South Coast Productions was the brain child of Dave Asher. Dave a native Southlander had grown up in rural Southland in the small settlement of Pukarau. His father was the local baker. Dave has met many characters as he grew up , moving to Bluff and working there as an Engineer. He and Dawn then moved to Riverton where they set up Engineering business, Riverton Engineering. Here again he met many fishermen , bushmen,farmers and real life characters, and the desire to record their stories saw the birth of South Coast Productions with local fisherman Karl Svenson. Dave had done time with 8mm film but was now in the era of U-matic and large Porta Pacs! They were to produce five titles prior to 2000, Westland Muster, Saxtons Country, Fishermen of the Fiords , Catlins Country and No Place For People and epic adventure in itself taking a crew to the sub-antartic Auckland Islands – including their own helicopter.
In 2000 Dave McCarlie from Te Anau joined up as Karl moved on and the start of computerized editing arrived and a move form umatic and SVHS to Betacam SP format. The first major collaboration was the Venison Hunters.This title was made available through the generous collaboration of Mike Bennett who wrote the book of the same name and took 2 years to get to the screen, and a foray into real time computer based editing.It was a topic that generated a huge amount of interest and provided a great platform for the next 2 stories, Good Keen Men and the Last Great Adventure which together covered a period of history from the introduction of deer for sport to the development of the netgun, live capture and the establishment of deer farming in New Zealand.
Riverton film maker Dave Asher and his business partner, Dave McCarlie, are telling stories that no one else seems to want to tell.
This is how Asher sees it, and it’s perplexing to him that some brilliant stories, in Southland and around the rest of the country, are being overlooked, because they are fantastic, he says. If you’re looking for fresh material, it’s hardly worth it to leave the South Island.
This comes out as he talks about the latest documentary their company South Coast Productions is tackling – a collection of stories, images and footage of New Zealand Navy veterans and their families talking about their memories of going to war.
Wish Me Luck will be released in the next few months and it has been Asher’s passion project at home in the last week, editing footage in a small room off the main house, on the top of a hill above Riverton.
Editing equipment and shelves of DVDs from the almost 40 productions the company has tackled in the past seven years line the walls.
Images from the travels their filming has taken them to hang above his computer screen
“Living the dream?” Asher says later.
It’s a cosy and scenic office space, with rolling farmland on one side, and sea and skies beyond the front room, but this afternoon Asher is oblivious to everything except a Southland navy veteran who is now speaking to the camera as if he’s sitting on the next barstool.
Asher holds out the headphones so someone else can hear the story being told, and it’s a page-turning thriller, with torpedoes, shipwrecks and toe amputations.
One of his favourite subjects came from a newspaper clipping in the Greymouth Star that he passes around to be read. Other ideas have come just from knowing someone who knows someone. But Asher also has a presence that lets people know they can talk as long as they like. He will listen and he’s very interested.
“I like getting yarns from people,” he says. “Sometimes you meet someone and you think `hell, he could tell a story or two, so you stop, you listen. There are so many stories around here that nobody seems to want to tell.”
He doesn’t have a method for brainstorming ideas that would make money, or a sensationalised angle that he chips away at. He finds a fish hook that could be interesting, asks questions, turns the camera on and lets people talk.
“You start editing it, and you think, How is this going to work? But it does work. Sometimes, it works really, really well.”
This has been the beginning to many of South Coast Productions films that follow people with a love of wild spaces around, often in a helicopter or jetboat, including Cattle Drive, Good Keen Men and The Venison Hunters. The company recently had a showing of their two-year project – in Murihiku: The Southern Land, a scenic landscape journey with aerial footage of the south from Fiordland to the Catlins.
McCarlie – Asher’s partner in business and creativity – works from his Te Anau office and keeps his eyes open for opportunity on his side of Southland. The two met after working together on The Venison Hunters and have found having two cameras working on a project has made for more well-rounded storytelling.
While Asher does much of the sourcing of subjects and narrative writing, the pair each take up a camera to tackle the story.
This was the case on the company’s latest release, The Return of the Taonga, the filming of the operation to capture saddleback birds and return them to Taukihepa, or Big South Cape, following the successful rat eradication on four Titi Islands in 2006.
McCarlie says it was good teamwork that contributed to the stunning footage they were able to grab by boat and by helicopter of Department of Conservation workers and Rakiura Maori for 10 days in March, as they travelled to neighbouring Titi Islands to capture and then release saddleback back on the now predator-free Taukihepa.
The film was a return to their first excursion to the islands in 2006, when they were approached by Rakiura Maori to do a film on the eradication.
Rakiura committee member Morry Trow, whose family has been birding on the islands for generations, said having South Coast Productions return in March was a natural revisitation to the project.
“Everything [South Coast Productions] does is off the map,” he says. “They were ideal for it.”
While the Rakiura like to do as much as they can themselves, if they have to outsource, they keep it local.
It was important to them that the film crew understand the area and the history, Trow says, and they weren’t disappointed with the result.
“And this second [film] just flowed on from the first one. It shows the other side of the island, where its more than muttonbirding. It’s a very spiritual place. Muttonbirders don’t often tell you that. They’ll just say it amongst themselves. But people have been going back there for generations. Many return to get that sense of connection, their family, their heritage.”
Capturing that sometimes means moving the camera away from the landscape.
“The people say it all,” Trow says.
Asher says he has come to understand the importance of a human face.
“We did start off filming this as a wildlife [documentary], but most [viewers] want to hear what other people have to say about this.
“It was pretty emotional returning the saddlebacks. We were in some pretty special places – you’ve got the massive cliffs, waves breaking – but I think its getting the really good interviews with people.”
McCarlie said one of the perks of being a tiny film company was that they could run with story ideas with being bound by bidding contractors as larger companies would be.
“The bigger film world isn’t a great place to be at the moment – what we do, we do quietly. We just bumble along.”
When Asher left a job in engineering to pursue his dream of telling stories with a camera, he knew it would be hard going to make an even break financially. Within the two-man company, there is a lot of juggling of roles to make it work. Asher says he is proud that he and McCarlie prefer to write cheques to any suppliers.
“The risk has always been to see if we could make any money doing this. I just thought, `Well, let’s give it a crack and see how it goes’. We don’t make much money, but we meet some great people doing this.”