Murphy geoff
Image: David White, Stuff

Geoff Murphy’s † Biography

Arts Foundation Icon 2013
Geoff Murphy is a founding New Zealand filmmaker.

Geoff Murphy (born 1938) grew up in Highbury, Wellington where he trained and worked as a schoolteacher. Geoff's first film Tankbusters (1969) a 30 minute drama was played on television both in New Zealand and Australia.

He was a founding member of legendary 'hippy' musical and theatrical co-operative Blerta and working on the Blerta Television series (a kiwi-version of the Monty Python series that mixed musical performances with sketches). His debut feature, while working with other Blerta members, was Wildman (1976) which was screened on a double bill with short-film, Dagg Day Afternoon, starring John Clark, also directed by Geoff.

Over this period, Geoff's all-round technical abilities saw him create explosions and fake AK-47s for the feature Sleeping Dogs and, he also rented out a homebuilt camera crane (built with Andy Grant). Between 1977 and 1985, when he left for Hollywood, Geoff assisted many other local filmmakers to make their films from Vincent Ward's A State of Siege to co-writing Gaylene Preston's debut feature Mr Wrong.

Geoff Murphy really made his name with the classic and road-movie Goodbye Pork Pie; one of the first New Zealand films to attract large-scale local audiences. This was followed by Utu. In 2013 Utu was re-released in digital form.

The Quiet Earth became another Kiwi classic and gained an international cult following, featuring Bruno Lawrence as one of the last men on earth. The film sold to around 80 countries, winning particular attention in the United States. Goodbye Pork Pie, Utu and The Quiet Earth were all seen by over 100,000 people on their New Zealand releases. (Goodbye Pork Pie had more than 600,000 viewers.) Only two other directors have had more than one film in this category, Ian Mune with two and Roger Donaldson with three.

Never Say Die was Geoff's next film, which was released on 69 local screens, a light-hearted thriller, with cameos from John Clarke, Geoff himself and Tony Barry. The main role was given to the then relatively-unknown Temuera Morrison.

Geoff directed his first project outside New Zealand, the television movie in 1989 Red King, White Knight, a spy thriller featuring an Emmy-nominated performance by Max Von Sydow and also starred Helen Merrin. He worked largely in America as a Hollywood director over the next decade directing western Young Guns II, the science-fiction movie Freejack starring Mick Jagger and Antony Hopkins and Steven Seagal's train thriller Under Siege 2. He also helmed a host of television and cable TV projects, including Rutger Hauer thriller Blindside and Mickey Rourke western The Last Outlaw. Geoff also made significant contributions as a second unit director to a number of big-budget productions, including US-shot disaster movie Dante's Peak.

In 2001, he put together Blerta Revisited, a collection of skits, shorts, and music from the Blerta archives. He followed it with his first drama on home soil in 14 years: conspiracy thriller Spooked, (2004) followed by Tales of Mystery and Imagination (2009), an experimental take on music inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's writings, which screened at film festivals in that year. He returned to New Zealand as second unit director on all three movies of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Geoff Murphy also worked as a scriptwriter, assistant director, special effects man, school teacher and trumpet player. With John O'Shea, Bill Sheat, Roger Donaldson, and John Reid among others, Geoff was involved with the establishment of the New Zealand Film Commission in 1978.

Geoff Murphy lived in Wellington with his wife Dianne. Geoff Murphy received in Arts Foundation Icon Award in 2013. At the end of that year he was announced in the New Year's Honours list as an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit (ONZM).

He passed away in December 2018.