The Official Blog for David Whittet's Motion Picture Trilogy

Shooting at the Elephant Rocks


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.

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


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.


Shooting at the Campbell Park Estate


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.


Rere Reshoot


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.


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.

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

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


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!


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


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!

Alexandra Christie as Aunt Hinemoa

Reprising the role of the young Aroha


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


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.


Working with Mariel Ceballos as Kōkā, the new soothsayer


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.


Recreating an iconic scene

Get off our land

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.


Filming in gangland


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.

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

The Team for Amiri's Child

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!

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

David and Goliath


“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


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!

Amiri & Aroha Reshoot 1
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

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

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.

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

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.


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


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!


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

Pasted Graphic

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.


Pre-production for Amiri's Child


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


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!

Accolade Laurel

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?

IMG_3262 - Version 2

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.


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...

Amiri & Aroha Wins Award at the Best Shorts Competition


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


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.

Fine Tuning for Film Festival Screenings


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


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)

Amiri & Aroha IMDb Page

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: