in Rere’s Children trilogy. Today’s auditions were the fourth that we have held over the past three years for the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. It is so exciting - and immensely rewarding - to discover such raw talent and to bring it to the world. Everyone we auditioned today will have a significant part in Rere’s Children.

And the auditions were fun! With some really entertaining role-plays, it was an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Tonight I have the exciting task of matching the parts to the talent we have discovered and further refining the script to take full advantage of our new actors’ potential.

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Krystel Pokai and her cousin Geena Pokai read through a scene from Rere’s Children.
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David Whittet and Casting Director Walter Walsh (right) work through a scene with Bruce Burn, who we cast as the overseas executive brought in to oversea the resurgence of South Pacific Power following Arapeta’s dismissal.

Our Campaign hits the Gisborne Herald and Turanga FM

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We launched a campaign in the Gisborne Herald today for the final casting call of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. To reinforce the press adverts, which will run over the next couple of days, I gave a live radio interview this morning on Turanga FM. Radio interviews have been a strategic part of each of our casting calls and we are eternally grateful to Turanga FM for their support. Turanga FM’s coverage of Amiri & Aroha has been vital in promoting the film locally and stimulating interest in our project.

We are confident that our auditions on Sunday, on the eve of the final shoot of the trilogy, will discover yet more amazing local talent. Keep reading this blog to see the stars of tomorrow!

Honing the script for the final shoot

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With the final shoot of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy fast approaching, I am working hard to perfect the script for Rere’s Children and to storyboard the key sequences. Alongside this, I am working with my production team in Gisborne on last minute preparations and finalisation of the shooting schedule.

Preproduction is always an exciting past of the film making process. Ideas that I have lived with for so long are at last coming to fruition and taking shape. I am confident that Rere’s Children is the best script that I have written and promises to be an outstanding film.

Yet excitement and confidence are always counter balanced by a sense of anxiety prior to the shoot. There are so many variables, so many things that could go wrong. Will we pull it off successfully? Will the footage live up to my expectations? Film making can often be a compromise between the director’s vision and what is achievable. The preproduction period is filled with anticipation and apprehension in equal measure!

Your last chance to be part of this global cinematic phenomonon!

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We have discovered amazing local talent at our auditions for the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. This is positively your last opportunity to be part of this global cinematic phenomenon!
Stay tuned for details of the auditions for the October shoot which will be held in Gisborne at the beginning of October. Look out for our advertising campaign in the Gisborne Herald next week!

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As preparations for the final shoot of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy near completion, we will shortly be announcing our final casting call. So you have one last chance to join this cinematic adventure!

We have some significant roles still up for grabs. We are looking for a Māori lady aged 40 to 50 years to play the ageing Aunt Hinemoa, a lead character in Amiri’s Child. We need a Māori man aged around 50 years to play Maahanga, the father of Hunapo, a central character in the trilogy. Another meaty role is a business executive, brought in to rescue a company destroyed by the volatile Amiri. These are fantastic parts for budding actors who want to make their name and reach a worldwide audience!

There are also several roles for extras, from gang members to board members and well-wishers at a ceremony at the Rere falls which will close the trilogy.

The trilogy has already won major awards in both Hollywood and in Britain. This is your last chance to join this success story!

We have had a tremendous response to our previous casting calls and have nurtured some amazing new talent which is destined for the world stage. But perhaps the most moving response was from a lady who played a wedding guest in the original Amiri & Aroha film. She told me that being in a film was on her bucket list of things to do before she died. Her participation in the film fulfilled a lifelong ambition.

So if you’ve always dreamed of being in a film, here’s your chance!

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David Whittet and Kristel Day auditioning potential talent for Rere’s Children during the July 2012 shoot.
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Lamonge strikes again!

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

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

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

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

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

Amiri & Aroha at the Regal Cinema in Twizel

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Amiri & Aroha receives its premiere cinema run at the beautiful Regal Cinema in Twizel this month.

I am delighted that this auspicious event should occur at such an awesome location. The cinema is the vision of Phil and Nikki Newman. After relocating to Twizel last year, they thought Twizel "needed something else" and came up with the idea to start the Regal Cinema. Phil Newman, a builder, transformed the building at 1A Benmore Place into a cinema and an art gallery by himself. The result is a huge asset to the area.

Amiri & Aroha has been such an integral part of my life for so long, I look forward to sharing it with the world, staring right here in Twizel!

Click for the Regal Cinema August Flyer
Click for the Mackenzie Leisure, Activities & Services Newsletter

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The Regal Cinema, Twizel, the venue for the premiere run of Amiri & Aroha.

Koriata's Dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

Mediation? With that pōriro?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amiri & Lamonge

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

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

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

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

Aroha's Swan Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cinema Release for Amiri & Aroha

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

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

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

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

We've reached our funding target!



Our IndieGoGo funding campaign finishes this evening and we’ve achieved our funding goal!

Thank you so much to all our wonderful supporters, we are eternally grateful for your faith in our project!

We have some fantastic rewards for you! We are all excited about our industry first credits. Our ground breaking technology will enable the first virtual assistant director in cinema history! We are really looking forward to hosting one of our supporters on a Lord of the Rings themed holiday in New Zealand’s spectacular South Island.

I am personally delighted that an aspiring film maker has taken up our Indie Film Maker’s Package. We look forward to sharing our passion and kickstarting your career!

Your faith in us will be rewarded! We are determined to deliver a stunning film. The Amiri & Aroha trilogy will be a compelling piece of contemporary cinema that we can all be proud of!

It's a wrap for the July Shoot!

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

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

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

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

Hunapo & Koriata

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Shayne Biddle reprises his role as Hunapo with our new Koriata, John Stainton.

Tonight’s shoot is very exciting, a tense scene between Hunapo and Koriata and our first shoot with John Stainton.

Shayne provided us with an excellent location for Hunapo’s pad, beautifully atmospheric and everything looked promising for a great shoot.

However, Shayne’s make up took a considerable amount of time, subtly aging him so that he looked old enough to be John’s father. After a few rehearsals, which showed tremendous promise, everyone was tired and we decided to wrap for the night and reshoot in the morning.

This evening had given me a glimpse of what a powerful scene this could be. I worked late into the night fine tuning the script.

An exciting evening with our latest cast members!

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Introducing the new members of the Amiri & Aroha team to the art of film making.

Warren Philp (who plays Amiri’s lawyer Lamonge) and I had an exciting evening working with the new actors who have joined our team following Tuesday’s auditions.

After a brief orientation session, we got straight down to work, shooting a night scene, set in gangland, where Lamonge receives money for laundering from the gang in the back of a car. It was a technically difficult scene to shoot, with cables running everywhere in the dark to get that seedy gangland look from the lighting.

Then it was straight in at the deep end, shooting the difficult and intense scenes where Lamonge demands rewards from the gangland women…

Lisa Beach, Alex McMenamin and Edward Tipene slipped into their roles beautifully and as ever, Warren Philp played Lamonge to perfection.

I look forward to working with this team again in October!

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Alex McMenamin, Lisa Beach, Warren Philp and Edward Tipene act out a money laundering scene in front of the green screen at tonight’s shoot.

John Stainton joins the cast as Koriata

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John Stainton takes over the role of Koriata

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

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

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

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

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

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

An electric scene between Arapeta & Tamati

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

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

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

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

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

Our IndieGoGo funding campaign reaches $2,000

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

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

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

Auditions for Rere's Children

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Lisa Beach, whom we cast as Amrira, plays a scene through with Kristel Day at today’s auditions.

Following our successful auditions for Amiri’s Child last year, tonight we auditioned for the remaining parts in Rere’s Children. We still have a number of significant parts to cast for Rere’s Children, particularly the younger generation of gangsters who plot to overthrow Tautarau and end his tyrannical rule (the prodigal generation, which was our working title).

Other significant parts include a new character, Amiria a gangland girl and the mother of Miriama.

Our greatest challenge is to find a new Koriata. Chris Mills has moved back to Australia and therefore we have to recast. Koriata is a lead part in Rere’s Children so finding the right actor is our current priority.

The joy of auditioning is discovering new talent and providing these actors the opportunity to teach a worldwide audience. Whilst we didn’t find our Koriata this evening, we made some amazing discoveries who will greatly enhance our film!

Shooting Bronwyn Kay's Scene

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Warren Philp (playing Lamonge), Bronwyn Kay, David Whittet and Assistant Director Mark Whittet

Today we filmed the scene specially written for our principal IndieGoGo supporter, Bronwyn Kay. The scene plays a pivotal role in the plot development. Amiri is on the run and has instructed his lawyer Lamonge to find a remote mansion where he can live with Aroha in secret, away from the prying eyes of his enemies. Lamonge has arranged to meet Bronwyn Kay to look for a suitably isolated property.

Bronwyn proved a natural in front of the camera. Unfazed by the bright lights, Bronwyn gave a beautiful performance, expertly handling a tense moment where she discovers the true identity of Lamonge’s client. Bronwyn has a definite screen presence worthy of a seasoned actor.

We really enjoyed working with you, Bronwyn, and we are eternally grateful to you for your contribution to the film, both on and off camera!

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Bronwyn Kay with the nervous lawyer Andrew Lamonge (played by Warren Philp) in a tense scene shot today.

Amiri & Aroha on the Run

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We braved inclement weather today to shoot Amiri and Aroha struggling across the swing bridge at Marie Lepper's place. In a short break from the rain, we managed to get some footage of the fugitive Amiri hustling a terrified Aroha, together with a large suitcase, across the precarious bridge. The huge suitcase on the narrow swing bridge seemed to symbolise Aroha’s plight perfectly.

Regrettably we had to abandon shooting after these shots. The heavy rain had made the river swell and the ford to Marie’s house was impassible.

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The most rewarding aspect of today’s work came after we had abandoned shooting. We went in to Morere Hot Springs for coffee and the owner took one look at Amiri and recoiled in horror saying: “how did you get those awful burns!”

Young Arapeta's Vision

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

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

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

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Tautaru and his Gang

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The kitchen is central to life in a gangland whānau. It is here that decisions are made, deals made and broken. All life is seen in the gangland kitchen.

For Tautaru, the kitchen is his boardroom. Determined the gang will take charge of the power industry, Tautaru summons his board of henchmen to make a statement to assert the authority of the gang.

In today's filming Walter Walsh (the Wiz) again reprises the role of Tautaru, the menacing gang leader and father of Aroha. Wiz was once more in fine form, with Tautaru becoming increasingly sinister as he senses the passing of an era in the gang.

Much of the power of Amiri & Aroha comes from the sharp contrast between the expansive shots at Rere falls, juxtaposed with the claustrophobia of the gangland homes. Tautaru's kitchen is one of our most atmospheric sets.

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Seasoned actor Walter Walsh (the Wiz), who was Peter Jackson’s runner as well as a Gondorian soldier on Lord of the Rings, gives Tautaru an even more sinister twist in Rere’s Children.

Bike Culture

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Shooting a dramatic scene where Tautaru (Walter Walsh reprising his role) sends his minions to force Koriata to toe the gang line.

Bike culture in gangland has been central to the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. Gang leaders arriving from far and wide on their Harley-Davidsons was a key feature of the tattooing ceremony on the marae in the original Amiri & Aroha film.

Basil Huhu, who plays Tautaru’s henchman Kane in Rere’s Children, brought his Harley Davidson to the set this afternoon. We shot some powerful scenes where Tautaru rules his gang with an iron fist, through fear and intimidation. Tautaru issues his orders mounted on his bike, visually emphasizing his authority and superiority.

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These short scenes add immensely to the authenticity of the film, bringing a gritty realism to the gangland sequences.

Broken Promises

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Gifted local musician Alyssha Maynard performs her original composition Broken Promises for the Amiri & Aroha music video.

I am delighted that the awesome Alyssha Maynard has joined the Amiri & Aroha team, performing her original song Broken Promises for the soundtrack of Rere’s Children and for a music video to promote the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. Alyssha’s evocative song perfectly matches the tone and mood of Rere’s Children and adds an extra dimension to the film.

We are very grateful that Alyssha was able to dedicate the time to our production in her busy schedule. Watch out for Alyssha, she is star of the future!

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Filming Alyssha Maynard’s performance for the music video in our makeshift green screen studio at the Teal Motor Lodge.

Star Crossed Lovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life imitates art - The road to the Gypsy Rose Caravan

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

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

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

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

Yes, truly life does imitate art!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bronwyn Kay joins the Amiri & Aroha team!

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Bronwyn Kay

I am delighted to announce that Bronwyn Kay has joined our team, generously sponsoring us through our IndieGoGo campaign’s Executive Package.

All of us on the Amiri & Aroha team are eternally grateful to you, Bronwyn. We truly appreciate your faith in our project.

Bronwyn will feature in the final film of the trilogy Rere’s Children. I have written a special scene for Bronwyn. Amiri is on the run as both his enemies and the authorities catch up with him. He instructs his lawyer Andrew Lamonge, played by Warren Philp, to find him a remote mansion where he can assume a new identity and live in secret.

Lamonge visits Bronwyn at her office to find a property for Amiri. In a tense and dramatic scene, Bronwyn guesses the identity of Lamonge’s client…

Welcome to the team, Bronwyn. I sincerely look forward to working with you!

What's in a name?

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Choosing the title for the final part of the Amiri & Aroha trilogy has proved something of a marathon, with as many twists and turns as there are in the story!

My first draft went under the working title Love and the East Wind, a translation of Amiri & Aroha (in Māori Aroha is love and Amiri east wind).

Love and the East Wind was popular with potential sponsors and I visualized a beautiful animated title sequence with the words Amiri & Aroha changing into their English translation. But as I developed the story, the title seemed less relevant and didn’t really fit with the other titles in the trilogy.

My next choice was Koriata’s Way. Central to the final film is Koriata’s rise following Arapeta’s fall at the end of Amiri’s Child. Koriata must decide if he is to remain a puppet of the gang or seek his own destiny and face the consequences.

Yet the final chapter must bring together all the elements of Amiri & Aroha and the final film is much more than just Koriata’s journey. My next working title, The Prodigal Generation, reflects the central message of the trilogy, that the young generation of the gang challenge the prejudice and corruption of the old guard and promise a new beginning with just leadership.

Whilst The Prodigal Generation encapsulates the moral of the story, it doesn’t roll of the tongue and again is not a good match for the titles of the first two films.

After much soul searching, I have finally decided on Rere’s Children. Rere has been so much more than our principal location; the falls are steeped in Māori legend, the lifeblood of our story. Amiri’s Child and Rere’s Children have a certain connecting rhythm. And it is the children of Rere who ultimately bring about the change which is at the core of our story.

33 Postcards

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What an amazing year this has been at the cinema! Today I saw another truly inspiring film, demonstrating so eloquently the unique power of the film medium.

33 Postcards tells the compelling story of Mei Mei (played by Zhu Lin), a 16 year old Chinese orphan whose life has been transformed by donations from her Australian sponsor Dean Randall (played by Guy Pearce). Dean sends Mei Mei postcards that paint an idyllic picture of his family life. Life changes irrevocably for both Mei Mei and Dean when her orphanage choir travels to Australia to participate in an Australian choir festival.

Mei Mei takes seeks out Dean when she arrives in Australia and discovers the shocking truth. Dean is not the park ranger and family man of his postcards, he is in prison with a manslaughter conviction. Yet for Mei Mei, Dean is still her saviour and her last chance of finding a real family.

At the heart of 33 Postcards is the relationship between Mei Mei and Dean, two lonely souls on the fringe of society. At times it’s a heartbreaking right of passage, with Mei Mei caught up in the criminal underworld and Dean a victim of intimidation in prison, but a deeply rewarding journey.

This is independent film making at its very best.

As a footnote, 33 Postcards won awards at the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Sydney Film Festival. I entered Amiri & Aroha in both these festivals. I feel humbled to have been in competition with such a brilliant film. Congratulations to Pauline Chan and her team for an inspiring piece of creative cinema and a very worthy winner!

Be the first virtual assistant director in cinema history!

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Beam me up to the Amiri & Aroha set!

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new music video with Tia Takarangi-Chan

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

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

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

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

A new look - and a new meaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visual metaphors echo throughout Amiri’s Child!

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

The camera never lies - or does it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The camera original shot with the dam spillway empty.

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

An amazing start to our IndieGoGo campaign

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

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

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

Our IndieGoGo Campaign goes live!



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

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

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

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

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

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!”

Teaser Trailer for Amiri & Aroha at the International Movie Trailer Festival

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The Amiri & Aroha teaser trailer at the International Movie Trailer Festival

The atmospheric new overture afforded the opportunity to make a dazzling teaser trailer for Amiri & Aroha. The purpose of the new opening for Amiri & Aroha was to draw the audience into the film, using Tia’s music as a waiata (a Māori greeting), and a montage of dramatic images in the cauldron of Kōkā’s crystal ball.

What better way to grasp the attention of a potential audience with a unique and visual stunning teaser trailer?

I am delighted that the new teaser has been successful in its own right and has been accepted in the International Movie Trailer Festival.

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You can view the new teaser trailer for Amiri & Aroha here

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!”

Amiri & Aroha wins 4 Star Award at the British International Amateur Film Festival

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Amiri & Aroha has won a 4 Star Award at the 2012 British International Amateur Film Festival.

The festival organizers describe criteria for the 4 Star Award winning films as: “exceptionally well-made, entertains, makes us care / learn / think.”

The British International Amateur Film Festival (BIAFF) is particularly valuable as written feedback is provided for all entrants. It is especially pleasing for me to receive this recognition as I was a regular participant in this festival throughout the eighties and early nineties, and won the trophy for the Best Video of the festival with For Grandma in 1985.

Amiri & Aroha - The Final Cut

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The new artwork for Amiri & Aroha

Five months after the official world premiere, I have at last made the final cut on Amiri & Aroha. Since completing the original short in December 2010, I have re-written and expanded the story, we have had a cast change in a key role and two major reshoots during 2011, back to back with the shooting of Amiri’s Child.

Now the final cut of Amiri & Aroha is complete, we are relaunching on the international film festival circuit. Making viewing copies for film festivals entry proved an opportunity to reflect on the last few year’s film making, where Amiri & Aroha has become a way of life. From the first germ of an idea in mid 2009, through countless re-writes and two years of shooting, it has been a constantly challenging and demanding journey. I have made so many wonderful friends working on this film and it has been a privilege to work with such an awesome and talented cast and crew.

With Amiri & Aroha finished I can concentrate on editing Amiri’s Child and the promotional video for our forthcoming IndieGoGo campaign to fund the final film in the trilogy. Exciting times lie ahead!

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In the commercial cinema, we are used to endless credit titles which can add an extra ten minutes or more to the film’s running time. There is often a huge list of “digital compositors”. As an independent film maker, I have made very last cut in Amiri & Aroha myself and as this Final Cut Pro screenshot shows, for some of the montage sequences, the compositing was extremely complex.

I have spent more time editing Amiri & Aroha over the past couple of years than I care to remember, but there is a huge satisfaction in having done all the post production work myself!

An "overture" for Amiri & Aroha

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The new main title for Amiri & Aroha

The reshoot of Amiri & Aroha has given me an opportunity for a new and dramatic opening for the film.

The opening moments of a film are critical. The lights go down and the first images set the mood and atmosphere for the rest of the film.

I always saw Tia’s music as a waiata, a Māori greeting, drawing the audience into the film. And I wanted to give the film an overture, a montage sequence giving the audience a taste of what is to come. Kōkā’s crystal ball provided me with the ideal opening to the film as we see visions come to life inside the mystic crystal ball, which emerges from the depths of the Rere falls…

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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…

Film Making - A Family Affair

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

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Ooy in a scene stealing moment in Amiri’s Child

I am your father!

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

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

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

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Preparing for a dramatic return!

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

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

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

Converting a motel room into a green screen studio!

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

Another shoot at Rere falls

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

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

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

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Perfecting burns makeup

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

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

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

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Completing the digital restoration of my very first film

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Jane Clements in a frame enlargement from my very first film, Thursday’s Child

Thursday’s Child was my very first film, made during my last year at school, in June and July 1971. It had been my dream to make a film from my very first visit to the cinema when I saw Lawrence of Arabia as an impressionable fourteen year old.

Thursday’s Child was shot on Super 8 film with a camera I had bought at a flea market and edited with a magnifying glass as I couldn’t afford a moviola!

The story was about two people who return to the same place for very different reasons and the profound impact of their meeting. A girl, who was born on a Thursday, makes a weekly pilgrimage to a ruined building, which she believes had once belonged to her family. But this Thursday feels different; she believes someone else is there... The film was an anecdote about moving on and fresh beginnings. After this experience, the girl resolves never to go back to the old ruins again.

Of all my films, Thursday’s Child holds a very special place in my affections. I have been systematically digitally restoring my old films, but regrettably the original voice over track has deteriorated over the years and is not salvageable. I have been looking for the right voice over artist to re-record the girl’s track. Kristel Day has added the role of dialogue coach to her portfolio of roles on The Amiri & Aroha Trilogy, in particular coaching Mariel Ceballos in the role of Kōkā. Watching Kristel coach the girls playing Arapeta’s cousins in Amiri’s Child, I knew I had found the “voice” for Thursday’s Child.

Today we recorded the voice over for Thursday’s Child, together with some revised recordings for the re-edit of Amiri & Aroha.

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Kristel studying the script for Thursday’s Child prior to recording the voice over

Looking back at Thursday’s Child, and comparing it with the complexity of The Amiri & Aroha Trilogy, I guess I have come a long way since that modest introduction to film making!

Amiri & Aroha has taken over my life - again!

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Mockup newspaper headlines for use in the protest march montage sequence

I have been working around the clock again! These last few weeks have been a race against time to get the re-edit of Amiri & Aroha completed before we leave for Gisborne next week for the next big shooting session for the Amiri & Aroha trilogy. Competition and festival deadlines are looming and I am eager to get as much exposure as possible on the international festival circuit. The new edit is a much stronger film and I believe we can eclipse the success we enjoyed in last year’s festivals!

The re-edit has given me the opportunity to experiment with new graphics and to refresh the montage sequences. With multiple layers of digital compositing, these sequences can be extremely time consuming to create, but immensely rewarding when they finally reach the screen!

Recording voice overs for Koriata's gang

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

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

Tekapo Shoot

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

Shooting at the Elephant Rocks

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

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

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

Young Arapeta's key scene

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

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

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Shooting at the Campbell Park Estate

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

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

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

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

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Rere Reshoot

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The final day of our reshoot was another whirlwind experience!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small scenes but with a huge impact on both films.

Back once more to the Gypsy Rose Caravan!

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Today marks the tenth full day we have spent working at the Gypsy Rose Caravan at Morere Hot Springs. The character change from Matakite to Kōkā and associated casting change from Cushla to Mariel has required numerous retakes. The caravan scenes play a vital role in both Amiri& Aroha and Amiri’s Child. Today we are reshooting key sequences between Aroha and Kōkā for the new cut of Amiri & Aroha, concentrating on Mariel Ceballos’ performance as Kōkā. Kristel has done some dialogue coaching with Mariel to give these scenes the dramatic intensity which the story requires.

I have commented before in this blog on the difficulties of shooting such complex scenes in the very confined space of the caravan. Oh to have a budget that would enable us to build a mock up in a studio! Today’s shoot was particularly challenging with heavy traffic noise and lawn mowers necessitating retake after retake! Mariel Ceballos found this particularly distracting and it proved a long and hard day’s shoot!

We remain eternally grateful to Marie Lepper, who owns the Gypsy Rose caravan for letting us take over her caravan on such a regular basis for the shooting. Despite the difficulties of filming, the caravan remains a tremendously atmospheric setting and greatly enhances the film.

Aunt Hinemoa and Arapeta's Cousins

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

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

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

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Alexandra Christie as Aunt Hinemoa

Reprising the role of the young Aroha

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

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

Another love scene in the waterfall

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

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

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Working with Mariel Ceballos as Kōkā, the new soothsayer

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

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

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Recreating an iconic scene

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

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

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Filming in gangland

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

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

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

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

The Team for Amiri's Child

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

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

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

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

David and Goliath

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

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

Green Screen

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

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

Matakite is Dead, Long Live Kōkā!

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Mariel Ceballos as Kōkā, a mystic Māori soothsayer

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

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

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

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

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

Shane Luke as Arapeta

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Kristel Day with Shane Luke at today’s impromptu audition

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

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

Auditions for Amiri's Child

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

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

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

World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha

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

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

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

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

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

First Day of Principal Photography on Amiri's Child

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

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

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

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The Official World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha is set for 9 October 2011

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I am delighted that the official World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha will be held in Gisborne at the iconic Dome Cinema.

The Dome Cinema is a unique venue and has long had a reputation for bewitching its guests. Situated in the heart of New Zealand’s East Cape, where the film was made, the Dome is the prefect location for this gala event. The Best Shorts and Accolade award statuettes will be presented at the premiere.

Immediately following the premiere, principal photography will commence on
Amiri’s Child.


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Pre-production for Amiri's Child

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

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

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

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.

Amiri & Aroha wins two more International Awards in the Accolade Competition!

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We have won another two prestigious awards in international competition. Amiri & Aroha has an Award of Merit in two categories in the Accolade Competition, for Short Film and for Concept.

According to the Competition organizers, “Awards go to those filmmakers, television producers, videographers and new media creators who produce fresh, standout productions. It is a showcase for cinematic gems and unique voices. The Accolade recognizes producers, established and emerging, who demonstrate exceptional achievement in craft and creativity. Undiscovered and first-time producers are often recognized.

“It’s a given that filmmakers want to gain as many viewers as possible. The Accolade is an award well known to buyers and distributors. Winning an Accolade gives buyers and distributors the confidence that your production is of high quality. The Accolade is an award recognized for its rigorous evaluation process.

“This competition is designed to help winners achieve the recognition and viewers they deserve. Accolade staffers frequently share distribution ideas and industry contacts that help promote the careers of the winning filmmakers. The Accolade helps generate publicity and buzz. The Accolade has a strong online presence and shines the spotlight on top winners at The Accolade website and via press releases to a list of over 25,000 industry professionals.”

Film Making: A matter of life and death?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elephant Rocks

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Life has been so hectic recently, with the completion of Amiri & Aroha and the excitement of our Best Shorts competition success, that we have not had the chance to explore the Kurow area as we had planned when we arrived here in January. With the Queen’s Birthday long weekend off duty, we set out to explore the beautiful Waitaki Valley.

High on our list was a visit to the Elephant Rocks near Duntroon. This magnificent site was used as the location for Aslam’s camp in Andrew Adamson’s film of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The location has so much atmosphere; you can almost feel the presence of Aslam and the White Witch hiding behind the rocks!

It is wonderful news that Andrew Adamson is returning to our district to shoot his new film Mister Pip in Oamaru in August. This is great news for Oamaru and the Waitaki region. I do hope to have the opportunity to see this great director at work.

Andrew Adamson, who brought us Shrek as well as The Chronicles of Narnia, is a Kiwi icon and something of an unsung hero. It will be great to have him back home in New Zealand. Regarding Mister Pip, Adamson says he started chasing the rights for the book immediately after reading it. "I read it on a flight back to LA and I actually got to the other end and started chasing the rights. It's about the power of imagination, about the power of story. It's about the power of being able to use your imagination to overcome obstacles."

I am really looking forward to Mister Pip.

Amiri & Aroha Wins Award at the Best Shorts Competition

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We have won an Award of Merit award in the prestigious Best Shorts Competition for Amiri & Aroha.

The Best Shorts is an awards competition that recognizes the achievements of short filmmakers worldwide. This is a fantastic result for us, bringing the film to a much wider audience and providing exposure in the key Hollywood market. The Best Shorts competition team are really dedicated to promoting the film careers of their award winners.

I received a delightful letter from the Competition Chairperson, Dr Thomas Baker, who wrote: “You can be justifiably proud of winning Best Shorts honors. The judging standards are high and winning means the craft and creativity exhibited by your entry is outstanding and stands above other productions.”

Read the Press Release.

Sharing Amiri & Aroha - Authoring the DVD

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Authoring and mastering a DVD or Blu-ray disc is almost a production in its own right, requiring storyboarding of the menus and sequences of film specially edited for the DVD menus.

For Amiri & Aroha this afforded a special opportunity. My original idea was to have Tia’s music as a waiata, drawing the audience into the film. I have edited music video style sequences for each of the menus on the DVD, so that Tia’s waiata is playing in the background as soon as the DVD loads in the player and whenever a menu is selected. The perfect way to draw the audience into the film!

The film clip in today’s podcast video is the sequence I edited for the main DVD menu.

Amiri & Aroha has taken over my life!

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Work on Amiri & Aroha is still dominating my time to the exclusion of my other projects!

I had thought that once the final cut was complete, I would be able to relax a little and progress some of my other work. The Cambodia project has been on the back burner for a while.

I seem to be as busy now in marketing as I was making the film! Making copies of the film and sending them to film festivals around the globe, producing promotional films and trailers, preparing press kits for the festival committees, this has all taken it toll on my time! Our house has turned into a DVD and Blu-Ray production house as I mass duplicate the film for festival entries, my calendar is filling up with festival deadlines and I am forever parcelling up viewing copies for the international courier!

Fine Tuning for Film Festival Screenings

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Most film festivals accept entries as a work in progress and understand that some further editing and fine-tuning of the film will be required before the festival screening.

It is now two months since those hectic all night editing sessions to complete the film in time for the competition deadlines. This has given me a chance to reflect on the film and sharing it with audiences has provided some new insights. Editing a special version for the Worldwide Short Film Festival also demonstrated areas where tightening the editing will strengthen the film.

I have concentrated on enhancing three principal sequences: the protest march montage, the introduction to the Marae ceremony, and Matakite's revelations superimposed on her crystal ball.

In today's podcast video, you can see a rough cut for my revision of the sequence, which introduces the scene at the Marae where Aroha and Hunapo are pledged to each other in a tattooing ceremony.

A key change is restoration of the scene where Maahanga, Hunapo's father, curses both the families for the arranged marriage; he is a lone dissenting voice at the celebrations.

Entry to the World Wide Short Film Festival

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Today I shipped our entry to the Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Short Film Festival which is held in Toronto in May/June 2011.

The festival requires entries to be no longer than 40 minutes, so I had to create a specially edited version of the film for this competition, shaving 7 minutes from the running time. Whilst this presented some difficult challenges, some areas were definitely improved by tightening the editing and I will bring these changes to the full length version.

The Worldwide Short Film Festival is a prestigious competition and a pathway to the Hollywood Oscars. Shortlisted films in the festival receive consideration for a nomination for the Academy Award for the Best Short Film.

Amiri & Aroha arrives on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb)

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Following our successful submission to the Los Angeles International Film Festival, Amiri & Aroha was today added to the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb). This is a very significant milestone for a film maker.

The homepage for Amiri & Aroha can be found here:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1822163/

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.

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

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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!

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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.

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!

Designing the look of the film

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Pre visualisation (“Pre-Viz&rdquoWinking: 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.

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.

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.