An old boss of mine used to say that with great change came great opportunity.
It would seem that the opportunity in New Zealand is finally arriving from the shakeup in the screen industry predominantly driven by new digital models for distribution, the shift of creative endeavour from film to TV, and the increase in content for online consumption.
Due primarily to the revised incentives that saw the introduction of the Screen Production Grant and the five percent uplift, we now have the MTV drama series Shannara in production in New Zealand.
The drama pilot for Amblin TV’s Lumen has come and gone, and may well return for an episodic run.
Sir Richard Taylor’s Pukeko Pictures is plunging headlong into TV drama, having recently announced a co-pro with Australia’s Goalpost Pictures for Aboriginal drama series Cleverman, which already has international sales. We can expect to see more from Pukeko, and closer to home in future.
The New Zealand Film Commission’s (NZFC) Business Development Scheme (BDS) is also opening TV drama doors.
Local outfit Libertine Pictures and Downtown Abbey producers Carnival have announced the Neil Cross written series Bay of Plenty, planned to shoot next year. It’s highly likely that some of the other BDS recipients are pursuing TV drama as well as feature film.
The swing at NZFC to encompass TV is particularly noticeable. Aside from the BDS scheme, the He Ara Maori/Pacifica initiative, the dedicated China funding initiatives and the new BOOST devolved funding initiative all make room for TV drama. These come on top of the efforts NZFC has made alone and together with New Zealand on Air (NZOA) in the feature documentary space, and what seems a clear intent from NZFC to increase the number of features in production annually.
Over at NZ’s biggest drama producer South Pacific Pictures (SPP), co-pro 800 Words is underway with Aussie’s Seven Productions. This in addition to the other drama SPP has on its slate including the Outrageous Fortune sequel Westside Story, Step Dave, Brokenwood Mysteries and others in development.
Rachael Lang and Gavin Strauhan’s new outfit has Filthy Rich underway, while Great Southern’s Hillary must be close to completion.
Mediaworks has supposedly come close to settling on a new soap series, although the likelihood of it getting off the ground remains a challenge for the company.
For online content New Zealand on Air (NZOA)’s digital initiatives are reasonably well established with web series Reservoir Hill, The High Road, The Factory, and Flat 3 having already proven their worth. Another web series RFP has just been issued by NZOA, exhibiting a continued commitment to kickstarting online content.
As I have written about recently, even Maori TV is getting into drama production, seeking to make half-hour broadcast TV drama with five-minute web series budgets.
At the guild we have just completed the selections for the Ash vs Evil Dead (AVED) attachments, which puts DEGNZ members alongside the Starz production. In going through the process, it became abundantly clear to me how much more of a step up Rob Tapert’s latest endeavour is for directors from the local TV drama that is typically made here.
Tapert has been a mainstay of the New Zealand drama scene for over 20 years now. Through his internationally focused productions he has trained many of the people who went on to work on Lord of the Rings and elsewhere. We owe him a lot. Thankfully, he is now no longer alone.
We have to ask with so much activity going on whether or not we have the drama directing and editing skill base to take up the opportunities created and in the pipeline. If not, we will likely see an increase in the number of non-New Zealanders brought in to do the work. For example, should Mediaworks’ soap get up, there’s going to be a dearth of experienced soap directors, which could see Aussies come over to fill the gaps.
The step up from 48 Hours, Tropfest, Fresh Shorts and web series to TV drama is as big as that from short to feature film. Then there is the significant difference between film and TV, where in film the director is auteur, while in TV the director does what the producer and or showrunner pretty much tells them to, all the while running to get the fast turnaround product through the sausage factory and out the door.
At DEGNZ we have a strong professional development programme geared towards increasing the skill base in drama and documentary—a focus driven by the funding we receive from NZFC. Its purpose is to help increase the competency and capability of Kiwi directors and editors.
Take stock of where you currently sit on the talent tree for future opportunities. Make the most of our and other professional development initiatives.
And get ready for the opportunity.
As long as the incentives continue to work and more of our local production companies focus on producing drama content for international consumption, we could well be in for an exciting ride.