NZ On Screen's Zara Potts announces the winner of the ScreenTest competition for young filmmakers.

New Zealand has a proud history of young filmmakers entering competitions and going on to great heights.

High school film competitions have been popular among students since the days of Spot On – which was an award-winning education-focused magazine programme for children.

It wasn't just the impressive roll call of presenters who got their break on the popular series (think Amazing Race's Phil Keoghan) but many of our best and brightest directors also got their start in the show's annual 'Young Filmmaker' competition.


NZ On Screen is continuing this tradition by encouraging young creatives to enter our yearly competition – which this year had the theme of 'Coming of Age' – we'll reveal the winner later in this piece, but first let's have a look at some of the illustrious names who started with the high school handy cam.

While still at school Paul Middleditch was a repeat winner in the Spot On filmmaking competition. As a teenager he made music videos for artists including Tex Pistol and Tim Finn. He is now Australasia's most awarded commercials director, have bagged over 300 awards for his work, including a Cannes Gold for his celebrated Big Ad for Carlton Draught.

Watch 1987's The Game of Love here:

Fellow director, Robert Sarkies, also got his big break on Spot On – but he was already a veteran filmmaker by then, having made his first film at age 10. His feature debut was 1999 hit Scarfies, followed by Out of the Blue, an acclaimed dramatisation of the Aramoana murders. Talent runs in the family – with his brother, Duncan, finding success as a writer.

Watch the trailer for Scarfies here:

Stefen Harris faced off against Peter Jackson in a Spot On short film contest, while both were teenagers. In 2006, after various efforts to film his debut novel had failed, Harris hired a small crew and turned it into multi-award-winning mockumentary The Waimate Conspiracy. The longtime policeman followed it with small-town ecological comedy No Petrol, No Diesel! After winning a 2007 scholarship, he was mentored in the United States by Kiwi-born director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale).

You can see the full- length film No Petrol, No Diesel! Here:

And of course, our most famous schoolboy short film creator – Sir Peter Jackson. His Spot On offering was a claymation short film, while he was still a student at Kapiti College in Wellington. His creative spark was evident even before his first breakthrough, Bad Taste. Years in the making, it was the first feature to make it from his Pukerua Bay backyard to cinema screens, where it quickly began to rack up sales. The rest, as they say, is history.

Watch the trailer for Bad Taste here:

Christchurch born writer and director Ellory Elkayem was also a high school auteur – and went on to make a name for himself in Hollywood. Roland Emmerich (Independence Day director) invited him to expand his spider tale, Larger than Life, into a $30 million Hollywood feature: Eight Legged Freaks. Arachnophobes, look away now!

Watch Larger Than Life here:

And following on in all these rather illustrious footsteps are our own winners of NZ On Screen's ScreenTest competition – Wakatipu High School students; Lachie Clark, Joel Malcolm Smith, Ella Little and Alex Booker. With a 'coming of age' brief, the six-minute short film, Alone, explores themes of isolation. It was judged the winner by acclaimed filmmaker Jackie van Beek, who said of the entry: "It had beautiful landscapes, cinematography and editing. It also had a sensitively observed and natural performance."

Watch for yourself here: