The interview starts in the swish boardroom of a Freemans Bay production company where it must be said the wizened figure of Geoff Murphy looks a little out of place.

He's used to seeing rooms like this. He's been largely working as a director-for-hire in Hollywood since his last New Zealand feature, 1988's Never Say Die. He also worked as a second unit director on the Lord of The Rings trilogy, shooting action scenes, as well as doing the same for Lee Tamahori on the forthcoming action sequel XXX: State of the Union.

During the first questions about what attracted him to the story behind his new thriller Spooked - loosely based on events in the book The Paradise Conspiracy by Ian Wishart and the 1991 death of young Auckland computer dealer Paul White - the tape recorder dies.

"They must know we're talking," cackles Murphy, a man whose films have always had an anti-establishment kick and a streak of paranoia. So we adjourn - picking up a spare recorder from the office - to the Herald's local and a nice glass of red. That's much better.

Q. You were saying on the way over about how in New Zealand films you can't bullshit a New Zealand audience.

A. It's quite interesting how the New Zealand audience treats a New Zealand film to an American film. They are much more forgiving of American films. But in New Zealand films they will not let you bullshit them. They will not let you create contrivances that are unreal for the benefit of shoehorning a stunt in. They will come up and say, "That wouldn't happen", and they will reject it.

But generally speaking, the New Zealand audience - we've been making these films since '77 - tends to go and see the good ones. Now that's not true of American films. They will go and see any damn thing. But with the New Zealand ones they go "No we'll only go and see the good ones". I like that and I do tend to think I make good ones and they do tend to go and see my ones.

So I think we've got a good shot with this one. The history is on our side in that sense.

Q. Spooked is unusual in that it's got two leads in two different storylines - Cliff Curtis' reporter and Chris Hobbs' computer guy.

A. It's the nature of the story. You have an incident which happens and then an investigation of that. It's two stories. One story can't start until the other one is finished. Therefore the contrivance of Spooked is that we make the reporter who is investigating the first story, also the narrator. There is a point when the second lead takes over the movie and we always referred to that as the baton change, and it's often a bit tricky to pull off. But it happened in Goodbye Pork Pie.

Q. Talking of which, you got Kelly Johnson back in this one.

A. He was thrilled. It was like "You still remember". He was delightful.

Q. Spooked also has a fairly mixed range of tones - it goes from paranoid to goofy and quite a few points in between.

A. I think you will find that's been in every film I've ever made. I have been criticised constantly for what they call crossing the genres. But I hate heroes that wear white hats and are perfect and villains who are all in black. I like my heroes to be flawed and my villains to have moments when you really enjoy them. I think Utu is a classic example where the hero and the villain are the same person.

I think to have made Spooked linear in terms of its tone would have made the film duller. One of the problems of New Zealand cinema is that it's too damn earnest anyway.

That whole position that Sam Neill took up about the "Cinema of Unease", where you make these films about deeply neurotic people angsting about their own dysfunction and living in places that are gloomy all the time - it's not the sort of picture that I want to have anything to do with. I don't even want to go and see them and I am sure some of them are very good.

Q. You had funding from Eric Watson and the New Zealand Film Commission but how hard was it to get Spooked made.

A. It's a bit like getting in the All Blacks innit? Except we don't have any selectors you can fire if they get it wrong. The politics of it aren't as interesting as the rest of it.

We have a film commission which behaves in a way that is a continuous puzzle to me. The thing is, when you have spent a lot of your professional life working in the States, you have film executives who make our film commission look like geniuses, but they have very clear motivations. They are motivated by greed and it's quite clear they want to be famous.

There's an honesty to it and there's a clarity so you can always understand where they are coming from.

Q. What lessons have you learned from that US experience?

A. That there are some people who are good film-makers and there are some people who are good at meetings and there are some people who are good at both and they're quite rare - the Peter Jacksons of the world. He's a genius at meetings and very good at making films as well. But there are a lot of people who aren't that good at making films who do brilliant meetings.

It's almost like the first requirement is that you have to have the film director act - you can be the smouldering intense European or the guy in the leather jacket who drives an Aston Martin. My act - I don't have one. Mind you, Peter Jackson comes across as a bricklayer. He must totally puzzle them.

Q. So having guided Spooked from page to screen over a few years this becomes a more personal project?

A. You've probably spent a couple of years on it as a full-time job by the time it's released, and so it has to be personal in a sense. So you have to be comfortable that when it is finished you hope it will be something that you look back and go "I'm glad I did that".

It's different for American films because they pay you so much money that you go, "Well you might not have liked that film but you should see my place in Coromandel".

You do undergo considerable humiliation in making those American things - the whole concept of watching this incredibly high level of talent make this garbage can get really soul-destroying.

You can get very cynical and jaded - in this last year I think I went that way, towards the end of the XXX thing because I was going, "These people must despise the audience to put this kind of stuff out, they must think the audience is utterly stupid and I don't believe they are".

Then they had the election. Then I thought "Perhaps they're right. I'm never going to argue with them again".


LOWDOWN


WHO : Geoff Murphy, director


BORN: June 13 1946


FILMS AS DIRECTOR: Wild Man (1977), Dagg Day Afternoon (1977), Goodbye Pork Pie (1981), Utu (1983), The Quiet Earth (1985), Never Say Die (1988), Young Guns II (1990), Freejack (1992), Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995), Fortress 2 (1999), Blerta Revisited (2001)


LATEST: Spooked opens at cinemas on February 3