When the liquidation of Evan Price’s company was completed the strange story brought together everyone from a former city mayor, a well-known broadcaster and the family of Taika Waititi. The first of a three-part series by Jonathan Milne.

JANUARY 2022 UPDATE: The liquidation of Evan Price and Leanne Townson’s company Latitude Dynamix Holdings continues – after Newsroom revealed the company’s collapse, more creditors have come forward. The unpaid debts are $600,000 and rising. Liquidator Simon Dalton reports that he has now written to creditors inviting them to fund potential recovery action; if that is unsuccessful then the file will be referred to the appropriate authorities.


IT’S PERHAPS the most famous dairy in the world. The white weatherboard Waihau Bay store was the centre of Taika Waititi’s movie Boy, the highest-grossing film ever set in New Zealand. Owners Vicki Callaghan and John Waititi say they still have people trying to do Dukes of Hazzard leaps into their cars outside, like in the movie.

The store may be well-loved, but the owners wanted to share that glow with the rest of the community, so when Tauranga businessman Evan Price approached them with a proposal to build Waihau Bay its own streaming TV network, they were enthusiastic. They would give one channel to each local retail and tourism business, one to the local police, one to the coastguard… 

Callaghan and John Waititi, who is the cousin of the film director, invested $5,175 with Price’s company Latitude Dynamix. They never saw the money again.

* Part 1: Big names and locations caught up in film company collapse
* Part 2: Hollywood producer’s legal warning to failed businessman
* Part 3: Prison advocate blows whistle on blowhard America’s Cup plan
* Do you know more? Email pro@newsroom.co.nz

“We live in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand that we have the privilege to call home,” John Waititi says. “We do the best we can to offer our people great service above all else, but our coffee and food is pretty bloody top notch.

“As for Evan Price and Latitude Dynamix, yeah it hurts, I also feel a little embarrassed, but he made it sound so good and I thought it was gonna bring great opportunities to our people.”

Others begrudgingly give Price the benefit of the doubt; some say he genuinely believed in his big projects. 

“Basically we had to make a decision, which was liquidation. I feel real bad for staff and everybody who put a lot of effort into it.”
– Evan Price, Latitude Dynamix

And there were many of them. A big budget Warner Bros animated movie production in the Bay of Plenty, using backdrops like Waihau Bay. A 220-hectare Pokémon family fun park. A winter golf tournament at Wairakei. A data hub to break the telcos’ retail headlock on tech exporters. A wind tree power-plant at Auckland’s America’s Cup village. And he really did have a film studio under construction in an industrial estate in Tauranga – whether there was ever any money to complete it is another question.

Others believed in him too. Price was invited to speak to the local Rotary in July 2019. His speech was titled “Twenty years in Silicon Valley and new data hub in Tauranga”.

He leveraged tenuous contacts with well-known figures in media, business, politics, to establish new contacts and entice new investors.

As his companies are liquidated, Evan Price says he and his partner Leanne Townson are now bunking with friends in Nelson. Photo: Supplied

This year, the whole precarious house of cards came toppling down. And last week, liquidator Simon Dalton lodged an official notice that Latitude Dynamix NZ Ltd would be removed from the Companies register. Its parent company, Latitude Dynamix Holdings Ltd owned by Evan Gary Martin Price and his partner Leanne Margaret Townson, is also in liquidation – that is where all the debt is.

Dalton tells Newsroom there are debts worth $564,000 lodged against the company. Companies Office filings say the biggest creditor, a local kiwifruit coolstore owner, had lent Latitude $275,000. 

But Dalton says there are other smaller creditors like the Waihau Bay store and Tauranga’s Classic Flyers who haven’t lodged claims, knowing there is little prospect of ever seeing their money.

The golf between dreams and reality 

Sports broadcaster and talkback host Peter Williams reckons it was back in about 2015, when he was in the UK, that Evan Price first approached him. “Voice messages saying, this is going to be the biggest thing that’s hit New Zealand. I said, ‘oh yeah?’.”

When Williams got back to New Zealand, they met up for the odd lunch, or drinks. Williams can’t remember who paid for lunch; he’s just relieved he didn’t invest in any of Price’s projects. “I met him a few times, had the odd drink with him. He was just a mystery man. He claimed to have worked in Silicon Valley, and had all sorts of great ideas, but he was talking a language I just could not understand.

“The best I could come up with was that it was a sort of high speed broadband into Tauranga, and as a consequence he could make Tauranga into some massive international production centre for various TV programmes and movies, and he could sell the stuff all around the world from there.

“I don’t know whether he was a conman or a Walter Mitty. But he was exceedingly boring and I didn’t really know what to make of him or what the hell he was trying to sell.”
– Peter Williams, broadcaster

“Evan was saying, we need you to front this programme, and front that programme, a daily show out of our Tauranga studios. He seemed to think TV programmes could be just rustled up out of thin air.”

Price talked about the studios he was building down Chadwick Rd, near the Tauranga racecourse, and encouraged Williams to go down and take a look – so he did. “And there was nothing there, so I don’t know if he hadn’t built anything or what the story was.”

Williams recalls how one person would lead to another. He remembers Price telling him about the involvement of a big Hollywood producer, and about Taika Waititi’s cousin. In turn, others would be persuaded when Price dropped the name of the well-known sportscaster and news anchor.

Sportscaster Peter Williams was impressed when Evan Price proposed to sponsor a pro-am at The Mount golf club, where he plays, but quickly discovered Price knew little about golf. Photo: Supplied

But Price put his foot in it when he told Williams he had an interest in golf, and planned to run live coverage of a New Zealand tournament at Wairakei – in the middle of winter. “You never want to run a golf tournament at Wairakei in June or July, because it’s too bloody cold and nobody would want to play!”

He also proposed to sponsor a golf pro-am tournament at the Mount Maunganui golf club, where Williams plays, but nothing came of it. “He claimed to know a bit about golf, but you started talking to him about golf and it became pretty obvious that he didn’t know anything.”

Williams went to lunch at Classic Flyers Aviation Museum, by the airport, with Price and the museum’s chief executive, Andrew Gormlie, to discuss making a TV programme about the Flyers. “There was all sorts of money that was going to be paid to me,” he laughs.

“I don’t know whether he was a conman or a Walter Mitty. But he was exceedingly boring and I didn’t really know what to make of him or what the hell he was trying to sell. I indulged him probably five or six times, but I was never interested in putting any money towards him, that’s for sure.”

Still flying but losing altitude

Andrew Gormlie is relieved. He’s only out of pocket about $3000, he says.

Evan Price had proposed a streaming TV channel about Classic Flyers, but it never got so far as cold, hard cash. The main cost to Classic Flyers was hospitality for Price’s meetings at their restaurant and function centre, or for a flight in a classic plane.

That wasn’t the issue, he says. “It was using our name as a springboard. We’re a local community organisation, I’ve been around a long long time, so your credibility when someone rubs shoulders with you is important. So Evan came along with a few good ideas and I thought, well, if you’re for real this is going to be good.”

When he had lunch with Price and Peter Williams, he thought there must be something to the TV plan if Williams was “endorsing” it – but in hindsight, Gormlie realises Williams was just trying to understand it as well.

Evan Price was taken up for a flight in one of Classic Flyers’ biplanes, an ex-US Navy Boeing Stearman Model 75. Photo: Classic Flyers

Gormlie says he’s often happy to put a little money towards an idea, to show he’s got skin in the game. But this didn’t come to any real investment; most of the $3000 was flying scenic flights and putting on food and hospitality they never got paid for. “Our exposure was very minor compared to some of the good people who’ve got banged around by him.”

He’s seen one or two people like Price. “And it’s insidious. They sidle up to your credibility, then they start vampiring and put their hooks in and using your name, and that creates the catalyst for others to have the confidence to invest.”

“I actually think he genuinely believes he’s going to achieve these projects. I think his problem is, he can’t knit together his fluid ideas back to what I always call operational reality.”

Disappearing from the radar

When Tenby Powell was Mayor of Tauranga, he got to know Gormlie and the two have stayed in touch. They’re friends. And their recollections of Evan Price are very similar.

Powell liked some of Price’s ideas about turning Tauranga into a screen production hub, to the point that he visited the building Price had leased in Greerton, and sought the advice of those with experience in creating a similar hub in west Auckland.

“It’s an infrastructure that should be here, there’s no doubt,” Powell says. “Without boring you with the geography and the topography, it is is absolutely perfectly suited for the Bay of Plenty for a studio to be here. All New Zealand’s studios – Henderson, Miramar and others – are absolutely at capacity. And we’re losing hundreds of millions a year as a consequence.

“But as you know, the council I had was visionless. And when I raised a film industry, they almost laughed.”

Tenby Powell, former mayor of Tauranga, says he was keen to support the film industry but the city never gave a cent to Latitude Dynamix. Photo: Supplied

Powell was impressed at the facilities in Greerton, even though they never got as far as being kitted with film and computing equipment. He says the studio was configured to accommodate about 300 people. “You should see the cabling in it, you could have the CIA working in there as a regional office. It was seriously wired up for major comms.

“But I certainly wasn’t championing him. We didn’t give him any money. 

“What I was championing – and still would be – was him starting a film studio here in the western Bay of Plenty. And I talked to my friend Sir Bob Harvey at length about that, we got together with a number of people and we were supportive of anyone who was going to bring that capability. And Evan was one of about four or five. Evan had certainly hired some good facilities out at Greerton – I’m sure you’re aware of that. But then he just disappeared off the radar.”

Powell says Price was one of many people to approach him with a civic-minded idea, but wanting money to do it.

“He was pretty dogged, that’s for sure, but we were always suspicious. I did research on his background and his history in Australia came up. And a lot of it was just too good to be true – the Pokémon Go thing, that’s a huge thing, and we couldn’t work out if he’d been awarded it, as he said he had been, how that had come to be.”

Australia, Silicon Valley, Hollywood – and here

Evan Price believes in his ideas. They really could have, would have, worked, he says, it it weren’t for Covid-19 and the border closures. “If we could have got our clients into the country, everything would have gone ahead. I still believe that.”

He had the studio ready and waiting to be fitted out with all the technology; he was just waiting for the Hollywood producer and her team to arrive in the country to give their sign-off. He approached the Ministry of Health. “We just couldn’t get MIQ beds for them,” he says. “I understand why Amazon pulled out, I really do, because New Zealand’s making it very hard to do business. In the UK and America, once you’ve got a vaccination, you can jump on a plane and travel. 

“Basically we had to make a decision, which was liquidation. I feel real bad for staff and everybody who put a lot of effort into it.”

“Because I’ve been in liquidation, there’s going to be people who don’t like me, okay? But I would love to own the story and just get the truth out there and say yeah, I hold responsibility, I do.”
– Evan Price

Price admits his three employees never got paid, though one worked for him for a year. “That’s right. We struggled. We really struggled. Once we started finding it harder and harder, and finding we weren’t going to get these people in [through MIQ] then even our own employees – and I don’t blame ’em – were saying, is this really going to happen?

“And I was starting to think the same thing as well.”

He had pitched streaming TV services, like the ones he proposed to Waihau Bay store and Classic Flyers, to a lot of potential clients. Latitude Dynamic would have provided the platform and the screen production services, but it would have been up to the clients to market their channels to an audience.

The studios in Greerton were all-but-completed, a big one upstairs and two smaller ones downstairs, he says. “It was ready for the fit-out of a lot of technology before it opened up, and designed to carry echoes for 11 seconds before declining.”

Tenby Powell had heard him out enthusiastically, but Tauranga business leaders weren’t responsive to his ideas. “What they used against me was my history in Australia, which was when I was very young. I got in a bit of financial trouble over there in Australia,” he says. “It made it really, really hard.

“I was very young. I bought a company and the books weren’t what they were meant to be. So I carried the can for that. I’m just being upfront.”

And the winter golf tournament? “It was a mini-tournament, it was in winter, and it was just a promo,” he says. “It wasn’t a major or anything like that. We planning on putting on a boutique concert at the golf course. The game of golf was just going to be, depending on the weather, nine holes or 18 holes. If it was raining, we’d have gone straight to the boutique concert. We didn’t even choose an artist for the concert in the end. It didn’t go ahead.”

Price says he and Townson are now bunking for a few weeks at a friend’s place in Nelson. They have no house, an old Mazda CX-7, and $150 in the bank account – but he insists he’ll pay back whatever debts he can. He’s heading back to Auckland next month, he says, and he’ll embark on consulting work. “Basically Warner Bros said to me, they still want me consulting for them … And I’m now consulting for Bugboard and Ova, which are [an] overseas company, building channels for people.

“Because I’ve been in liquidation, there’s going to be people who don’t like me, okay? But I would love to own the story and just get the truth out there and say yeah, I hold responsibility, I do. But this is what happened.”

‘Hey Aunty, can I have an ice block?’

It was about six years ago that Vicki Callaghan returned home to Waihau Bay and Te Whānau-ā-Apanui to look after her dad. She met John Waititi. They fell in love, she stayed, and they took over the store. They’ve extended it from the small dairy featured in the movie, so it now has a cafe, fish’n’chips, bakery and more. It has a deck on it now.

There’s a favourite line in the movie, when Boy asks Aunty Gracey at the store: “Hey Aunty, can I have an ice block please?”

“No,” says Aunty Gracey, “get a job!”

Callaghan gets the ice block line all the time, so much so that they’ve now drawn up a sign: “No!” But since she and Waititi took over, they’ve focused on supporting the community and creating jobs – and that’s why Evan Price’s proposal was so attractive.

As Boy’s father Alamein, Taika Waititi does his best Dukes of Hazzard jump into his car outside Waihau Bay store. Supplied: Whenua Films / Unison Films

Once Price set the network up, Callaghan recalls sadly, he was supposed to on-sell it, and it would end up online. Price was going to advertise the Waihau Bay TV network to all his connections, she says, and put it out there in the tourism market.

“The way he sold it to us, it was more about helping other local businesses out. The honey-makers, the orchards, the kiwifruit and avocado growers, even giving the fire brigade and coastguard a channel, which we were going to do free to advertise safety on the water. That’s how we envisaged it.”

It was when she and Waititi asked for their money back, that another creditor contacted them. Evan Price had no money, they learned. He was going into liquidation.

“The more I’m talking to you about it, the more I’m realising how bloody stupid that all sounds. I can’t believe we got sucked into it.”

* Part 1: Big names and locations caught up in film company collapse
* Part 2: Hollywood producer’s legal warning to failed businessman
* Part 3: Prison advocate blows whistle on blowhard America’s Cup plan
* Do you know more? Email pro@newsroom.co.nz

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Tauranga Chamber of Commerce declined Evan Price support. In fact, his unsuccessful funding bid was to another local agency.

Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne covers business, politics and the economy.

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