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Icon of the West – Andrew Adamson

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Waitakere Mayor Bob (now Sir Bob) Harvey had a bold vision in 2002; to develop a world class film studio complex out of the old Enza Coolstores alongside Henderson Valley Road.

The buildings had already been successfully used for the production of the international TV series Hercules the Legendary Journeys and Xena Warrior Princess. So it was in 2002, Sir Bob announced to the world that Waitakere City Council had committed to buying the site and turning it into Henderson Valley Studios. Now, what it needed was a world class production to rival Xena or Hercules.

Enter our Icon of the west, Andrew Adamson MNZN. This son of Blockhouse Bay was already a Hollywood name to be reckoned with, thanks to making a fairytale debut as a film director on the colossally successful animated feature, Shrek.

It was a fairytale debut in both senses; the movie was a fairytale and a fairytale debut in that Andrew Adamson’s first attempt at directing, not just a full length movie, but a full length animated movie, was a runaway success. This phenomenon featuring A-listers Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz, went instantly from box office success and popular acclaim, to movieland legend. It was followed by Shrek 2 which broke multiple box office records. Shrek 2 earned Adamson an Oscar nomination and having earned nearly $US1billion it was the highest earning film of 2004, and is still in the top 10 of the world’s top box office successes. In total there have been four Shrek movies.

Shrek was no overnight success for the lad who was born in 1966 and lived his first 11 years in Blockhouse Bay before leaving with his parents, to live for seven years in Papua New Guinea. Back in Auckland, Andrew Adamson had intended to be an architect but breaking his leg in a car accident, he missed the opportunity to enrol to study architecture at Auckland University and turned to film animation instead.

He is a natural-born story teller whose talents were first revealed through the cartoons he drew while at school. As a qualified animator he turned his career path towards that shortest of all story telling forms, the television commercial. He was still doing this when his exceptional ability was noticed by the American company, Pacific Data Images. Recruited for their Los Angeles operation, his animation talents saw him become involved in visual effects on a number of films, including Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, both of which got him shortlisted for Oscar nominations.

Back in New Zealand he was helping out Peter Jackson with The Frighteners where he met John Garbutt, a producer for the stillto- be-made Shrek. Garbutt was determined to have Adamson as director; Adamson was equally determined to try his hand at writing and turned the offer down three times before agreeing to a six month trial.

The rest is history. Having been elevated to hero status in the film making community, the Los Angeles-based Adamson proved that you can take the kid out of West Auckland but you can’t take West Auckland out of the kid.

Excited by the possibilities opened up by the Henderson Valley Studios he brought Hollywood to Henderson, to film the first in the Chronicles of Narnia series, C S Lewis’ fantasy stories that had enchanted several generations of children. The first of the films became the internationally acclaimed The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, perhaps not a rival for the Lord Of The Rings in epic scale, it was a more than a worthy successor in terms of story-telling, animation and special effects gaining critical and public acclaim. Receiving three Oscar nominations, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was the third highest grossing film of 2005.

The film was a personal triumph in the sense that he was scriptwriter, director and producer. He also had a big influence in the special effects, needless to say it also opened the film making world’s eyes to the possibilities of film making in West Auckland.

By now the studios had embarked on building what is now called Sound Stage 5. It was to be the largest film studio in New Zealand, being a little larger than Peter Jackson’s complex in Wellington and a truly world class facility.

Andrew Adamson promptly gave it the Hollywood seal of approval by coming back to film Prince Caspian, the second in the Narnia series to be shot there (and at other locations around the country). As with the earlier movie, Andrew Adamson had total involvement as scriptwriter, director and producer. Prince Caspian made nearly half a billion US dollars at the box office.

Andrew Adamson went on to enrich his body of work with the exquisitely told animated feature, Puss in Boots, followed by Cirque du Soleil: World’s Away, before turning Lloyd Jones’ Mann- Booker nominated Mr Pip into the astonishingly good film of the same name.

Mr Pip sets a new high-water mark in New Zealand story telling; it is a truly excellent New Zealand film made from a truly excellent New Zealand novel.

Andrew Adamson has had a blazing career by anybody’s standards. Success, acclaim and awards have decorated his career and he was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand in 2006.