One hell of a summer

by Felicity Monk / 27 December, 2003
English-born, New Zealand-raised, LA-based film-maker Gavin Scott returns to find Treasure Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

Roaming the sand dunes of two of the North Island's rugged West Coast beaches last month were a gang of pirates, a gaggle of kids, a Chookmobile - a contraption powered by chicken poo - and perhaps most disconcerting of all, Randy Quaid.

This was the set of The Battle of Treasure Island, the first of The Adventures of Treasure Island trilogy, a series of movies written by expat Kiwi Gavin Scott and filmed in New Zealand. Scott, now living in California, is making his directorial debut with the first film - "I am nervous, but there isn't time for that sort of indulgence" - with Michael Hurst directing the following two over the summer.

The plot for the Treasure Island trilogy: a bunch of kids from around the world attend a six-week summer camp located on "Treasure Island" (Kawau Island being quite convincing from a distance) that is run by eccentric old Conrad, his wife Wendy and his niece Ellie.

In the first film, the island is attacked by pirates who have come to retrieve their ancestors' gold. The attack is led by

Captain Flint (played by Quaid, think Vegas Vacation and National Lampoon's Winter Holiday), an angry ex-businessman, who, after being ousted in a boardroom coup, has stolen the corporate yacht and become a pirate.

In the second film a prehistoric animal is discovered and in the third an alien lands there. "Yes, it's one hell of a summer," Scott admits.

Born in Yorkshire in 1950, Scott came to New Zealand with his family at the age of 10. He started off at Hastings Central Primary, engaging in some serious comic book swapping with a little Stuart Devenie, and went on to Karamu High School, where he befriended Paul Holmes, before winning a scholarship to Wanganui Collegiate. At 17, he spent a year in the jungles of Borneo working as a volunteer teacher with the children of headhunters.

In 1971 he graduated from Victoria University with a BA in history and political science and, together with his future wife, went on to study journalism at Wellington Polytechnic.

Scott worked for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation as a TV and radio reporter and producer before

returning to England in 1973, where he worked as a reporter for the Times before moving to BBC radio and eventually BBC TV. Over the next decade he was a news anchor, a field reporter and a documentary film-maker. He was in Africa during the Rhodesian war and he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In 1990, shortly after making a move into TV writing, he was headhunted by George Lucas to join a team that Lucas had pulled together to create his successful live-action TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which screened in the US in 1992.

Scott's CV only gets more impressive from there. His bestselling novel Small Soldiers was bought in 1992 and turned into feature-length film six years later, with Steven Spielberg as producer. Next, he wrote a feature-length screenplay of Mary Norton's The Borrowers for Working Title, released in 1997, starring actors John Goodman and Jim Broadbent.

Why all the family films?

"Because I love them," he says. "I take enormous delight in creating films that the whole family can go and see. I think the child in me responds to that."

Then, last year, Scott earned an Emmy nomination for his adaptation of Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, which was made into a TV mini-series starring Anjelica Huston, Joan Allen and Julianna Margulies and broadcast in the US in 2001. It set a TNT record, drawing 25 million viewers, their largest audience.

More recently, he has written two screenplays, one for Tom Cruise - a mountaineering saga called Touching the Void - and one for Warner Brothers for an action-adventure set in World War II starring Kevin Spacey.

So where does he find the inspiration? "I read constantly, especially non-fiction, and so ideas just flow in. The world is such an interesting place and my mind puts things together in a way and thinks, 'Wouldn't that make a wonderful story.'"

His opinion of New Zealand film? "New Zealand film is, and has been, extraordinary. For a tiny country, whose population is smaller than many cities around the world, to have a thriving film industry is a wonderful achievement. And the fact that there are these talented New Zealanders making use of their country, of what it looks like, the light, the weather, the legends, and putting it down on celluloid and making it part of world culture is something I feel vicariously proud of. I love seeing the country that I grew up in on the big screen in America and people say, 'Wow!', and so do I."


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