Two Auckland filmmakers have completed a 30-day challenge to create a cinema-worthy movie. 

The self-funded project Mama’s Music Box was made as part of what producer Abba-Rose Dinah Vaiaoga-Ioasa, and writer and director Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa called the Feature30Challenge – where they tasked themselves with making a feature film in 30 days from scratch.

“It’s like a feature version of the 48 Hour Film Competition,” says Abba-Rose. “Our ultimate goal was to get it into cinemas across New Zealand.
“We are hoping to make the challenge an annual event and have more filmmakers participate.’”

Mama's Music Box park

A dramedy, Mama’s Music Box is the story of Matai and Sam who were raised by their Grandmother (Mama) and work at a Santa Photo Booth. On Christmas Eve, their grandmother visits the photobooth unaware her grandchildren are the elf and Santa. She tells ‘Santa’ for Christmas she would love to see a music box her mum had given her as a child. The grandchildren decide to find the music box before Christmas which means visiting family they have never met.

When New Zealand first went into lockdown in March 2020, movie theatres closed their doors, productions shut down and film releases were being postponed until 2021, Abba-Rose and Stallone saw an opportunity to release a film by Christmas to get people into the cinemas again – and one that was for Pasifika people about Pasifika people.

“I think it’s the first Pasifika Christmas movie ever made!” says Abba-Rose.

Mama's Music  Box antique shop

With this in mind, Abba-Rose and Stallone wondered how quickly they could turn a film round from scratch – but it had to be cinema quality and it had to be good.

“We wanted to make a feel-good film. After the year we have all had and all the lock downs, we wanted to get out there and make something our audience could enjoy and resonate with,” says Stallone.  

With a tight budget and even tighter timeframe, the small team set to work in November.

The entire script development for Mama’s Music Box was completed within a week, followed by casting in two days. And all their hard work has paid off – by December, it was showing in select cinemas. Watch the trailer.

“For our past films, it has taken four to five months for a draft of script, and then a couple of weeks of casting. The timeline was ramped up by at least 95 per cent,” said Abba-Rose. Screen Auckland was able to provide help to the team by waiving fees on all Auckland Council film permits.

Pam Ford, General Manager Economic Development at Auckland Unlimited says supporting local filmmakers to realise their vision on screen is important to help local talent grow: “It enables smaller productions to tell their stories to New Zealand and the world, while showcasing the diversity of our talent and beautiful region.”

The production filmed at locations across Auckland including Royal Oak, Mangere Town Centre, Queen Mary Reserve – New Lynn, Balmoral and Sandringham.

Abba-Rose and Stallone say the most rewarding part of the project was working with their supporting cast – from actors in their 20s making their big screen debuts, to a 76-year-old.

“As Pasifika, we seldom see our elders on film, so this is really good,” says Abba-Rose.

The film is Abba-Rose and Stallone’s fourth self-funded film, following Three Wise Cousins (2016), Hibiscus & Ruthless (2018) and Take Home Pay (2020).