Skip to main content
To top Back to top back to top
Photo of Dell King with quote - The negative-cutter had to  (with great care) match the  master negative to the edited  working copy. From that, prints  were made for projection.”

We read that you originally wanted to be a director only to find that the National Film Unit was not accepting women as directors – how did that make you feel?

This was still common with the social explanation "The wives objected." It never occurred to me that I couldn't do the work - I went back to amateur theatre.

What made you want to be a film director?

I started in theatre as an actor but immediately was fascinated with the director's role. There was no professional theatre in NZ at the time and the Unit looked like a possibility.

What was it like being a woman in the film industry in the 50s and 60s?

There was not a real industry in NZ.

What kind of opportunities were open to them then if any?

You obviously had to make your own possibilities.

Instead you found yourself as a negative cutter – what did that entail?

Negative cutting was a job when productions were shot on film. The master negative was printed once, then locked away. The editor cut the print (the 'working copy') and laid the sound-tracks (which were then mixed). The negative-cutter had to (with great care) match the master negative to the edited working copy. From that, prints were made for projection. It was boring, fastidious work.

Were there many women working with you from a technical perspective at the NFU the same time as you?

Apart from one director - Katie O'Brian, who was in her fifties - I was the only woman working with film at the Unit.

Can you remember any of the NFU films you worked on and do you have any particular favourite?

My work was so uncreative, the films were just jobs.

You worked on the Pictorial Parades which were produced monthly – what kind of challenges did you face working on producing a short every month?

Negative matching a Pictorial Parade took a short day - it wasn't exactly a rush!

How important a role do you think the Pictorial Parades had on the New Zealand public at a time when there wouldn’t have been a nightly news bulletin like we have now to keep abreast of what’s going on in New Zealand or the world?

The style and commentary of a 'Pictorial Parade' maintained the British style of speaking - with avuncular jokes. They did very little to realise a New Zealand way of looking at the world.

How do you think working for the NFU prepared you in becoming a director and an editor?

Understanding the technical details behind film effects (dissolves, fades, overprints etc) was useful but of course that knowledge became redundant as production moved first to video and then to digital. I left the Unit in 1960 but started work at Pacific Films in 1972, and that was where I learned the art of film editing and directing. During the gap (1960-72) I worked in theatre.

More information about Dell King is available at NZ OnScreen.

Feedback