A still from the Mr. Corman TV show. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Mr Corman stands in the middle of a classroom surrounded by children sitting at desks with their hands raised.

The 10-episode first season is written, directed, and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (‘Third Rock from the Sun’, ‘500 Days of Summer’, ‘Inception’). It follows the days and nights of a melancholic teacher in crisis, Josh Corman.

Having decided to film in the suburban Los Angeles (LA) sprawl of the San Fernando Valley, COVID-19 shut down production shortly after filming began.

After talks with New Zealand producer Pamela Harvey-White, the production relocated to Wellington. Armed with a predominantly New Zealand crew, the production worked out of Avalon Studios and locations within the region.

“We shot everywhere from a church and church hall in Upper Hutt to Wellington city. We used the Belmont hills, but a lot of it was shot in Petone. The old Unilever building was the hospital, we used some side streets there leading up to Victoria Street…,” says Pamela.

Petone, in particular, stood in for suburban LA, with episode nine entirely shot in Petone, mainly on Victoria Street.

“‘Mr. Corman’ doubling as LA in Lower Hutt sounds absurd, but it’s flat, it has that whole spatial vastness that you have in LA… it doesn’t have the beige, it’s more lush and green, but the art department was integral in assuring we could accomplish the LA look without it costing an arm and a leg.”

Being such a location-heavy and studio-based show, it was easy for Pamela to sell the Wellington region as compact yet accessible.

“I sold Wellington because I love Wellington. We have the flexibility here to be able to shut things down and do things you might not be able to do in other cities, and they really jumped at the chance.

Filming of the TV show Mr. Corman. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stands in a car park with film crew crouched around him.

On location

The production used a total of 25 New Zealand locations, with 55 shoot days all over the greater Wellington region.

Two locations in particular spring to mind — a house in Naenae and Victoria Street in Petone.

“[Kiwi actress] Lucy Lawless played Cheryl, Juno’s mum in ‘Mr. Corman’ and she just knocked it out of the park. But her house on set was an actual house just down the road from Avalon in Naenae which was an integral part of episode six.”

“We were able to take over the entire house and work with the neighbourhood. We had a driving scene leading up to it and it looked like Iowa which is wild.

“And to have Lucy come down to Wellington and film a cameo kind of role, we are lucky to have so much talent in New Zealand.”

If you’re really looking Pamela says you might find something Kiwi.

“Like in episode two when Josh goes to a breathing seminar in a church hall we used in Upper Hutt, someone’s picked up there’s a little Pippins sticker in the reflection in the window, but only a New Zealander would pick that up.”

A still from the TV show Mr. Corman. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Josh Corman sits on a couch next to Arturo Castro as Victor.

Relocation boosts the local economy

‘Mr. Corman’s’ relocation to Wellington created more than 200 jobs in New Zealand. In fact, 47% of the cast, 88% of the crew, including 16 heads of departments and about 200 vendors, were Kiwis.

Crew from outside of Wellington and New Zealand stayed in houses, apartments, and hotels within the region for the duration of filming.

“Some of our crew stayed in hotels or apartments in the centre of Wellington and they loved being in the heart of the city and found it so accessible,” says Pamela.

“Being on the city end of town getting out to Avalon was so easy, they just jumped on the highway and were out there in 10 minutes, there were never any issues with traffic.”

Wellington’s own Empire of Genius was among the vendors used.

“In the opening of episode seven Juno is wearing her label, she’s a fantastic designer who brought Juno to life — there are a lot of things that are really special in ‘Mr. Corman’, things that wouldn’t have been had it not been filmed in New Zealand.”

The production also tapped into the local screen sector, the likes of Avalon Studios, VFX by Weta Digital, Cause and FX, and Park Road Post Production.

Screen Wellington was key too.

“I’ve had a long-running relationship with Screen Wellington, I knew we were in good hands when we brought ‘Mr. Corman’ here, I knew that we would have accessibility and that we would be able to do what we needed to do to make this show great,” says Pamela.

“A24 hadn’t been to New Zealand, Apple hadn’t been to New Zealand, so they had to have trust in coming this far, during COVID-19, and lockdown.”

“Having the backing of Screen Wellington, and knowing they’re real advocates of me, we had that support to take the next steps - just supporting that faith at the outset was key.”

Behind the scenes of the Mr. Corman TV show. Joseph Gordon-Levitt directs Lucy Lawless in a kitchen surrounded by film crew.

Bringing the show to Wellington a privilege

Being a dual citizen of New Zealand and the United States, Pamela is a huge fan of both Aotearoa and Wellington.

Raised in Houston, Texas by a Kiwi mum, she’d return to her mother’s hometown of Wellington often to visit family.

At age 22 she came here for her OE with no intention to stay but she’s lived in Wellington and worked in the film sector ever since.

“I met a boy, I had some kids, and I’ve been here all my adult life, for 25 years now. I love Wellington so much, there’s a warmth to the people in Wellington that you just don’t get in any other city, it’s home to me.”

It’s also why bringing ‘Mr. Corman’ to Wellington has meant so much to Pamela.

“They were so sad to have it go from LA so it was important to me to bring something special to it in New Zealand.”

“To then have them leave here sad, and say ‘wow this has been an amazing experience’, I am really proud of that as a producer to be able to bring that mana and warmth to the show, that collaboration, and talent."

“I feel very lucky and privileged to have produced this show and bring ‘Mr. Corman’ to life right here in Wellington.”