Lights, camera, Eltham

BY RICHARD WOODD
Last updated 05:00 04/06/2009

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The Ronald Hugh Morrieson novel Predicament will be filmed in South Taranaki in July-August this year.

A Wellington company, Midnight Productions, has announced plans to make a 90-minute feature film on a budget believed to be between $5 million and $6 million.

The South Taranaki District Council has committed $200,000 to the project and is confident nothing will go wrong.

The investment was made conditional on the movie being filmed in South Taranaki and all funds being raised, says Mayor Ross Dunlop.

"If the film makes enough money we could get ours back with interest and there's a strong possibility of that, but we think the benefits for the district will be substantial anyway," he says.

The NZ Film Commission is also putting money into the film.

Predicament was published in 1974 by the Dunmore Press and is the only one as yet unfilmed of Morrieson's four novels (Came A Hot Friday, Pallet On The Floor and The Scarecrow).

It will be filmed in and around Hawera and Eltham. Production people will start arriving in about two weeks. All cast and crew will be based locally for the seven weeks of filming.

The company publicist, Sue May, declined to name any actors, saying casting and other details will be announced later. However, others associated with the project say a well known star has been signed and the Taranaki Daily News understands Hawera-born actress Nicola Kawana also has a role.

The director is Jason Stutter, who wrote the screenplay and whose latest film Diagnosis Death has been making sales at the Cannes film festival. The producer is Sue Rogers (Home by Christmas, Forgotten Silver, Heaven). Stutter has been working on the project for five years.

The STDC was first approached in early 2007 and reserved the money in its economic development fund after two meetings with the director and producer and their lawyers and financiers. STDC chief executive Craig Stevenson says once all documentation is signed off, the money will be paid into a commercial lawyer's trust account and released to the producer as required.

"Effectively our money is a grant but there is a possibility of a return if it does well at the box office. The real benefit is the multiplier effect which could be several million dollars into the local economy," he said.

"We said we were not interested in being involved unless it was all go, with the star signed up, director organised and money secured. We have enough checks and balances to be confident it will go ahead. We haven't paid them a cent yet."

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This approach contrasts with the aborted Charles Upham movie, which absorbed at least $300,000 of Taranaki public money and an unrevealed amount of private investor money when the company was put into receivership.

Mr Dunlop says what's special about the project and what appealed to him "is that this is a South Taranaki story, to be filmed in the area where the author lived and where the action happens in the book. That must be fairly unique".

Venture Taranaki was integral to the district securing the project.

VT film project manager Peter Avery said: "It's going to be very exciting. It will be heavy on atmosphere and will have wide appeal but will be aimed particularly at a young audience. Jason has written a terrific screenplay. I know who the actors will be and I can't talk about it but you'll be surprised."It's very much a Kiwi-sized budget so I hope the local suppliers and contractors will price their services accordingly.

"It's going to be a good investment in terms of creating some stimulus for the local economy, investing in a piece of cultural property and the beneficial flow-ons from that. South Taranaki is pretty much known as an economic mono-culture so it will have another string to its bow."

The production company purchased the filming rights from the publisher, Dunmore Press. Half of that goes to Morrieson's three cousins, who all live in Hawera Heather Engelen, Colleen Notman and Shirley Rumney.

Mrs Engelen says they get "a tiny trickle of royalties from book sales. The publisher gave someone a three-year option on the film rights, and we've had a small part of that but we've heard nothing about the sale of the rights.

"I think Predicament was his best book. It was the one I could relate to most easily. It captures the atmosphere of old Hawera."

The book is a racy comedy crime caper, set in the mid-1930s. The opening paragraph reads: "In those days motorists could fill up with Big Tree gasolene at the blue pump and the only guys with anything like a Beatle haircut were Hitler and one of the Three Stooges."

- Taranaki Daily News

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