Spencer Stoner

Spencer Stoner

Q&A with Spencer Stoner, Producer of Go South

How do you explain Go South to someone who is not familiar with the concept?
Go South is an almost real-time journey from Auckland to Milford Sound, traveling overland. Internationally, there has been a lot of excitement around TV that moves at a slower pace and watches things unfold in real time. This is a New Zealand take on that approach, made with New Zealand audiences in mind. It's this iconic, epic road trip with rail, boats, and a Land Rover that takes you from the big smoke to land's end. No voiceover, no music, just the sound of the rails, water, or road. It's also full of tidbits about the hidden history around us, from the reef that sank the Wahine to Te Kooti's hideouts in the King Country. Think of it as traveling the country tail to tip with your closest friends and family, and that's a good approximation for what watching Go South is like!
How long did the journey take to film?
If you were to take this trip yourself, it would take 40 hours straight (without sleeping). That's similar to the experience you get watching the Go South, but it took our team about two weeks in the field to take the journey. For example, we had to take short days while filming in the Land Rover. They're great to drive, but not designed for a road trip of four grown men plus a ton of camera gear. In the West Coast, the team was having to hop out of the Land Rover every 500 metres to wipe the lenses down from bug strikes. In Fiordland, the team was having to hop out every 500 metres to wipe the lenses down from rain. It was a stunning itinerary, but not exactly the quickest way to get from A to Z.

What were the challenges along the way? What surprised you?
It's a beast of a project and completely different to anything else on TV right now. Looking at a clip of some sheep on a farm and trying to figure out where you were in the country was definitely the hardest part. For data geeks out there, we had a whole series of systems in place to lock everything up and track it against GPS coordinates in real time, so we were able to work our way through it. The weather was a huge challenge, and we were in touch with MetService constantly to stay one step ahead of the game. The biggest surprise was how little rain we got in the end!
What was the most difficult camera set up required on the journey?
Surprisingly, it was the one that appears to be the most simple. As you can imagine, there is a tremendous amount of focus on health and safety with all of the vessels we were traveling on. With the trains in particular, KiwiRail has a policy of zero-harm, which we were also committed to. It seems straightforward to just position a camera in front of the windshield of the train until you realise that doing so really cuts into the view of the conductor. 

Our camera and rigging team came up with a completely genius solution which involved designing a custom rig that mounts in three places to the screw holes for the window shade and a big water bottle. It kept all of our equipment well out of the way, but with a clear view of all the action. 
What was the most memorable leg of the journey for you? Why?
There's too many to count. Certainly the one that would be the hardest to repeat would be the ephemeral late-season snow in the Southern Alps that happened literally hours before our train passed through. It was late spring and we go straight from all these blooming flowers to deep snow banks. 

If the train had been scheduled even later that same day, the snow would likely have completely disappeared, but as it is we have this amazing little moment frozen in time.
Why should people watch Go South?
Come for the novelty of it all and stay for the relaxation. Go South is like nothing else out there right now, and pushes the boundary of what TV can be. People who watch it find themselves entranced, but aren't exactly sure why. To me the biggest thing is people can engage with it on whatever level they like. If they are a geology or history buff, the whole story of New Zealand is there at their fingertips. If they just want to unwind and look at some pretty scenery, well, we have that in spades too!