Winner of Best Short Film Script 2013
Maitu’s Luck was the first short film script I had ever written. The script centred around the community responsibility towards preventing potential child abuse; do people continue to turn a blind eye, or do they speak up? The character of Maitu (who must face this dilemma) was based on my father, Te Paki Cherrington, an unemployed actor. Dad very rarely had money, but he always had just enough to buy his weekly Lotto ticket. Every week, he would plan how he’d spend the millions he was going to win. He was always very generous about how he was going to distribute his winnings. I had shown the script to Dad and told him that come the day this script got produced, he would have to play the role of Maitu. ‘Not a problem,’ Dad said to me. But it would be many years until the script would leave its cosy home on my computer.
In 2013, after a number of attempts applying for the Creative Writing MA and the Scriptwriting MA at Victoria University, I was finally accepted and found myself in Ken Duncum’s scriptwriting class in Wellington. As I am sitting in class, on the wall I see the Pikihuia poster calling for Māori writers. That night, I pull out Maitu’s Luck from my files, have a read over and decide to enter it as is. I get on with my scriptwriting course and love every moment of it – despite the challenges of juggling the weekly travel from Palmerston North to Wellington, continuing to work in order to put food on the table for me and my boys and all that goes with being a solo mum. At times I wonder what I am doing and if it is worth it.
And that’s when the universe responds – Maitu’s Luck is on the shortlist for the Pikihuia Short Film Script section! As a finalist, I have been invited to attend the awards ceremony in Wellington on 14 September where the winner will be announced. The morning of the awards ceremony arrives, and I am excited and ready to travel down to Wellington. As I’m getting ready to leave, I get a phone call: Dad has died unexpectedly.
By night-time, we have Dad lying in state in my lounge. The television is on. His mokos are all around. While my older brother and I are planning how to get Dad back to our marae up north, a text comes through. It’s from a friend whose brother, Hamish Bennett, is also a finalist: ‘Congratulations, Lisa, you won! Your Dad will be so proud.’ I look over at Dad and start to cry. I tell my whānau that I have won. We have a laugh about Dad; the typical actor and Leo, always wanting to be the centre of attention. He was even centre stage at the Pikihuia Awards as they acknowledged him and his extensive involvement in the Māori Artists and Writers group in South Auckland.
Dad had always believed that Māori stories needed to be told and our voices needed to be heard, so I continue to write. I have finished my first feature film script titled Emoha, about the death of a Pākehā parent and the coming together of Pākehā and Māori families. I am currently working on a type of multi-medium ‘trilogy’ – a play, a novel and an autobiography. They are all titled In Pursuit and centre on people wanting to improve their physical wellbeing. The play is about five characters, including a personal trainer, who embark on a weight-loss challenge. Each of them wants to lose weight for a variety of reasons but are in fact in pursuit of something more meaningful. The novel follows these characters up a year later after the death of one of the original group members. The novel allows for a more in-depth exploration of the group’s thinking and also highlights how difficult it is to maintain lifestyle changes. The autobiography combines script format, autobiography, poetry and blogging to show my own personal hauora journey of signing up to complete the 2015 Iron Man at Taupō. This provides some insights to the workings and trainings of an Iron Māori competitor, a back-of-the-pack athlete (I was the last official Iron Man finisher for 2015), a self-proclaimed junk food addict who never quite sees the light nor crosses over to the other side of clean eating, and a Māori clinical psychologist who knows some stuff about how to make changes and should know better.
Some tips for developing your characters
Many of my characters begin from a quirk from someone I know or from myself. The character of Maitu was based on Dad’s weekly trips to get his Lotto ticket. The stressed-out māmā was based on my own and many other parents’ experiences of waiting in line with a child who is having a tantrum. I then build on this attribute or behaviour and go from there. At one stage, I tried to develop a character who was living the kind of life I dream about. But I found that whenever I started developing a character like that, the character got too boring. The life is too perfect and everything is going too well. There is nothing to really challenge the character, nothing real; it is the quirks and flaws that are most real and interesting. Exactly how we all are in real life.
Lisa Cherrington is of Ngāti Hine and Ngāpuhi descent and comes from a very creative family as both of her parents and three brothers have been, or are, actors. She first wanted to be a writer at eight, but it was not until she turned thirty that she left full-time employment to spend more time writing.
In 2014, Lisa graduated from the International Institute of Modern Letters with her Master in Creative Writing (Scriptwriting). She is now working hard writing and caring for her sons.