How did you come to make Hunt for the Wilderpeople?
About eight years ago I was asked to adapt Barry Crump’s book Wild Pork and Watercress into a film. I wrote a few versions of the script for a producer who owned the rights and then I went off and did my own projects. About a year and a half ago the rights lapsed, so I took hold of them.
That seems like a blindingly fast turnaround.
It is. From finishing shooting the film to bringing it out was less than nine months. Right from the beginning we wanted to move fast. It’s very hard to make New Zealand films and often the process is very long. There’s a lot of development in the scriptwriting. We concentrated on developing the script ourselves and getting it to the place where we were confident that it was really, really satisfying. Giving ourselves deadlines was very helpful. When you give yourself deadlines it’s not easier, but the pressure’s on. You have to finish it.
Your movies are so New Zealand-centric, do you worry about appealing to the international market at all?
This film was made primarily for New Zealanders. I definitely consider overseas audiences, but the main audience was always going to be New Zealand. They knew the book, they know my work and they get the jokes better than anyone else. It is a New Zealand story, but the themes are very universal. It’s about family and finding family in weird places. Anyone in the world can understand and relate to them. You can’t just make a film for one tiny group of people. You have to think about a broader audience and give the film longevity. That’s when you start thinking about international audiences. What will they get, what won’t they get? There wasn’t much we took out in terms of New Zealandness. We left the ‘skux’ references in, which is basically a Wellington reference.
Yeah, I’m from Auckland and I was scratching my head at that one…
Even Wellingtonians don’t get it! If you went to a certain school and were aware of the phenomenon then you’d kind of get it. But it’s OK to let it wash over an audience, because if you keep the pace up and keep the story going then it’s not important. If the story was called Skux Life, then you’d really need to explain what the hell it meant… but it kind of means ‘choice’.
Are you the country’s most patriotic filmmaker?
No, I don’t think I am. I am very patriotic, but I’m working on a film now that has nothing to do with New Zealand. I definitely have more New Zealand films I want to make. I have another four or five that I’m passionate about. The hardest part is finding the time to make them. That’s the thing with filmmaking, it’s at least two years per project. But I definitely love making films for New Zealanders.
How do you choose which projects to take on?
The projects I want to work on are ones I’ve carried with me for years and years. Like, ten years. Apart from Thor 3 which popped into my lap, everything else I’ve done I’ve been thinking about for many, many years.
With such a long gestation process, how do you keep enthusiasm up?
My method is to have many projects. If you only have one, then it’s very hard to keep enthusiastic. But if you have eight stories that you really love, then when you get bored of one you can move onto another and start getting really passionate about that. That’s what I do a lot. I have different favourites all the time that come and go.
You’re now working on the Marvel superhero blockbuster Thor 3. How did that come about?
Marvel were looking for different directors they hadn’t worked with before. That’s what they often do; they hire people with quite weird backgrounds.
Will you be able to bring much of your personal flair to the film or is it more prescriptive?
It’s a mixture. It’s very much the studio system. You have to be able to work within that. But I wouldn’t take a job if I knew I wasn’t going to be listened to. They’re very collaborative.
Which is the basis of filmmaking, really.
Exactly. Filmmaking is collaboration and compromise. You have to learn to compromise, and that can be good. Someone may say the dumbest thing but it will inspire something else which could turn out to be the best moment in the film. It’s such an evolving process. From the inception of an idea to its completion, a film can change in so many ways. The key is to keep hold of the initial idea, that initial vision. The colours can change, the props can change and the actors can change, but the heart and the emotion should stay the same.
No spoilers, but will you be having Thor visit New Zealand?
I’d love to see Thor popping into Wellington’s Havana Bar for a mojito, but he’s going to be too busy doing muscle stuff.
Away from your job do you have any personal projects?
There’s ongoing stuff with my house. My wife and I are always talking about what we want to build. I was thinking about building a tree house... But my personal project is family really. Because I’m so busy, every spare moment, which are hardly any spare moments, I really want to figure out how to be more present for my family. It’s very difficult. But that’s my ongoing project, trying to do that. It’s very easy to become self-centred and disappear into your own world thinking about projects and making it all about yourself.
It’s incredibly easy to get lost in creative endeavours.
For sure. You can think all the stuff you’re doing is so important. But at the end of the day… it’s just a movie. There are more important things.
Reported for our AA Directions Autumn 2017 issue