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  • Writer's pictureRubber Monkey

Interview with Joe Murdie

Kia Ora, I’m Joe. I am a cinematographer based in Wānaka, in the southern alps - but I also do a bit of writing, directing and producing too.

Joe behind the scenes of 'Ngāwari'

How did you get into filmmaking?

I guess I began filmmaking quite young, I used to film and edit videos as a kid with my mates, mostly skateboard films on old VHS - but my career started out in news and broadcast. I studied photojournalism post high school and progressed into moving image shortly after, making short-form news stories and micro documentaries. After a few years of that I started doing more TV series work and a bunch of commercial/branded content. That’s when I began taking on more roles within projects etc and learnt more about larger scale productions.

What kind of films do you make? What kind of films do you enjoy the most?

Mostly I make documentaries followed by short drama, music videos and commercials and I still do a bit of TV series work too. For me there are two key things to making it a project I enjoy:

  1. Is having the room to film it creatively, especially in the documentary space. I love docos that are visually shot like dramas, not just point a camera and capture. The way something is captured is important to me. I like interview settings to be interesting, creative and to add to the story visually, I like there to be controlled lighting and considered set design, and to ensure that everything is serving a purpose. Not every project allows for this type of approach, so for me, the ones that have an opportunity to ‘do it well’ rather than just getting it done are always my favourite.

  2. As cliché as it may sound, the second is the question ‘am I passionate about this topic?’ Some of my projects are 2-3 years long so if I’m diving into something like that, especially if I’m producing or directing it too, then I need to believe in what I’m making!

Teaser trailer for 'Ngāwari'

What have you currently been working on?

Ahh there’s heaps on the go at the moment which is great haha.

One doco project in the mix currently is ‘Restoring AEU’. It’s the story of the restoration project of one of New Zealand’s most historic aircrafts. We have been in production on that one for a little over a year now and the goal is to complete principal photography by March 2024. It’s a really interesting project to be involved with, the plane is a 1936 Beechcraft Staggerwing - it was purchased by St John and Auckland Aero club in the 1930s to be used as one of NZ’s first air ambulances, and it set a stack of NZ air records, like being the first aircraft to fly Auckland to Christchurch direct. Visually it’s all vintage planes, aircraft hangars and flying over mountains so it ticks the creative box for me too.

Teaser trailer for 'Restoring AEU'

Behind the scenes footage from 'Restoring AEU'

I’m also just about to complete post-production on a short drama called ‘WALK’ which will head off on a festival circuit soon and have just begun pre-production on another short drama called ‘Planet 13’ which is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi.

Teaser trailer for 'WALK'

I’m also working on a debut music video for a band of young guys down here that will be released with their new single next month and have a couple of commercials on the go too, so yeah, a bunch of all sorts really!

Still from AVR music video

Any favourite gear you use?

For my video work I shoot predominately on RED digital cinema cameras – I have a DSMC2 S/W with a 6K Dragon sensor. I’ve been shooting a lot of my commercial work using the Meike cine lens lately and they have to be one of the best value for money cine lens I’ve ever seen, I’m actually shooting ‘Restoring AEU’ on the 24mm & 50mm Meike too. For my more artsy stuff I like to shoot Vintage Canon FD’s or if the budget allows then renting Cooke, Superspeeds or K35’s. I use a lot of Aputure lighting, the C300d’s for interview scenes and the MC’s and B7c for practical’s and hidden highlights. I love my Hurricane Haze 1DX hazer and use that a heap.

What is a ‘must have’ piece of kit for any filmmaker?

That’s a hard one! Maybe a C-47? Haha. For my style of filming though, I’d say a Black Pro mist filter, because aside from the obvious; camera, lenses, audio kit, lighting etc which are all personal preference - and obviously needed to make a film - a mist filter is often not in peoples kit, and trying to get that mist look in post just never works.

Joe behind the scenes

How long have you been practicing photography?

I’ve always taken photos, from as young as I can remember. I think for stills photography it was only ever B&W that I loved.. I got into photography doing black and white film stills and working in a dark room at high school. I actually built a darkroom at my parents’ house as a teenager and used to do all my own negatives and prints – but in the “real world” i.e working as a photographer for News or commercial, it’s not really a viable way to make a living, so digital is the norm. That’s what turned me away from stills in the early part of my career, as I didn’t enjoy the ‘shoot 2000 frames then fix it in post’ approach to media stills. Transitioning to moving image and adding in story telling etc filled that more creative side of me that was feeling left out. Now days my only stills are ‘snaps’ really, but in the traditional B&W film style of shooting. I take a single frame of something because it captures my eye and looks interesting.

B&W Still

Do you have any other interests or hobbies?

I play music too, have been in a bunch of bands over the years. I skate and snowboard (less and less now days though to be fair haha..). But film and photography have always been my main hobbies, I’m stoked that working in the industry hasn’t affected my passion for it at all, in fact if I’m stuck doing pre- or post-production for too long, all I want to do is get out and shoot, I always have a camera with me.

I guess some ‘highlights’ for me would be that I have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit with my career so far (with hopefully some more in the pipeline!), things like spending a month and a half living in Brooklyn NYC working on an online series for the New York Times or traveling around Southeast Asia to film a travel TV series. I was also recently asked to create a piece to promote this region as a film destination to the world, for Film Queenstown Lakes, Lake Wānaka Tourism & Film Otago & Southland, which was pretty cool being able to show off why Wanaka is an incredible place to film!

Check out more from Joe by following him on Instagram or visiting his website!

Stills from 'Spoken', 'Gina Malcolm - Don't Expect the World' & 'Rākaihautū'


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