"Congratulations," I say to Taika Waititi, "you're one of the joint winners of TimeOut's Entertainer of the Year, 2016."

"Cool," he says, sounding chuffed. "Who," he asks, "is the other one?"

"Well," I say, "there's you, David Farrier and..."

"Oh, no, no, no," he says, interrupting, his voice filled with mock offence. "I refuse to share in that. I'm going to give it to someone else... I'm going to give it to Thingee."

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It's been a long while since I've thought about Jason Gunn's puppet sidekick on the old, kids telly favourite The Son of a Gunn Show. But it's the exact sort of specific cultural reference that powered Waititi's smash hit film, and TimeOut's Movie of the Year, 2016, Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

"...and Carthew Neal," I say, breezing over the interruption.

"Carthew," Waititi says, all traces of offence disappeared, "really is the glue in all of this. He put all the pieces together."

"Carthew," David Farrier tells me a couple of days later, "is quite an unusual creature. Tickled wouldn't be the film it is without him. No way."

- TIMEOUT - Carthew Neale is a New Zealand film, television and interactive producer. He has produced Taika Waititi's adventure comedy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. 07 November 2016 New Zealand Herald P
- TIMEOUT - Carthew Neale is a New Zealand film, television and interactive producer. He has produced Taika Waititi's adventure comedy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. 07 November 2016 New Zealand Herald P

Tickled

, the documentary Farrier made with creative partner Dylan Reeve, is also on our Best Movie, 2016 list.

This is not a case of patriotism gone mad. Both of these films are at the top of their respective genres, both have enjoyed extraordinary success, here and overseas, and both have received universal critical acclaim. If you've somehow missed either of them, you really do need to remedy that at once.

While both movies have elements of humour and some tonal similarities, they really couldn't be more different.

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One's a feel-good, action-adventure for the whole family set in the New Zealand wilderness, the other is an adult documentary about a seedy and threatening fetish group.

It's surprising to learn that it's the same person behind the success of both of these high-profile films. The man behind the men, as it were.

So meet Carthew Neal, producer extraordinaire and, alongside directors Waititi and Farrier, the joint winner of TimeOut's Entertainer of the Year, 2016.

His public profile may be low but Neal has been behind the scenes for a long time. Working in theatre and television and shepherding various projects, stuff like an animated web series, comedy and reality show formats, to fruition.

Amazingly, Wilderpeople and Tickled are his first movies as producer.

I meet Neal on a sunny Friday afternoon. He's open and friendly and instantly likeable. He speaks with the same particular pronunciation and clipped accent as his pal and fellow Wellingtonian Jemaine Clement.

After congratulating him on his success in winning our award, and on the success of his films, I ask him if he could explain, exactly, what a producer does.

"Yeah, a lot of people don't know," he smiles. "I equate it to bringing up children. Not that I've done that either.... But I feel when I watch people do that I can relate. A project goes through an evolution and life and you have to do whatever you need to do to make it survive and thrive.

"On a logistical level I'm working with people who have come up with ideas, developing these ideas and looking at how we can get money to make them.

"Holding the vision is one of the big things. As producer you're one step away from the core of the project so you're able to have a bigger picture overview and keep everything moving in the right direction."

"Carthew is an amazing big picture guy," Farrier says when asked about his producer.

David Farrier, co-director of the documentary Tickled. 17 May 2016 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Michael Craig. NZH 21May16 - David Farrier in a scene from the movie. Picture / Michael Cra
David Farrier, co-director of the documentary Tickled. 17 May 2016 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Michael Craig. NZH 21May16 - David Farrier in a scene from the movie. Picture / Michael Cra

"The main thing that impresses me about him is that he never gets defeated by anything. Making Tickled there were moments when I didn't see a way through. He would never admit defeat. He'd be like, 'okay this is a problem, let's solve it' and then he'd start solving it."

"He made both these films at the same time," Waititi tells me, "What's surprising is the amount of projects he has on the go. He puts me to shame in terms of how many things he's got going on at once. I don't know if he ever sleeps."

"You've got to stay in a semi state of anxiety," Neal says, when asked for the secret of being a top producer.

"It's this strange balancing act of being an absolute pessimist and absolute optimist. You're always thinking of what could go wrong but have to also strangely be naive and believe that it's all going to work out."

Both films, he says, offered their own challenges. Tickled was under constant and very scary legal threat and Wilderpeople was made at an absolutely blistering pace.

"Tickled gave me a good sense that if you keep trying then persistence will get you somewhere," Neal says, "Wilderpeople, the challenge was making that in five weeks in the wilderness in winter. Which was crazy. "

You don't have to be crazy to work in New Zealand film, but it helps...

As Waititi points out, "he's a guy whose first two features premier at the Sundance Film Festival and they're critically acclaimed. He's doing pretty well for a first-time producer."

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople directed by Taika Waititi starring Sam Neill, Julian Dennsion, Rhys Darby
The Hunt for the Wilderpeople directed by Taika Waititi starring Sam Neill, Julian Dennsion, Rhys Darby

"I can't wait to see what he does next," Farrier says. "Carthew isn't drawn by money or big names, he just wants to make stuff that he wants to make. So far his instincts have all been pretty good. He doesn't pick duds."

Farrier's absolutely correct. Neal's two for two. But what was it that set his spider-sense tingling with these two projects?

"With Tickled I liked that it had humour and also something really dark to say," Neal answers. "And with Wilderpeople it was just working with Taika."

He pauses for a moment and then says, "But I also felt like it would be a film for New Zealanders."

"Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the people's film."