Nate and Hayes

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Nate and Hayes / Savage Islands
Directed by Ferdinand Fairfax
Produced by Lloyd Phillips
Rob Whitehouse
Written by John Hughes
David Odell
Based on story by David Odell
Music by Trevor Jones
Cinematography Tony Imi
Edited by John Shirley
Phillips-Whitehouse Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
18 November 1983
Running time
96 Minutes
Country United States
New Zealand
Budget NZ$7.5 million[1]
Box office $1.9 million (domestic)

Nate and Hayes, also known as Savage Islands (UK title), is a 1983 swashbuckling adventure film set in the South Pacific in the late 19th century. Directed by Ferdinand Fairfax and filmed on location in Fiji and New Zealand, it starred Tommy Lee Jones, Michael O'Keefe and Jenny Seagrove.

This was one of many early 1980s films designed to capitalize on the popularity of Lucas and Spielberg's hero, Indiana Jones, but Nate and Hayes was a flop at the box office. This contributed to the long held belief in Hollywood that pirate swashbucklers were box office poison, a belief not laid to rest until the 2003 release of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Sir Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop said Savage Islands kick-started the New Zealand filmmaking boom of the 1980s.[2]


The film tells the story of missionary Nathaniel "Nate" Williamson, taken to an island mission with his fiancee Sophie. Their ship, the Rona, is captained by the roguish William "Bully" Hayes, who also takes a liking to Sophie. When Sophie is kidnapped by slave trader Ben Pease, "Nate" teams with Hayes in order to find her.

The plot is essentially a set-up for a rousing series of Indiana Jones style action set pieces, including a sequence on a suspension bridge which greatly resembles the climax of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, though notably Nate and Hayes was released a year earlier.



The story was based on the adventures of real life blackbirders Bully Hayes and Ben Pease. The character of Hayes was much softened in the film and Pease turned into a villain. The script was rewritten by John Hughes.[3]

The director was Ferdinand Fairfax, an Englishman most recently notable for his direction of the television series, Churchill — The Wilderness Years. Fairfax described the film as a tongue-in-cheek adventure in the style of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. "I'm not making Carry on Pirates or anything like that, but I think it will be a very funny film," he said.[1]

The film was shot in Fiji, Rotorua and Urupukapuka Island. At Urupukapuka the producers built a set reconstructing the Port of Saomoa.

The film was entirely financed with New Zealand money but achieved distribution in the US. Producer Phillips raised money in part on the back of the success of his short film, Dollar Bottom.[1]


The film has a small but very loyal fanbase which seems to have encouraged the release of the film on Region 1 and Region 2 DVD, in June and November 2006 respectively.


Nate and Hayes inspired Lawrence Watt-Evans to write the 1992 novella "The Final Folly of Captain Dancy".[4]


1984 VHS Tagline: He's a scoundrel... A hero... A lover of danger and the last of the adventurers... This is the story of Bully Hayes!

2006 DVD Tagline: Partners in Piracy. Rivals in Romance. Allies in Adventure.

Bully Hayes[edit]

  • Tommy Lee Jones' character was based on a real-life pirate. Bully Hayes was active in the South Pacific during the mid 19th century, until his murder in 1877.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Buccaneer comedy could put NZ on world movie map". The Canberra Times. 57, (17,238). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 8 December 1982. p. 31. Retrieved 3 March 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  2. ^ "Oscar-winning Kiwi producer dies". 3 News NZ. January 28, 2013. 
  3. ^ FILM CLIPS: 'MR. MOM' AUTHOR DEFIES TINSEL TYPEWRITER IMAGE FILM CLIPS London, Michael. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 Nov 1983: g1.
  4. ^ [ The Final Folly of Captain Dancy: How I Came to Write "The Final Folly of Captain Dancy" at; by Lawrence Watt-Evans; published December 2008; retrieved June 4, 2013