Whoosh! Issue 54 - March 2001

By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Content copyright ©2001 held by author
Whoosh! edition copyright ©2001 held by Whoosh!
2542 words

Author's notes:

Chloe Smith is gentle, soft-spoken, and altogether enchanting. She's well-educated, well-read, and brews a really fine cup of tea. She's also a survivor, having fought and won struggles with serious illness. She is indeed a woman of many skills, and brings all her talents to bear in her job as producer, second only to Rob Tapert in New Zealand. I talked with Chloe in Auckland in November, 2000.

A Woman with Many Skills (01-09)
Before the Madness (10-13)
XENA and Feminism (14-17)
People Enjoy the Show (18-19)
Memorable Triumphs (20-23)
The End of the Road (24-26)
Post-XENA (31-39)
The New Zealand Connection (40-41)

An Interview with Chloe Smith

No relation to Kevin Smith

Chloe Smith, in her natural habitat (her office at Pacific Renaissance Pictures)

A Woman with Many Skills

I've seen your name associated with Pacific Renaissance production over the years. For awhile it was "New Zealand Producer" or "Line Producer". It always seemed very much on the practical side of things, is that so?

Very much so. It's almost an umbrella position. It's always unfortunate in structures, such as, say, Pacific Renaissance, you can tend to only focus only on certain people or certain positions. The truth of it, as you've seen yourself, this is an incredibly well-oiled machine and must be in order to survive. We have really excellent people who do their job very well. It's my job to be here to answer questions or push things through to resolution.

So you'll meet with representatives of various departments to be sure things get done.

[4] SMITH:
Absolutely. From the moment we get a beat sheet for an episode through to the time we get shooting drafts, I will flag things for the writers or for Rob (Tapert) that I see will or might be problematic for us to produce. We do have a very fast turn-around here.

[5] I also address issues of scope and scale and keep communicating those things to the various heads of department as they come up. I'll have a meeting with a director to talk about his approaches to things or things that he needs clarified. There will be a Head of Department "round table" meeting where we will go through the script with the director, and that is a place where problems can be addressed or issues clarified or decisions made. From that point on, I almost start moving on to the next script and the production team put the rest of it together. Sometimes I'll visit the set to see how things are going.

Are you kept on the road much?

[7] SMITH:
I try to get out and about and not be someone stuck in an office with no presence anywhere else. You can conceivably argue, on a really good day when everything is ticking over really smoothly, I could be at home reading a book and nobody would miss me.

I guess that's the highest compliment to be paid, actually.

[9] SMITH:
It's a compliment to the team. I can't speak highly enough of the production team we have. The shows are a credit to all of those people.

Before the Madness

Tell me a little bit about life before Pacific Renaissance.

[11] SMITH:
I have had a really checkered career that's been very non-directed. I was born in England and progressed through a series of countries before I arrived in New Zealand at about the age of twelve. I went to University and got a degree in microbiology, which I immediately never used. I spent two years as a mail delivery person, and at the same time doing things that you might consider "feminist," such as setting up a bookshop.

[12] A friend of mine who managed a modern dance company got pregnant and said, "I need an assistant manager". I worked for her and that was really interesting. The company dissolved, and I went to work at a theatre company here in Auckland. As that was coming to an end, I met a film producer who said, "I've got a film and I need a production secretary. Do you want the job?" That was 20 years ago.

Lots of space but lousy accoustics

The technical credits for THE PIANO are a veritable ''who's who'' of Pacific Renaissance personnel.

[13] I've done New Zealand films, New Zealand commercials, some drama. I did production management for THE PIANO (Jane Campion, 1993), which was very successful. That put my name out there. Then Eric (Gruendemann) came down for the HERCULES telefeatures and that's that.

XENA and Feminism

To grab a word you used a moment ago, feminism, do you consider yourself a feminist?

[15] SMITH:
I do in the sense that I have an approach to life. Women should be viewed on an equal footing, absolutely. I don't deal with it in an "anti-male" way. I think it's an equal view in society that should prevail.

One of the things that appeals to many in the XENA audience is that the show features two very strong, independent women characters. It's unusual in America for shows to feature female characters, especially leads in a show, that have self-determination, authority, that sort of thing.

[17] SMITH:
And self-initiating as well. When I grew up, the television that was available to me were shows like WONDER WOMAN (TV, 1976-1979) and CHARLIE'S ANGELS (TV, 1976-1981). Not to belittle those shows at all, but the characters in them were always being directed by men to do whatever they were instructed to do. That's the thing about XENA that I think is particularly affirming, if you put it in the context of something that girls knew. My partner has three daughters from five through twelve and they love the show because it demonstrates on screen someone getting on with it -- being strong, thinking for themselves. It's a great relationship, as well, that Xena and Gabrielle have with each other.

People Enjoy the Show

In each show, whether it's XENA, HERCULES, YOUNG HERCULES, or anything else, while there is some audience overlap, there is a set of core viewers who watch the shows because they care about the characters. That care comes through in the finished product.

[19] SMITH:
Absolutely. I think also, something you can never underestimate, is that on all those shows we had lead cast that who actually enjoy each other's company. Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst liked each other and got on with each other, and similarly with Lucy and Renee. I think that's a little part of the magic of what it's all about.

Memorable Triumphs

I will not ask you what your favorite episode is, but I will ask what are some of your memorable triumphs in your work?

When a friendly game of 'Queen of the Mountain' gets ugly

The 'ladder fight' scene from CALLISTO still holds up as a masterpiece.

[21] SMITH:
There are certain episodes you look back on now and say, "Wow, those were incredible sequences". The stunt sequence between Xena and Callisto that we refer to as the "ladder fight" is one [CALLISTO (22/122)]. In every part of it, set design and construction, brilliant. The stunt choreography, the work the actors and stunt doubles put in, that's a great piece of product.

[22] There's a great scene in THE DEBT (52-53/307-307) where Xena and Lao Ma have their elevated "dance," and they twirl and their costumes unwind. That's a magic moment.

[23] But in a broad stroke, I have to say that to pull each episode out of the bag is an achievement. We don't do a "small" show.

The End of the Road

Has it sunk in yet that this is the last season and things are winding down to a conclusion?

[25] SMITH:
I think it's interesting. We as New Zealanders are not used to the long-running series in a way that perhaps you are in the States. Since the first HERCULES telefeatures it's been something of a surprise to see we're doing another show, first the HERCULES series, and then XENA. It's never been taken for granted. I think there's always been an understanding that it would come to an end one day. It's been a wonderful journey for all of us who have worked on it. At the same time, it's always nice to go out on a high note, which is what is happening here. It really won't hit until the final day.

[26] I remember the last day of HERCULES we were all standing out on the set. We made our little speeches and the tears flowed. That's the reality check, when we don't come back for another day.


What can you say about your current project [PATH OF VENGEANCE (126/614)], what you're working on now?

Isn't it about the time you left the nest or started paying rent?

Xena, Gabrielle, and Eve have issues aplenty in PATH OF VENGEANCE

[28] SMITH:
This particular episode? I think it will be a really great episode. The threads I always find interesting are relationship threads. We can still find questions and different aspects to that relationship. This episode is an Amazon episode.

Amazon episodes are consistently fan favorites.

[30] SMITH:
You can see why. We all have a mythological understanding of the Amazons, and they have a historic reality. They're always funkily costumed. They have their ceremonial dances. We portray them as nomadic tribes or living on their tribal land.


In looking forward, what haven't you accomplished that you would like to accomplish? What do you want to do in future?

[32] SMITH:
I suppose what I need to consider for myself is do I want to find and develop a project of my own as a producer, or will I be attached to other things? Or do I want to move on to something with the scope and scale such as this? That would probably be difficult to do and remain in New Zealand.

[33] Or, quite candidly, do I want to completely change direction? I keep bugging the costume designers. I'd make a really great manager of that department. (smiles) People often don't take you seriously when you say something like that. They get used to seeing you in your particular role. They think you might be bored, but I can't tell you how much I'd enjoy that. I'd love to get over there and mix and meddle. I love the costume department. I think it's great. I'd love to be creative, so I can easily see myself doing something with frocks.

Do you find yourself, in your current role, being a Confessor to a lot of people, those who have problems needing to be solved or difficulty with one thing or another?

[35] SMITH:
Yes, to a certain extent, and I think that's good and as it should be. I think you should always be accessible to people, and I encourage that. It's interesting too, the mix of conversations. Half of them will be to do with work and half to do with personal situations. Pacific Renaissance has existed for over seven years, and it's like an enormous family. It's happy in that there have been an incredible number of babies born and families created over the years, and there's a sad part too, in that some have passed away.

Is there anything I've failed to mention or cover that you'd like to talk about?

[39] SMITH:
(laughs) No, not at all. Though I always like to include the crew in any discussion because none of this would be possible without them. The behind-the-scenes people deserve recognition as well. I couldn't do my job without them doing their job.

The New Zealand Connection

From everything I've seen, they work very, very hard and are very dedicated, talented people. It really does show through. The other day I was sampling some different genre shows, and they just didn't look anything like as good as the Pacific Renaissance products. I'm not putting them down, but when you compare things, you're going to see things you like versus things that don't look as good. Pacific Renaissance makes little films, not just an hour of genre television.

[41] SMITH:
It's an interesting thing, that. The fact that these shows are made in New Zealand adds to their value on screen, I think. We're removed from a large part of the world, but we also have our own quirkiness, style, and determination. These shows have a richness that I'm absolutely convinced has to do with the fact that they're made here in New Zealand. I'm always careful in how I say that, because I don't want to put down the work of anyone else, but we are different and I think that's been a good contribution.

Finding out they skipped the interview process

Another key to success in Pacific Renaissance Pictures products is the camaraderie of cast and crew.


Schmoozer Spice Bret Ryan Rudnick
WHOOSH! staff
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206); Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)

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