ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Strongman, The Tragedy arose from the passion and commitment of first-time producer Paula McTaggart, who, once she had come up with the idea to make a documentary about the Strongman Mine disaster, set about making it happen.
From a Runanga mining family and having recently returned after many years in London working in the music industry, McTaggart picked up a book her father was reading at the time of his death in 2007. The book was Strongman Three Score and More, by Peter Ewen, and it included the story of the 1967 explosion that killed 19 miners. Her mother mentioned that her Uncle Ron Gibb was in the first Mines Rescue team to enter the devastated section after the explosion and was one of five awarded the British Empire Medal for Bravery.
She went to see her Uncle and after talking to him about the disaster, he gave her an old suitcase full of transcripts from the Commission of Inquiry and set her on the path that led to the making of Strongman - The Tragedy. Unfortunately, Ronnie Gibb died from a brain tumour before Paula could interview him on video. His good friend Harry Bell, who had also been present at Strongman, stepped in and became the mining consultant for the production, as well as sitting for a lengthy and detailed interview, one of several which anchor the film.
Before she attempted to get the production funded, she took a cameraman and soundman to Huntly and Greymouth, where she filmed several key interviews that were then edited into a compelling trailer. The trailer and the proposal convinced TV3 and NZ On Air to support a documentary-drama through the prestigious Platinum Fund.
While reading the Inquiry transcripts, McTaggart was struck by the flavour of the language and the drama implicit in the words, which led to her idea of dramatising the hearings. On the recommendation of TV3 documentary commissioner Sue Woodfield, Paula contacted renowned filmmaker Gaylene Preston. Viewing Preston’s most recent film, Home By Christmas, she was impressed by the high-end production values and particularly the cast performances so she invited Preston to direct the drama elements for Strongman - The Tragedy.
The Inquiry hearings were filmed as drama, starring a top-flight ensemble cast, including Paul Gittins, Bruce Hopkins, Ken Blackburn, Jason Hoyte, Peter Daube and Matthew Saville. Other drama inserts were constructed around the interviews to create a picture of the events of the day of the tragedy.
The drama crew included cinematographer Thomas Burstyn CSC and production designer Ralph Davies – both Emmy-nominated for previous work.
They filmed the inquiry and the events of the day over two separate shoot periods in Auckland in August and late September 2011. The Inquiry set was built inside the former Whitecliffe Art School building in Grafton and the mine exterior and interior was constructed at Studio West in Glen Eden. A smaller team led by McTaggart returned to the West Coast in October to shoot additional drama scenes such as the "pockets of women" standing outside their homes along with various location shots and close-ups of detailed technical aspects of mining that arose in the Inquiry. This was filmed in the Banbury Mine and involved two miners who had lost their fathers in the mining accidents – one in the Strongman disaster. Harry Bell was involved in a dual role as mining consultant as well as an extra in the film.
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