Behind the Scenes with TaPiwa Soropa

Published on 23 January 2024

Susie Kleis LinkedIn Project Manager at Wētā FX

TaPiwa knew he wanted to work in the film and television industry since he was a kid. And after a stint as an extra on a TV show based in Auckland, he knew he had found his tribe.

Can you tell us about your background?

I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe but spent most my youth in Auckland. I went to Auckland Grammar School where I discovered graphic novels. Coming from Africa, I had only seen remnants of comic books. Seeing new, current issues of comic books in the school library blew my 16-year-old mind and I was hooked. In my case, talking about superheroes and mythology was a social lubricant as I navigated living and adapting into a completely different part of the world.

I studied Geology and Biology for a couple years at Massey Univesity. Over the summer holidays, I saw an advert for a TV show that was looking for extras in Auckland. Fast forward and I am on a film set, in full costume, name on a callsheet, rehearsing my lines right to perform a few scenes with talented New Zealand actors. That was when I knew that somehow, somewhere down the line, I HAD to map out a way to work in film/TV. In any capacity – I had found my tribe.

Why did you join Wētā FX?

When the phone stopped ringing after my first show, I needed to get a “real” job, so I took up a trade and I worked as a HVAC/Refrigeration Technician. For over a decade, I worked part-time as an actor, whilst also working full-time in variety of professional roles including recruitment, sales, customer service, logistics, and contract management.

I wanted to follow my actual passion, and when I got the call to interview for Wētā FX, I knew that for the first time in my career, I would finally have a shot at making my passion in film and television marry my ambition to work full-time in the film industry and create the ultimate job that was just….perfect. The fact that I had an opportunity to work for the company that created the 'Avatar' films, the 'Lord of the Rings' triliogy, and THAT third act in Ironman 3, was incredible.

Can you summarise your role in one sentence?

My role as a Contracts Manager is to work directly with the world class, high level, amazingly talented VFX artists on their contracts. It’s sort of like being a sports agent for world class athletes. But in my case, every artist I work with is a Lebron James in their own right. I am the conduit between the artists and the organisation as it pertains to getting them a solid contract for their next tenure and managing those key relationships.

What is your favourite part about your role?

The uniqueness of it is something I truly cherish. My role is very specific. I love how niche it is and a lifetime of jobs and skills I picked up, has culminated into this role. So truly, my personal love of films and television and my drive to succeed in a corporate world have collided to make this very exact, and challenging role. That plus the perks of having a true inside look and early access to what is happening in our industry with a VFX context is pretty fly.

What are your favourite Wētā shows?

Avengers: Infinity War, All the Planet of the Apes movies, Ironman 3, The Green Knight and Avatar.

What advice would you give to young people starting out in VFX?

I would recommend getting as much tangible, real world experience as you can as soon as you can. Whether it be interning for a couple of summers, or shadowing an industry professional in your chosen field, I strongly believe that getting exposed to the “real world” version of your chosen career path gives you a sense of what to expect before committing to a 3 year degree that comes with huge debts is something I truly swear by.

What are your favourite things to do outside of work?

As of late, I am enjoying upskilling and learning more about fitness and being a Stunt Performer and Motion Capture performance.

What do you love most about living Wellington?

I love how absolutely different is it to Auckland!! The Wellingtonians in particular have been real pillars of kindness, friendliness and inspiration. The weather has really won me over, and I love the proximity of everything geographically as well.

-Thanks TaPiwa!