From meat works to making waves in Hollywood

Invercargill born and bred director Gerard Johnstone at the premiere of his film M3GAN in...
Invercargill born and bred director Gerard Johnstone at the premiere of his film M3GAN in Hollywood last month. Photo: The Hollywood Reporter
An Invercargill born and bred movie director has gone from working in a meat works to conquering Hollywood.

Gerard Johnstone has made international headlines with his most recent film, M3GAN, which has become a box office hit.

The Universal Pictures film was released in the United States earlier this month and grossed $US30.2 million ($NZ47.3 million) in its opening week, nearly triple the amount of its $US12 million budget.

On the international stage, Johnstone’s film has raked in $US14.8 million, raising its revenue to about $US45 million.

The film opened in New Zealand this week.

The newly released sci-fi horror film follows roboticist Gemma, whose dream has always been to create an artificial intelligence robot M3GAN which could become a child’s greatest companion.

"[M3GAN] is a fun character and the film reviews have been good and kind, and that is generating a lot of buzz," Johnstone said from Auckland yesterday.

As a proud Southlander, Johnstone dabbled in watching films as a youngster.

He never owned a camera growing up but always enjoyed kung fu movies.

"Growing up in Invercargill if you weren’t out playing rugby you were probably at home watching TV and avoiding the weather — that was definitely me," he said.

Poster for hit film M3GAN.
Poster for hit film M3GAN.
His former English teacher at Verdon College, Sue Crawford, remembered Johnstone as being a "creative" pupil.

"There was a film-making module for one of the English classes which I recall him and a friend made a mini clip for — and they did really well.

"As a 16-year-old he was extremely focused and serious about film-making," Mrs Crawford said.

Johnstone never thought a career in film-making was on the cards for him and had a wide range of work experience.

He had an eight-month stint at a meat works in Australia prior to starting his course at the Australian Stunt Academy in 1998, and also made ovens in Christchurch.

"Those things kind of kicked things into gear for me because I’m so big on feeling like you never have to work a day in your job," Johnstone said.

"So I got into South Seas Film School Campus in Auckland and got into writing, and then fell in love with film in general."

He is now working on a film about Invercargill champion powerlifter Sonia Manaena, who won a gold medal in the open-class heavyweight division at the Powerlifting World Cup at the age of 52.

Johnstone made his film debut in 2014 with his comedy and horror Housebound.

The film drew the interest of Sir Peter Jackson, Saw director James Wan and producer Jason Blum, who founded Blumhouse Productions.

Other projects Johnstone has directed include comedy television series The Jacquie Brown Diaries and he has twice won the 48-hour film competition with A Fairly Good Tale and Special Crimes Unit.