I keep meaning to post about our first tour of Palmerston North, but I just got back from an action-packed few days in Wellington and want to write it all down before it gets lost in the far reaches of my addled mind.

None of this trip would have been possible without the kindness of Jonathan King, so I’ll say two words about him first. I met Jonathan online several years ago at Terry Rossio’s screenwriting website Wordplay. We’ve been corresponding off and on since then and are members of a friendly little email ring, so when he visited Los Angeles we’d go out for a beer and chat.

A few years ago he directed a hugely entertaining movie called Black Sheep, and he just released his second movie called Under the Mountain, based on a well-known YA novel. He’s a really smart and talented dude.

When he learned I was moving to the Land of New Zea he offered to introduce me to some of his friends in the NZ film community.  It’s a small and tight-knit community, so having an insider introduce you is a great help. It’s a little like the Mafia that way.

About a week ago he let me know that he would be moderating a master class in low-budget filmmaking, being organized by the New Zealand Film Commission. The NZFC have a new initiative (they call it a “scheme” but that word always seems shady to me) in which they’re going to fund four ultra-low-budget features a year for the next three years. It’s similar to the U.K’s Microwave initiative, so they invited a couple of English guys to talk about the movie they had made through the Microwave program.

That movie is called Shifty, and it kicks copious amounts of ass. It stars a guy named Riz Ahmed and is the first feature from writer/director Eran Creevy, for which he has been nominated for a BAFTA for best first feature. Jonathan was going to moderate a discussion with them, and invited me down to Wellington to attend. He offered to let me crash at his home, and to show me some other cool stuff while I was there.  I jumped at the opportunity.

On Wednesday morning I drove from Palmerston North to Wellington. The online directions were surprisingly complex – every few kilometers I had a new road to be on. Once I started driving it, I realized that it was all the same road (Highway 1), but it changed names every time it entered a new town.

I met Jonathan at Cafe L’Affare for lunch, after which he showed me one of the most amazing things in New Zealand:

It’s actually possible to buy corn tortillas here. (I know, awesome, right?)

They have a chain of stores here called Moore Wilson’s (which is kind of like Trader Joe’s for my American friends) which carry such exotic fare as corn tortillas.

Our next stop was to Park Road Post, to pick up the Shifty guys and a Kiwi producer named Michael Wrenn who is distributing Shifty in New Zealand and organized the master class with the NZFC.

Park Road Post is in a suburb of Wellington called Miramar (which always makes me want to sing Danger Zone). Miramar is pretty much owned by Peter Jackson and his friends and colleagues now. There’s Park Road Post, Weta Workshop, Weta Digital, Wingnut Films, Stone Street Studios, and a few other places which account for a lot of real estate by now. The good part of this is that we could wander from PRP to the Weta Workshop just down the street.

Along the way I got to chat a bit with Eran, Riz, and Michael. Eran and Riz are natural raconteurs, and Michael has that quiet confidence vibe that most good producers have. Cool dudes all.

NEXT: Weta Workshop and the [REDACTED DUE TO NDA]