Shakin’ It Up

29 September 2016

Last week I was at the No Borders Coproduction market in New York, which is part of IFP Film Week. Across 6 days I mixed with mainly American writers, directors and producers who were trying to get their narrative features or documentaries financed. The way the Americans go about it sits in stark contrast to what most New Zealand filmmakers are faced with.

US filmmakers are entirely dependent on attracting investors to their films—industry investors who put up time, equipment, facilities; cash investors who want a premium on their equity and can make use of Section 181—legislation to make a tax deduction on their investment; or non-profit foundations that want to support filmmaking, often social issue documentary. The idea of earning fees for a US first time feature filmmaker is mostly a dream.

I met three filmmakers from Texas who make a good case in point. They all work in or around the film industry. They and many of their mates support each other in their filmmaking endeavours. One was the director of the film they were at Film Week with, so the other two who were also directors had taken on the roles of producers to help their friend. They estimated that their film was going to cost them north of US$200k to shoot. They were putting up US$60k themselves in cash, and had brokered deals in kind to cover the rest. They were at Film Week to find finishing funds and distribution. The writer/director’s aim for his feature was of course to make a great film, with the hope that his talent shone through sufficiently to attract more money and distribution for his next feature—if not he’s back riding the same bicycle if he wants to make another. In fact, his talent had been noticed with the two shorts he had already made at what we in NZ would consider B & C level film festivals. This was getting him some traction in the market. I don’t know how well the Texans did at Film Week finding funding sources, but they were six weeks out from first day of principal photography when I meet them.

I arrived back from No Borders on Sunday morning in time to attend the second day of the Big Screen Symposium. I had missed the presentation by NZ on Air CEO Jane Wrightson on the draft strategy for dishing out around NZ$127 million in government funding for local content, but was in time to hear Dave Gibson outline the NZFC’s new thoughts around how they spend the more than NZ$20 million of government funding they receive each year for New Zealand feature film development and production. I know that the Americans can get tax breaks, have a much bigger market, and that we have cultural imperatives, but it’s still stark, right?

I have yet to go carefully through the information that has been put out by NZ on Air and NZFC with these announcements, but a few things stand out:

NZ on Air is openly talking about TV producers having to bring investors to the party for anything with a budget over $500k. Those investors will primarily be the broadcasters. But the language signals a change in attitude from government funding to public/private sector partnership. And now the vertically integrated local digital studios such as NZME—with funding, infrastructure, marketing clout and channels, and distribution channels to a large number of eyeballs—can openly compete for funding with bedroom-based production companies. Competition indeed. No wonder the MBIE mantra “Innovation” now sits front and centre in the NZ on Air lexicon.

On the NZFC front, CEO Dave Gibson finally openly declared that dark (read arthouse) drama is going to struggle in the current regime. That of course wasn’t news. Nor the fact that NZFC is looking for lighter, warmhearted fare. What was news was that a new strategy is coming for Māori. With a management change and a few years under the bridge from the failure that was Te Paepae Ataata, NZFC is once again looking at how to bring Māori into the fold, and finally getting Māori telling the Māori stories that have proved so successful in film. Here’s hoping.

The other news of note from NZFC was the announcment of GPS 2026 (another MBIE-like label), a forward looking initiative to imagine what the industry should look like and be doing a decade from now. This is a positive and DEGNZ will take up Dave Gibson’s invitation for the guilds to be involved. Ten years ago, the biggest player in the film industry today, Netflix, didn’t exist and nobody even imagined they were coming, but perhaps a bit of proactive crystal ball gazing on our parts might be prescient.

NZ on Air and NZFC are shaking it up; a necessity to be honest. Digital disruption is usually attributed as the cause for everything in the screen industry these days. And it’s true. Out with the old and in with the new, whether you like it or not. The glass half empty leftie conspiracy theorists would say the neo-liberalists are using digital disruption to impoverish the established screen middleclass and put as many of the young working class as close to the breadline as possible. The glass half full screen industry practitioners would likely enthuse as Cliff Curtis did in his closing at the Big Screen Symposium about what a wonderful world it is now for the young in film and TV to make their mark.

As I sit in my malfunctioning chair at the Guild, however, it looks to me like there is more opportunity than ever in this new era to make even lower wages as a director or editor. I guess that Americans would say we should be thankful to have government funding to help us do that.

DEGNZ will be making a submission to the proposed draft strategy for TV funding. If you have any thoughts you would like to share, please feel free to do so to me and to NZ on Air.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

Guild table reads round 3

Submissions Open – Guild Table Reads

Round Three 2016 – Apply Now!Guild Table Read

Bringing Writers Directors & Actors together for Table Reads.

A core cast – max. six actors – together with a writer & director team (OR writer/director) will collaborate on each script-in-development table read.
The script must have a director attached and have been through a development process.

Writer & Director: either/both must be a member(s) of NZWG/DEGNZ.
Actors must be a member of Equity to apply.

 

DEGNZ members and/or NZWG members are invited to apply for the script component:

Submit full-length draft feature film script to go into the draw for a day-long table read*

Four reads per year, Saturdays @ NZWG HQ
400C Great North Rd, Grey Lynn

Third Table Read: Saturday 5 November 2016 – 10am start

Script Submissions Deadline: Monday 10 October

WRITER/DIRECTORS or WRITER & DIRECTOR TEAMS – contact Guild HQ. Email: guildhq@nzwg.org.nz
ACTORS – Apply at Eventbrite

 

A Joint Initiative brought to you by:
NZWG, DEGNZ & EQUITY Foundation
With warm thanks to the New Zealand Film Commission

 

*Names remain for subsequent draws.

Call for Applications: International Documentary Editing Mentorship with Doug Blush

Doug BlushThe Directors & Editors Guild of NZ (DEGNZ) invites applications from mid-career editors with significant documentary experience to apply for an International Editor’s Mentorship with award-winning American editor Doug Blush.

Doug Blush is an award-winning director, producer, editor, writer and cinematographer who has worked on over fifty feature documentaries and TV programmes, and has been nominated five times for Best Editing at the Sundance Film Festival.

Doug’s recent credits include the Oscar-winning theatrical hit 20 Feet From Stardom, directed by Morgan Neville, which won him an ACE Eddie Award for Best Documentary Editing. Doug was editor and associate producer of 2012’s Academy Award nominated and double Emmy Award winning The Invisible War, directed by Kirby Dick, and worked with the same team on the Oscar-shortlisted film The Hunting Ground. His latest films as supervising editor include The Music of Strangers and Jim, which won the Audience Award at Sundance 2016 and aired on HBO.

He also co-directed Of Two Minds with wife Lisa Klein, which won both the 2013 EIC Prism and SAHMSA Voice Awards for excellence in films on mental health issues. He is working on a follow-up film with Lisa, The S Word, highlighting the rising activism of suicide survivors against silence and stigma.

Doug has been a visiting professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Syracuse University and Malaysia Multimedia University, and has taught across Indonesia with the Sundance Institute.

This is an exciting opportunity for a New Zealand editor with proven talent to benefit from collegial advice and international support as they move to the next stage of their career. You need to be a FULL member of DEGNZ to apply.

Click here for a full list of Doug’s credits.

To apply, please provide:

  1. A maximum one-page letter about why you should be chosen and what you hope to gain from the mentorship.
  2. A CV.
  3. Up to 3 examples online of past work (not showreel).
  4. Your DEGNZ membership number.
  5. It is preferred that you have a project that you wish to discuss with Doug as part of the mentorship. Please include brief details on the project.

Only FULL DEGNZ members may apply. If you are not a member and wish to join, you can do so here: www.degnz.co.nz/join/
Applications should be submitted electronically to admin@degnz.co.nz no later than 5pm, Wednesday 12 October.

This initiative is brought to you with the support of the New Zealand Film Commission.

What’s Happening?

Looking out my window I can see pohutukawa blossoms on my tree. Spring really is here. An interesting time to take the temperature on the industry, I thought. So I decided to ring around the other guilds and pose a simple question: What’s happening? Here are the responses I got as well as my own:

WRITERS GUILD
Alice Shearman, Executive Director (ED) of the New Zealand Writers Guild (NZWG), tells me the good news is that membership is up 20%. They are conducting an internal review of their processes for members, and refocusing on their core services around contracts, lobbying, rates and guidelines. They are also reviewing the Seed Grant Funding to ensure its fit for purpose. They’ve got the Screen Writer Awards New Zealand (SWANZ) on 22 September, will be sharing a booth at the Big Screen Symposium with DEGNZ, are launching in the not too distant future a Find A Writer function on their website so that you can easily locate writers for work, and will open the next Call for Applications for the Seed Grant Fund on 23 September. The Government’s Creative Sector Review also earns NZWG attention.

ACTORS EQUITY
Over at Actors Equity NZ, Industrial Organiser/Officer Melissa Ansell-Bridges has said they’ve a number of activities on the go, including:

  • A series of Green Rooms on Self-taping and Showreels in Wellington and Auckland to prepare actors for this growing aspect of auditioning.
  • Finalised survey on Theatre conditions in New Zealand, assessing results currently
  • Beginning preparations for our Graduate Day, an opportunity to welcome new actors into the industry and prepare them with important information.
  • Had a number of great workshops this year through the Equity Foundation including 2 days with Melissa Bruder, Brita McVeigh, Sara Wiseman, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Stuart Turner.
  • Preparations underway for an Actors Benevolent Fund fundraiser quiz night.

Melissa also tells me that they’ve also announced that Elizabeth McRae is the recipient of the Equity New Zealand Lifetime Achievement.

NZ TECHOS
International productions remain a significant workload for the New Zealand Film and Video Technicians’ Guild, according to Executive Officer, Karla Rogers. There are always immigration issues and with the new Health and Safety regulations in force from 1 April, ensuring H & S compliance, particularly on lower budget shoots coming into the country, is high on the list. Health and Safety Officers are like gold at the moment and will be for the foreseeable future. The volume of production both domestic and international is relatively high, and crew shortages are a real concern, even with the commercials market a little on the quiet side.

SPADA
It’s a busy time too with the Screen Production and Development Association, as ED Sandy Gildea reports. SPADA is leading a joint stand with NZFC at the main TV market MIPCOM in October, providing a branded umbrella for Kiwi producers to work under. They will also be putting into effect an MOU signed with the UK’s producer body PACT that will see some new initiatives at MIPCOM. Their International Training Programme (ITP) with Angus Finney has its third and final module from 21 – 23 November, immediately followed by the annual SPADA conference on the 24th & 25th. The calls for the South Pacific Pictures Big Pitch and nominations for the SPADA Industry Awards are out now. SPADA have also secured a travel bursary from Grow Wellington, now called WREDA, that will support one producer from the 2015 and 2016 years of the ITP to attend the Production Finance Market in the UK… and it’s Wellington’s David Stubbs who gets it. Like NZWG, SPADA is also actively involved in the Government’s Creative Sector Review.

DEGNZ
Here at DEGNZ we continue to address the lack of copyright for directors, and engage with government over the Creative Sector Review as well. We maintain our very close communication with the Australian Directors Guild as they negotiate with the Screen Producers Association of Australia over terms and conditions for TV drama directors. DEGNZ board member and long time director Grant Campbell has now seen in two board meetings as a new board member of the Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collecting Society, and on the DEGNZ board we have recently said thanks and farewell to Richard Riddiford and Costa Botes, both of whom contributed significantly to the governance of the guild. We continue to operate an extensive professional development programme for directors and editors, and we will be announcing a call shortly for a documentary editing mentorship. Next week we will be holding our inaugural Women Filmmakers Incubator with an exciting lineup of experts, coming on the back of three of the guild’s women directors receiving a Gaylene Preston Directors’ Award. And as Alice of NZWG mentioned, we will be sharing a booth at the Big Screen Symposium, so please come and say hello to our board members and staff, or just hang out during sessions. On the DEGNZ staff front, Samantha Caughey, our former Events and Marketing Coordinator, whom many of you will have dealt with, has taken up a bigger workload at the University of Auckland. Replacing her is the highly capable Tema Pua, an intern at DEGNZ during 2016. With Christmas now in sight we have begun planning for the annual Combined Guilds Xmas Party, dates and venues to come.

Hope you’re all enjoying the sunshine after that interminable rain, in Auckland at least.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director