Behind the scenes – meet the producer
If Shortland Street the TV show was run like Shortland Street hospital, then the producer would most definitely be CEO.
As the person in the metaphorical swively chair, the producer is responsible for the overall direction of the show and oversees everything from storylines to casting to the show’s look and feel.
Meet Shortland Street’s not-so-new producer, Simon Bennett. Simon takes over from outgoing producer Steven Zanoski, and he previously produced Shortland Street from 1997 - 2000.
Simon has also been a director for Shortland Street, as well as directing Sione’s 2: Unfinished Business, The Blue Rose, and producing/directing The Almighty Johnsons.
Now he’s back in the chair, Simon tells us what’s involved with being the producer of New Zealand’s favourite drama:
“As a producer I have got an overview of every aspect of the production, and I’m responsible for every aspect of the production. So on any given day I might spend some time with the team of storyliners who cook up the week to week stories for the show.
I might spend some time talking to an actor about where their stories are going or giving them feedback on a performance, I’d probably spend some time in editing working with the editors – polishing, fine tuning the cuts of an episode or block of five episodes.
I make the final casting decisions on the show, so I might be looking at audition tapes and talking to the casting director about characters as they’re coming up in the show.
I’ve got to have about eight weeks’ worth of episodes in my head at any one time because I’ll get asked questions about any episode from those eight weeks, because they’re all at different stages of production at any one time from what’s being written through to what is being edited and finished.
So I’m basically the person who has to answer questions and make quick decisions. [For instance] I had a director ring me this morning saying “We’ve got these characters playing basketball, can they have their shirts off?” because when this episode goes to air it’ll be the middle of winter, and I had to go out there and make a quick decision about whether they should have their shirts on or off. Little things like that.
Or it might be continuity issues, like if we’ve got a character who sustains an injury, how many days on screen does it take for their injury to fade, because there’s all those kinds of little things that impact upon production, and how the show is made and scheduled.
Also, before each block of five episodes starts shooting, I’ll sit down and have quite an in-depth meeting with the director who’s going to direct that block.
I brief them on what’s important in terms of story, any feedback on particular actors that they might need to know, but also where the stories are heading, because the director is directly responsible for five episodes.
Because Shortland Street’s a serial, and the stories go on and on and on, it’s useful for the director to know what they’re shooting as part of the setup for a story, or if it’s where everything explodes/pays off, and if two characters might be going to get together in the next six weeks the director needs to know that so that the chemistry between those two actors can start to warm up, that kind of thing.
I was producer for about three and a half years from 1997, and it teaches your brain to work in a particular way, and so I found it not too difficult to slip back into the job.”
Shortland Street, weeknights 7pm