We don’t speak its name…

NZTECHO Summer 2017 Summer Issue 75 In Focus

Our man in Ōtaki Waka Attewell was invited to speak at the recent 30th anniversary of the Guild knees-up in Queenstown. Here’s a few of his musings on what it all means.

Freelance cinematograher Waka Attewell

You are not required to think that any production is a great idea or care whether it’s possible to carve out three films and a sequel from a long book or the fact that a soppy romance novel set in and around a-lonely-wind-swept lighthouse is great cinema.

It’s here and it’s now and the simple fact that the phone rang at all, fills your mind with hope and delight. You never thought you’d hear that sound ever again… and, for the first time in months, your heart is a bit glad. You’re immediately tempted to pick up the phone and tell the bank manager he’s an agent of the neo-liberal cabal, but instead you ring him to share the good news about the mortgage not being an issue for a few more months.

Employment is everything.

Without question, (oh god yes!)  employment-is-everything!

This is freelance.

During the last few weeks the Guild has been celebrating the thirty years of its existence. We’ve also tweaked the name. I’ve been to two of the celebratory events. A couple of times the conversation has headed down the ‘why do we need the guild?’ road. It got me to thinking of a good answer, since I was asked to speak in the form of wisdom and reflection at the Queenstown event.

Witty repartee and really funny anecdotes… gulp.

Suffice to say I was a bit nervous over the prospect of filling in for Albol so I tended to over-prepare. I dragged out all the old notes I’d started years ago when writing a-tell-all book on the New Zealand film and TV business. I’d forgotten how much I’d forgotten.

Twenty-one pages of notes came down to two great punchlines. I thought at least one would get a laugh and the other I’d have up my sleeve in case the first was really in need of a companion.

They went in this order: ‘Sign it or Fuck OFF!’ and ‘hit him in the face, that’s what I pay him for.’

The setup line was ‘So why do we need a guild anyway?’

There’s tension on the set, the star is about to enter and deliver some amazing bullshit to make this all worthwhile. I mean, the set has been rebuilt after the last attempt and at great expense demolished to be re-build again. Three hours go by and we wait another ten, and then nearly — but alas — a young AD, with a radio flapping on hip, comes running (yes running) through the door, only to announce that there are ‘issues.’ Finally it’s now seventeen hours and four of the stunt performers have been in rubber since 4:00am. IT finally arrives and a light foam loofah is painted green to be the sword one day, thanks to the magic of CGI. The rubber stunt person, with seventeen hours on the floor, stands opposite The Star (now known as He-whose-shit-doesn’t-stink) and does a test tap around about the place of the face, but not too close, a feather tap perhaps upon a fragile gossamer… OWW!

Oh heck! Drama ensues, with threats of ‘fire that imbecile.’ ‘How could you?’ can be heard through a cluster-fuck of make-up technicians and concerned management, and there’s a small and quick meeting about the AD department before the magic words are called. Roll camera is heard almost as a whisper and the cluster clears, the stunt performer steps forward and The Star is asked to stand on the mark!

The rock-star is reluctant. But there’s a BOOMING demand from above: ‘Hit your mark please!!!’ The loofah strikes at terminal velocity onto the directed place: the face. AND CUT – that’s a wrap for today.

Job done on day three of week three. Seventeen hours and a total of three shots achieved. Some crew might make it home before the next call time most will sleep in their cars.

I guess you had to be there.


The book doesn’t name names. If you were there you’ll remember the moment; if you weren’t there you’ll remember who told you.

I’ve decided to title the book ‘He’s Queer and I’m Driving.’ It’s a line from the original ‘Goodbye Pork Pie’, and there’s a slight whiff of ironic metaphor about the title. It’s that moment in the movie when the blonde hitchhiker is making up her mind whether to get in the mini with the two guys, and it sort of sums up the era and the reluctant chap I once was.

We so desired the Hollywood way, and wished it upon ourselves with more hope than you could muster and then more after that. We needed someone, anyone, from overseas to tell us we were great…

So next time you have a contract thrust in front of your face and are given the old tomato of ‘sign it, or eFF off’ – think of the Bank Manager and the great art (not to mention fantastic working conditions) you’ll be missing out on if you don’t sign and (before you follow your heart to the nearest WINZ office) remember we all thought it was a great idea to invite them here in the first place. After all, someone has to earn the trickle down that we are entitled to, don’t they?

BTW – I never did have to answer the question ‘why do we need a guild’ after I’d used the two punchlines a couple of times in passing conversations… and the after-dinner speech in Queenstown. You had to have been there and, for legal reasons, if anyone asks I made the whole thing up… I did, I really did.