Sci-fi comedy set to create a ruckus at Avalon

STAND BACK: William Kircher will play lead character Johnny Ruckus in the sci-fi comedy of the same name. A pilot set for American audiences is being shot at Avalon Studios.
STAND BACK: William Kircher will play lead character Johnny Ruckus in the sci-fi comedy of the same name. A pilot set for American audiences is being shot at Avalon Studios.

They plan to boldly go where no New Zealand television production has gone before - and the Americans are helping them.

A Wellington director, an off-duty hobbit and a local television studio will all be part of creating an upcoming television show pilot, funded by American and Singaporean backers who are stumping up about $350,000.

Wellington director Geoff Husson is leading the ambitious science fiction project, scheduled to start filming in Lower Hutt's Avalon Studios next month.

And he has hooked a star-studded New Zealand cast, with The Hobbit actor William Kircher, who plays Bifur in the Peter Jackson epic, Outrageous Fortune's Antonia Prebble, and Top of the Lake's Byron Coll all signed on.

The pilot is for a sci-fi comedy called Johnny Ruckus, a show that draws inspiration from British cult comedy franchise Red Dwarf, Husson says.

Kircher, who wrapped filming for The Hobbit films two months ago, will be playing enigmatic lead character Johnny Ruckus, spaceship captain and leader of an interstellar criminal organisation.

It was an excellent opportunity to shoot in New Zealand for a potentially much bigger market, he said.

"Geoff is a brilliant director, it's a fun script, it's a good cast, and there's nothing like it on the market. It's a chance to be involved in something fun that just might take flight.

"And yes, it's a huge change from being a dwarf and I don't have to wear prosthetics all over my face."

The show will be destined for an American audience, with United States television veteran Dick Roberts recruited to market the show overseas. About 40 per cent of all pilots are picked up in the States and developed into a full series.

Husson, who has won 18 international awards as a director including an Emmy for his work on satirical show Spitting Image, is confident the pilot will make the cut.

"This is a Kiwi project but we want to sell it to the Americans. They have the pots of gold, they have the budgets that allow you to get higher production values," he said.

"We would make the series here, that's a non-negotiable part of it. If we get picked up and make 12 episodes, we'll be in Avalon for about two years."

Avalon chief executive Paul Mainwaring said while the studio had a steady stream of work there had been a lull in television productions and it would be good to get the show rolling.

The recent changes to government grants for screen productions were also expected to be a drawcard for international productions, he said.


American studio bosses remain interested in developing a giant Hollywood-style complex in Upper Hutt, documents show.

New Zealand producer Michael Garlick, who is working on the proposal with Raleigh Studios, recently made a submission against a private plan change near the proposed project.

The owners of a 14-hectare site in Alexander Rd requested a private plan change to allow the land to be rezoned, from business industrial to residential.

Mr Garlick made a submission against the plan on behalf of a group behind the project, which has a working title of Pacific Park Studios.

AgResearch closed its Wallaceville base in 2008, with the loss of 15 jobs.

The proposed studio site is on that land.

"Our purchase negotiations with AgResearch for 59 hectares are almost complete, and are down to a small number of technical clarifications needed to complete a purchase agreement," Mr Garlick's submission said.

Plans for the Wallaceville site include international quality sound stages, a public amphitheatre, outdoor filming lots, a film school, and a secure village for Hollywood stars.

The site would feature a variety of landscapes, including an English park, native forest, Mediterranean and Asian vistas.

The submission said work on the studio project had gone on for four years and involved "a vast amount of work up to ministerial level".

"We have done this work to benefit all businesses in the region, including Alexander Rd Developments," Mr Garlick wrote.

"Contrary to popular belief, government and industry are working very hard together to create new economic opportunities for Wellington and the Hutt Valley to replace long-gone archaic manufacturing."

The Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce said the existing site was an asset to the region, but better placed as an industrial zone.

A hearing panel recommended that the Upper Hutt City Council turn the plan change down.

The site would not produce "an adequate standard and quality of residential environment".

Keeping noise down from nearby industrial land would depend on "a large obtrusive wall" along the site's western boundary, the report said.

It was "unlikely to be effective" in overcoming noise from adjoining land.

Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy said that it was encouraging that Raleigh Studios was still interested in the film project.

The Dominion Post