City of Changeover

Onset for The ChangeoverPhoto: Dean Mackenzie

Onset for The Changeover
Photo: Dean Mackenzie

The Changeover had been filming in Christchurch for five weeks and was soon to wrap when Crewed caught up with the production.

The cast and crew had been doing night shoots for several days and had a few more ahead of them before wrapping principal photography. They were encamped at an historic home in Christchurch’s leafy Ilam – a far cry from the gritty Red Zone filming which had seen a big part of the shoot so far.

The Changeover is adapted from Margaret Mahy’s 1984 best-seller of the same name. It earned Mahy a second Carnegie Medal and was optioned for radio production almost immediately. The story offered its mix of supernatural and teen romance long before Twilight, now adapted against the backdrop of an earthquake ravaged Christchurch.

It boasts an enviable cast including Dame Kate Harcourt Lucy Lawless, Melanie Lynskey, British actor Timothy Spall and newcomer Erana James.

Miranda Harcourt and husband Stuart McKenzie co-direct, with McKenzie having also adapted the novel. Harcourt and producer Emma Slade spoke to Glen Walker.

Miranda, you and Stuart have been developing this for years. Talk us through how you first came to it.
Miranda Harcourt:
I was cast to narrate The Changeover for Radio New Zealand. It was my first job out of drama school, over thirty years ago – that’s when I first met it and I’ve always loved it. At some point I must have said to Stuart ‘hey, you read it’ and he did and said, ‘Oh my God, that’s where I grew up, it’s my story,’ except he’s a boy not a girl. We’ve been in love with it ever since.

As with all feature films there are long delays, and having children and living your life and all that kind of thing comes in-between. It’s probably been five years of hard hard slog, it’s been Stuart’s and my baby. Emma has come on board more recently; she’s a frickin’ genius and also a nice person which is an unusual but wonderful combo. She’s the one who has reached out offshore and pulled so much together.

Mahy wrote and set the novel here in Christchurch. Did the idea of shooting it here you pause for thought?
Stuart always had his heart set on filming here. He was born in Bishopdale (the book’s lightly veiled setting). He’s a local, he grew up here, went to school and university here so he was totally committed to doing justice to the Mahy legacy.

We were going to shoot in Wellington, do mostly studio and just have key Christchurch locations. We came down here for a recce and it became very apparent that it was an intrinsically Christchurch story so we pulled out of Wellington. That’s why we have five weeks – it would have been seven in Wellington but the difference in bring the production to Christchurch was those extra two weeks.

Emma, how did you come to the project?
Emma Slade:
There was another producer involved who changed to a new role in the industry but couldn’t stay involved so I came on board. I actually didn’t know the story, but know Margaret Mahy really well. Some people are really passionate about it, I think the novel was part of the school curriculum for a while so a lot of people know it really intimately. I knew of Miranda and Stuart already and was really excited to work with them.