GUEST BLOG: Bryan Bruce – Commissioning Supper


People sometimes ask me why I don’t make a documentary about this or that important topic and I often have to reply that while my heart might be willing, I have to first convince a broadcaster that I have a good idea and then, say, NZ On Air to fund my project ahead of other worthwhile projects they are considering.

It’s called Commissioning – the process whereby the people with money decide whether or not to support cash strapped creatives who are hoping to turn their vision into a reality.

I recently sat in a room with 5 people ,all on good salaries, to pitch them an idea for a programme I wanted to make.

A pitch that had involved a lot of work which I had done for free.

It did not go well and as I drove home from that somewhat frustrating meeting I comforted myself with the thought that mine was a problem that stretches back hundreds of which, if you DO manage to get a commission , the people with the money will more often that not try to tell the people with talent what to do.

So this Easter Monday I invite you to imagine such a 15th Century conversation

Location : The refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy
Date: Easter 1495

Leonardo Da Vinci is in front of a white wall and looking nervous. He has roll of drawings under his arm.

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Ludovico Sforza – The Duke of Milan – enters.

Duke: Ah! Leonardo. Buongiorno!

Leonardo: Buongiorno Your Grace!

Duke: So what have you got to show me today?

Leonardo: A sketch for a painting for this wall your Excellency! (points to it and rolls out his sketch on a table)… I call it “The Last Supper”.

Duke: Ah ha! The Last Supper of our Lord before his arrest and crucifixion?

Leonardo: Exactly your Eminence.

Duke: Intriguing ….( pause)…. And what is our Lord eating? I can’t quite see.

Leonardo: I thought bread and wine with main dish of lamb Excellency.

Duke: Mmm …(strokes his chin)… I don’t think our Lord would have ordered lamb for his last meal…I think ..maybe some nice poached fish.

Leonardo: (writing) Poached… fish.. no problem.

Duke : …and maybe some grilled eels garnished with orange slices…I like grilled eel very much.

Leonardo: (writing some more) .. Si!..with orange slices..OK.

Duke’s wife enters.

Duke: Ah Beatrice ! Come and see what Leonardo is proposing . A mural of The Last Supper.

Duchess: Buongiorno Leonardo.

Leonardo : ( bows) Buongiorno your Highness.

Duchess: Let me see…. Ah ..very interesting …but…what is this?…I see our Lord has bare feet?

Leonardo : Si!

Duchess: (Shakes head disapprovingly ) I don’t think our Lord would have had bare feet.

Leonardo: No?

Duchess: I think our Lord would have worn sandals.

Leonardo: Sandals?

Duchess: Si! The pretty ones with the little thong that goes between your toes… what do you call them..?..Jandals!

Leonardo : ( rolls his eyes as he writes ) Si majesty. Jandals. No problem..

(Long pause as the Duke stares at the wall )

Duke: So ….Leonardo many Disciples are you intending at this Last Supper ?

Leonardo: Twelve Excellency.

Duke: Mmmm ( strokes his chin again)… You know Leonardo the war in the North is not going so well. Money is tight….what do you say to 6 Disciples?

Leonardo: (Stops writing and looks astounded at the Duke ) 6?? … but we know there were twelve your Majesty!

Duke: Mmmmm….‘Tell you what Leonardo .. 12 disciples OK ..but you have to paint them for half price.

Leonardo: (Sighs as he writes another note) Si…half price Disciples)

Duke: (Smiles) Good. That’s settled !

Duke and Duchess turn to leave . As they go the Duchess turns and calls to Leonardo.

Duchess: And Leonardo!

Leonardo: Si you Majesty?

Duchess: Our Lord’s hair….

Leonardo: Si?..

Duchess: (pause) Nice short haircut and no beard.. OK?


Bryan Bruce is one of New Zealand’s most important and respected documentary makers. 


  1. While I don’t always agree that those with talent have the correct ideas my experience has been that they are more reliable than people with wealth & versions of what you have written happen far too often. Thanks for something to cheer up the morning.

  2. Yep…if one has to compromise their story to accomodate another’s story then it isnt their story any more.

    Funders for screen make a big deal out of “knowing who your audience is” but the only audience is really the 2 people with discretionary powers to say, “Nah…we don’t want to see that so neither do the masses”

    Kowtowing is especially prevalent in Pasifikan stories where we have to practically format our stories to ‘the 3 act structure’ replete with inciting incident after the first 10 pages, cos that’s all they’ll read.

    And then there’s the cultural appropriateness of only writing from one’s ‘lived experience.’ So one can’t possibly write about Pasifikan, Non-Binary or minorities without consultation to provide a more authentic perspective.

    The easiest work around is to set your fictional story in an alternate universe that’s exactly like ours minus the snowflakes and arrogant elitists and cultural purists.

  3. I ‘d have thought that they would have been seated around the table – some in front as well as some at the back, alongside Jesus. The whole thing looks rather staged as Da Vinci has it at present. As if they were lined up to have their photograph taken.

    • Oh please don’t get bored and blase mikesh. We need to keep on as though it is important as there are plenty of idle cynics around who are doing all right and content to let the world flow by. Some earnest naive keen types may keep humanity with its nose above the tide of……?

  4. You’re too sensitive and imaginative Bryan. I bet you have never been able to eat whitebait with all those little eyes looking at you.

  5. “…the people with the money will more often that not try to tell the people with talent what to do.”
    Or they will fucking steal one’s work as was my case. The most important document to accompany a pitch is an NDA until the money’s in escrow.


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