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It’s hard not to talk about what’s going on in the global screen industry when COVID continues to upend screen life as we know it.

Perhaps the biggest seismic shift that has occurred is Universal Studios and AMC, the U.S. and the world’s largest theatre chain, announcing a historic agreement for the studio’s movies to be made available on premium video-on-demand after just 17 days of play in cinemas. Exhibitors have long fought the shortening of theatrical windows and have been able to leverage their fight off the legislation in the U.S. that prevents studios owning theatres.

Some of you will remember the days when a movie came out in theatres first, three months later on VHS, pay TV three months after that and two years later on free-to-air television. This sort of worked for everyone as first VHS and later DVD was incredibly lucrative. Geographical territory releases are part of the windowing business model and still exist today.

Streaming of course upended all of this with its ability to release in multiple territories simultaneously straight into the consumer’s home. In a recent podcast, director Gina Prince-Bythewood, the helmer of Charlize Theron’s The Old Guard, while lamenting that the Netflix release of the film didn’t give it the cinematic presence that a typical theatrical release would have, also extolled the streamer for putting her film into 190 countries in one day.

It’s easy to understand why AMC caved in to Universal—it’s close to bankruptcy thanks to COVID, as are many other theatrical chains and independents. This deal is a watershed one for the movie business. Variety in an article, poses six questions on what the agreement might mean. Perhaps the most interesting for everyone in the independent film space—and that’s where all NZ films sit—is that the studios may shift away from just superhero films and towards quality fare.

In the second big piece of news for the week, the British Government launched an emergency £500M (NZ$1.17 billion) film and TV coronavirus production insurance fund. This is expected to kickstart production in the country that remains threatened by the pandemic. With this boost, British producers will be able to get back into filming, confident that the fund will effectively underwrite the cost of productions closing due to COVID. We still await a similar response from our government for the New Zealand screen industry.

And finally, across the ditch the Australian Government added A$400 million (NZ$431 million) to its location offset, essentially allowing international productions through their rebate scheme to access a total rebate of 30%, in comparison to NZ’s rebate scheme via NZSPG of 20% with a small number getting an additional 5% through the Uplift. It’s highly unlikely that the NZ Government is going to participate in a rebate race to the bottom, and I’m personally not convinced as some others are that this is going to have a significant negative impact on international productions coming to New Zealand.

Time will tell.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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While the world continues to reel from COVID-19, we sit in our smug little bubble wondering what the fuss is all about. So far, we’ve escaped relatively unscathed the medical turmoil associated with Corona, but are now facing up to the emotional, psychological and economic impact that will be with us for many years to come. Looking across the ditch at Victoria, we see how quickly it could all go pearshaped for us.

Production-wise, all of the offshore projects that were interrupted by COVID are now back. Local production that was shut down is returning as well. Local TV drama will hopefully get a shot in the arm from NZ On Air shortly. TV productions with funding and small crews seem mostly to be on their feet.

The advertising sector, however, is still suffering from nervousness on the part of clients who don’t know if they have the marketing budget to spend or what to do with it and when, if they do.

NZ shorts and features that were interrupted are also getting up again but as mentioned in my last op-ed, without the insurance issue solved, we still have a problem with new productions, Houston.

The numbers of people continuing to take up our COVID-19 Membership Holiday offer tells us, though, that there is pain out there with directors and editors. The Guild would like to get a better fix on this. Within the next two weeks we will put out a short survey to ascertain more clearly what the employment situation is like for members and other directors and editors in the industry.

We ask that you please take the short time required to fill it out. Your responses will help us to better strategically and tactically respond in ways that are meaningful and useful.

It’s hard not to look around at the moment and think that we are in the eye of the storm. Everything is peaceful, calm and quiet, except on the political front. Hopefully we can move with the eye rather than stray out of it where we’ll get a lashing.

In the meantime, I would like to remind you all of the Vista Foundation/Home and Family Counselling offer, which is still available. Information on our website here. If you are having a particularly difficult time right now, please reach out and let us know and we’ll see if there’s anything we can do.

Stay safe, stay strong, be kind.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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On Wednesday evening, Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Carmel Sepuloni, together with the Minister for Economic Development, Phil Twyford, and Minister for Broadcasting, Kris Faafoi, announced the Screen Sector Recovery package. Included was $140 million previously announced in the budget, being $115 million to the international NZ Screen Production Grant, with $25 million to the domestic Screen Production Grant for local productions.

The rest of the announcement was new funding, but how much and where it went was clear as mud. As far as I can figure out it breaks down like this:

  • $15.4 million to NZFC with $2 million allocated to cultural capability funding and the rest to recovery for production affected by COVID.
  • In a guess on my part, $8 million to NZ On Air for production affected by COVID.
  • $50 million in a new fund to be dedicated to high-end drama and film projects, targeting streamers it would seem, with criteria still to be developed.
  • An additional $25 million, which seems to have materialised out of nowhere, for NZ On Air to spend over four years for Pacific, student and disability broadcast media.

The elephant in the room, though, is insurance. Without it, no new high-end drama or feature film will be able to get up without a major studio willing to bankroll the whole thing and take the associated risk that COVID has brought.

How to get insurance and completion bonds for production is a global problem putting the brakes on production everywhere. The insurance industry has already been hit with massive COVID-associated claims. Consequently, insurers won’t issue insurance to cover COVID-19.

Screen industries around the world are hatching various plans to deal with the insurance issue, but they all, to a greater or lesser degree, come down to one thing: government underwriting of insurance.

The New Zealand Film Commission commissioned the Screen Production and Development Association (SPADA) to write a paper for Government to outline the issues and justify the call for Government to come up with a solution that would allow new drama and feature film projects to get up. While the new funding announced on Wednesday night was welcomed by everyone, a significant number of those in attendance at the Beehive waited with bated breath for a Government response to the insurance issue. It never came.

Small productions and those that had existing insurance coverage prior to COVID will get made, but independent production everywhere needs the insurance problem solved. That includes any NZ On Air funded drama soon to be announced from the last round. Without an insurance solution or a studio willing to take on the risk, we could all be watching a lot more low-budget short-form web series to satisfy our scripted desires.

Unfortunately, we are still waiting cap in hand for the Government to come to the rescue. If they do, we will then truly be able to take advantage of the very fortunate position we find ourselves in as a screen industry in comparison to the rest of the world.

Here’s hoping.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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Globalisation has been both beneficial and detrimental to the New Zealand screen industry. Beneficial in that we have been the recipient of international productions coming here and spending many millions of dollars on goods, services and wages with a net benefit to the New Zealand economy.

When American producer Rob Tapert really kicked it off with Hercules in the 90’s, he also trained up many of the crew who went on to work on his other shows and later Peter Jackson’s and Andrew Adamson’s films, amongst other big budget projects. Now our crew have a reputation second to none.

But we really screwed up when we signed up for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and failed to get an exemption as Australia did for audiovisual services.

This exemption allows Australia to impose broadcast quotas for local content. It also creates the possibility for Australia to apply quotas to digital services, including streamers as is now being actively discussed there. Meanwhile, in New Zealand when we talk about quotas on broadcast and levies on streamers, the first thing that springs from peoples’ mouths is, “We can’t because of GATT.”

Well maybe it’s time to drive significant change here as is currently being proposed in many other sectors. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it great opportunity to make change that before would never have been imaginable.

We are seeing examples of it every day in the news. The proposed merger of TVNZ and RNZ, the setting aside of the Resource Management Act, the drive to grow the New Zealand manufacturing sector, and the selling of CBD head offices because working from home has become a reality for many. We are now having to reconfigure the rules to adapt to the new normal we find ourselves in.

With America turning in on itself, the idea of unchecked globilisation being reconsidered, and trade deals being mooted for restructuring and renegotiation, now is an ideal time for cultural considerations for local content to be reinstated. We should be looking to ensure that New Zealand content on NZ screens is a requirement, not just a nice to have, whether it’s on local broadcasters and platforms or international streamers swamping us with international content.

In the meantime, we just have to figure out a way to swamp the world with New Zealand content. Some more funding for NZ On Air and the NZ Film Commission would be a good start.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Zoom's Gallery Views of DEGNZ's workshops

As life accelerates back to speed, for some, lockdown may seem like a distant memory. What happened in the DEGNZ calendar during April and May, you ask?

Lockdown turned out to be the perfect opportunity for us to test online learning, starting with part two of the Directors Toolkit with Peter Burger after the original weekend got cut short pre-Lockdown. It was great to bring the class of directors back together for further teaching, and to lay off the hand sanitiser.

Acting/directing coach Miranda Harcourt also ran two excellent Directing Actors sessions for the Guild. We received so many applications that it was a real blessing that we could stretch the one workshop to two – thanks in part to Miranda’s normally chocker schedule being grounded. Even then, we sadly couldn’t give every applicant a place.

Zoom's Gallery Views of DEGNZ's workshops

Grids within a grid: Participants in workshops with Peter Burger and Miranda Harcourt.

During lockdown, we enjoyed seeing what members made as part of DEGNZ Play, a creative outlet for members to make and share 1-minute videos from inside their bubbles.

Round 1 of the 2020 Table Reads, in association with the NZ Writers Guild, went virtual via Zoom. A cast of seven actors read and contributed their thoughts on a feature film script being written by Nick Ward and directed by Kath Akuhata-Brown (DEGNZ), the lucky draw winners. We’ve got two more rounds this year, likely around a 3-dimensional table. If you’re writing a feature, these are a great opportunity and exclusive to members only.

DEGNZ also scrutinised a bunch of how-to guides and took events online. If you missed any of our live events, you can watch the recordings for Young Creators: Think Outside the Box, Screenlink: The Editor, a Composer’s Friend or Foe? and DEGNZ Forum: Draft Screen Sector Strategy 2030 Panel Discussion, which were held on our Facebook Live.

Now, looking ahead, we’ll be picking up the workshops that are near impossible to adapt for online – our practical actor-director workshops and a new and improved Assistant Editors Course. Our first in-person workshop is on this Friday with the seven directors of the 2020 Women Filmmakers Incubator. Meanwhile, Melbourne-based Kiwi director Jonathan Brough prepares to teach Comedy Directing online in June.

Based on feedback we received from participants, we feel online learning went pretty well. We are interested in developing our professional development programme to provide a mix of in-person and online opportunities in the future, so that more directors and editors can benefit and come together from across New Zealand.

So thanks to learning with us.

Tema Pua
Events & Marketing Manager