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PartnersJune 24, 2017

‘We’re in a special moment in New Zealand cinematic history’ – Park Road Post’s Cameron Harland on the Wellywood dream


The final in a week-long series chatting to Wellingtonians about what they’re up to in the windy city, Alex Casey talks to Cameron Harland of Park Road Post about New Zealand films, video nostalgia, and the best surf spots in Wellington.

“It’s got a real shining vibe, eh” says Cameron Harland, general manager of Park Road, peering down one of the endless oaky hallways of the opulent post-production hub in Miramar. He was absolutely right, we had only been wandering around the facility for 10 minutes and I had already forgotten where I was, what year it was, and what my name was.

The house that Frodo built has only been standing for 13 years, but it feels transported from a different era – all patterned carpet, velour sofas and stained glass. Park Road Post Production has seen everything through its doors from King Kong to Boy, the final stop in Miramar’s well-oiled, world-class film production line. Begin your filmmaking journey on the huge sound stages at Stone Street studios, pop to Weta for the digital effects, swing by the great hospice opshop in the shed across the road, and end up at Park Road for grading, sound and the final mix.

Photo: Sean Aickins

Shining vibes or not, it’s hard not to get excited once you get inside the enormous building. Before our interview, Cameron hurried me into the main private cinema, complete with silk scalloped curtains and the twinkling ceiling lights of the Civic. “This is where Peter would sit,” he told me “this is where Jim [James] Cameron would sit.” Jim!!! Minutes later, I would see my first and only Academy Award. Later still, I would be invited to the foley room to discover that the sound of crunching snow underfoot is actually a guy with a beard twisting a cloth bag full of cornflour and chalk. It was basically Wonka’s factory and I was in full Veruca Salt mode.

A longtime movie lover, “born and bred” Wellingtonian Cameron Harland worked in a video store as a kid, bingeing the finest blockbusters of the 80s after he had done his homework. He’s also been a million other things – including running the Adidas account with the All Blacks and a member of the New Zealand Film Commission – but has always been a longtime fan of Wellington and all the filthy hobbitses within.

We sat on his criminally plush couch and talked over video nostalgia, the best New Zealand films, and why Wellington is perfect for a surf (?).

You used to work in a video store – do you still have a nostalgia for physical media? Did that make it a difficult process when Park Road had to abolish the film lab?

For me it was more about the people. I have a nostalgia for those people and the craft and skills that, through no fault of their own, just became obsolete. There is certainly a romanticism about celluloid, I mean it just has a certain feel. But I’m still a believer that it’s got to be about the quality of the storytelling. If it’s a great story, that’s more important to me than what you’ve shot it on.

Normal workplace. Photo: Sean Aickin

Can you talk me through the films that come with their own innovations, Peter Jackson being responsible for a lot of them. Obviously The Hobbit and the high frame rate, but what are the other innovations that have been attached to different films?

Peter had a very specific reason to shoot in HFR, which is that he’s a believer in shooting 3D stereo on set. A lot of films now get post-converted, so they’ll shoot in 2D and take it to a company and they create a 3D film. Peter, like Jim [James Cameron], was a big believer in actually shooting in 3D, but acknowledges that watching 3D films can be problematic for some people. His absolute theory behind that innovation was to make a far more pleasant viewing experience. It was hand in hand, the 48 and the 3D, to make it all better.

We’re definitely a place that embraces change, so when Peter started shooting The Hobbit in 48 frame stereo – 48×48 of the amount of data going through the servers – it was too much data for one projector and one server to handle. What we had to do was cobble together two digital projectors fed off two servers, each playing one eye in sync… most of the time. There were moments where we’d have to reset, but Peter is a really wonderful and understanding person. He just went “that’s okay, I know this is not happening anywhere in the world.”

In the foley studio. Photo: Sean Aickin

We were also lucky enough to do the Kong 360 ride for Universal, as a part of the studio tour. The idea was you would go into an area and basically there’s dinosaurs on either side that kind of jump across the car and fight each other. Weta Digital did beautiful work on that and we did the sound mix for it. Of course, it was a completely different mix because it wasn’t a screen in front of you, they were two screens on either side. Again, my guys got all this scaffolding down the side of the room, two screens, projectors rigged all up…. But they loved it, it was just something new.

We get just as much kick out of that as we do working on a first-time filmmaker’s short film. Our people love filmmaking, they love seeing the new breed. If you think about how we’ve had Taika [Waititi] here through Boy and into What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. He came and edited Shadows here for months, you’d have his little baby wandering around and Jemaine [Clement] wandering in. That’s what you want, you want the environment to be full of creative vibrant people.

Outside of all the world class technical side of things, why do you think this place – being Miramar or Wellington broadly – has become such a hub? What else does it provide?

I have no doubt that the catalyst has a huge amount to do with Peter [Jackson] and Richard [Taylor]. We are incredibly blessed that we have two people that just happened to live in Wellington and went on to stay here. Beyond that, I actually think it’s a New Zealand thing as much as it’s a Wellington thing. As Kiwis, we embrace challenges. Certainly one of the things I find about Wellington particularly is that people are prepared to meet with people, and give people a break. I think that happens a lot here – if you’re trying to build a business or you’re trying to grow, there are a lot of connections that are easily made.

Also, when you have a core group of people who have done some amazing things, it allows organic growth to happen really easily. I still think that happens now, you’ve got people on set that have learned through LOTR, King Kong, The Hobbit, really big films. It’s a good breeding ground for world class talent. And then you start to get into that brilliant cyclical thing.

Cameron Harland ft. an original James Bond poster. Photo: Sean Aickin

Do you have a favourite New Zealand film?

The Orator. I just think that is one of the most remarkable stories. Tusi [Tamasese] is just a wonderful filmmaker. We talked about sound earlier, this is a filmmaker who embraces sound in a  completely different way. It’s a really slow-aped film with the pauses – the way he used the sound mix is magical. Beautiful film. I really love The Dark Horse. Tom Hern, who produced that film, and James Napier Robertson are two of the most wonderful talented hard-working filmmakers the I’ve come across in my time. They really are extraordinary.

And you know, Boy is amazing… If you think about it, we’re in a special moment in New Zealand cinematic history. If you go back you think back to Roger Donaldson, Sleeping Dogs, Pork Pie and Utu – those are the films of the 80s. It sort of feels like we’re in a similar time now, if you look at what Taika’s doing for example, I think we’re in a bit of a moment. Hopefully it continues.

And what do you do when you’re not working around here? What are your favorite things to do in the city?

I run. Running is my happy place. There’s a great track up towards the prison, which doesn’t sound like it’d be wonderful, but there’s a lot of great running trails around Wellington. I’ve got two young boys – 12 and 9 – so that fills my day and certainly my weekends. I know friends who will say ‘what are you doing this weekend?’ And I’ve got a tennis tournament, I’ve got cricket, I’ve got this, I’ve got that. But I love that. If you don’t love hanging out with your kids while they’re doing their sports then I don’t know why you bother. Just kicking around. Cruise. They’ve sort of got into surfing a little bit so we’re kinda doing a bit of that.

Plush park road offices. Photo: Sean Aickin

Wait, where do you do that?

Lyall Bay. You gotta be tough here. It’s cold. 

The big question: ten years time, Park Road Post. You’re obviously adapting and changing to suits things, do you have any vision of what might be coming next?

We are definitely seeing some real growth in China. They’ve been making films for a long time, but up until quite recently they really didn’t understand how much time and money they needed to put into post production. So they shoot the film, edit it and they’d almost just kinda get it out as fast as possible, they really didn’t spend very much time or effort on post at all. I think what’s happened in China, through that massive growing middle class and the huge expansion of screens, the local population are going to see more films. They’re watching Marvel films, Disney films, they’re seeing the big blockbusters, so the quality is having to lift. I tend to believe they’re looking more to New Zealand than they are the

I tend to believe people are looking more to New Zealand than they are to The States, because we’re less of a threat as a nation in that bigger sense. I also think we’re a lot more approachable and we just want to do great work on anything.

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