Murder on the Blade?
The Making of the Film:
Filming began in January 2003 when Keith Hunter, line producer Heather Lee, Mike O’Connor (camera) and Don Anderson (sound) went to Picton to film a speed test of Scott Watson’s boat Blade. The test was always going to be proof of an idiocy: the Crown case against Watson relied on him performing a miracle, namely making his little yacht travel four times faster than the laws of physics allow. The prosecutors, the trial judge and later the Court of Appeal all claimed Watson and Blade were out in Cook Straight on the afternoon of 1 January 1998 and half a hour later eleven nautical miles away in pretty Erie Bay. But yachts like Blade have a maximum possible speed through the water that is determined by the length of their hulls. Blade’s maximum possible speed is about 6.3 knots. The case against Watson needed her to travel at 22 knots.
The first attempt at the test trip failed when a tow rope wrapped around Blade’s propeller five miles out in Cook Strait and had her wallowing in a heavy swell that made director Hunter as seasick as it is possible to get in an hour and a half. A second attempt in February succeeded in showing that Blade takes two and a half hours in perfect conditions to make the Crown’s half hour trip.
Interviews with key witnesses were recorded during January and February. The witnesses included water taxi driver Guy Wallace who had watched Ben and Olivia board the mystery yacht from his Naiad inflatable and passenger Hayden Morresey who had seen it too. Meeting for the first time since New Year’s Day 1998, the two again climbed into a Naiad inflatable to film a sequence on the water where they recalled the ketch that had towered above them that night. They contrasted it with tiny Blade.
By the time it came to arranging courtroom re-enactments it had become apparent that there were so many questions that needed to be put to Crown figures that if the answers to them were sought for inclusion in the film there would be no screen time available for the film itself. At this point Hunter proposed to TVNZ that the film be re-assessed and restructured as a personal point of view. As a point of view – an opinion – it did not need to be editorially ‘balanced’ in the way documentaries usually are. But it meant that for the first time in almost thirty years Hunter would need to return to the other side of the lens to present the film as his opinion. It was also the first time a subject like this had been treated on New Zealand television as the film maker’s personal point of view, and it took a deep breath by TVNZ to agree to it. But there was little choice. Point of view or no film.
And so personal opinion it became, subtitled ‘A Journalist’s View’ and opening the way for a documentary genre not previously produced in New Zealand before – openly opinionated films presenting their makers’ views on such matters of public concern as the reliability of a prosecution for murder.