Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

From film crew to on-set chaplain

After decades behind the camera, chaplaincy studies graduate Kevin Denholm has founded FilmChaplain, an on-location support service designed to address the unique challenges faced by people working in film production.

Movement Online -Diocese of Wellington  |  10 Jul 2024  |

Former Aotearoa New Zealand commercial film director Kevin Denholm is taking up a new career as a film chaplain, where he'll be the quiet listener or source of sage advice for people navigating the strange world of professional filmmaking.

"I know, I've been there," he says, reflecting on the film industry's demanding nature. "The film industry is fantastic but it can also be tough."

Kevin Denholm's film career spans over 30 years, during which he has directed award-winning television commercials for major brands like Air New Zealand, Toyota and Whittakers. And, includes the iconic Mitre 10 "Sandpit" commercial and multiple Air New Zealand safety videos, including one featuring adventurer Bear Grylls.

However, Kevin’s experience extends beyond commercial work. He has created numerous documentaries focusing on humanitarian issues, working with organizations such as World Vision and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. His projects have taken him to some of the world's most challenging environments.

The idea for FilmChaplain was born during the COVID-19 pandemic when Kevin reached out to offer support to members of the film community. "I was overwhelmed with the response," he recalls. "I discovered that the need for support was real and immense. Many people were really struggling with a huge range of personal and professional issues, from stress and depression to drug and alcohol addiction."

Recognizing the gap in support services for film industry professionals, Kevin decided to retrain as a chaplain. He has completed a Master's Degree in Chaplaincy from the University of Otago and is currently working towards a PhD.

FilmChaplain offers a range of services tailored to the film industry's unique needs. "It supports the whole crew," says Kevin. "On set, off set, online and in person. It starts with a chat – and great coffee!"

One of FilmChaplain's key features is its mobile chaplaincy caravan, providing a safe and confidential space for conversations on set. Kevin emphasizes that the service is for "people of all faiths and none," reflecting the diverse nature of film crews.

Kevin’s approach to chaplaincy is informed by Sir Mason Durie's 'Whare Tapa Whā' model of health care. "When one or more of these are out of balance, our well-being is impacted. When all these things are in balance, we flourish," he explains.

The film industry, while exciting and creative, is known for its demanding nature. Kevin notes, "We suffer unrelenting pressures... long hours, time away from home and families, tough physical working conditions and the unspoken understanding that we are only as good as our last (or perhaps our next) job."

FilmChaplain aims to provide a "non-anxious presence" in this high-stress world, offering confidential support and fostering a sense of community on set. Kevin’s unique background as both an industry insider and a trained chaplain positions him well to understand and address the specific stressors of film production.

"We bring an independent, inclusive, and in-depth understanding of the film industry's unique culture and stressors," says Kevin. "This hands-on knowledge of how to 'be' on set provides the foundation stone of our professional, independent, and confidential FilmChaplain service."

As FilmChaplain launches, it represents a new chapter in Kevin’s career and a potential shift in how the film industry approaches crew wellbeing. By bringing chaplaincy services directly to film sets, Kevin hopes to create a more supportive and sustainable work environment for the creative professionals who bring stories to life on screen.

"If you or anyone in your production needs support or someone to talk to, we are here," Kevin says, embodying the compassionate spirit at the heart of FilmChaplain's mission.

You can tune in to John Cowan’s Real Life show to hear Kevin interviewed on Newstalk ZB. Listen to it here and read the NZ Herald article here.