On May 14, exactly 20 years since the incorporation of Story Inc, we had a party to mark Steve La Hood’s “retirement”, even though we weren’t quite sure whether it was Fake News or not…
Tēnā koutou e hoa mā, kua hui mai nei i tēnei pō, tēnā koutou katoa.
I’m sorry to say that we have got you here for a party tonight under at least partly false pretences. Because we don’t 100% believe in Steve’s retirement. Personally I think it may be Fake News.
Possibly I am just like the Egyptian guy who fell out of the boat – in denial.
But can anyone actually imagine Steve out there on the Kāpiti coast, all in white, playing lawn bowls? Actually we know that Steve and Robina live in Paekākāriki on the hip bit of the coast so that actually isn’t going to happen anyway. Steve keeps telling us “oh we went to seen Finn Andrews [etc, insert cool name here] play down the road last night”. Yup, we get it, no bowls…
But also Steve has been busy setting up a whole range of projects to work with us on over the next few months and maybe years. So, we’re hoping this is his official retirement but not his actual retirement.
However we do accept that we won’t have him in the office every day.
When you come to think of it, it’s a weird business going in to an office every day for eight or more hours. We are like wild birds that kind of find their way back into the aviary every day. Why do we do it?
I have put a bit of thought into this, and the only real reason I can think of is, we do it to build teams. By putting the hours in the aviary over the years, we’ve built a team together, called Story Inc.
The team began with me and Steve working together in the glamorous world of corporate videos in the 1990s. We did a few jobs together, me as a writer and Steve as director. Then as now Steve was not a forgettable character. He liked to have fun and to push things a bit.
One day early in 1997 I got a call from Steve, and the funny thing is, it’s one of those things like “where were you when you heard Princess Di had died”, because I do remember exactly where I was – at a friend’s house in Mt Victoria on a beautiful summer’s day. Of course I had no idea this was going to be a momentous turning point in my life and in Steve’s too.
Steve told me on the phone that there was this job that he wanted to put in a proposal for, for an installation in the new Museum of New Zealand which was opening in 1998 (I’m not sure if we even knew it was going to be called Te Papa at this stage). The job was to make an “object theatre” about New Zealand popular culture. He wanted to know if I knew what an object theatre was, because he didn’t. I didn’t either. But we decided not to let that stand in our way. We wondered if maybe it was like in the Wesport Coal Museum at the time when you went into a room and a light shone on a lump of coal. In any case, how hard could it be?
This piece of work became Golden Days, which was a big success and got us other work in the “sector” as a partnership, and then to us coming together (with Dean Cato) to form Story Inc as a company in 1999. Over the next 20 years we have worked all over the world on a huge variety of stories.
In the corporate video world, which I don’t want to knock because it is a perfectly honest living, but it is about trying very hard to make things which are not really all that interesting, interesting. But in this world we are dealing with stories that matter, stories that mean something, stories you want to know. And if the storytelling is to match the stories, you have to up your game, to constantly raise the bar.
So we started to create a team to do this. And here is one trade secret for a good team: Incompatibility. Steve and I are very different people. We would read the same brief and have a meeting about it and I would say: “I’ve got it - it’s white!” and he would say “no no no, it’s definitely black!” And mutually there would be a lot of “no way Steve” and “back off James” and we would go home fuming, convinced each other was an idiot. And quite a lot of the time, a day or a weekend later, I would come back and sheepishly admit, OK. Yes. I kind of see your point…
Steve is an easy person to be different to, because he just is different naturally. I would often have to think hard to find a different way to tell a story but he would just naturally go for the different way. He is by nature a vivid person. Lots of people love him. A few really don’t, it’s true. But people don’t tend to forget him.
So it does feel strange to think of being at the end of this partnership. An ancient Greek philosopher said that everything has two handles and if you can’t pick it up by one of them, try the other. Perhaps I’m just picking this up with the denial handle. So although I accept that we won’t have Steve in the office tomorrow or the next day, contributing mightily to the five-minute quiz, I will still consider him to be my creative partner and spiritually a part of Story Inc, and look forward to keeping on working with Steve, with the only difference being he is technically now outside the aviary.
So it seems appropriate that we have two presents for Steve – a fake one for his retirement and a real one as a tribute from us. He has to guess which is which.
E tōku hoa, he mīharo tō mahi. Nāu I whakangahau I a tatou. Nō reira, kei te mihi, kei te mihi, kei te mihi.
Note: the two presents were an outsize wristwatch spray painted gold, and a modern pounamu carving of a manaia (spiritual guardian).