Cannes: Is it All it’s Cracked Up to Be?

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Every year, tens of thousands of film industry people gather in Cannes for the world’s pre-eminent display of film industry gauche and sublime—the Cannes International Film Festival.

Or at least that’s what used to happen.

According to one local property manager, apartment rentals are down 30 – 50% for 2019’s festival, and it’s becoming a trend.

Esteemed trade publication The Hollywood Reporter headlined the affliction of both the festival and the film industry in general when it titled an article on Cannes: ‘It’s Time to Roll Out the Red Carpet, But Does Anyone Care?’

Jury President Alejandro González Iñárritu essentially pointed the finger at the culprit—Netflix—pushing the festival line that you can watch movies on phones, iPads or laptops, but that’s not the theatrical experience that film is created for. And with Netflix not eligible for Cannes film selections, it highlights the widening gap between the old world of theatrical, particularly in France, and the new of streaming.

So, is Cannes surviving the onslaught of SVODs?

The general consensus is that the film industry has contracted. The mega mergers that have taken place attest to this with the number of major studios reduced to five when Disney gobbled up Fox.

The mini majors are reeling from bankruptcies, flops and lack of franchises. And the indie film world (non-studio) is struggling unless they have cast.

Cannes is quiet this year. The stars aren’t turning out and there are fewer big budget films. And supposedly the parties don’t go to 4AM anymore.

One highly experienced French producer said the independent film business is either going to get better or worse, which shows the lack of uncertainty still pervading the industry and obvious at Cannes. His hope for theatrical lies in filmmakers tiring of their films going into the black hole of SVOD digital archives, without the attending fanfare of marketing and promotion given to films headed for theatres where they are experienced as they are meant to be.

Sales agents are becoming production companies and financiers to survive in the same way that distributors have reacted to the changing conditions.

And it’s a common topic to talk about films going straight to SVOD, because it’s so difficult to get a theatrical release. In the old days, straight to DVD usually meant it was a bad film. Not the case now with its modern equivalent.

Netflix and Disney are supposedly not showing here this year, but there are definitely people from both companies on the ground. As undoubtedly are other players like Amazon and Apple.

China has a stronger presence than ever before, tempered by a shift in political climate back home, burnt fingers from past bad decisions, and a more discerning Chinese screen industry and domestic audiences. It’s not quite the saviour it’s been seen as in past years.

Cannes has been slammed for the lack of female directing talent walking the red carpet and screening their films here. The stats for 2019 aren’t great but they are up over previous years, with 26 per cent of features submitted from women, and four of the nineteen in official competition helmed by female directors. Festival head Thierry Fremaux has been touting the mostly gender balanced selection and jury panels, and the introduction of a creche for film festival attendees with kids has been a definite hit.

Cannes is changing, but it resembles an ocean-going liner trying to make a turn—it has to cover a lot of distance before it can come about.

Will it maintain its preeminent position as the biggest film festival and market in the world? Probably. But what does that really mean now with SVODs here to stay and audiences increasingly glued to their small screens. We shall see.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

The Realities of a SVOD World

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I’ve been watching the debates raging across the Tasman as the Austalian screen industry seeks to ensure the future of Australian content in the face of the realities of SVOD.

Research company Roy Morgan reported in March 2019 that nearly 14 million Australians now have access to some form of Pay TV/Subscription TV, up 11.8% on a year ago.

Netflix with over 11.2 million subscribers had growth on a year ago of 25.2%, with Australian-owned Stan at 2.6 million subscribers seeing a 45.2% increase.

YouTube Premium and Amazon Prime also had significant increases.

Australian broadcasting standards require all commercial free-to-air television licensees to broadcast an annual minimum transmission quota of 55 per cent Australian programming between 6 am and midnight. In addition, there are specific minimum annual sub-quotas for first-run Australian adult drama, documentary and children’s programs.

SVODs in Australia have no Australian content requirement.

Australian commercial broadcasters sought in 2017 to have the quota removed for Australian children’s content. The Australian screen industry united against this, decrying what they said would be the almost complete annihilation of Australian children’s programming.

Then in 2017 the Australian Directors’ Guild; Australian Writers’ Guild;  Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance and Screen Producers Australia joined together to launch the ‘Make It Australia’ campaign to lobby the Government for support for the sector in the wake of sustained funding cuts and changed viewing habits, which of course includes the rise of SVODs.

They called for no more cuts to SBS, the ABC and Screen Australia; a raising of tax incentives for Australian TV and foreign productions; a cementing of the commercial free-to-air Australian content quota at 55%; and new regulations for Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) providers.

The Australian Government launched in 2017 an Australian and Children’s Content Review.

In March of 2019, the Senate Committee released its Review paper. Among the recommendations was a call to force streaming services such as Netflix and Stan (and Amazon and any others who might enter the space) to spend a minimum 10 per cent of income earned in Australia on original Australian content. They would also be obliged to promote that content to their subscribers. The other recommendations:

  • The current quota system being preserved.
  • Examining other Terms of Trade provisions and implementing them.
  • Introducing a single Producer Offset of 40%.*
  • Ceasing recognising New Zealand content as Australian.**
  • Increasing the Location Offset to 30%
  • Decoupling the Location and Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) Offset.
  • Platform Neutral Location and ODV Offsets.

*The Producer Offset, Australia’s version of the NZ Screen Production Grant, sits at 20% for TV.

**This refers to Project Blue Sky, which allowed NZ content to be recognised as Australian content because of the Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement between the two countries.

What did they Australian Government do in response? It allowed streamers that operate behind a paywall access to the production incentive for content they make in Australia, which of course includes international productions shooting there.

“The Government’s policy announcement is inexplicable and one-dimensional given how many times our local sector has called for urgent intervention”, said Austrlian Directors Guild CEO, Kingston Anderson.

“Our screen incentives need to be updated across the board, not just those that apply to international production. This decision shows a tremendous lack of confidence in the ability of Australians to tell our stories in our own voices.”

You are possibly wondering why at this point I am so wrapped up in what’s going on in Australia? It’s because I feel it’s clearly indicative of what we face and have essentially been ignoring till now. The 10-year screen strategy recently called for by the NZ Government is a chance to address the many problems the onslaught of foreign content and SVODs are having on the NZ screen industry. We only have to look across the Tassie for some insights and thoughts on how to address the issues.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Exeuctive Director

6 Key Developments to Note

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There have been a significant number of developments that have occupied our time recently that are worthwhile highlighting.

Firstly, the Copyright Act Review Issues Paper submission.

DEGNZ made a submission, the primary focus of which was the call for recognition of director’s copyright in audiovisual content and cinematographic film. Directors are the authors of their audiovisual works and this needs to be recognised in New Zealand in the Copyright Act, as it is in many other countries around the world. With copyright, directors will be able to negotiate and receive income beyond solely fees that will help them to generate more creative work, and better sustain themselves in their careers. We have a long road to go to convince Government on this, and we need everyone’s help to do so. I hope that many of you were able to make your own personal submissions to assist us with our case. In future we will be looking to you again to support our efforts, particularly with personal statements about how the lack of recognition for directors in respect to copyright has adversely affected you economically and creatively in seeking sustainable careers for yourselves as directors.

Second, the Screen Industry Strategy.

Some of you may be aware of the formation of a body to respond to the Government’s call for industry to develop a 10-year screen industry strategy. DEGNZ has been extremely unhappy about how this group was formed and the lack of any real consultation and communication with the wider screen industry as it was set up. We have called on the proposed chair of this body, former broadcaster and now lawyer Linda Clark, to ensure clear communication and transparency with all parties in the screen industry as it goes about its work. DEGNZ board member and director Michael Duignan was invited into the facilitation group appointed to work alongside this body in response to our request for involvement. In the coming months we will have more to communicate with you about this very important initiative.

Third, unionisation.

Following the almost unanimous vote at the Annual General Meeting last year to unionise, DEGNZ has been working with legal representation to ensure our constitution meets the requirements of a union. The redrafting of the constitution has been completed and will be presented at this year’s AGM for adoption. This will formalise the Guild’s existence as a union and we will affiliate with the Council of Trade Unions soon after. Many of you will be aware that DEGNZ participated in the Film Industry Working Group along with a number of other guilds and bodies. It was convened by the Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety Iain Lees-Galloway, to find a way for screen industry workers to collectively bargain, and made its recommendations to the Minister after many months of discussion. We look forward to the Government following through and making the changes necessary to allow collective bargaining to occur. Unionisation is one facet of our preparations for the work the Guild will have to do when that happens.

Fourth, sexual harassment and intimacy on set.

DEGNZ board member and director Louise Leitch has been leading the Guild efforts in regard to sexual harassment and protocols around intimacy, simulated sex and nudity content. As Louise outlined in this column a couple of weeks ago, she has been working closely with Equity NZ on their Guidelines for Nudity and Intimacy on Stage and Screen. She also participated in the full workshop programme run by UK Intimacy Coordinator Ita O’Brien. It’s the Guild’s intention to offer an ongoing training programme for directors led by Louise and calling on highly experienced actor, instructor and Equity NZ president Jennifer Ward-Lealand, another full participant at Ita O’Brien’s workshops. At the same time, the Guild is maintaining close communication with the Screen Women’s Action Group as they go about their efforts to ensure a safe, sexual harassment-free workplace for screen industry workers.

Fifth, DVD library.

DEGNZ board member and director Gabriel Reid brought to the board’s attention the potential loss of a significant audiovisual resource with the closure of Auckland’s Videon DVD store this year. Videon had a broad collection of many arthouse, auteur director and hard to obtain DVDs. We all know that DVD stores have suffered immensely from the impact of streaming, with many closing down, and a lot of the DVDs that were available from Videon cannot be accessed digitally, or easily. Now Wellington institution Aro Video is suffering as Videon did. The DEGNZ board felt that something had to be done and quickly to preserve access for directors, editors and others to the rare and difficult to obtain films that Videon had on its shelves. In the fire sale that occurred at Videon, DEGNZ acquired over 3000 of their DVDs. We have these in storage and are currently negotiating a solution to see these held in an audiovisual library for access by anyone interested in these films for research purposes or entertainment. We will inform the membership how to go about this once negotiations are complete and the DVDs have all been catalogued.

Sixth, training for post-production.

DEGNZ board member and editor Annie Collins has been driving our strategic and tactical efforts around ensuring editors and others are trained appropriately for work during post-production. Annie is one of NZ’s most highly experienced narrative short, feature and documentary editors and is drawing on all of her accumulated knowledge as we structure current and future initiatives. The Assistant Editor workshops are one example of the outcomes from our focus in this area, the feature film editing attachments another. The work Annie is leading will hopefully introduce or stimulate other initiatives here.

I am thankful to have such a dedicated and supportive board working on behalf of the membership and their crafts. While our other board members haven’t been mentioned in this particular missive, I would also like to acknowledge board members Roseanne Liang, Phil Gore, Francis Glenday, and of course President Howard Taylor for their tireless efforts on behalf of the Guild. As well, we should recognise the invaluable contribution made by Advisory Board member and ex-board member Grant Campbell who represents the Guild on the board of the Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collecting Society and input into our Copyright Submission.

Finally, we can announce that editor Margot Francis and director Robyn Paterson have joined the DEGNZ board, replacing directors Helena Brook and Zoe McIntosh, who both had to step down because of work/personal commitments.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Intimacy Guidelines a Win-Win

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UK based Intimacy Coordinator Ita O’Brien spent three days in Auckland last December sharing her highly acclaimed approach to intimacy on set.

The events gave actors, directors, producers, writers and crew from the stage and screen industries an opportunity to learn Ita’s best practice approaches to intimacy, simulated sex scenes, and nudity, implementing her Intimacy On Set Guidelines.

I attended the introductory seminar and two workshops: the first, for actors and directors interested in exploring clear guidelines when working with intimacy, and scenes with sexual content; the second, for potential intimacy coordinators.

I came away from the workshops with a clear framework for directing intimate scenes. Using the Intimacy on Set Guidelines helped remove any awkwardness and kept the work in a clearly professional space. I feel that I now have more tools in my director’s toolkit and greater confidence in working with intimate content.

Ita O’Brien recommends that Intimacy on Set Guidelines are used as standard practice for all intimate scenes. When a production calls for nudity, simulated sex and/or any sexual violence, Ita recommends productions engage an Intimacy Coordinator.

In many ways, an intimacy coordinator can be likened to a fight coordinator. Far from stepping on the creative toes of the director, the role of an intimacy coordinator, like a good fight coordinator, is to work with the director to help them realise their vision. By helping the director to choreograph, rehearse and stage a scene, intimacy coordinators keep performers safe and able to give their best. Action is broken down into achievable, repeatable beats over which directors and actors lay the emotional journey of the scene. In my opinion, it’s a win-win for directors, actors and the production as a whole.

Equity NZ are currently updating NZ’s Guidelines for Nudity and Intimacy on Stage and Screen. The intention is that these Guidelines become standard practice throughout our industry. At DEGNZ we have been working closely with Equity on updating the Guidelines and will keep our members informed of progress.

The Equity Foundation, who hosted Ita O’Brien’s visit to Australia and NZ, put together a short video of the Australasian events, which you can view here.

Louise Leitch
Director | DEGNZ Vice-President

What Does 2019 Hold for NZ Film?

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I hope everyone is well and rested after the Christmas and New Year break.

As we kick off the year, I’ve been forced to ponder what 2019 holds for NZ film both personally and because it’s something we should all be asking ourselves with the changes in the global screen industry.

To come up with my answer, the first thing I decided to do was look back and see how NZ films performed at the Box Office domestically in 2018.

Box Office numbers in NZ as one indicator of performance are available and reliable, but they don’t paint a true picture for a number of reasons, including:

  1. NZFC’s mandate is as a cultural funding body not a commercially driven investor. A film doesn’t have to return its investment to make it worthwhile for them to fund it.
  2. International Box Office numbers are difficult to obtain and can be inaccurate.
  3. Other international revenues, such as a sale to a streamer like Netflix, can go unreported.

True returns on film investment, therefore, are difficult to determine.

Of course, like the Swedish with the Quadrant B films I’ve written about previously, we’d all love to have critically acclaimed box office successes, but they are few and far between anywhere.

However, to get NZFC funding you must have local theatrical distribution, and local Box Office is one measure used to rate the performance of a NZ film. So for starters, here are I believe all the NZ films that got theatrical distribution in 2018 with their box office (If I missed anything or am incorrect, please let me know):

  Title Genre NZFC Prod. Investment NZ Box Office
Narrative Fiction
1 Vermilion Drama Y $21,329.00
2 The Stolen** Drama Y $38,716.00
3 Human Traces Thriller Y $63,182.00
4 Stray Drama N $83,259.00
5 Kiwi Christmas** Family Y $301,494.00
6 Waru Anthology Drama Y $400,747.00
7 Hibiscus and Ruthless Comedy N $496,096.00
8 Broken Faith drama N $753,118.00
9 Mortal Engines* Fantasy N $1,428,448.00
10 The Breaker Upperers Comedy Y $1,776,484.00
Documentary
1 Wayne Doco Y $22,164.00
2 Maui’s Hook Doco Y $23,376.00
3 Yellow Is Forbidden* Doco Y $44,137.00
4 She Shears* Doco Y $132,512.00
5 Born Racer: The Scott Dixon Story Doco N $155,588.00
6 No Ordinary Sheila Doco N $356,243.00
7 They Shall Not Grow Old* Doco N $685,969.00

*Still in theatres at the end of 2018
**Received New Zealand Screen Production Grant funding—numbers were only available to 30 Sept. 2018; so one or more films in the table may also have received NZSPG but the info. hasn’t been released yet.

We can take a number of things from this table (with some added facts):

  1. Seventeen films received a release in 2018—a good number.
  2. Five of the 10 narratives were helmed by first-timers: Vermilion, Human Traces, Stray, Waru, Broken, and The Breaker Upperers (one of two co-directors). (Waru as an anthology film made up of eight shorts with first timers counts as one first time female director.)
  3. Three of the seven docos had first-time directors: Maui’s Hook, She Shears, and No Ordinary Sheila.
  4. Four out of the 17 films were female-led projects written by women with female protagonists: Vermilion, The Breaker Upperers, Waru and Yellow Is Forbidden.
  5. Waru and Maui’s Hook are Māori films and both address important social issues.
  6. Yellow Is Forbidden was NZ’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
  7. Local box office numbers range from poorly performing to bona fide hits.

We should remember that we are not comparing apples with apples here. Budgets vary wildly from a few hundred thousand for Stray and Waru to US$100 million for Mortal Engines. Distribution and marketing spend is equally varied. Budget size is a significant factor in profitability.

Stepping back a little, we can say that if 2018 is anything to go by, certainly output-wise, the NZ film industry is in good health.

So what about 2019?

Output
Output is likely to be over 10 films, both narrative and doco. We’ll hopefully have one box office winner. There’ll be a mixed bag of other films when it comes to quality and NZ Box Office, some of which will be critically acclaimed. Like the Australians, we do generally struggle to get NZ audiences to NZ films.

First-timers
We’ll continue to see films from first-timers, as NZFC looks for the next Jane Campion, Pietra Brett-Kelly, Peter Jackson, Annie Goldson, Niki Caro, Leanne Pooley or Lee Tamahori.

Female driven films
NZFC’s initiatives to address gender inequality should see more female-driven films coming through this year and certainly next.

Maori & Pacific Island films
Anthology film Vai is opening NATIVe at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival with eight female directors, seven Pacific Islanders and one Māori. NZ had one film in 2019 Sundance in Heperi Mita’s documentary about his mother Merata (Australia had 6).

Maori and Pacific Island stories and filmmakers are also receiving additional attention from NZFC, so there will be a flow through, but more likely from 2020 on.

Narrative and documentary
Ten narratives (58%) out of 17 is quite high. There may be a rebalancing with a more even percentage between narrative and doco.

The trend reflected in the NZ results reflects what is going on globally: drama, particularly arthouse drama, struggles to get box office (and financed) unless you have name cast or directors the likes of Debra Granik, Lynn Shelton, Alfonso Cuarón or Pavel Pawilkowski, or have built in audiences.

That said, first-timers or other directors with drama without name cast might well score the coveted Cannes slot that New Zealand hasn’t had for over 15 years. I predict, though, that we will see more genre and elevated genre projects coming through.

Documentary is low cost in comparison to most narrative films, and the market globally for docos is strong even though Netflix has cut right back on them. We will continue to see good documentary numbers going into production.

International Financing
I haven’t touched on this till now but it’s too important in today’s market to leave out. It’s been a tough film market out there, but reports from Sundance say the buyers are back in play and spending up big.

I’ve just seen a report out of Europe saying streamers will spend north of US$20 billion on film and TV in the coming year. This is new money that wasn’t around before Netflix arrived on the scene in 1997. A good chunk of this will go to TV series but film will definitely get some, so the world is awash with money at the moment for financing… for the right projects.

Considering the incredible change that has occurred in film particularly over the last five years, you could say things are somewhat positive for NZ filmmakers. And that’s not a bad place to be.

Of course if you want to make money, you should be in TV drama because it’s better than it’s ever been. Internationally anyway.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director