Telling the essential New Zealand story
Rural Otaki resident Waka Attewell has rubbed shoulders with many of Hollywood’s elite and the quality of his cinematography work is wellacknowledged overseas.
So why does he live on Gorge Rd rather than Mullholland Dr?
‘‘I tried,’’ he said. ‘‘I did three weeks in LA and went ‘this isn’t for me, I don’t have a need to invest my time on this stuff’.
‘‘The stories I want to attach to are the New Zealand stories.’’
Returning from Los Angeles, Attewell and his partner established Valhalla Studios in a Newtown warehouse and lived in an apartment above.
These days the couple are building a new home on an Otaki lifestyle block.
‘‘ Unfortunately, at the moment with Wellywood just down the road, the New Zealand stories keep on disappearing as the Film Commission becomes more and more of a studio along the lines of an American studio,’’ he said.
However, Attewell’s latest project is story firmly bedded in New Zealand – Billy T: Te Movie, which is due for release next week. Attewell directed the photography on the film, which was directed and co-written by Ian Mune, and describes the work as a feature documentary.
‘‘ Having shot a lot of documentaries for TV I know how documentaries for TV have evolved into the talking head, because budgets have got lower and lower.
‘‘ We interviewed a lot of people but we spent the energy and craft into placing the people in the movie.
‘‘ If we were interviewing someone in a farm kitchen, [production designer] Rob Gillies moved stuff in to make it the quintessential farm kitchen.’’
He worked with Billy T James just once, on a commercial for Air New Zealand’s business class on its new 767 aircraft.
‘‘I remember being totally in awe,’’ Attewell said. ‘‘Billy actually worked the subtext in front of the camera – that was ‘ what was a Maori doing in business class?’ – and he brought that with just his presence.
‘‘ I thought that was very clever – that would be in the mind of every redneck who saw this commercial. That would have been when Billy was right at the top suppose.’’
Billy T James embedded himself on the psyche of New Zealanders in a very short period, said Attewell.
‘‘The thing that amazed me about the whole Billy T thing – you talk to anyone in New Zealand about Billy T and they talk about him being around forever.
‘‘But the whole thing, from when Tom Parkinson put him on TV to the crash-and-burn of the sitcom, was only about eight years.’’
As well as insights into the man the film depicts his time, and one scene that is likely to jar with modern audiences shows Maori boys not being allowed in 1950s cinemas, Attewell said.
‘‘Pakeha will remember that somebody stole the body, and Maori will watch and say ‘ if Tainui had not come and got the body, it would have been an incredible insult’,’’ said Attewell.
‘‘And that is something that Ian [Mune] brought out. That will be one of those ‘ aha’ moments of entertainment.’’
Billy T: Te Movie is released on August 18 and will screen at cinemas around the region.
of his game,
On the job: Cinematographer Waka Attewell at work on Billy T: Te Movie.