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John Barnett steps down and looks forward

Last week, John Barnett enjoyed the evening put on to celebrate his 24 years at South Pacific Pictures.

Barnett drew plenty of praise, some good natured jabs, and was keen to point out that – contrary to some people’s interpretation of their invitation to the event – he was leaving SPP, not retiring.

Among those paying tribute was Dave Gibson, who noted Barnett’s political savvy and expressed the hope it would not be lost to the industry going forward – especially in Auckland where the need for more and better infrastructure is currently a political hot potato.

Gibson also observed that Barnett “is not afraid of a fight. And he’s never wrong.”

So I’m in JB’s office trying to sort out a contract dispute and, instead, John pulls out this newspaper supplement about Pacific Island businesses in Auckland.  There’s a film in here, he says. It took a while before I realised what he really meant was there is an audience here, in this community, just waiting to watch a film that is all about them. That was how Sione’s Wedding was born. 


Oscar Kightley commented that Barnett’s commitment to developing and producing projects such as Sione’s Wedding had “helped us (Pacific Islanders) feel part of the NZ landscape”.

All3Media CEO Jane Turton, in from London, noted that this was the only party invite she’d ever received from SPP. She thanked Barnett for the contribution he’d made, noting that Auckland might be far from All3Media’s London base, but SPP’s work was known, valued and appreciated there.

Although it was an event to celebrate Barnett’s work, Oscar Kightley and Barnett both commented that the event shared similarities with a funeral, especially the way praise was lavished on people who were no longer able to bask in it. “We don’t do enough to celebrate people while they’re still around,” Kightley said.

E nga mana, e nga reo, rau rangatira ma, tena koutou katoa
John – I once recall you saying, “Success is not the work of one, but the work of many”. These wise words, I will always remember.
The leadership and mana you hold is great.
“Ko te kai a te rangatira, he korero. Ko te tohu a te rangatira, he manaaki”
The food of a chief is eloquence. The sign of a chief is respect.

LIZ ADAMS, Line Producer

Barnett noted that it had always been part of his plan at SPP to create something that would outlast his tenure. As he and others pointed out, the period since Kelly Martin moved into the CEO role suggests he fulfilled that aim, with new projects coming through and new relationships being built. Companies here and across the ditch into which SPP has invested have also thrived, with Sydney-based SLR Productions adding to its sizeable awards haul in the same week of Barnett’s leaving do.

Rarely shy about promoting his opinions and beliefs, Barnett was equally keen to praise others who’d contributed to SPP’s growth and successes over the years.

John’s a hard task master.  Working with him instils a desire to succeed and he makes you feel like your input is vital.  I never once doubted my value as an integral part of his team – even when he was yelling at me!!!!

MELANIE JONES, Studio Manager

Recently announced this year’s SPADA Industry Champion, Chris Bailey spoke of Barnett’s legacy of productions, his status within the industry, and commitment. “We all know how doggedly determined Barney is when he sets his mind to things and he has a track record to prove that.

“For him it’s always about the idea and the audience and he fights and scraps and fears no-one, on the way to getting from that foundation to the completion of the dream!”

Anyone who’s heard Barnett present at industry events over the years will be familiar with his love of telling universal stories with local characters. It’s a strategy that’s underpinned many of his choices of feature projects, from Whale Rider through Sione’s Wedding to My Wedding & Other Secrets.

While it would probably be much quicker to list the SPP projects that haven’t lived up to expectations than the ones which have succeeded, there’s one which stands above all others in growing the company, Shortland Street. Barnett acknowledged its importance to the company in developing people’s skills across various areas of production. Others have long acknowledged its value as a training ground for the wider industry.

As it’s impossible to think of South Pacific Pictures without thinking of Shortland Street, Bailey also said directly to Barnett, “It’s almost impossible to say the words ‘South Pacific Pictures’ without visualizing you is testament to your influence on the industry and, in particular, the company.”

This is my 45th year in broadcasting and the last 20-odd with SPP have been some of the best and that’s all thanks to John.

FRAN HODGES, Vision Switch

Closing his appreciation of Barnett’s time at SPP, Bailey shared an anecdote. “I remember one night the two of us were the only people left at the office. John had just had a stomach op. I looked up to see blood spreading across his shirt. In a bit of a panic, I hunted our office for a bandage, couldn’t find one and then I thought, Hang on a minute, we’ve got a whole hospital down the corridor.

“So I sprinted down to the Shortland Street emergency ward – not a bandage to be had. I’d forgotten it’s only television. Meanwhile John, ever calm, had poured himself a glass of red and was getting on with the budget.”

John Barnett leaves SPP on 31 December and will continue to develop projects. We look forward to hearing more.

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