Independent music video productions
The previous part of this series on the history of Radio With Pictures covered music videos produced by TVNZ, either at Avalon studios or on location by TVNZ employees, often working in their down time. This part focuses mainly on independent music video productions. These were labours of love often made for little or, more typically, no money by the bands themselves and enthusiastic acquaintances, many of whom went on to have illustrious careers in the New Zealand film and television industry. Offering a niche to the marginal and experimental, Radio With Pictures provided a public outlet for these ultra-low-budget curios (often described by their makers as “shonky”). In turn, by airing them, Radio With Pictures burnished its credentials as the hippest show around. These became some of the most cherished artefacts of the era, and carried New Zealand music of the 1980s to subsequent generations via DVD compilations and youth-oriented television channels, well after student radio had excised these tunes from their playlists.
Even though there were many music television shows in the 1980s not only willing but feeling a sense of obligation to play local content, it was rare for record labels to offer funding for New Zealand music video production. As detailed in the last part of this series, this was why TVNZ established an in-house music video production line at Avalon. This also made a show like Radio With Pictures more open than it might otherwise have been to submissions of dubious technical competence, as long as they showcased local original music. It should be noted that Shazam! (1982-1987) also encouraged local video production, especially by running competitions for home-made clips, although its after-school time slot and teenaged audience meant that these entries cambered more toward the mainstream than the clips submitted to Radio With Pictures.
Toy Love’s label-funded videos
Toy Love, signed to WEA, were one of the few bands of the late 1970s to have their label fund promotional music videos. The oft-told story about Toy Love concerns their alienating experience of being subjected to state-of-the-art high-end recording studios in Australia, and Chris Knox vowing never to set foot in one again, preferring the TEAC four-track he employed on early Tall Dwarfs and other Flying Nun bands’ recordings. This has been mythologised in New Zealand rock history as the birth of Flying Nun’s lo-fi do-it-yourself ethos, sacrificing technical polish for complete creative control. Arguably, Toy Love’s experience of making record label-funded music videos also led to Chris Knox desiring to create his own, a move that inspired others to pursue independent music video making in the 1980s.
Alec Bathgate: This is before independent labels in New Zealand, like Flying Nun, so not many New Zealand bands were releasing music then, and the only way you could is if you got signed to one of the major labels and there weren’t many of them here. We were lucky there was someone at WEA, Terry Hogan, who was really supportive and it was pretty much down to him really, we ended up getting signed to them. The Enemy played on Telethon in 1978, and we came up to Christchurch to play, and we got a 6am slot; it was the worst slot in the whole weekend. I suppose they needed someone for that time in the morning and no one would be watching, so we did that, did some other bits and pieces.
Paul Kean: I would imagine it was because of Terence Hogan, who worked at WEA and who was a little bit different from the normal record company people you associate with. He had a little bit more of an arty bent, and he was into more progressive kind of music and what was going on at the time. He was a big fan of Toy Love, so he was instrumental in getting us into Warners, and then I presume that he was a leading part in getting that relationship with Vidcom.
Chris Knox: The first [video] was ‘Squeeze’, which was made by Vidcom, out in one of their Infinity Wall situations. It was the first clip they’d made, I think. They’d been purely some industrial outfit before that and they wanted to get into filmmaking, so this was their first little tentative foot in the water, I suppose. So there was a bit of amateurism involved there, and it sort of looks that way in retrospect. They came up with some of the ideas, and we came up with some, and it looks like that, it’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast. I was not looking at my best that day [laughs]. I was pimply and fat and horrible, but you get that … and greasy. With no eyebrows.
Alec Bathgate: Vidcom was an independent company. I don’t know what else they did; they wouldn’t have just been doing music videos. I presume they did a whole lot of other stuff, but by that time we’d done our first single with WEA so I presume we would have financed that as a promotional video for the single coming out. I think whoever shot it, or who produced, it would have come up with the concept. I have a feeling that they might have just painted the studio, a background of a white room they had maybe.
Paul Kean: We didn’t really get strongly introduced to many of the people that were in Vidcom. It was just pretty much we were the artists, plonked in the studio and this is what we’ll do. We had some ideas about how we might dress ourselves, and embarrass ourselves, and Chris, Mike – they’re all contributing ideas.
Alec Bathgate: There were things like windup toys in it, that was kind of [the director’s] thing, I don’t think we would have suggested that. It’s curious that we’re kind of dressed quite well or at least quite well for us, so I don’t know why that was, because Chris has got like an op-shop suit but it’s still a suit, so I don’t know. Paul Kean’s got makeup on.
Paul Kean: During a break we went up and looked at some of the footage that they’d videoed, and then suddenly came to the realisation it was looking very much like an Elvis Costello video, and we thought ‘oh fuck’. It was my least favourite video I’ve ever been involved with.
¶ Toy Love made other clips, including two for ‘Bride of Frankenstein’, one shot in King’s Cross, Sydney, and another animated in New Zealand. This latter version was a painstaking yet innovative process that experimented with new animation techniques. Perhaps it also helped alert Chris Knox to the potential of home-made animation in music video, which would become central to his own directorial efforts.
Alec Bathgate: The animated clip that Joe Wylie did for ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ was financed by the record company. I don’t know how much it cost but I imagine it wouldn’t have been cheap to produce. It was really different.
Joe Wylie: For the music video, you’re kind of embellishing something that’s already there. With ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ I think it was pretty easy. You didn’t have to scrape around for visual imagery; they were all there in the lyrics.
Paul Kean: It was mainly Joe Wylie’s idea. He took photos of us all in different poses, so he could just do freeze-frame things within it, to throw the band into his animated video. I went and helped him. We probably only got through about 30 seconds worth of frames in a night; it’s a very laborious process. It was all very much done with gels, like the old style of animation, hand painted then physically put on the video, above a camera on a rostrum.
Chris Knox: He took lots of photos of us doing pretty extreme mouth movements and rotoscoped over them, which is tracing with pen and ink. Plus, he had some stand-alone animation, which was all just him. And there was some stuff taken from Rock Theatre footage of Jane’s hands on the keyboard. So there was a mix of techniques.
Joe Wylie: It used techniques which, we thought at the time, were cutting-edge, like colour Xerox. I think there were two or maybe three colour Xerox machines in Auckland at that stage. So shooting members of the band, taking transparencies up there saying ‘oh, do me a red one please’, and they’re saying ‘are you sure you don’t want living colour?’ ‘No, no, we’re bending the colours around a bit, this is art!’ This was a decade before Photoshop. I hadn’t seen anything quite been done that way before.
Paul Kean: We had to keep it a little bit quiet, because the band on that last tour had decided to split up, but we had to keep it all quiet so Joe could have his video finished and get paid for it, rather than the whole plug being pulled on it.
Alec Bathgate: I think we broke up around about September 1980, so I don’t think it was shown until after we didn’t exist anymore, which must have been very vexing for the record company and for our manager.
Chris Knox: He’s an unsung genius, that boy Joe. He did really good work, and people now who see that clip on TV at the moment just assume it’s a new clip; they don’t realise it was made 25 years ago, such is its timeless glory.
The first independently produced music video to be played on Radio With Pictures was ‘New Wave Goodbye’ by Spats in 1977, directed by Geoff Murphy with extensive assistance from band leader Fane Flaws. Both had been involved in BLERTA and Flaws later founded The Crocodiles. Murphy went on to direct some of New Zealand’s best-regarded features (Utu, Goodbye Pork Pie) before moving to Hollywood (Young Guns II, Freejack). Flaws became one of the most prolific music video directors of the 1980s, shooting clips for the likes of The Front Lawn, The Mutton Birds, Tim Finn, The Narcs, and Jenny Morris, as well as designing the opening titles for Radio With Pictures in 1986. As detailed later, Murphy’s sharing of equipment and facilities helped many local videos get made. Murphy wasn’t the only music video director to go on to helm more prestigious long-form productions. Niki Caro, Lee Tamahori, Andrew Dominik, and Gaylene Preston, among many others, directed videos for New Zealand bands in the 1980s.
Internationally, demand for music video production increased after the introduction of MTV in 1981. Yet a 1982 Listener article about television music shows noted that international “record companies prefer to make videos of potential hit singles only. This has the effect of making it harder to fill a programme like RWP, which is intended to cater for an audience wanting some alternative to Top 40 radio.” Fuelled by a public service edict to showcase a broad range of musical styles and populated by staff whose own tastes were edgier than the average New Zealander, RWP’s producers were anxious to have more than just pop videos to choose from. They hoped their production efforts at Avalon would be complemented by bands making their own videos.
Peter Blake: Independently made clips were very sparse at first but they did build a little, and we loved it. This harked back to my original vision of moving away from cover versions. I just wish it had happened faster but as I said earlier, I knew it was going to be a long process. I wasn’t sure it was even going to happen in my tenure at TVNZ producing.
Brent Hansen: We did get them, but not that many – I can’t remember but I think they just got in communication with us and we were pretty open in those days. It was all pre-internet and pre-mobile phones, but it was pretty easy to get hold of us. As long as you went through the right channels, we would say we would have a look at it.
¶ A lot of the independently produced videos that Radio With Pictures received were from bands affiliated with the Flying Nun label. Because most of these bands were based in the South Island, travel up to Wellington’s Avalon studios was costly and inconvenient. The label’s indie aesthetic also put bands in a quandary: they yearned for the exposure that Radio With Pictures offered (bearing in mind that local radio refused to play their songs), yet worried about debasing themselves to music video, widely perceived as a brazenly commercial way of peddling singles. As Brent Hansen put it, “I always got the impression that they treated television with a lot of disdain and didn’t want anything to do with it. And consequently, had better and much worse product that they produced themselves.”
Karyn Hay: Yeah, you can see why, when you saw the end result. Wouldn’t you be reluctant? [At Avalon] they had to go to the wardrobe department as well, you know. They were funnelled through and yeah, ‘you’re going to have this beach ball and this umbrella and two groupies’ [laughs], and a, you know, empty studio. ‘Really? Okay’. So yeah, you can see why.
Paul Kean: Well, it may be the case with a lot of bands, maybe they didn’t want to do studio productions, because I know with us, no one was really happy about the lighting and the lack of flexibility and creativity in studio clips. So we didn’t want to go into Avalon and make videos, because we knew they were using the 1950s BBC guide to lighting, and that if you had some ideas, you know, you’d be pushing it.
Simon Morris: They liked to make their own ones to a large degree. I mean there were some that were a bit awful but they still turned up all the time and I know that Chris Knox was making his own. He had a little area where he was making a lot of videos, particularly up in Auckland and particularly for himself. But there were other bands and other people who were clearly slapping something together down in Dunedin, for The Verlaines or for The Stones or The Chills or whatever.
Paul Kean: I think the history of bands being signed to major record companies, as with Warners, is that pretty much the band are just the puppets. All these record company executives, they’re the ones who are controlling it all – “Hey, look what wonderful puppets we’ve got here, and let’s make the puppets famous until they wear out, and then we’ll throw them out and get some new ones.” I think they had that attitude about videos as well, you know “we’re going to make a band video, yeah you’re going to be in it”. I think stepping away from that big label thing with Flying Nun, and that whole scene was great because it gave people more personal creative control, and Chris Knox was very strong with being able to have control over that creative input too.
Peter Janes: I guess it wasn’t cool, but on the ground there you could tell, you know. Any excuse to get in front of a camera I think with those blokes. The bluff was that it wasn’t cool so, “no we’re not going to go on Radio With Pictures”. Their attitude was you know “we’re punks, and we’re angry, so we’re not going to play your corporate game” but scratch the surface, and they just wanted to be famous like everyone else.
John Chrisstoffels: When I made the video for ‘Do the Void’ with The Terminals, we were with the Xpressway label. I went to [label owner] Bruce Russell, and I said, “I just made a video,” and his response, quote unquote, was “I have no interest in this kind of thing,” and I totally got it. It was like, “I’ve got this if you want it,” but he just said, “I don’t even know what to do with it.”
Bruce Russell: I can distinctly remember being in the downstairs cafeteria of the student union building on a Sunday night – because I was in the library, so if you were in the library working on something and if you wanted to see Radio With Pictures you’d go to the downstairs cafeteria in the student union building where they had colour televisions, which had been won as prizes in University Challenge, that’s why the student union had colour televisions, thank you University Challenge. I can remember watching Duran Duran’s video for ‘Girls on Film’ and being pretty fucking horrified in a very puritanical way at the overt sexism and just the whole aspirational kind of glamour, “pop” – all that sort of stuff was a big turnoff. That was 1982. So there was definitely a point at which video, in my mind, became associated with aspects of popular music that I was pretty dark on, and in fact my attitude hardened, to the point where I’ve been in a band for 30 years and never made a video. [The Dead C] probably could have done that but none of us actually particularly ever wanted to, because I myself think it’s a kind of an illegitimate art form and one that I personally wouldn’t countenance. Because I think it imposes a visual narrative on the sound and I just think that sound is sound and vision is vision, and if the two go together they need to be designed to go together in a way that has some aim other than selling records. So there are videos that I would regard as legitimate art forms but, as a whole, music video almost inevitably is not, in my personal opinion. And also, when your sound is more abstract and less structured around pop tropes it becomes difficult to imagine a video that could be commercially played. You know we did contemplate videos, and in fact we did make a video for a track, but we never made any attempt to get it played on television, because a) I don’t think they would have played it, and b) we didn’t actually want them to because part of our whole thing was maintaining a mystique, so having a video was mystique-puncturing.
Chris Knox’s foray into music video making, first for The Clean and then a succession of videos for his own Tall Dwarfs, inspired many to reimagine the possibilities of music video. Initially, bands tended to regard being playlisted on Radio With Pictures as a stepping stone to the more commercial Ready to Roll, but Knox’s inventive amateurism showed that being played on Radio With Pictures could be a destination in itself. Music videos needn’t just be ways of promoting singles; they could stand as art objects. Moreover, they demonstrated that big budgets and polished production values weren’t nearly as important as good ideas. In this vein, music videos could be made cheaply, without bands demeaning themselves to the Avalon production mill, yet still get shown on television. More than anyone else, Knox helped open the floodgates of independent music video production, the jetsam of which washed up at Radio With Pictures’ doors.
Chris Knox: [Early on] I shot Super-8 film. Occasionally I had an idea, but it was mostly just shooting your mates ... I shot a lot of live bands, as I discovered when I looked through the old Super-8 reels, quite a few. I found I had about four reels of Split Enz, which surprised me, and more of the Enemy, my first band, than I knew … Elton John, Lou Reed, all silent footage.
Alec Bathgate: I can remember going to a Split Enz concert and Chris taking his camera, and filming stuff and also a couple of the early shows we did, I think he got a friend to shoot some footage. I recall that we were making like our own video thing, which was just us doing silly like Monkees-style things, and getting some friends chasing us down the street, sort of A Hard Day’s Night-style. That was all instigated by Chris, so he did have that interest already.
Chris Knox: It occurred to me that the clips that we had done weren’t entirely to my taste in Toy Love, and that “hey, I used to make stuff on my little super-8 camera, why don’t I make my own clips?” The first clip I did actually pre-dated the Tall Dwarfs. It was when Flying Nun released the record by our favourite band of all time, The Clean. I grabbed a Bolex and a 100-foot load of film, which was approximately three minutes, shot it down Parnell Rd. Some of it was pixelated, which is one frame at a time of people moving. I had them sitting on their arses going down Parnell rise … it caused quite a kerfuffle, I must say. I sent it in for processing and there was a technical fault. I don’t know what it was, but half the footage was absolutely unusable, so in order to get enough footage out of the 100 foot, we had to use the negative as well, and that turned out to be a blessing in disguise, really. So the thing was made up of half-negative and half-positive, and every inch of film was used. It taught me in one go how to edit to music. It was quite a good lesson, really. And for some crazy reason people liked it. I guess it reflected the recording; the recording was made for 50 bucks and the clip was made for less.
Alec Bathgate: [‘Tally Ho’] was a great video, and again it feels very inspired but it’s kind of shonky, that’s a lot of the appeal. It did reflect the way music was being made as well, because a lot of stuff had been recorded on Chris’s four-track, or if it was bands recording in a studio then they would have probably had very limited time. It would have been just going in and getting songs recorded in a couple of takes, so the video’s very representative of that time.
Chris Knox: The first Tall Dwarfs clip I did was ‘Nothing’s Going to Happen’ and just roped in friends and family and again it was pixilation, animating people and objects rather than drawings. All I wanted to do was have an excuse to self-indulge wildly in animated mayhem. Whether it was animating mince, or toilet paper or people or whatever.
Alec Bathgate: Chris made the ‘Nothing’s Going to Happen’ video which was shot in a house that he lived in at the time, Jessel St in Grey Lynn. We did our very first EP and then I moved down south shortly after, because at the time Tall Dwarfs was just a one-off thing, so there was one record and no plans beyond that. Chris might have made that video after I shifted, so I didn’t have any involvement in that and probably didn’t see it until it was shown on TV.
Chris Knox: That [making the video for ‘Nothing’s Going to Happen’] was great fun, it was a real communal effort of the whole flat, really. Not just Barbara [Ward] but Doug Hood and his partner of the time, Carol Tippet, and other people who were in it, like Bob Sutton and Richard Hansen, just friends and family. That was mostly pixelated. That was just done over I think three maybe four nights, just getting people around and going “God, what can we do this time?” And someone would make a suggestion, like someone suggested “Bob could be eaten by a sleeping bag” or, my favourite bit in the whole clip, is a little bit with Doug with a bag on his head going across the floor. He’s lying on the floor and he’s going across, and there’s something beautiful about that bit of animation that I really like. And then at the end we just set a bit of toilet paper on fire in the toilet and chopped up the mince … utterly random things, really.
Alec Bathgate: I loved seeing something like ‘Nothing’s Going to Happen’ on TV in between all these like really slickly produced videos coming from overseas, and you’ve got this thing that’s just totally unique, and I mean the stop-start animation thing was great, that always looks good, but also production values are quite low and the exposures aren’t quite right. Things are a little bit out of focus. I really like all that. The thing of being self-sufficient would have been important to Chris at the time. It wasn’t like we had this mission statement, of this is how we’re going to be; it was just at the time Chris would have just had this impulse that he wanted to make the video to go with the song.
Chris Knox: My concept for one [‘Turning Brown and Torn in Two’] was just to get a whole lot of single images and just have a couple of frames of each image, so it would just be a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of images. That was probably influenced by Frank’s Film, which was an amazing film by Frank someone [Mouris], but everything in this film started with “f” and there were single frames of these things and two soundtracks, one of which – from memory – was him and his wife arguing about the film, and this other one was a list of words starting with “f”, in stereo. It was just fantastic, a great little film. “Oh, you can make a film from just these separate images?” Rather than trying to animate, just have them one after another, and it would look great. So I did that, but unfortunately – and poor old Richard Hansen, who was the person in the previous clip, was the one who had to hold all these books and separate pictures up while I took a couple of frames, and after eight hours of doing that his arms were so sore. But it was great, people were happy to help in those days.
Alec Bathgate: I remember helping a little bit on video ‘Turning Brown and Torn in Two’. He had his camera set up on a stand, doing the 24 frames a second thing, video was just a whole lot of images changing out really quickly. I think there was a stack of magazines and we just randomly pulled pages out of books that Chris had.
Chris Knox: When the film came back from the processing, I realised that in my incompetence I had threaded the film badly and the gate hadn’t been fully clamped down. So it meant that when I was pausing between pictures and the film wasn’t engaging properly and every second frame was blurred, something like that. It was like all this work had gone for naught, cos it was just all this blurry mess. I thought, “oh, I’m going to have to do it all again!” But then I thought, “no, I’ll go back to Len Lye and take a feather out of his cloak and draw on it and scratch on it, on the frames that are a bit mucked up”. So I did that, and that made the clip so much better. I was just so happy at the end of that. It was painstaking work and it was eye-straining, but it was so worth it. If it had come out exactly as I’d intended, it would have been quite a dull clip.
Stuart Page: With Knoxy, his videos are full of all the filmmaking 101 errors but it sort of gives it their charm as well. I think ‘Turning Brown and Torn in Two’ is the film just sliding through the gate the whole time. Obviously the claw is not working on it or something; most people would have thrown it out and he said, “nah – that’s beaut”.
Chris Knox: My favourite moment in that clip was [daughter] Leisha, who was two or three at the time, in this over-exposed little shot of her just wandering around in the front yard and, because I was drawing on it and the song is really bleak at that point, I drew in “there is always hope” and these words sort of snuck across the screen. That made it for me, the fact that it had a positive ending. If the film had turned out the way it was supposed to, it wouldn’t have had that.
Influences and role of the director
These videos didn’t emerge out of a vacuum; many independent directors were steeped in film history, drawing inspiration from the avant-garde as well as more commercial film. TVNZ bolstered the nation’s film literacy by filling afternoon and late-night slots with classic movies, as well as through Shazam!’s “video vault” feature that revived clips from the 1960s, and Radio With Pictures’ arrangement with the Len Lye Foundation, which helped keep his pioneering animation exploits in the public consciousness.
Brent Hansen: The Len Lye estate approached me, and we ran his films on Radio With Pictures. I loved it so much that when I started at MTV Europe, I licensed Len Lye films and ran a Len Lye film every hour for two years. He is one of the fathers of music video, but I think at the time possibly only Chris Knox may have consciously looked at it that way. I think Norman McLaren was also an influence because we used to see the McLaren animations at the movies played alongside the film unit. I don’t remember Len Lye being played, though. At Radio With Pictures was the first time I remember seeing Len Lye, probably 1984 or 85.
Chris Knox: [My videos] were all inspired by people, particularly Norman McLaren and Len Lye, whose stuff I had seen as a kid. I’d seen Len Lye on TV and Norman McLaren I saw at Film Society. They had both animated in-camera and without camera. Both of those became a thread throughout my filmmaking. ‘Nothing’s Going to Happen’ was particularly inspired by a couple of Norman McLaren shorts which animated people.
Stuart Page: Kenneth Anger was a major influence. I saw Scorpio Rising and it was like “wow – okay”. And then later on I found out more about how that was made. He lived around the corner from some church and that Jesus footage was delivered to him accidentally and so he thought, “I will just cut it into the film then.” And it is bloody perfect, the whole film is. I mean the way those guys are polishing their bikes are almost making love to it, you know. But the Jesus footage, the marriage of that Phil Spector kind of music – ‘He’s a Rebel’ and all that stuff with Jesus was just brilliant and the juxtaposition of the Nazi stuff and the Jesus, it was amazing. I was like, “wow – this is so cool”.
John Chrisstoffels: What did I see the other day that was really good was The Beatles’ Help; extraordinarily painful comedy but it’s basically a very good textbook of how to shoot a band, the placement of the shots and shooting through the neck of the guitar to the drum. All the clichés are there and it’s 1965 – it’s been done you know – you can’t actually do anything other than that. Richard Lester, when someone told him “you’re the godfather of MTV,” famously said “I want a blood test”. But I can see it, if you watch A Hard Day’s Night and Help.
Stuart Page: We always wanted to push the boundaries a bit I suppose. A lot of the music videos weren’t to my taste and just seemed quite bland. I didn’t like the videos that would have two ideas and then they would just repeat them just one after the other and even repeat the same shot. I was like, “oh god – please”. It was like an insult to your intelligence, so I wanted to make stuff that was really like “whoa, what’s that?” – sort of eye catching or just a little bit more adventurous.
Pat O’Neill: I never came on from an artistic point of view, I was never trying to create some sort of visionary thing. I had in my mind that I was more a facilitator. I had a love of music, and a desire to tell other people about the music, and one of the ways to do that was visualising the things that I loved. I wasn’t trying to do anything more than document these people, maybe in a slightly creative way, but I wasn’t trying to make an artistic statement, which possibly made me slightly different to a lot of the Flying Nun visual people from those days. I was employed in my whole life as a camera person, my feeling was basically as a motion picture photographer, taking lots of still all in a line. I was thinking of more the process than the concept. I was preserving as much as anything. I wasn’t trying to make a statement that was anything about Pat O’Neill, I was making a document that was all about Look Blue Go Purple, or whoever, a facilitator.
Record company funding for video clips, especially from independent labels, was rare, but there is one documented episode of Flying Nun actually employing – and paying for – a director to make clips. In 1986, it hired Pat O’Neill, former TVNZ cameraman then domiciled in Australia, and flew him in to make three videos, one each for The Bats (‘Miss These Things’), The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience (‘Crap Rap’), and Look Blue Go Purple (‘Cactus Cat’), with whom O’Neill had made a video (‘Circumspect Penelope’) the year before. Such largesse was not common at Flying Nun.
John Chrisstoffels: You’d have to talk to Roger Shepherd, but I certainly never got any support from him. He was probably always thinking, “let’s see how they can make this out of nothing,” you know, and that was part of the do it yourself ethic, so there’s no problem with that. But you’d hope that there would be somebody from the label, lobbying TVNZ to say, “look, this is selling well and here’s a blurb about the band,” some promotion like that.
Pat O’Neill: Roger does have quite a reputation, but they definitely paid for something or else I wouldn’t have done it – I mean passion can only go so far. I’m not too sure how much Roger paid for, or what he paid for, because there was film stock involved, I carried film stock from Australia. It might have been $1200 or something like that for the three clips, including the film stock, but I’m not sure, as I don’t have a record of that. I didn’t own a camera at that point, so I could have sourced a camera in Christchurch from the TVNZ people I knew, same in Dunedin. There is a trendiness about the alternative Flying Nun scene, that they want things to be left of field, but I’d been contracted by Roger as a visual hitman – maybe Roger wanted something different than the artistic cartel, like the Stu Pages and the Ronnie van Houts. All praise to them, they did great things, particularly with The Clean, and Ronnie’s work and Stu’s work is just so cool, whereas I suppose I was just a surfie, and artistic coolness wasn’t something that was part of my hardware really. It was just getting images, and I certainly didn’t overthink them.
Paul Kean: I think Flying Nun was only paying Pat O’Neill. [The Bats] wouldn’t have got anything from our side of things at all. Pat was lovely to work with, really enjoyed working with him. He felt very creative, and got some interesting angles, and he used like a skateboard as a dolly. I was just really inspired working with him.
¶ O’Neill worked extensively in Australia on music videos, both as director of photography for Fane Flaws-helmed videos and as director on videos for the likes of Dragon, The Cruel Sea, and Cold Chisel. He noted a contrast between Australian and New Zealand productions.
Pat O’Neill: In Australia, we had dollies, we had cranes, we had makeup artists. But in New Zealand, it was one, two, me and someone else sometimes, but often just me basically, lone wolf.
¶ Most Flying Nun bands had to find ways of producing clips for nothing, or paying for help from band funds, as The Bats often did. Again, this was quite a contrast to the experience of the few New Zealand bands that enjoyed the support of an international label, such as the Narcs, who were signed to CBS.
Liam Ryan (The Narcs): There was the summer [1983-84] that CBS had success with Born in the USA, Cyndi Lauper and Thriller. It was kind of like that was the narrative – they had so much money they didn’t know what to do with it, so they gave us $180,000 as the budget for the second album by The Narcs and sent us to Australia and we recorded over there. Out of that came the ‘Missing in Action’ clip. It felt like a fair bit of money and they didn’t spare the horses, you know what I mean. They did take after take and there would be a film crew and with Bruce Morrison and Larry Parr, all those filmmakers were kind of in the background of that scene. I suppose it would be for them like doing a commercial, so there were really good filmmakers and editors on board, and they were doing pretty cool stuff. But I think the amounts at the time were pretty substantial, probably $5000 or $6000, a lot of money at the time. It seemed like a lot. Later, we did ‘Diamonds on China’ with Fane Flaws. I don’t know what that would have cost, but they flew Fane Flaws over from Wellington. He did a lot of graphics stuff around it so they would have paid him for that and the design that he’d done for the graphics on the video were tied to the album cover design. It was the first time I’d seen that level of marketing and branding synergy.
¶ Whether the video was being made at Avalon, on the record company’s dime in Australia, or for basically nothing in a student flat in Dunedin, there tended to be one common denominator: creative control rested in the hands of the director rather than the band. At Avalon, time constraints limited the band’s input. If a record company was putting up the money, they wanted to make sure the band wasn’t over-riding their marketing strategies; and directors donating their time and labour seldom invited bands to dictate terms to them.
Stuart Page: I would try to keep the band out of it. It is really horrible actually having someone in there when you are editing – and they think they know what they are talking about – I don’t like that much. But I have probably got a bit of a reputation of coming up with what they want, so I have never really had any major conflict or anything like that. But I have heard of bands that just absolutely hate the guy that directed their video because they said, “we want to do this,” and that, and he went, “yeah, yeah,” and then he got them to do something else. And they wouldn’t want the video to come out because they hated it. That happened quite a bit, especially with the bigger budgets. I remember Jean-Paul Sartre Experience – they did a few clips with some flashy commercial dude in Auckland and hated them and didn’t want them to come out. And they couldn’t do anything about it because a lot of money had been spent so they just had to go, “here’s us, but we don’t want to look like that”.
Kaye Woodward (The Bats): The band’s happy to have someone doing it, and usually there’s a bit of agreement, you know because they’re on the same page basically.
Liam Ryan: I mean we would turn up and be told, “this is how it was going to be”. When we turned up to the ‘Diamonds on China’ shoot, basically the tiki was there for me to put around my neck, the jacket I was going to wear was there, even the gloves I was wearing had been bought from a shop somewhere in Sydney – the look was defined for us. And “you won’t be playing.” “Oh, won’t I be playing keyboards?” “No, you’ll be playing this” – I think I’m holding two mallets and playing like a conga or something. So we had no say in it at all. And same with ‘Missing in Action’, someone gave us the storyline and we just sort of acted it out.
John Chrisstoffels: To make these videos, sometimes they can be quite quick, but I would say three-four months sometimes, and sometimes it could be shot and just shelved for a while, for months and months. So it can be two to three months from start to finish, of shooting it, of meeting, shooting, editing and then getting it to final post-production mix.
Our colleagues at NZ On Screen
Frank Stark, NZ Listener
Michael Higgins (producer), Give It A Whirl TV series
Matthew Bannister, Positively George Street: A personal history of Sneaky Feelings and the Dunedin sound, Reed Books, Auckland, New Zealand