Behind the Scenes at DEGNZ

(A reworked version of this article appeared for an industry audience in today’s edition of Screenz.)

As the Executive Director of the Directors & Editors Guild of NZ and a board member of Ngā Aho Whakaari I get to see a lot of what goes on behind the scenes not only at our guild but also at a number of others.

What I know from my regular discussions with the other established guilds—the New Zealand Writers Guild, the New Zealand Film & Video Technicians’ Guild, Ngā Aho Whakaari and the Screen Production and Development Association—is the amount of work they do with advocacy and lobbying on behalf of their members.

In DEGNZ’s recent online survey, which we are still analysing the data of, one thing that came through loud and clear was that a lot of our members don’t know about the advocacy and lobbying side of DEGNZ’s activities. It’s undoubtedly the same for others.

This is understandable as we, like all guilds, engage in talks, often confidential, sensitive and or political, with government, funding bodies, production companies, broadcasters and others over issues that affect our members and our industry.

Every once in a while a guild’s efforts to do something about situations are confrontational.

Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. More often than not there are compromises. In the deregulated labour market that rules in New Zealand, where unions have been effectively broken and collective bargaining is voluntary and not encouraged, guilds don’t have a big stick to wave. We can’t and probably wouldn’t want to organise walkouts from productions. We tend to sit down and talk. And occasionally bang the table. The power of persuasion is crucial these days.

I wrote in the last newsletter about an issue that arose with an American outfit shooting here. I called around town to get a clearer picture of what occurred and what the views were of what happened. The person themselves took it as a salutary lesson about what should and shouldn’t be done, and really just wanted others to be aware so that they didn’t make the same mistake.

I have also written recently about a production company trying to silence discussion about their contracts by threatening legal action if they were shown to anyone—completely unenforceable as everyone has the right to seek professional advice and don’t need permission to do so. I rang the production company concerned and spoke to the managing director, pointing out how easily their contract could be “misinterpreted,” especially by those with little or no experience with contracts. I asked them to revise that clause. We’ll see what happens.

Not so long ago I had someone contact me who, new to the industry, had secured a job on entry-level salary and had been working with the same company for two years. The company hadn’t given that person a performance review as the contract required them to, nor looked at a pay review. The person was concerned that they were potentially being exploited. We discussed a strategy for how to deal with it. The person went down the path we laid out and while the outcome wasn’t ideal, it was improved.

At DEGNZ, we deal with a lot of individual cases such as these with an individual approach that will hopefully bring about a satisfactory resolution.

A significant big picture event we are working on behind the scenes at DEGNZ is copyright.

Over the last month, we have had to review the planned amendments of the New Zealand Copyright Act that are required to bring New Zealand into line with its partners in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Directors and editors aren’t directly impacted with the proposed amendments. We Create (former Copyright Council), whom we support, lead the response on this.

Of great concern to We Create and us, is the onslaught of giant global corporations who would like to see copyright eradicated so that they can get on with making money off other people’s content. We Create is doing a tremendous job with government explaining the benefit of copyright in the creative sector by pointing out the significant economic impact that intellectual property brings to the New Zealand economy, that the IP business is growing, and that strong copyright for content makers is integral to maximising the economic potential of the creative sector of New Zealand economy.

Of greater import to us at DEGNZ around this discussion is the fact that New Zealand directors currently don’t have copyright

Twenty-two countries around the world including the UK recognize the director as the author (auteur) of audiovisual works and cinematographic films. But not New Zealand. Nor Australia.

In New Zealand particularly, this is highly anomalous, because the moral rights, which are an author’s right, reside with the director under our Copyright Act. It’s only the author’s economic rights that directors don’t have here. Simply put, directors can claim the moral high ground as the author, but can’t benefit financially as the author because they aren’t recognized as such when it comes to the money.

Under New Zealand and Australian copyright law, it’s not the director who makes the film; it’s the producer.

DEGNZ is working to rectify this. Why? Because directors are primarily responsible for creating audiovisual works and films, and need to be recognized as such, in a shared arrangement with producers. With recognition should come some economic benefit that will contribute towards directors building sustainable careers for themselves.

While we do have to keep quiet at the guild about some of our activities, where possible we will communicate with you about the lobbying and advocacy work that we are engaged in and can talk about, such as copyright. In this way we hope that you will understand more of what we are doing on your behalves outside of the very visible professional development activity we engage in.

Tui Ruwhiu

Executive Director