Frankie Jean & The Morning Star is a short film about a plucky, rugby-obsessed 8-year-old girl who dreams of becoming an All Black. After the All Blacks lose in South Africa she sneaks out of her home disappointed, and meets Joseph, sitting on the ledge of a bridge. Stuart Whitaker finds out how the film came to be shot in Maketū and Little Waihī, and how writer and director Hannah Marshall discovered its star.
The district has two stars in a short film to be shown in Tauranga later this month.
Frankie Jean & the Morning Star was filmed in Maketū and Little Waihī and the lead character is played by Te Puke's McKani-Rose Clarke.
Hannah Marshall wrote and directed the short film, which centres on the disappointment of an All Blacks loss and the repercussions of rugby-obsessed Frankie Jean sneaking out of her home to brood about the defeat.
''When I first wrote the film I had always conceived of it being in the Bay of Plenty because, although I live in Auckland, I grew up every summer going to Whakatāne and Ōhope Beach and my parents before me had done that.
''As we got older, our parents had a place in Pukehina and at the time it was such an untouched place.''
Initially the film's location was simply somewhere on the North Island's east coast.
''These things are conceived in your head, but when I got the funding from the New Zealand Film Commission, it was 'okay, how actually are we going to shoot this'. I had taken bits and pieces from the areas in my mind and you have to start piecing them together and work out how to shoot the thing.''
A trip to the Bay of Plenty with director of photography Dave Cameron brought things into focus.
''We needed a bridge and a beach and a coastal area and it's all set pre-dawn, so it was challenging anyway. We hung out in Pukehina and went through Maketū and that coastline is gorgeous, but we needed a field we could somehow link it to in the story.
''We were driving through Maketū and went up to the top where the reservoir is and then came down over the crest into Little Waihī.
''I had grown up seeing Little Waihī across the estuary, but all I knew was the campground. We drove down into it and it was so beautiful and, again, untouched, with this little gem of a community and we instantly went 'this is where it has to be'.''
Hannah connected with the local community and found a base at Maketū Health and Social Services.
''They were amazing. We had some auditions there and we had a base there for filming and we got swept up in this amazing community that opened up its doors to us and made us feel like locals. I'd always felt it was a special place in my heart, but then this made it even more special.''
It was at those auditions that Hannah discovered her lead - someone to take on the role of Frankie Jean - McKani-Rose Clarke.
''We wanted to, if we could, find someone from the Bay of Plenty - that was our dream.''
Hannah says the call for auditions unearthed ''so much talent''.
''You are looking for a specific thing for the story you are telling but in the process you just find all these super-talented kids.''
She says McKani-Rose just rocked up straight from school.
''[Casting director] Kate [McGill] did an audition with her first time and I was in another room doing other auditions. Kate said 'you should meet this girl, she's really amazing'.
''Then McKani bundles in and she was everything and I said 'oh my God, that's her'.
''She was hilarious and wasn't precocious, she was just so real and for someone so young she was so comfortable in who she was.''
Those qualities were again evident when shooting started.
''She's the lead in this film and she's in every scene and it's very taxing for anyone, let alone a nine-year-old that's never been on set before. But she was an absolute natural.
She totally got it and everyone just fell in love with her because she's so funny and charming and real and it comes across in her performance too."
The film was shot towards the end of 2019 but the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns have stalled things since late last year when it was finished.
It has since been screened at Flickerfest International Short Film Festival in Sydney and the Show Me Shorts short film festival in Auckland.
The film will be screened at Tauranga Independent Films' Industry Night and Film screening on April 29 at Tauranga Historic Village. The event starts at 6.30pm and is free.
Hannah says she hopes to be able to organise a screening in Maketū.