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Palmerston North film-maker Arlo Macmillan finishes passion project The Tripods

The villains from the second season of Arlo Macmillan’s The Tripods recreate the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover at Massey University. They are (from left) Kaea Rakatairi-Paul, Liam Craw, Aiden Wilson and Haleigh Hook. Photo / Sonya Holm

From braces to beard, the making of the series The Tripods has been a huge part of Palmerston North film-maker Arlo Macmillan’s teenage years.

But with generous contributors from friends, family and industry professionals, he had finished the nearly eight-year project.

Macmillan, 20, is in his third year of a Bachelor of Screen Arts at Massey University in Wellington.

In December 2022, Macmillan premiered episodes three and four from season two of the sci-fi dystopian series at the Globe Theatre. Inspired by the BBC TV series The Tripods from the 1980s, Macmillan wrote and filmed a story of teenagers trying to survive in an apocalyptic world. He was also one of the lead actors, along with Kaleb Morris and Bexi Hogan.

At the time of the premiere, Macmillan had two episodes of season two plus a three-minute epilogue to finish.

He said a large focus of last year was getting models of the tripods (three-legged walking machines) and a Cook Strait ferry made.

While the acting component of the passion project had always been a team effort, the making and editing of it become more collaborative as the years went by. Macmillan has been able to tap into industry contacts he has made during his study.

Initially, Macmillan was exceedingly conscious of continuity. In the first series, he wore braces and then had white rubber bands added. Now he sports a beard.

“I was like ,’Oh no, the continuity, it’s going to be ruined, my braces are going to look different’, but my parents were like, ‘It’s fine, don’t worry about it’.”

Then the braces were removed, and actors’ voices dropped and hairstyles changed.

“I went in with the intention that it was going to be really perfect, that it was going to (continually have) the same consistency. But over the past few weeks I have kind of realised it’s a show about development and change, and it’s been a whole learning experience.”

Arlo Macmillan (left), Bexi Hogan and Kaleb Morris on location for The Tripods at the Cameron Blockhouse near Whanganui in 2019. Photo / Sonya Holm
Arlo Macmillan (left), Bexi Hogan and Kaleb Morris on location for The Tripods at the Cameron Blockhouse near Whanganui in 2019. Photo / Sonya Holm

Macmillan is grateful to everyone who made him want to keep going. With study and other commitments, there was only so much time he could dedicate to the series.

“The thing with doing a nearly eight-year project is your drive to finish and complete it is stagnating. It’s not always continuously like, ‘I want to do this’. It’s like, ‘Do I have to do this?’ ‘I don’t want to do this.’ ‘Why am I doing this?’

The two completed seasons show what he is capable of.

“The whole show is an amalgamation of years of different parts of my work and different skill levels.”

Props, models and The Tripods' script. Photo / Arlo Macmillan
Props, models and The Tripods’ script. Photo / Arlo Macmillan

The first shoot was in December 2016 and the last in February 2020. All up, there were 128 shooting days at 59 locations. More than 30 teenagers acted in the series.

“I think it’s rare to have so many people as committed and on board with a project like this as we did,” he said.

Countless pizzas were consumed in the making of the four-hour-long show.

Jim Baker, one of the actors from the original The Tripods, narrated the epilogue. He is active in The Tripods’ online fan community and Macmillan got in touch with him.

During the project, Macmillan learned to be a better collaborator. In the early days, actors would suggest something and he would say, “No, it’s my thing.”

Collaboration is so important in the film industry. “It can shape (a film) into a better thing if you are bouncing ideas off other people.”

Macmillan was nominated in the 2023 New Zealand Youth Film Festival’s Best Direction category for his film The Empathiser.

For university this year, he is working on a film about a 1950s summer camp that descends into a Lord of the Flies-type society over hundreds of years.

Actor Kaleb Morris (left) and film-maker Arlo Macmillan celebrate the end of their series The Tripods. Photo / Sonya Holm
Actor Kaleb Morris (left) and film-maker Arlo Macmillan celebrate the end of their series The Tripods. Photo / Sonya Holm

The Tripods can be watched on the Arlo Who YouTube channel.

Judith Lacy has been the editor of the Manawatū Guardian since December 2020. She graduated from journalism school in 2001 and this is her second role editing a community paper.

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