‘800 Words’: a model for successful Trans-Tasman partnerships?

South Pacific Pictures CEO Kelly Martin.

800 Words, a Seven and South Pacific Pictures co-pro, stars Erik Thomson as a widower who relocates to NZ along with his kids, played by Melina Vidler (Mako: Island of Secrets) and Benson Jack Anthony (Underbelly Razor).

The role saw Thomson win the Silver Logie for Most Popular Male in 2016, and Vidler win the Silver Logie for Most Outstanding Newcomer.

Created by James Griffin and Maxine Fleming and produced by Chris Bailey, the show’s executive producers are Seven’s Julie McGauran and John Holmes and South Pacific Pictures CEO Kelly Martin, whose credits include Shortland Street and The Brokenwood Mysteries.

For South Pacific Pictures, the success of the show, originally made possible by the New Zealand Film Commission’s Screen Production Grant, has been gratifying.

“We knew we had a great show,” says Martin. “Unfortunately these days that doesn’t always mean you get a big audience. The great thing was that Seven got behind the show in a big way and did an amazing job of making sure that Australians knew about it.”

“They got viewers to it with strong publicity and promotion, and when the audience got there, they were not disappointed.”

So how has the relationship evolved? “We have both had to learn how each other work, and then how to work together,” says Martin. 

“We always appreciated that Seven were taking a big risk in going with this show in the first series. They had to put a lot of faith in South Pacific Pictures, a company that they had not worked with before.”

“There was a lot of pressure across all aspects of the series, all of which contributed to the show being so strong in the end. Now that we’re underway on season three I would say that we have evolved to a relationship that is based on a stronger level of trust and understanding. We all know each other better, so the working relationship is definitely an easier one.”

While the show might be a case study in how to make a Trans-Tasman partnership work to the satisfaction of both parties, Martin underlines the fact that 800 Words worked because that model was organic to the story.

“Not all projects fit so well,” she says. “While we are definitely interested in co-production opportunities, and in working more internationally, we will only pursue projects based on the content and the story, and not because of funding models.”