When filmmaker Julia Parnell began documenting the story of New Zealand’s biggest band, she didn’t anticipate the challenges of finishing the project in a pandemic. Fortunately, Auckland’s adaptable screen industry and business advisory support helped see the project through to completion.

 

Julia is Director of SIX60: Till the Lights Go Out, a feature-length documentary by her company, Notable Pictures, in association with the New Zealand Film Commission and NZ On Air, and distributed by UMUSIC. It follows the story of Dunedin band SIX60, from their humble roots to a level of musical domination previously unseen in Aotearoa.

Filmed over two years, Julia says the documentary had reached the final stages of post-production when the nationwide COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown came into effect in March 2020.

"We found ourselves essentially ‘locked out’ of the facilities we needed to complete the film. Under pressure to keep our core crew together, we rushed to move the project into our homes and work remotely. I can attest to it being a major challenge to direct a theatrical colour grade on a home screen!"

Julia says the capability and adaptability of state-of-the-art Auckland screen business Department of Post, ensured the documentary was completed to the highest standard despite the upheaval of lockdown.

“Thankfully, Department of Post has well-established remote workflows for international clients. While our schedule was pushed out, together with James Brookes and his team, we made it happen. The result is a film that looks and sounds incredible – plus, few people can say they finished a movie during a pandemic.”

The cinematic release of SIX60: Till the Lights Go Out was also impacted by COVID-19. Delayed twice due to alert level restrictions, Julia says adaptability and innovative thinking ensured the film’s premiere was a success.

No one gave up on this project, including SIX60. We all used an adaptability motto and with some innovative marketing and PR thinking, we premiered on 23 November to a sold-out crowd at Auckland’s Civic Theatre.

The documentary was released in cinemas nationwide soon after, achieving number one at the box office for four weeks.

Julia Parnell, Director and SIX60 at the premiere of SIX60: Till the Lights Go Out, Civic Theatre, Auckland
Julia Parnell, Director and SIX60 at the premiere of SIX60: Till the Lights Go Out, Civic Theatre, Auckland.

While some believe the grit and determination of SIX60’s musical rise are echoed in the completion of its cinematic story during a pandemic, Julia says the Government’s RBP Network COVID-19 Business Advisory Fund facilitated across the region by Auckland Unlimited was instrumental to ensuring the production met the challenges of 2020.

Access to the COVID-19 Business Advisory Fund was an absolute lifeline. We worked with a business advisor who supported us to regather, reset and rebuild – things we could not have done on our own.

Notable Pictures accessed the fund in April 2020, receiving $2000 worth of support. This enabled Julia to engage a business advisor who helped with the development of a remote working plan along with post-production schedule changes, a revised marketing campaign, cashflow management, rent negotiations, insurance claims and reporting.

In November, Notable Pictures also successfully applied for the Management Capability Development Fund, which offers businesses up to 50 per cent partially funded support for management coaching and training services. Julia is using the fund to capitalise on the success of SIX60: Till the Lights Go Out and strengthen Notable Pictures’ business status.

"Taking Aotearoa documentary stories to the world is the goal for 2021. With the support from the RBP Network, alongside our experience, determination, creativity, and talented crew of people, it’s a goal that is now within our reach."

Director Julia Parnell and SIX60 lead singer Matiu Walters at his family home in Mangawhai, Auckland
Director Julia Parnell and SIX60 lead singer Matiu Walters at his family home in Mangawhai, Auckland.

An award-winning producer and documentary director, Julia explains that while documentary filmmaking provides an important platform for telling New Zealand’s unique and important stories, it is also an integral part of a successful screen sector ecosystem.

"When compared to drama productions, the scope and length of documentary projects is often longer, keeping people employed for a comparatively longer period. The SIX60 project supported 10 Auckland creative, production and technical personnel to be employed full-time for two years."

The total number of jobs created by SIX60: Till the Lights Go Out was significantly higher, with 130 people working on the documentary through its phases of production, post-production, and distribution.

Auckland’s reputation as the film hub of New Zealand is evident in the wide range of businesses that helped bring the documentary to the big screen. Along with Department of Post, key Auckland vendors Hood & Co., 818., Journey, Fat Lighting, PLS Lighting and Image Zone demonstrate the breadth of the region’s screen sector.

Filming took place across Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, with some of the region’s iconic music venues and facilities playing a starring role.

Julia says when she started pitching to make a feature-length documentary about SIX60, the band had just decided to do the unthinkable – play at Western Springs Stadium. With a 50,000-person capacity, Western Springs is New Zealand’s largest stadium and traditionally reserved for music royalty such as The Rolling Stones, U2, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Bob Marley.

“Western Springs Stadium became the catalyst for the film, as we documented the lead-up to what would become an iconic moment in New Zealand’s music history. No one will ever be the first Kiwi band to sell out Western Springs again. That will last forever.”

SIX60 on stage at Western Springs Stadium, Auckland
SIX60 on stage at Western Springs Stadium, Auckland.

Band members’ master interviews took place at Thievery Studio, an intimate space on well-known creative strip, Karangahape Road. SIX60 bassist Chris Mac’s interview was filmed at 605 Morningside Drinkery, a Kingsland craft beer bar, and at central Auckland’s Aotea Square night markets. Onepoto Domain in Northcote hosted a tender moment between guitarist Ji Fraser and his father Simon.

Julia says she began the project simply wanting to document a band making history but discovered an untold story of ambition and creative vulnerability.

"The band really opened up to me and I believe audiences were refreshed by such an honest and authentic presentation. They stepped up to speak their truth and, in the process, highlighted how mental wellness and confronting personal weakness is important for all of us."

Julia believes business advisory support is a great way for screen business owners to keep them and their businesses well and says those considering applying should go for it.

"There is considerable benefit to having an advisor working alongside you in your screen business. They can help you bring together a vision, strategy and plan and then work through this step by step with you to see it realised. They are an external voice while always putting your best interests first."

Need a support crew?

In 2020, nearly 120 Auckland screen businesses accessed the RBP Network COVID-19 Business Advisory Fund with the help of Auckland Unlimited.

While this fund is now fully committed, the RBP Network is an ongoing programme that enables us to connect you with various support services.

For more information on how you can access the right support to keep your screen business moving forward, including funded expert advice or co-funded capability support for eligible businesses, please contact Rob Lyver, Business Programmes Specialist at Auckland Unlimited.