On the eve of the 91st Academy Awards, Sarah Pollok talks to the quietly achieving New Zealanders who have been winning big on the international stage and doing us proud.

JOHN CAVILL, cinematographer

John Cavill may have started as a studio cameraman for the then-New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation back in 1985, but it was working on the blockbuster film Hercules: The Legendary Journeys when he discovered his true passion; long-form drama and feature films. Trading in his studio job to give freelancing a shot, Cavill went on to work on big titles such as Xena: Warrior Princess, The Lord of the Rings and Spartacus. The hard work paid off in 2018 when his telefeature, Scars of Nanking (2017) won a silver award from the NZ Cinematographers Society and an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography. Since the win, it's been business as usual for the film technician, who says while it's nice to be recognisedy, life hasn't changed too much. In classic Kiwi style, Cavill says while he's happy to have an Emmy, it's been business as usual. "I've certainly had a busy past year, but I'm not sure that can be attributed to winning an Emmy," he says, instead crediting longstanding relationships in the industry as a key part of getting good work.

JAMIE SELKIRK, film editor, producer
Much like Cavill, Jamie Selkirk found his feet at the NZBC in the late 1960s, working as a studio camera cabler. Although Selkirk's transition to editing was a little more extreme, with a car accident pushing him to choose a less physically demanding position. It was as an editor that Selkirk partnered with Peter Jackson in 1987 to produce their debut feature film Bad Taste. The two film-makers clicked and the partnership continues years later, with Selkirk editing almost every feature Jackson has directed since, including the co-production of The Lord of the Rings. The last instalment of the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), winning him an Academy Award in 2004 for Best Film Editing as well as an Eddie from the American Cinema Editors Society.
After winning the most sought-after award in the film industry and finishing up editing his latest film, King Kong, Selkirk felt it was time to "give back" to the industry. Returning to Wellington, he collaborated with Victoria University to set up Miramar Creative, an organisation that is gearing up the next generation of Kiwi film-makers. A little over a year on, Selkirk says he's constantly blown away by the students coming through the studios and masterclasses. "These kids have so much talent, they just need an opportunity."

Michael J Fox (left) and Seth Rogen present John Gilbert with the award for Film Editing for Hacksaw Ridge. Photo / Getty Images
Michael J Fox (left) and Seth Rogen present John Gilbert with the award for Film Editing for Hacksaw Ridge. Photo / Getty Images

JOHN GILBERT, film editor

To say John Gilbert was surprised to hear of his Academy Award nomination may be an understatement. In fact, the success of the Mel Gibson film Hacksaw Ridge was so unanticipated, he hadn't even attended the event. Hailing from Wellington, Gilbert started as an editor for TVNZ until an offer arose to be an assistant editor on a feature film. The rest, as they say, is history. With a passion for editing and a mortgage to pay, Gilbert did "everything that was going" and, with a burgeoning new film industry, there was a lot going. Gilbert's first brush with international spotlight came following his work on The Lord of the Rings; The Fellowship of the Ring, which gained nominations for Academy Awards, Eddies and Baftas. However, it was his work on Hacksaw Ridge in 2017 that finally took home the Oscar, winning Best Film Editing and the Bafta Award for Best Editing, among several honours. While his wife suggested they use the trophy as a toilet roll holder, Gilbert says they settled on a bookcase in the lounge, where more than a few dinner guests have requested a selfie.

Dan Lemmon, left, Andrew Jones, Adam Valdez and Robert Legato at the 89th Annual Academy Awards. Photo / Getty Images
Dan Lemmon, left, Andrew Jones, Adam Valdez and Robert Legato at the 89th Annual Academy Awards. Photo / Getty Images

DAN LEMMON, visual effects supervisor

Read the credits of any blockbuster film involving elaborate visual effects and chances are the name Daniel Lemmon will pop up. Entering the world of Visual Effects as a digital artist in 1997, Lemmon has barely stopped to take a breath with over 23 films and countless awards to show for it. Working on films such as Titanic and The Fight Club, Lemmon soon joined other film-making greats at Weta Digital in 2002 where he joined the crew of The Lord of the Rings films; a stint that established connections with Peter Jackson, who asked him to be the digital effects supervisor on King Kong in 2005. While Lemmon has worked on some of the most complex special effects films of the last decade, his crowning glory came in 2017 with the remake of The Jungle Book. Completed almost exclusively on bluescreen in LA, the film won Lemmon both a Bafta and Weta Digital's first Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects.

Mel Gibson on the set of 1981's Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Photo / Getty Images
Mel Gibson on the set of 1981's Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Photo / Getty Images

LESLEY VANDERWALD, makeup artist

Lesley Vanderwald was 15 years old when she picked up a makeup brush, dropped out of high school and pursued a career in the film industry. From soap opera stars to news readers, comedians to weather readers, Vanderwalt quickly crew confident with hair and makeup skills. In 1981 Vanderwald jumped across the ditch to pursue her biggest gig yet; working as a makeup supervisor on Mad Max: Road Warrior in 1981. Since then Vanderwald has worked on some of the flashiest films of the decade, such as Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge!, Star Wars: Episode II, Ghost Rider, The Great Gatsby and Mad Max: Fury Road. The last of which earnt Vanderwalt both a Bafta and Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling. Ask her to pick a favourite job and she just couldn't choose. But if you'd worked alongside Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Tom Hardy, and Charlize Theron, you probably couldn't either.

LOWDOWN: Oscars live from 2pm (NZDT) on Monday, Feb 25 on TVNZ 2 and then repeated at 8.30pm on DUKE.