With his directorial debut Second Hand Wedding proving a hit with his countrymen, director Paul Murphy (pictured middle) continues the tradition of one of New Zealand’s leading film dynasties. His father is the iconic Geoff Murphy, director of such Kiwi classics as Goodbye Pork Pie (1981), Utu (1983) and The Quiet Earth (1985).
“Having been around filmmakers, actors and musicians for most of my life, I guess I never had much of a choice but to have a working life in the business,” says Murphy, who has crewed as a camera assistant and key grip on such high-profile films as Nim’s Island (2008), the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong (2005) before taking on his first film in charge. “I think the best advice my dad gave me was to learn a trade as a grip or gaffer in order to learn as much as I could about the craft of filmmaking.”
Very much a ‘small-film-with-a-big-heart’, the experience of shooting Second Hand Wedding was very different to the Hollywood sets Murphy has been part of in recent years. The film was a labour of love for all involved, many of whom were first-timers, including scriptwriter Linda Niccol. Murphy immediately sensed the honesty of her words. “The element that grabbed me the most when I first read the script were the characters. I felt I knew these people, and that I could build a story around them. It was also the first script in a long time that I laughed out loud while reading.”
Filmed in and around the Kapiti Coast region of Wellington, Second Hand Wedding reflects minute colloquialisms inherent to New Zealand’s traditional suburban heartland in much of its comedic moments. The lack of cynicism about the lives and emotions of the characters is very different from the slightly-mocking tone of similar Australian films, such as The Castle (1997) and Muriel’s Wedding (1994). Murphy believes it reflects the national pride of the population. “New Zealanders embrace their cultural identity rather than be embarrassed by it.”
Murphy is also adamant that his film will travel well beyond its homeland, despite those elements that may be only recognisable to Kiwi audiences. “I believe that if the characters are grounded in the real world, then people of most cultures will relate to them and their dilemmas,” he said. “In fact, I have been amazed at the reception Second Hand Wedding has received at festivals around the world, in countries like China, USA (and) Australia's own Dungog Film Festival.”
Reflecting upon his experience as a first-time director, Paul Murphy can’t define a precise moment when his family’s filmmaking genealogy took over. “I had no eye on a role as director. That was something that became a logical transition when I found myself having too much to say on set,” he laughs. As the shoot progressed, he was reminded of sage words from his father, whose 33 year career as a filmmaker is a New Zealand film industry milestone. “He said once a film begins, it takes on its own life, you just need to hang on. You might think you are onto a winner and it could turn out a dog, and the opposite is also true,” recalls Murphy. “This took the significance out of what I was doing and allowed me to relax and enjoy the ride.”
Second Hand Wedding is released in cinemas July 29.