Vale Grant Campbell

It is with sadness that we record the death of long-time Guild member Grant Campbell from cancer at 64. Grant was a Guild stalwart, a board member from 2000 to 2016, and an outspoken critic of the imperfections in the New Zealand screen industry. In the days when the Guild had its own magazine, Take, Grant could be relied on to provide penetrating analysis expressed in his own no-holds-barred, salty vernacular. 

His funeral at the Wainuiomata Golf Club will be fitting. He’d played golf from 14 to 20 and was, according to brother Bryce, quite good. He was also a good tennis player. Grant and Bryce were tight all their lives. They were a co-writing team and worked on many projects together.

The brothers became interested in film from about the age of 10. After a double degree in Maths and English, Grant started selling himself round production companies. Sue May decided he would either be a good worker or a good drinker and gave him a job as an assistant chippie. He turned out to be both. After working in film construction for a while he moved into special effects. Gibsons took him to Aitutaki for eight months to shoot the feature Silent One. It was formative – learning about another culture. He developed a love for the islands and the people. Bryce says it opened up his eyes to the possibilities of life. He also learned a lot about film-making. However it almost killed him – he got severe blood poisoning.

On his return he specialized in special effects, working on major Hollywood productions alongside humbler New Zealand fare. It was during this time that his philosophy formed. Seeing the waste and glacial pace of production on the former, he came to truly embrace the latter, taking pride in the Kiwi ethos of everyone mucking in, working ridiculously long hours, being under-resourced and running on pure adrenalin. He came to see the magic that a small team of like-minded Kiwis could achieve where a small budget was not an impediment to making a great film.

He ended up working in most departments on features, television productions and commercials, always in the freelance industry, of which he was immensely proud.

His ambition was always to direct. Based on this same low-budget kiwi ethos Grant cadged gear and called in favours to make music videos. Harry Sinclair and Don McGlashan of theatre group Front Lawn noticed and asked him to make one for them. They had such a good experience they asked Grant to be their manager and also make films for them. He produced Linda’s Body, a short film with Harry, Don and Jennifer Ward-Lealand, and The Lounge Bar. As manager he organised overseas tours – the States, London and Edinburgh.

Harry remembers Grant as “an incredibly fun person to be around, always positive, never complaining about anything. He liked to sleep on the floor so we didn’t need a bed for him. It saved the budget! We had a lot of laughs. An incisive thinker, he always had a slightly different take on things from everybody else.”

Then, under the auspices of Wingnut Films, Grant directed and co-wrote (with Fran Walsh) Dirty Creature, a short film which screened at the Clairmont-Ferrand Film Festival.

He produced a lot of documentaries with Vincent Burke and Topshelf. The standouts were Sam Neil and Judy Rymer’s Cinema of Unease, and the brothers’ Shadow of Vietnam on New Zealand soldiers’ experiences in Vietnam. This documentary led to the next phase of his career. Grant and Bryce were so moved by the stories they uncovered that they thought they deserved a bigger canvas – a feature film about a young Kiwi soldier going off to fight. But with few writers around, Grant reinvented himself once more, this time as a writer.

They worked with producer Sue Rogers on a number of screenplays and and came close with the Vietnam feature. They raised 2 and a half million but needed a million more. However they couldn’t pull it off.

Not daunted, Grant focused on self-funding his own feature. With the new technologies becoming available, not having to deal with funding bodies became a liberating concept. To build up their skillset they started filming concerts at Wellington’s Bodega nightclub – groups like the Muttonbirds and the Chills. Unfortunately soon after this Grant became ill.

As we know, good things take time. When the brothers were about 15 they acquired a super 8 camera and started shooting a short film on their grandmother. Born on the South Island’s West Coast, she’d started treading the boards when she was 13 and travelled to the States where she was a vaudeville performer. Half a century later the documentary is almost finished. Bryce is hopeful it will finally hit the screen next year.

Grant will be missed by Bryce, ex-partner Gail, son Sergio and daughter Thalia.


Last updated on 17 July 2024