The making of No Ordinary Sheila
who, where, what – and the credits
The key people
Hugh Macdonald is the director of No Ordinary Sheila.
Hugh has been directing (and editing and producing) films since 1963, and winning awards for them since 1967. (Read more on Hugh's films). Hugh moved to Wellington in 1962 to join the National Film Unit and has lived there ever since.
Christine Dann is the producer of No Ordinary Sheila. She also researched the film and wrote its script. Christine is a relative newcomer to film producing and writing but has lots of previous experience in researching and writing books. (Read more on Christine.)
Christine lives at Koukourarata/Port Levy on Banks Peninsula, where she has a large garden.
Sheila Natusch (14 February 1926–10 August 2017) is the star of the film. She is a relative of Hugh Macdonald (first cousin once removed) – they are both descended from Gretchen and Arthur Traill, who were Sheila's paternal grandparents and Hugh's paternal great-grandparents.
Sheila was brought up on Stewart Island; and Hugh had many happy family holidays there in his youth.
Sheila moved to Wellington in 1949, met her husband Gilbert Natusch there in 1950, and in 1951 settled with him in Owhiro Bay, where she lived until 2017.
Kim Hill is an RNZ broadcaster who needs no further introduction.
Susan Hamel (right) is a Dunedin-based writer who in 2012 was commissioned by the Otago University Alumni Association to write a short biography of Sheila as part of her Masters in Science Communication studies – and soon became a friend of Sheila's.
Dinah Priestley is a Wellington-based artist, writer and oral historian, whose interests overlap with Sheila's – including going to opera movies together.
Shaun Barnett is a Wellington-based photographer, author and editor who specialises in photographing and writing about wild places and their inhabitants.
Ken Scadden (1952-2016) was an archivist, museum curator and maritime historian who shared Sheila's interest in maritime history – he and Sheila enjoyed many happy hours together looking at historic ships and their artefacts and discussing them.
Andy Dennis (1944 -2016) was a conservationist, photographer, writer and walking tour guide who shared Sheila's love for all things Icelandic.
The locations that feature
prominently in No Ordinary
Sheila are Stewart Island
(right), Dunedin, South
Westland, and the south
coast of Wellington .
The filming and editing
Work on No Ordinary Sheila started in April 2014 – under rather a lot of time pressure as Sheila had turned 88 in February that year, and had just had some bad news about her health.
The interview with Kim Hill was filmed in May 2014. For the next year research for the film and filming of the first conversations with Sheila, and the key locations, alternated with each other.
The Stewart Island shoot was in February 2015 and the last shoot in an important location (South Westland) was in November 2015. That was supposed to be the end of filming, but when the Ecuadorian navy sailing ship the Guayas paid a visit to Wellington in January 2016 it was a rare and lucky chance to film a tall ship at sea, with Sheila and Ken Scadden watching it from the shore.
Throughout 2014 and 2015 there were also a number of mini-shoots around the south coast of Wellington, to show Sheila in her 'native habitat', and the rocks, animals, plants, boats and impressive seas to be seen there.
A rough cut of around two-thirds of the film was completed in February 2016, just in time to show Sheila and friends on her 90th birthday on February 14. There was then a lull in the action while waiting for a suitable editor to become available, which happened in September 2016.
The fine cut of the film was completed in February 2017, and post-production funding was granted by the Film Commission at the end of April.
Sound mixing and other finishing work could then commence, and the film was finally completed on 18 June 2017.
The historic films
No Ordinary Sheila uses a range of archival footage to illustrate the places and ways of life that Sheila experienced from the 1930s to the 1960s. The film of Stewart Island wildlife shot by G.M. Turner is part of a private archive (The Grant Foster Photo & Film Archive); the other films used are part of the National Film Unit collection held by Archives New Zealand.
Some of these can be seen in full on-line on the NZ On Screen website, or on the Archives NZ youtube channel. They include Snows of Aorangi (1950) (New Zealand's first Oscar-nominated movie, filmed and directed by Brian Brake), from which some of the historic skiing and mountain hut film was taken; and A Letter to the Teacher (1957), (directed by one of New Zealand's first women film directors, Kathleen O'Brien), which tells the story of the Correspondence School.
Pictorial Parade # 107, October 1960 contains the news items Road Progress, about the building of the Haast Pass road, and Fur Seal Colony about Sheila swimming out to “say gidday” to the seals at Red Rocks.
The sound track of No Ordinary Sheila starts with the piano piece 'The Horizon from Owhiro Bay' composed by Gareth Farr in 2007 and played by Henry Wong Doe. (See him playing the piece at a concert in the USA here. The music captures the moods of the bay where Sheila lived for 66 years.
The orchestral music that accompanies the montage of Stewart Island scenery near the beginning of the film is from Gareth's composition 'Time and Tide'. Read more about Gareth and his music here.
The theme song for the film was composed by Wellington musician Andrew London and performed by him, the other members of his trio (Kirsten London and Nils Olsen) and Wayne Mason. Read more about Andrew and his talented trio here and watch them recording the song.
The song at the end of the film is the traditional sea shanty 'Rolling Home' – with some tweaking of the words in the best folk song tradition to make it a New Zealand specific song (“... when we see the long white cloud ...”). The song was arranged by Wellington community musician Julian Raphael and performed by the men's choir Male Vocale which is led by Julian and his son Nino. (You can hear Julian talking to Kim Hill and playing favourites here.)
The illustrations and photography
The illustrations created especially for the Witch of Moonless Bay and Epic Ride sequences are by artist, illustrator and writer Bob Kerr.
Left, a painting from Bob Kerr's 2015 exhibition It Was the Fun of the World.
More information about Bob's paintings, illustrations and books here.
The night sky photography in the film is by
Mark Gee. More can be seen on his Art of Night website.
Researched & Written by
Sheila (Traill) Natusch
Kate Le Comte
Assembly Editing by
Kate Le Comte
Sound Design & Mix
Quotes from Sheila's writings read by
Janet Frame's letters to Sheila read by
Colour-grading and on-line editing
Special effects and finishing
Mission Hall Creative
No Ordinary Sheila song
Andrew London Trio (with Wayne Mason)
Music: Andrew London
Words: Andrew London & Hugh Macdonald
Recorded at Matrix Digital Studios
The Horizon from Owhiro Bay
Time and Tide
Tiny Little Urns
Monkeys Spinning Monkeys
Rolling Home Sea Shanty
Julian Raphael & Male Vocale Choir
Arranged by Julian Raphael
The Producers acknowledge the following organisations
for facilities, historic materials, movie footage, and other assistance
Radio New Zealand
Rakiura Museum, Stewart Island
Southland Girls High School
Southland Museum and Art Gallery
Hocken Library, University of Otago
Alexander Turnbull Library
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
John Bell & Time Cinema
The Grant Foster Photo & Film Archive
Island Bay Marine Education Centre
Carter Observatory, Wellington
Simon Smuts-Kennedy/Hills Hats
"The Art of Night" - night sky time-lapse photography
National Film Unit Films preserved and made available by
Archives New Zealand
Grateful thanks to the following organisations
and individuals for financial support
The R & S Trust
Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand
Southland Girls High School Old Girls Association
Dorothy I. (Grantham) Alloo
33 Club Trust Board Inc.
Andrew & Jenny Natusch
R & M Khanna
Francis de Hamel
Thanks for professional support and other assistance to
Simon Reece/The Dub Shop
South Coast Productions
Completed with the assistance of a Feature Film Finishing Grant from the
New Zealand Film Commission