Simon Pilbeam — owner of local gardening business Green Landscapes — recently got a “foot in the door” of the movie industry but is keeping his hands dirty and both feet firmly planted on the ground.

For the one-time financial consultant who back home in South Africa wore a suit and tie to the office, it’s been a major shift in lifestyle.

He started working for a landscaping company in Sydney several years ago but, after moving here soon after, qualified formally through the NZ Horticulture Industry Training Institute.

Simon enjoys the outdoor lifestyle and connection to nature, he says. “I love working with clients and being creative in conceptualising and installing gardens.”

The 32-year-old won his first role as a greensman a few months ago, thanks to local friend and fellow landscaper Murray Heartley who’s become a bit of a pro at working on movie sets over the past decade.

For all the prestige of helping create movie sets, says Simon, the work is very closely related to what landscapers do — only with a different outcome. “Landscaping involves designing and building gardens which will be around for a long time, whereas in film they’re installed for a short period and then deconstructed.”

Simon found his two-month stint a “real eye-opener”. Despite the fleeting nature of movie work, he found the experience inspiring and reckons he’d be keen to do further projects locally and overseas, as and when they come up.

This film project in Auckland took him out Henderson way where Kiwi company Corn Cob Productions have taken over the converted cool stores — New Zealand’s largest film studio complex — to film ‘Emperor’, a US political drama set in post-World War ll Japan and starring Matthew Fox (‘Lost’) and Tommy Lee Jones (‘The Fugitive’).

The studios have been home to films and TV shows such as ‘Hercules’ and ‘Xena’, ‘Whale Rider’, ‘In My Father’s Den’, as well as to countless television commercials.

One scene Simon was involved in, however, was shot closer to home — on location at Hamilton Gardens’ Japanese garden off Cobham Drive.

Though ‘Emperor’ was a comparatively low-budget movie Simon was amazed at how “literally hundreds of people” worked together on the production.

“It was very exciting to have the opportunity to learn about a new industry and get involved with some very creative individuals.” Simon told the Chronicle.

The production company has since headed to Japan to complete the project, says Simon. Not that he’s expecting to see the finished product any time soon, as the ‘Mr Pip’ movie filmed in Auckland before it, by the same company, has still not been released.

For now though, Simon’s optimistic and excited about the future.

He’s back into his landscaping projects in the Waikato with “a different perspective and a far greater appreciation for Raglan”.

Edith Symes