TV programme maker Kiel McNaughton is directing Shortland Street on TV2 and Find Me a Maori Bride on Maori TV
1. Your latest show follows the bumbling attempts of two metrosexual guys to find a Maori bride in order to win an inheritance. Does your life story mirror theirs at all?
I don't know a lot about Maori tikanga but I'm not as much of an idiot as those two. I was able to bring to the show my understanding of being outside the culture and wanting to find my way in. Many of our crew hadn't experienced a powhiri, so shooting the series was not just an education for the characters and the audience, but for us as TV makers too. We found the experience really embracing. You feel a bit of fear, but it's always your own baggage.
2. Cultural comedy often offends - why would you go there?
It can be a minefield but I think people are more open than we give them credit for. Comedy's comedy. It's important to laugh at ourselves. In this show the comedy comes from the characters' cultural journey. We can forgive their stuff-ups because they're trying. We've had viewers tell us "I know someone exactly like that". You have to have tikanga and te reo strategies in place to get funding for Maori TV shows, so we worked closely with Stacey and Scotty Morrison to make sure we weren't disrespectful.
3. Is a lot of the dialogue improvised?
Dane Giraud's script was very funny, but we also cast funny people and give them freedom to play so they can come up with their own gags. It's a style we developed with Millen Baird while making our comedy series Auckland Daze. We overshoot and then cut to the gags.
4. What's your cultural heritage?
Mum's half Chinese, half Maori (Ngati Mahanga, Tainui) and Dad is Pakeha of Scottish descent. We grew up in Manurewa in a big whanau with lots of cousins. Mum was of that era where learning the language was frowned upon. We had lots of Chinese and Maori kai but not the language. I've always wanted to learn and now seems like a great time because our kids are doing really well in kapa haka at school so we can try to catch up to them.
5. Your wife is from Papua New Guinea. How did you meet?
We met at drama school when Kerry got a scholarship to study in New Zealand. She grew up much more immersed in her culture than me. She can speak Pidgin English and a bit of the language where her dad's from. Her mum was Scottish and went to work in the YMCA in Papua New Guinea where she met Kerry's dad, fell in love and ended up staying. Telling the story of cultures coming together is something that really interests Kerry and I because of how it's influenced our lives.
6. Did you undergo a tribal initiation in Papua New Guinea?
I did. We went back for a traditional "bride price" ceremony. In order to marry Kerry, I had to be initiated into another tribe. So I slept at the base of a volcano, got into traditional dress, covered my body in a natural dye and then bought Kerry from her tribe with shell money, which is still used as a means of bartering. I can't remember how many shells I had to pay. She was probably pretty expensive. I got a good deal.
7. How did you establish yourselves as the TV-making duo known in the industry as Kiel'n'Kerry?
I'm not a very good employee. I've walked out of a number of jobs. It's a terrible way to be. Selfishly, I decided I didn't want to do any jobs that weren't associated with the industry. So I quit my job at a gym in Botany Downs and Kerry went into retail in order for us to survive. I stayed at home with our son Api and wrote scripts. We started making wedding videos and 48-hour films with my brother Blair, and taught ourselves to pitch shows to the networks. It helps to know a lot of really cool people.
8. You were a core Shortland Street cast member for five years. Was it a shock to be written out?
It was a shock. But we knew it would happen eventually so I used my downtime to build up a portfolio of work.
offered me a job directing which I was very close to taking but we'd just got funding to make
. Turning down the ongoing financial security of
was difficult. We couldn't have done it without Mum and Dad. They've been our biggest supporters. They help us out financially and look after the kids whenever we need.
9. Did your parents have high expectations of their five children?
They wanted us all to be happy and do what we want to do. Dad was always into technology so we were one of the first homes to have a PC - a Commodore 64, then an Amiga 500. They let us kids use the camcorder to make our own movies, like our Michael Jackson Bad video. That no longer exists. Oh man, if YouTube was around when I was a kid I wouldn't have survived high school. I would've had to hide under a rock. But we had a lot of fun making stuff and being silly. All of us have ended up working in creative fields.
10. What's your company doing next?
We've got a feature film and a TV show in development with Cliff Curtis. We're working with Roseanne Liang on another feature and releasing a new TV series shot earlier this year. What Kerry and I enjoy doing most is putting together the right people on the right projects.
11. What do you think of the state of the television industry right now?
It's changing fast. The majority of people I talk to don't watch broadcast TV any more. They watch what they want to watch, when they want to watch it. We're buying back our time. It's the golden age of long-form drama like True Detective, but those shows tend to be rated adults only. We're struggling to get shows up with the major networks. We started Auckland Daze online only and then transitioned to TV. If we were to get a third season I'd go back online. Maori TV has begun investing in drama and taking more risks with content, which is choice.
12. Do you wish you spent more time with your kids?
I do. It's that parental guilt we all have. My goal is to tuck the kids into bed every night. I reckon I'm at about 75 per cent over 11 years. Sometimes I feel my career choice is a bit selfish. My parents compromised their lives to give us the freedom of choice, so I feel a responsibility to live up to that. Hopefully if my kids see I enjoy my work, they'll take steps to do what they want to do as well.
Watch Find Me a Maori Bride on demand at maoritv.com and Shortland Street's winter one-hour episodes on TV2, Mondays.