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Creatively Christchurch

Rob McLaughlin


How would you describe what you do?

I work across all forms of creative moving picture storytelling. I work as a producer/director making all manner of television shows, be it documentary, music, entertainment, TV commercials, corporate work, online video… you name it! If you can point a camera at it, I’m there. These days with so much multi-media on so many platforms, I call myself a ‘content creator’ which basically means I organise things and boss people around for a living.

What was your most recent project?

I have three shows on the go with Māori Television. All are working as a field and studio director. One is an existing chat show with Pio Terei, one is a music competition show, and one is a game show. They all involve shooting on location and meeting everyday people, and then going into a studio set to make the main body of the show. All have been started from scratch with a dedicated production team so I get to have a lot of creative input into the style, content, and execution of the shows. These are ongoing right now and will be on air, online and on demand at Māori Television.

What project have you been involved that is the most memorable for you?

There are probably two that have equal pegging but for different reasons. The first is a show called The Remix which can be found on Amazon Prime. It’s a crazy, bright and brash Bollywood entertainment show along the lines of X-Factor but with professional musicians vying for a cash prize. In the days when we could travel, I spent 10 weeks in India as the sole Kiwi with a crew of about 100. The studio was enormous. An old Bollywood film studio, and at the height of filming we had 18 cameras in the studio. It was amazing. I loved every minute of the show and the country. In contrast to this, the second is a smaller and more personal project. Along with a couple of mates, in November 2018, I ventured to Le Quesnoy in Northern France to make a documentary about the storming of the tiny French villages by New Zealand soldiers. They acted heroically and freed the inhabitants of the village after 4 years of German occupation. The soldiers are heroes to the village and still remembered every ANZAC day. We were unable to secure any funding for the documentary, but with some help from the NZ Officers Club, we made our way there and shot the doco with no actual fees. I produced, directed, co-wrote, flew the drone, and in a last ditch effort to get it screened on ANZAC day, took on editing it during the first lockdown in 2020. It was enormously challenging, but rewarding and empowering. You can see the documentary here:

What is essential for a creative to have in their life?

Coffee. I can’t get the day started without a decent flat white. Secondly, you must have means of inspiration. That has been one of the challenges through COVID and the lockdowns. Now I know what I’m about to say are first world problems, so please don’t judge, but I love to travel, socialise, go to movies and see live music. I get hugely inspired and invigorated by the creativity in others. One of my favourite places in the world is Vietnam and last year I was going to take a camera and shoot stills and video. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I’m Charlie with the golden ticket living in New Zealand and having such amazing freedoms on all levels. We’re very very lucky. I just can’t wait to get out into the world again.

How did your time in Christchurch inform your work or inspire you?

I was born and raised in Christchurch. My formative years were spent having the best time ever. Acting at school, DJing in clubs, student radio, student newspaper, working at Christchurch bars and venues with bands. My sixth form chemistry teacher wrote me a repot, it said: “Robert could excel at this subject if he applied himself better. His real area of expertise seems to be that of late night television.” So when I joined TVNZ in Christchurch it was probably a good move! I was trained on the job as a floor manager for the studios. That never happens now. The only reason I left Christchurch was because a bunch of us were made redundant and I was told I had to move to Auckland. My love of music, film, TV, and performance was all formed in my hometown. Roger Shepard and Hamish Kilgour had the Flying Nun office above Echo Records in High Street, and we used to go and hang there for drinks, socialising with the musicians, folding record covers, talking up a storm… how lucky was that for a boy still in his teens? Halcyon days indeed.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about creativity?

When I was a young whippersnapper and I had my first job in TV working on What Now? The kids show, I was also doing on-air shifts at student radio. This caused me to audition to present movie reviews and music reviews on-camera for the show. I was in 7th heaven but I didn’t seem to be able to get along with the producer, and he eventually canned the slots. I was devastated. At the time he told me I should take a life lesson from this and always have a back-up plan. He told me that working behind the scenes could be hugely creative and rewarding and it wasn’t JUST about being in front of the camera. He may have simply been rubbing coarse salt into very open wounds but it did stick with me and to this day I always try to be aware and open to all possibilities around me. There’s a story everywhere you look.

What’s the biggest misconception about creative work?

That anyone can do it. Often when truly talented people make things look effortlessly easy, there’s a misconception that a trained (or untrained) monkey could do it. They can’t.

Which Ōtautahi artist or artwork do you admire?

Actually there are two and they’re very different. Firstly, Rudolf Boelee, who though originally from Rotterdam, has Ōtautahi lived in  for as long as I can remember. He lived in the same building as my brother back in the 80s and we saw him all the time. Classically Christchurch, he did his work and art without ego. He’s a lovely talented man and he typifies Christchurch creativity to me. It’s always there, you just may not know it. I have two of his famous railway cups in my kitchen in Auckland. Secondly, Simon Edwards. I wish I had bought his art when I found out about him. Again, it was through someone else that we met. A girlfriend who loved his art and introduced me. There he was in Christchurch painting these magnificent skies. I love skies and often feature big sky vistas in the content I make.

What work of art has taken your breath away?

The Taj Mahal. I know that it’s not strictly a piece of art in the conventional sense, but when you see it person, it absolutely takes your breath away. Also, let’s remember that it was a commissioned as an art work by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. It apparently took over 15 years to complete and only the finest building materials were used. Nothing prepares you for the beauty and magnificence of seeing it in person and up close. It’s enormous and the detail and finishing are incredible. It’s an absolute must see.

What do you know now about creative work that you wished you’d know when you were younger?

I think when I was younger just starting out and trying to make my mark, I thought I was pretty shit hot – as many do when they’re young. I thought I knew it all. Well, obviously I didn’t – creativity is no doubt 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration as they say. As an older and wiser chap, I now know you’ve got to do the hard mahi. And listen – bloody listen! If you stop and listen and pay attention to clever creative people around you, you’ll never stop learning. There’s always someone who knows more than you. I don’t think I’ve learned that too late, but I do wish I’d learned it a bit sooner.

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