It was New Zealand's day in the sun. Cirkus had bounded in with its free spirited animation for Iinet. Resn had twisted my brain with its out there thinking. Prodigy, Flying Fish, Colenso BBDO...
...and Curious. Peter Grasse had given me his latest work showcase like a proud parent. He had every reason to be proud.
“Hey Pete, why is NZ such a bubbling hotbed of creativity?”
Here's what he told me.
“If you ask someone in advertising this question, you usually get the same answer:
In New Zealand you can speak to the top decision makers, in Australia you’re dealing with marketing managers who (often) don’t have the authority to approve work.
The other answer you always hear is that New Zealand has short man syndrome. It’s like when you meet a famous actor and realise he or she is not a giant among men (or women), “He’s a tiny little man, he is 5cm away from being a midget”. This explains that ‘can do’ attitude for which NZ is famous. Ash Bolland is the perfect example. He is an incredibly driven creative artist, he is constantly bettering himself and it comes from his growing up in Palmerston North and arriving in Australia feeling like he had to prove himself. Even now that he’s proved himself, he’s still proving himself to himself.
But I think you get a more interesting answer if you ask an anthropologist this question. New Zealand is the capital of the Pacific Ocean. It is nothing like Australia and it is foolish to compare the two. It has a vibrant and enthusiastic culture that is nothing like Australia’s, and of course that creates some beautifully different advertising.
Look at our directors – Miki Magasiva, Taika Waititi, Robin Walters, Tammy Davis - the way they use talent and work with talent, their ease of working on set – this creates unique and genuinely funny films. I have worked with Australian comedy directors and I’m sorry to say I have never laughed out loud on set or in the edit. I constantly laugh with these guys. It’s hard for me to articulate why they are so funny but as an American, I can certainly see a very clear and marked difference between Australian comedy directors and them.
Maybe it’s an island thing. These guys grew up on an island, and there are probably other islands in the South Pacific that are also breeding really funny people. Maori directors sometimes joke they only get good performances out of other brown people. That’s obviously bullshit. But there is a very specific style of Islander humour, and that’s probably true of any island that is isolated and culturally rich and unique, which gives the people who live there a genuinely funny take on things.
New Zealanders are also uniquely self-sufficient. When I used to live there, after arriving from America it was so frustrating calling your landlord to tell them something was broken. They’d say, ‘Do you need to borrow a screwdriver?’ It’s that ‘can do’ attitude for which NZ production companies are famous.
And it shines through in the work like New Zealand alpine sun.
Pete Grasse, Executive Producer, Curious Sydney.
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