Prof. Dev. – The Next Best Thing To Doing It

With the Big Screen Symposium almost upon us again with a host of excellent speakers to hear from, I thought I might reflect on professional development.

Eight or so years ago I decided to focus on narrative feature film and TV drama. I had come from a background of documentary, news, travel, and marketing storytelling for the screen, but I knew very little about dramatic narrative storytelling.

I threw myself into learning and haven’t stopped. For the first five years I applied for and attended a large number of professional development opportunities the New Zealand Film Commission and other bodies offered. If a talk was on with Script to Screen, SPADA or with anyone else, I was there. At the same time I was making or helping to make short films and developing features and TV drama series.

Three years ago I was contracted in to DEGNZ as the Executive Director. A good part of my responsibility has been to run the guild’s professional development programme for directors and editors. I’ve managed mentorships, film talks, attachments, workshops, panel discussions and seminars. And until this year I made a point of attending every single one of them.

Last year I took part in a year-long professional development programme in Europe. And this year I’m doing one here.

I think I can fairly say that when it comes to professional development, I’ve had a lot of experience with it. And I see the benefits. Not just for me, but for others, too.

Now of course professional development is not actually ‘doing it’, which is the best school of all. Most of the good speakers I’ve encountered have a long history as industry practitioners, which is how they accumulated the knowledge they impart—from on-the-job successes and failures. This is why workshops where you get hands-on experience are particularly valuable—it replicates to a greater or lesser extent the actual work involved without the pressure.

In my time focusing on narrative drama, I’ve met a lot of directors who say they want to direct a feature film. And I mean a lot. TV drama, web series, TVCs and short films offer directors the opportunity to practise what’s required to make a feature. But because drama and comedy are scripted, the amount of time devoted to the actual directing is usually much less than the time spent on developing the scripts to be made. Consequently, unless you are a TV drama director who is regularly employed, it’s likely that your ‘doing it’ is broken up by lots of ‘developing to do it’ or ‘applying to do it’, or just ‘waiting to do it’. And it’s in these troughs that you can ‘learn to do it’.

In New Zealand alone, there are lots of opportunities to learn from industry peers, the up-coming Big Screen Symposium a prime example. And overseas there are many, many more if you have the time and or money.

What astounds me is from that large “I want to direct a feature” group, there is actually a much smaller pool of people who actively seek through professional development the skills and knowledge required to learn to direct feature film well. Directing actors particularly is something crucial that you can learn about through attending acting classes or workshops, having read-throughs, rehearsing scenes, improvising material, or engaging in other director – actor focused activity.

Common comments I hear from experienced actors who either attend or facilitate our workshops is that many directors they’ve worked with either don’t know how to communicate with actors to get good performance or that the directors are actually afraid of actors.

It doesn’t surprise me that a good number of directors who make their way successfully in film or TV drama in New Zealand are also actors: Michael Hurst, Peter Burger, Aidee Walker, Danny Mulheron, Jackie Van Beek, Oliver Driver, Kathy McRae, Ian Hughes, Matthew Saville, Roseanne Liang, to name a few. I don’t think it’s a prerequisite. But it’s obviously an advantage.

Editors are fortunate in that if they are working they are practising their craft every day. But they too need to learn to adapt to narrative drama storytelling  if that’s their ambition.

I encourage everyone in the guild to grab as many opportunities to upskill as you can. Whether it’s applying to the Story Camp Aotearoa, attending a Rehearsal Room, going to a WIFT Coproduction Summit, or doing a Drama Editing workshop. I reckon Prof. Dev. is the next best thing to doing it.

See you at the Big Screen Symposium. I’ll be there. And if you want to talk, swing by the DEGNZ booth. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the guild’s professional development programme or anything else you’d like to share.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

P.S. While I may gush enthusiastically about Prof. Dev., others don’t. Case in point: Guardian writer Caspar Salmon on director Q & A’s after films here.

Book Tickets to the DEGNZ Lifetime Membership Awards Dinner 2017

The Directors & Editors Guild of NZ warmly invites you to join us for a night to honour and celebrate our Lifetime Members.

DEGNZ has formerly awarded Lifetime Memberships to John Reid, Keith Hunter and George Andrews in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the guild over the years. The Lifetime Membership Awards Dinner is an opportunity to officially acknowledge their Lifetime Membership with an award.

The evening will begin at 6pm with drinks and canapés in the Longroom’s private bar. The awards presentations shall begin at 6:30pm, followed by an excellent banquet style dinner from 7pm.

Lifetime members head shots

Keith Hunter
The Guild’s first President, Keith Hunter is an award-winning writer and documentary maker, known for his investigations into miscarriages of justice. His screen credits include The Remand of Ivan Curry, Out of the Dark, Staunch, and award-winner Murder on the Blade?, about the Scott Watson case. Hunter has also directed drama and comedy on shows such as Mortimer’s Patch and Letter to Blanchy.

John Reid
John Reid made his feature debut with an acclaimed adaptation of Roger Hall play Middle Age Spread. Since then he has directed three more features ranging from raw comedy to moody arthouse pieces, plus a host of television programmes and commercials. John was Guild President for many years.

George Andrews
Long time Guild board member Producer George Andrews has been making documentaries about New Zealand for more than 40 years, including legendary documentary series Landmarks. He has also been a vocal advocate for public service broadcasting. In 2002 he was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to television.

Industry and partners are welcome to attend.

When: Friday 6 October, 6pm start
Tickets: $55
Ticket Sales end: Monday 2 October, midnight

BOOK NOW

Knockin’ Around Asia

I was fortunate to have been invited to the Asia-Pacific Producers Network annual meeting last week in Taiwan. There were 40 or so producers there from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, and Patrick Frater, Variety’s Asia Bureau Chief, who is based in Hong Kong.

I spoke to a good number of them and there was one topic on pretty much everyone’s lips — China. Everyone has been, is or wants to be doing productions with the Chinese. The Koreans however are excluded at the moment because the Chinese government doesn’t like the Thaad Missile Defense System the Americans moved onto a disused golf course there, as a counter to North Korean missile test firings towards Japan. Until that’s resolved the Koreans are getting the cold shoulder from the Chinese entertainment business.

As a counter to this, a Korean producer pitched me a NZ-China co-pro because he could no longer do it between China and Korea. His proposed Chinese producing partner was also attending. It transpired that in the month that we had been communicating about it prior to my arrival, the Chinese producer was no longer interested. The reason — Chinese demand had changed. It’s name directors and actors and big budgets now, not small comedies as he had planned or any other lower budget projects.

According to Variety’s Frater, the Chinese market can dramatically change from week to week and it’s almost impossible to keep up. It’s been obvious for some time however that the Chinese government was clamping down on capital outflow. Chinese company Dalian Wanda is the most obvious example of this. Wanda bought mini studio Legendary Pictures and the US’s AMC Entertainment Group, which is now the largest theatre owner in the world. It had to abandon its plans to acquire Dick Clark Productions for $1 billion. Other deals that suffered include Xinke’s US$345 million planned purchase of Hong Kong’s Voltage Pictures and last week Recon gave up on its US$100 million acquisition of LA-based Millennium Films.

Even though it can take up to two years to get money out of China if at all, it hasn’t deterred Asian production companies from wanting to do business there. All the highly active Hong Kong producers now either have offices in China or live there. Taiwanese producers I was given introductions to were away in China for meetings. The Japanese I met were making frequent trips to China to drum up business.

China now has 41,000 movie screens, over 700 million mobile internet users and three major streaming providers in iQIYI, Youku Tudou and Tencent with a combined total of 70,000,000 paying viewers in the first quarter of 2017. Revenue from paying users of internet video in China is expected to hit US$2.2 billion this year. No wonder Asian producers are making films, TV series, and web series for and with the Chinese.

American streamer Netflix, who is dominating in the rest of the world, is playing catch up in Asia. It’s done a deal with China’s iQIYI, is producing local content in Japan and India, has announced a licensing deal for Korean shows and will be premiering Korean original material in 2018. In Singapore and Indonesia it has partnerships with local telcos for distribution. Elsewhere in Asia, though, Netflix has far greater competition from domestic streamers who already have significant local offerings.

So what does all this action in Asia mean for us here?

Natural History New Zealand and Sir Richard Taylor’s Pukeko Pictures have well established relationships in China built over many years, and they are already producing TV content with the Chinese. Huhu Animation announced a multi-picture deal and the first official China-NZ co-production, animated feature Beast of Burden. These apart, there’s not a lot going on although two official feature co-productions with China and one with Korea are mooted.

We have seen in recent months a small number of Chinese TV series shooting in Queenstown, and we can expect more such inbound productions. I believe it’s unlikely though that we’ll see the volume of China-related production that Asian producers are engaged in, in the short to medium term.

One of the great difficulties we and the Australians face in dealing with China or any Asian country for that matter, is the language and or cultural divide. The Asians are much better at understanding each other culturally, and the similarities have made programmes and films cross borders there a lot more easily. A Japanese producer I spoke to told me that his drama series was selling all around Asia and that it had been remade in Korea.

Of the 78 film and TV co-productions the New Zealand Film Commission has on record since 1988, only five have been with Asian countries, three of those with China. The rest are with predominantly English speaking countries such as Canada , the UK, and Australia, although Germany does feature in the statistics, too, primarily because they have come in as minority co-production partners who have an affinity with NZ content, particularly, Maori. English-speaking Singapore, with whom we have a co-production treaty and one film (The Tattooist) under our belt, has an undeveloped film sector and a highly active domestic TV production base. The other English speaking country in Asia is the Philippines, with whom we have no formal co-production agreement. With both, though, there is the cultural divide.

I expect that when we have more Chinese-speaking directors, writers and producers in New Zealand we will see volume pick up. But until then, we’ll just have to look to Netflix, Lightbox and hopefully Amazon Prime for increases in New Zealand film and TV production volume. And perhaps one day soon, someone will crack the straight to international market TV drama nut and provide a pathway for others to follow.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director