I'm often told I've got the dream job, and some days it's so good it seems like a dream, so I can't argue. But the job didn't fall into my lap. First, I dreamed up the idea of making a fishing show, then built ITM Fishing and the business from the ground up. Now I'm more literally building my dream, a home by the sea that will give my family the lifestyle we've always dreamed of. And the whole experience, good and bad, has been filmed for a new TV series.
International TV shows
In 2010, I'd been travelling the world making two new TV series' for American and international TV audiences, 'Man Vs Fish with Matt Watson' and 'The Mad Man of the Sea'. This was on top of making 26 episodes a year of The ITM Fishing Show to screen here in New Zealand. Working on the international TV shows was exciting at first, but, to be honest, I got way more satisfaction from making The ITM Fishing Show for Kiwi fishing fans. The hyped-up nature of making primetime TV for big international broadcasters wasn't for me – but they did pay bloody well. At the time, I felt I'd sold my soul making television shows I didn't really believe in, so the least I could do was make sure I spent the money on something meaningful, a chunk of land to stay in our family for generations.
After my roofing career and before my fishing TV career, I worked as a crewman on fishing boats. Whenever I left for sea and rounded the Nine Pin at the entrance to the Bay of Islands, I would look back longingly at what I swore was the best spot in the world to build a home. A little north-facing beach at the end of the peninsula, wrapped in the surrounding hills keeping it sheltered from the prevailing winds. Clear blue water lapped the crescent-shaped beach, with crayfish and big snapper a literal stone's throw away and marlin less than a mile out – it was the perfect spot in every way. I was earning $110 a day as a crewman, and I could do little more than dream about building a house there.
Ten years after first laying eyes on this spectacular building site, we had almost enough money to purchase it, a seven-figure mortgage would make up the difference, and we signed on the dotted line. Buying the property was the biggest commitment my wife and I had made since having our kids, and in many ways buying the land was like finding out you're pregnant - it's exciting, and you can only imagine how perfect it will end up.
And then the contractions started
Well, if buying the land is the joy and anticipation of pregnancy, building is like going into labour! After ten years of expecting, the contractions started in early February 2020 as machinery moved in to clear the site. That was the start of a two-and-a-half-year labour that has been one of my life's most challenging and rewarding experiences.
An inconvenient pause
Just weeks after starting the build, Covid arrived on our shores, and the whole country went into lockdown. With our retaining wall poles hanging in the air without concrete, it was a very nervous six weeks hoping the hillside wouldn't collapse. Then when we did get back to level three with builders back on site, the concrete trucks refused to come to the site. That meant we had to mix 140m2 of concrete by hand in a single concrete mixer. When I say "we had to mix", I mean me and two labourers, mixed and barrowed out the lot…builders these days are far too precious to use a concrete mixer.
But pouring foundation piles wasn't the hardest thing about the covid disruption. The very foundation of my business was suddenly on shaky ground; advertising and sponsorship money was frozen as economists were forecasting a global recession. I had planned to be on-site most days to help build our home, and now I was in damage control to save my business.
Watch Building the Kiwi Dream Saturday nights at 7pm on THREE, catch up on THREE NOW, and for extra content, including the uncensored 'Tradies cut' check out Building the Kiwi Dream on Facebook.
The builders were probably happy I was too occupied to be on-site, but they still had a camera crew to contend with, filming the progress of the build and their everyday antics. At first, the building team were a little guarded with their actions and words on camera, but soon the cameras went unnoticed as the months passed, and the builders and sub-contractors were back to being themselves. Now I'm sure you all have hilarious yarns about something that was said or done on-site; our site was no different, only it was all captured on film.
Some of the antics and interactions were far too much for a sensitive television audience, but they are too good not to share with tradies, so we've done a 'tradies cut', and you can check it all out, along with some other extra scenes on our Facebook page. By following the page, you'll also get the chance to go fishing with me.
Check out Building the Kiwi Dream on Facebook.
Being involved in making 'Building the Kiwi Dream' has been a real conflict for me. I'd always wanted to be hands-on in the build and take a two-year sabbatical from making TV shows. But it was too good a story not to share, and after all, ITM has supported my fishing ventures for almost 20 years, so now I'm building, the least I can do is make a TV show about it.
Building my dream home was to be a personal experience, but it has been laid bare in a building show that is more raw and real than typical building shows. And that wasn't the only internal conflict I faced. As the mishaps and dramas unfolded on-site, as a producer, I was thinking, 'this is great for TV', then seconds later thinking, 'hang on, I have to pay for that!'
As a TV producer, drama on a building site is good; as an owner and project manager, it's bad. And as the build went on, I cared less and less about TV and just wanted to finish the build and for the drama, hold-ups, and catastrophe to end…Well, let's just say it's come out as a highly entertaining TV show.
Building The Kiwi Dream was made possible on-site and offsite by ITM.
by Matt Watson