Mark Neilson: Acting Out Campus Security

Mark Neilson: Acting Out Campus Security

Actor and campus watchman Mark Neilson was told by Otago Uni “don’t come back” when he was a student here in the 90s. Yet, as time moved on, Mark has returned a couple of times. Firstly, through OUSA’s Social Activities department in the early 2000s, and again in 2018 as a campus watchman to a campus he says has “changed, yet hasn’t changed at the same time”.

You might know Mark best as the soothing and assured voice of the popular Campus Watch Facebook videos. If you haven’t seen them, go check them out immediately. He says he developed this enchanting voice while working in radio and on TV, but it sounds natural, easy going yet authoritative - his vibe is like Santa Claus, but half the age and size.

Mark first came to Otago Uni in the 90s and began his Bachelor of Arts. During this time Mark suggests he may have had “too much fun”. He left Otago in his third year and began a course at Aoraki Polytechnic studying radio and film production. From there Mark began a successful on again/off again career as an actor.

Mark has nine listed roles on IMDB, appearing in films such as Scarfies alongside Taika Waititi and recently Black Christmas (as a security guard) alongside Cary Elwes. Mark has had a long career as a puppeteer and voice actor for the TV production company Zoomoo, and as a radio presenter and copywriter for various radio stations.

From 2000 to 2004 Mark worked in the Social Activities department of OUSA (now known as Events), during which he directed two capping shows and organised O-Weeks. He described working for OUSA as “putting on parties and getting paid to go to them. We booked some great bands.” After this, Mark went on to do more acting work at Fortune Theatre and for Zoomoo.

Mark stopped working at Fortune to focus on his young family, but he returned in 2017 as stage manager on the show An Iliad. Mark said this was an incredible experience. Unfortunately, after only a few weeks Fortune Theatre closed their doors, and those doors stayed closed.

This is when Mark finally found himself back at Otago. This time, with Campus Watch. Mark describes his job as a change of pace, but had to be done because “I have kids and a mortgage”. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t love the gig, though. He enjoys helping students in a different way than what he did with OUSA. Critic asked him for any tips for students on how to avoid trouble, and he hesitated before saying that some students need to learn when to be quiet. “I said to a few students ‘would you say that to your mum?’ and they all go ‘nah cause it’s stupid’.” The ultimate word of advice Mark gives to students is to “listen to that nagging voice in your head. If you wouldn’t do it in front of your mum then don’t do it.”

Mark’s passion is still firmly in acting and video production. You can see it in his video series on the Campus Watch Facebook page. Originally a stand-alone video, the series pilot “Campus Watch: The Basics” remains unpublished (mysterious), but it led to the videos we know today, created with the help of student and videographer Lewis Brown. When asked what the inspiration behind this particular video series was, he admitted that it began in an attempt to get a pay rise. He explained that Campus Watch staff who go above and beyond their duties can be rewarded for it, “[performance] is my skill set and nobody else here has taken this angle,” he said.

On top of the perks of maybe one day going viral and being headhunted by Shortland Street, the videos offer students information that they don’t always know about, such as the student support that exists, the free-to-hire campus trailer, and the free safe ride home. “There’s this gulf between what’s available and what people know about, and I thought I could help bridge that.” With the sign off from the Proctor, of course, to make sure he doesn’t say anything too spicy. “There are some jokes that have to get cut,” he admitted, laughing, “but it’s mostly self-mediating”. The most viewed video Mark has produced so far is one about the campus trailer with over 5000 views, which he says is the closest they’ve gotten to going viral.

This article first appeared in Issue 16, 2020.
Posted 8:39pm Thursday 27th August 2020 by Jack Gilmore.