What do these disparate vignettes have in common? The Weight of Elephants (2013), A Song of Good (2008), The Devil’s Rock (2011), Born to Dance (2015), Christmas (2003) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) are all New Zealand stories told with help of Leanne Saunders.
Familiar names from here, there and elsewhere pop up in her resumé: Working Title Films, Zentropa, Severe Features, Headstrong. Individuals include Vincent Ward, Greg King, Ant Timpson, the late, lamented Paul Swadel, and – for Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Barry Crump and Taika Waititi.
We asked Leanne if she had seen such success from the outset. Kicking off with a perspective that can only be described as ‘classic-producer-meets-classic-Kiwi’ she replied, “The underlying property was the book (Wild Pork &Watercress) from Kiwi icon Barry Crump whose novels have graced dunnies up and down the country. Taika Waititi was an exciting proposition to drag it kicking through the backblocks and into contemporary NZ. He’s a seasoned and endlessly inventive storyteller who loves to understand audiences. This combination offered fresh possibilities that we saw in the script from day one.”
Will all that success translate to profits?
Considering her new professional home at the NZFC and the development process, Leanne commented, “There are lots of different entry points now – it’s not just one size fits all. It’s a complement to working on your own, [filmmakers and the Commission] work in partnership. Although [the NZFC] only funds films, we are involved in conversations at development stage about platforms and audiences and best fit for each project.”
On differences between the Australian and New Zealand screen production industries Leanne noted, “We are less unionised, which people refer to quite a lot. I prefer to think of our industry as more self-governing. We obviously don’t have the sheer numbers which means advantages and disadvantages. A lot of talent and crew … work successfully across both countries.”