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Tatau hits UK screens

Shot here and in the Cooks as a co-production between the UK producer of Being Human, Touchpaper, and South Pacific Pictures, BBC3 show Tatau began its run last weekend in the UK and begins on BBC America this weekend.



The project has been around for quite a while, as co-productions often are.

“Discussions probably ran over about three years,” explained SPP’s producer on the show Chris Bailey, “with different options and budgets under consideration at various times. There was a will to make it happen, but it probably wouldn’t have gone ahead without the incentive changes last year.”

The costs of location shooting – here and in the Cook Islands – and the necessary CGI work were all fairly pricey for BBC3, compared with much of the heavily studio-skewing projects it’s supported to date. The British pound, which has languished against the Kiwi dollar for some time, didn’t help either.

Once the incentive schemes were changed, the chances of the project going ahead improved. When the production was announced in July last year, SPP chair John Barnett called it “a perfect project for the incentives”.

On this side of the co-production, the show has provided plenty of opportunity for involvement and creative input for NZ cast and crew. Jane Holland was costume designer, Miro Harre production designer, Karl Stevens composer, with Images & Sound doing post.

During production well over 90% of the team was from NZ, excluding the writing team. Even DoP Dale McCready, whom Touchpaper brought from the UK, was a Kiwi. In 1995, early in his career, McCready worked on SPP’s Shortland Street before moving on to Perfect Creature, Power Rangers, Toa Fraser’s UK-shot Dean Spanley and a steady run of UK TV dramas.

Back in the day, South Pacific Pictures used to be a regular player in the co-production game, making several TV shows with Canadian partners. That experience proved useful on Tatau, according to Bailey. EP John Barnett, the driving force behind much of SPP’s historical co-production activity, handled the back-and-forth dealings with the BBC in London.

Bailey described the production process working with Touchpaper as “the same but different” compared with SPP’s normal way of doing things. Touchdown producer John Rushton (Vincent, Hunderby, In the Flesh) “fitted in like a dream. It was seamless”.

Now the show is out into the world, in the UK at least. SCREENZ understands Tatau will have an airing here, with details yet to be announced.

“The show’s received a fair bit of effort from the BBC to promote it,” producer Chris Bailey said.

Tatau trailer

The reviews in the UK have been mixed, the main criticism repeated being that the characters are thinly-drawn, although only the Daily Telegraph’s Isabel Mohan crossed the line into insensitivity.

“It all feels a little grating, right down to the fact that [lead character] Kyle has one of those rubbish Maori tattoos that every woman dreads seeing on an otherwise attractive man.”

Plenty of more positive comments have also been made about the show, with many of the reviewers enjoying the exoticism (for UK viewers) of the locations. The Den of Geek review noted, “There’s also something of justice in seeing those [Cook Island] beaches, mountains and forests being used to sell traditional Maori legend and not just Bounty Bars.”

In a review titled The most original TV drama of the year so far and littered with spoilers, Unreality TV said, “Its best qualities are its unique storytelling, exotic locations and the performance of Barklem-Biggs.”

The Guardian opened its review, “With its compellingly weird plot, Tatau is set to be another cult hit for BBC3,” and continued

in presenting a world many Brits know little about, and just about pulling off its cultural tourism without being patronising, it is promising: a young person’s Death in Paradise by way of True Detective. Tatau is pacy, engaging and more than happy to get its weird on

Some of the media interest in the show is about the BBC’s own little game of thrones and how that’s affecting Tatau commissioner BBC3.

These days the BBC seems to subscribe to Mao Zedong’s mantra of perpetual revolution. As a result of this, BBC3 is in the process of ceasing to be a broadcast channel. It’s moving online to be a BBC iPlayer-only channel. As it happens, Tatau is the chennel’s last commissioned drama to be broadcast “the old-fashioned way”.

As for SPP, Bailey said that the company and Touchpaper would be happy to work together again, either on more Tatau or other projects, a sentiment echoed at the BBC’s media screenings of Tatau in the UK.

It would, of course, be a case of finding the right project and, at present, it seems there’ll only be one series of Tatau.

Faced with shrinking budgets, BBC3 now commissions only one drama series a year, and has already named a new title for 2016. The £50/NZ$100 million a year savings the BBC will make from ceasing to operate BBC3 as a broadcast channel aren’t being made available to the channel for production, although £30/NZ$60 million will go to drama commissioning for BBC1.

SPP currently has another co-production, 800 Words, in production. Created here by James Griffin and Maxine Fleming, the show is a Australia-NZ co-production, destined for TV One here and Seven across the ditch.

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