By PHILIP CHANDLER
A six-part $7 million crime drama shot in Queenstown over three months late last year premieres on TVNZ 1 next Monday.
One Lane Bridge is produced by Great Southern Television, whose local boss and part-owner Philip Smith has long wanted to set a drama in Queenstown.
According to the synopsis, ambitious young detective Ariki Davis, played by Dominic Ona-Ariki, investigates a murder but reawakens a spiritual gift that endangers the case, his career and his life.
The cast includes a who’s who of New Zealand acting talent – other stars include Joel Tobeck and Alison Bruce.
“From the first episode, you start to question the motivations of the characters and what they’re out to do,” Smith says.
“It’s a very Queenstown story in terms of the motivations of the characters – obviously, it involves money and property and farms and all those things that are dear to our hearts, so I think locals will get a lot of enjoyment out of that.”
Locations include Glencoe Station, above Arrowtown, a local language school mocked up as a police station and a one-lane bridge over the Dart River, near Glenorchy.
Queenstowners, Smith says, will also recognise a restaurant and a couple of bars, along with locals cast as extras.
“We called Queenstown ‘Queenstown’, not ‘Lake Town’ or anything stupid like that.
“The views from the windows are clearly Queenstown.”
Locals will recall how unseasonal the weather was late last year, but Smith says they coped.
“We do get those absolutely boomer, stunning days that make Queenstown look like nowhere else in the world.
“And then on occasions it snowed, it snowed just about on the right minute on the right day on the right scene.
“So it looks like we spent about $500,000 on snowmaking machines, but in fact it was just Queenstown doing us a favour.”
Though the shoot cost more than if were in central Auckland, Smith thinks it helped the quality of the acting.
“I think the excitement of going somewhere different, going somewhere exciting …
“They were very ‘on’, they were very focused, and they just were so proud of the fact as Kiwi actors they could showcase somewhere different.”
Smith also credits locals on the production team like veteran Brett Mills and set designer Michelle Freeman.
He first got the idea for the drama, which he co-wrote with Pip Hall, daughter of NZ playwright Roger Hall, when driving over one-lane bridges on the West Coast in 2006.
“We were sitting on it for the time to be right.”
His company received financial help from NZ On Air, which contributed $5,470,000, Australia’s Seven Network, which co-owns Great Southern, and huge London-based company All3Media.
After its NZ season, Smith says Seven Network will run it, “and then it will go out to the world”.
All3Media, he explains, is “the number one drama distributor with the best catalogue in the world, so I think you could safely assume that you’re going to see it play out globally”.
“And already the interest is high.”
He’s also hoping he’ll be able to shoot a second series.
Meanwhile, he says having One Lane Bridge premiere during the Covid-19-induced lockdown next Monday night couldn’t be better.
“Viewer numbers [during lockdown] have been high in NZ.
“A lot of people have been turning back to mainstream television – that’s mainly obviously because they’re at home and they can’t do all of their activities – and there’s probably also been a little of what they call ‘platform fatigue’.
“A lot of people have worked their way through those platforms [like Netflix and Lightbox] and are waiting for new content.”
And, he points out, not a lot of new content is being produced in the world right now.
One Lane Bridge premieres next Monday, 8.30pm, TVNZ 1