Fourteen years ago, Jai Waite dove into a wave in Greece and hit a sandbar, becoming paralysed from the chest down with only limited function in his arms and hands. Now, as production editor at Attitude Pictures, he’s won a prestigious Apollo award for his documentary “Jimmy Wants a Job” – and it was edited using his knuckles.
On the end of a phone Waite is a well-balanced, matter-of-fact guy who’s getting on with forging ahead in the creative industry. Yeah – what spinal cord injury?
“I never really felt this career wasn't an option. The only time any doubt crossed my mind was physical limitations of not being able to access a work place and parking – please note that Auckland Council,” he laughs. “I don't think I've ever put limitations on what I can do, but I'm sensible too though, I chose a path that I could do that didn't require too much physical action. I think it’s about setting realistic goals and assessing if it's really achievable for your situation.”
It all started when Waite threw in his case manager job at Work and Income New Zealand to head off on his ill-fated OE in 2000. “Three and a half months into the trip I had my accident and spent a month in an Austrian hospital followed by six months in a rehab hospital back in New Zealand”.
But as robust boys from the Naki do, Waite got on with life and over the next four years he threw himself into sport – wheelchair rugby – and made the 2004 Paralympics team. The team won gold in Athens. Upon his return he received a letter from the Prime Minister Helen Clarke, with a Prime Minister’s athlete scholarship to study a subject of his choice for up to five years.
Waite chose to study a part-time postgrad course in digital media to add to his undergraduate degree in social sciences.
“I had a long interest in visual editing. In high school I watched a lot of sport on TV, and always wondered how they created the visual montages. I thought it was something cool to get into, but I never thought I’d be doing docos. It wasn’t until the opportunity came up that I did.”
In 2007, through his rugby he fortuitously met Robyn Scott-Vincent, chief executive of Attitude Pictures (APL), who was filming a documentary on the All Blacks. He started working just a few hours a week at APL – “I was pretty green at first, and made a lot of mistakes” – and now runs the post-production department for the APL that produces the internationally recognised disability programme Attitude. He is responsible for delivering the 52 episodes per year that screen on TV One on Sunday mornings. Attitude is in its tenth year of production and is funded by NZ On Air.
For Waite, winning the award was “massive”.
“There’s no tick-box on the awards application form to say you have a disability, so it means I’m judged on a piece of work that anyone could have done. There wasn’t even a ramp to get on stage, which they got a little stressed about, but it meant there was no favouritism or pity factor.
“You do experience judgement. People don’t think you can do the job, or they think you’re just a hobbyist, so it was fantastic to be recognised.”
Scott-Vincent says, “This is one of Attitude’s proudest moments. We live and breathe a belief that people with disabilities can do amazing things. Jai’s award is not just a fine moment in his career, he now proudly stands before the entire world production community testifying to the skills we all so value in our company.”
First launched in 2005, the Asia Image Apollo Awards is an initiative aimed at honouring the best in production and post-production across Asia Pacific, with a strong focus on the creative and technical mastery behind the scenes.
‘Jimmy Wants a Job’ tells the story of a young Auckland man, Jimmy Rae brown (son of media commentator Russell Brown), living with Asperger's Syndrome who desperately wants a job.
On the Attitude blog, Waite says of the documentary editing:
"We watched a lot of videos Jimmy had already posted online and we found he use's an editing style that's quite flat, which means he doesn’t move the camera, but compensates with a lot of jump cuts where he moves throughout the frame. We wanted to keep that flat motif up throughout the edit, but needed to do it in a way that would keep a flow going through the full 30 minutes ... It was a case of riding the clutch between his style while staying true to the treatment we use for Attitude, and making it all fit to a 30 minute episode ready for Sunday morning broadcast ... Another aspect, similar to a lot of the work we do, was wanting to be up front about Jimmy's disability and what it means for him in everyday life, while not making it the core focus - we wanted him to be the lead story teller in telling the audience who he is and what his story is."