What Now?

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There is an air of forward motion at Whitebait Media – they’re focussed on today’s work but open to new ideas and looking to the future.

Today they are filming an entire week’s worth of episodes for The Adam and Eve Show which is an afterschool staple for Kiwi kids. The set is in their massive Hornby Studio while along the hall the Ilam Studio has been hosting a photoshoot for local radio hosts against their infinity wall. Another commercial video shoot being planned out with clients in the art department.

Whitebait Media is a continuing success story and labour of love for its directors Janine Morrell-Gunn and Jason Gunn. Founding the company in 1998, they have found repeated success with producing television for young people (Bumble, The Erin Simpson Show, The 4:30 Show, What Now?, Jessie.com and Animal Academy are just some of their hits), but also offer full production and editing spaces, technology and expertise for private and commercial filming.

Grant Dean (Business & Operations) joined the team earlier this year after extensive experience in the UK and is on hand with Janine to explain more about their ongoing passion for this work.

Where did the Whitebait name come from?
Janine: Well, it’s my favourite food. That’s a good start, isn’t it? But the other thing about whitebait is that it’s quite rare, precious and only found in the South Island. Another characteristic of this lovely little fish is that it swims against the tide – which I have a fondness for doing – and it’s also a small fish in the scheme of things, which Whitebait is in the world of media, so there are lots of lovely parallels.

You have these lovely purpose-built studios now but they were opened in 2009 – where was Whitebait before that?
Janine: We were round in Birmingham Drive – we took on the lease of the old Prime TV studios but that was really for the pre- and post-production; for studio work we used the TVNZ studio in Gloucester Street, which no longer exists now of course.

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Janine, you raised a million dollars by creating the Adopt A Christchurch Family programme and saw it all translated into specific aid for families, but what were the earthquake effects on Whitebait and the team here?
Janine: I think we had one week off air, maybe two.  The first one (4 September 2010) was on a Saturday morning so we couldn’t go ahead with What Now? on the Sunday, then the second one (22 February 2011) was on a Tuesday and we didn’t go to air that week. This building and this area did very well, we rocked on – literally.

We stand outside every year to let off balloons and remember the people we were closest to and that we lost. If you ask anyone and bring it up, it’s all still very much there with us.

Were the studios and the business able to keep running throughout the aftershocks?
Janine: Yes, from a business perspective we could carry on. We had support to relocate to another centre if needed but everyone wanted to stay here. It was important to keep going, for the people making it and for our audience.

Grant: You opened up the doors to others too…

Janine: That’s right, we had Sky come in, we had three or four radio stations come in here and camp out for a while, just part of helping to keep the wheels turning locally.

Being local is important obviously, but is it difficult being outside of the larger production centres? What are the pros and cons?
Janine: There are only pros really. A lot of roads lead to Auckland certainly but, then, a large percentage of the population is there. The lovely thing about New Zealand is that while a third of people may live there, two thirds don’t; they are in small towns all over the country and part of what we’re about is trying to reflect that national sense of identity.

There are great minds and talents in Auckland, producing terrific things but we have a perspective which is very conscious of not being city-centric and reflecting our entire nation.

Also, a lot of our colleagues love coming to Christchurch for a day – they love getting out of their office and visiting this small city which is rapidly becoming a jewel in the crown with all of what’s happening here.

So it’s not difficult to get people to come and work here?
Janine: No, not at all. Distance doesn’t matter so much now, people can sometimes work remotely and jobs aren’t so rigidly defined any more.

Grant: There are about a dozen here as a core team and we staff up with productions to a total of around 60 with the two main productions from February to November.  Then on a film day there could easily be a hundred people in this building, with camera and sound operators, freelancers… If there is anyone working in Christchurch who hasn’t worked on something in this building they haven’t lived!

Fidelma Corkery at work in one of Whitebait’s five edit suites

Fidelma Corkery at work in one of Whitebait’s five edit suites
Photo: Glen Walker

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