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The vocational education system for all industries is undergoing massive reform right now. It’s come at a time when the New Zealand screen industry has been suffering from a lack of experienced workers due to the high levels of domestic and international production going on in the country.

It has also brought to the fore concerns about the lack of real-world preparation of students by film schools and media courses at tertiary education facilities. The industry needs workers to hit the ground running and that’s just not happening with the current levels of haphazard training that’s going on.

In 2018, the Government launched the Education Work Programme. One of the four reviews undertaken was the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE), with the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) tasked with undertaking structural change.

Six Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) were established to assist with the structural change. The Screen Industry falls under Toi Mai, the WDC for Creative, Cultural, Recreation and Technology.

A small number of guilds including DEGNZ have together with WeCreate (former Copyright Council), the Council of Trade Unions and others been working to ensure that our WDC is getting the right input so that the resulting vocational education is fit-for-purpose for the screen industry. Recent appointments to Toi Mai reflect our efforts to have people with screen industry knowledge and experience involved:

  • Alice Shearman of the New Zealand Writers Guild as a screen union rep
  • Aliesha Staples, founder and CEO of Staples VR and a TVNZ board member
  • Annie Murray, Head of Sky Originals at Sky
  • Jana Rangooni, former General Manager Radio Live and Newsroom and Group Programme Director at Mediaworks
  • Rhonda Kite, previously owner of Kiwa Productions and audio post house Native Audio
  • Victoria Spackman, ex CEO of the Gibson Group

Right now, guilds and associations are mapping out career pathways to identify the skills needed for each individual role. Determinations will be made as to whether or not apprenticeships are suited to certain roles, while others may require trainees.

We will be involved in creating Skill Standards building to micro-credentials for new entrants coming into the industry. The overall outcome is to have a simple, efficient and appropriate vocational education delivered via the various educational providers. At the same time we seek an administration system that suits the very unique nature of project-based work that happens in the screen industry.

DEGNZ board member Annie Collins is now leading the work on behalf of DEGNZ, SPADA, SIGANZ, SMSG and NZWG, all of whom have been active in this space for the last two years or so. We are now going out to everyone in the screen industry to bring them up to speed with what’s happening.

RoVE is a massive undertaking that will impact on every industry in New Zealand. For the screen industry, we have undertaken this work so that it can develop and grow its capacity and capability to service productions well into the future with skilled workers who have the right education and training to make a positive contribution from Day One.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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Mark Jennings, co-editor of online news platform Newsroom, and former head of News at TV3, has penned an article on Discovery’s plans for TV3.

As Jennings writes, after Discovery’s merger with WarnerMedia., TV3 is now part of the second largest media business in the world after Disney. That in itself is a serious game changer for New Zealand.

TV3 has had an up and down history, moving from private ownership into the Canadian-owned hands of media conglomerate Canwest, before shifting to private equity ownership with Ironbridge Capital and then Oaktree Capital Management. It’s financial fortunes also swung about, going from high profitability before plunging twice into receivership.

TVNZ and SKY in more recent times have kept TV3 impoverished but no longer.

Already the owner of NZ’s Choice TV and HGTV and with six of its own channels on the SKY service, Discovery has, as Jennings points out, brought its might to bear on acquisitions by driving down the prices it pays for content for TV3. With staff cutbacks and other efficiencies, AUNZ GM for Discovery Glen Kyne told Jennings that the channel will be looking to more domestic shows as it competes with TVNZ and Prime in the domestic free-to-air market for viewers.

But what kinds of shows are they after? Kyne didn’t exactly reveal what they are looking for.

In April Juliet Peterson, former GM TVNZ Digital Content, was appointed as Senior Director, Programming at Three, while Australian Darren Chau was appointed Senior Director, Production. Chau has been in New Zealand recently having meetings with some New Zealand producers. Undoubtedly, others have been banging on Juliet’s door. They are certainly looking for ideas.

With its merger with WarnerMedia, Discovery has moved from reality and factual into scripted film and TV as well, with an annual US$20 billion commissioning chest—bigger than Netflix’s. There has been speculation as to whether or not the new CEO of the combined organisation, David Zaslav, is going to adapt when it comes to scripted. This could well play out in TV3’s commissioning stance.

Supposedly, Three is looking for NZ content that can travel internationally as well. It will be interesting to see, though, whether or not the network will continue to rely primarily on NZ On Air and NZ Screen Production Grant funding to get content made in New Zealand. Hopefully, they’ll ante up more than low license fees and become equity investors in NZ shows that could go on one or more of the international distribution channels the newly-branded Warner Bros. Discovery conglomerate owns.

Will it be new beginnings for NZ’s free-to-air market or just more of the same? Watch this space.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

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Thanks to the Doc Edge Festival, I was able to attend their opening night film The 7 Years of Lukas Graham, a story about Danish pop sensation Lukas Graham’s lead singer Lukas Forchhammer’s wrestle with fame. It got me thinking about the woeful state of documentary in New Zealand, something the guild identified at the 2019 NZ On Air Factual Summit in 2019 and sought to generate conversation about. COVID unfortunately disrupted our plans, but it’s back on our agenda.

One-off documentary internationally is in a strong place, although former Amazon Studios film head Ted Hope cautioned at the Danish doc fest, CPH:DOX, recently that the big players prefer documentary with mass appeal. Hope did go on to say however that with the proliferation of niche platforms catering to specialised audiences, there are greater opportunities for more distinct fare.

From Variety’s article:

One of the key things to recognize is the streamers’ need for a “targeted audience at a low price point,” [HOPE] stressed. “That’s basically the equation for efficiency. The most valuable type of audience member for a streamer is the new audience member. How do you attract new people to the platform? People that are not only passionate about something but have actually displayed their passion in a predictable way, are ripe precisely for that acquisition.”
Hope emphasized how different the business goals of streamers are from the world of exhibition. “It’s not profit and loss so much as customer acquisition. Drilling down to what that means I think reveals a lot.”

New Zealand documentary however is meant to target New Zealand audiences first, although with NZFC its international appeal is also taken into account when funding decisions are made.

In taking a look at the TV market for one-off documentary in New Zealand it’s pretty easy to see… there really isn’t one. NZ broadcasters on the whole aren’t interested in one-off documentary as they often tell us, although Māori Television does occasionally commission them.

Feature-length documentary suffers pretty much the same fate with the channels. While short form doco. has found its place with platforms and does attract NZ On Air funding, there’s nothing longer format for these documentary makers to go onto in TV, so they have to turn their heads to theatrical documentary features if they want to move to longer form.

Reviewing the latest figures/films available for NZFC-funded documentary feature for the  NZSPG/SPIF* and non-NZSPG/SPIF documentary films back to 2015 provides some interesting insights.

Please note: The funding totals are for NZFC administered funds only and do not take into account ‘market money’—Distributor/Sales Agent MGs, private investment, broadcast/platform fees or other non-NZFC investment. The box office totals are for NZ only and do not take into account Australia or Rest of World revenues.

In these latest stats:

  • NZSPG/SPIF films with higher budgets and commensurate marketing spend and screen numbers tend not to reach NZ theatrical audiences well, Chasing Great aside.
  • Non-NZSPG/SPIF films in general deliver a better Return on Investment (NZ B.O./TTL NZFC FUNDING) for every NZFC-administered dollar than NZSPG films in the NZ theatrical market.
  • Although the ROI of NZSPG/SPIF films is generally not great, the top two NZ documentaries by box office are NZSPG films, and four are in the top 10.

*NZSPG – NZ Screen Production Grant   SPIF – Screen Production Incentive Fund

 

NZFC FUNDED DOCUMENTARY FEATURES RELEASED 2015 – 2021

YR TITLE (In alphabetical order) NZFC EQUITY NZSPG/

NZSPIF

TTL NZFC FUNDING NZ B.O. ROI
21 Dawn Raid $1,715,000.00 $1,317,490.00 $3,032,490.00 $332,074.00 $0.11
21 James and Isey* $365,345.00 N/A $365,345.00 $522,101.00 $1.43
20 Six60 Till The Lights Go Out $580,000.00 N/A $580,000.00 $535,402.00 $0.92
20 The Girl On The Bridge $690,000.00 N/A $690,000.00 $21,855.00 $0.03
20 We Need to Talk About A.I.** $1,044,783.00 $1,044,783.00 No NZ Release
19 Capital in the Twenty  First Century $804,224.00 $2,010,560.00 $2,814,784.00 $85,458.00 $0.03
19 Herbs: Songs of Freedom $824,897.00 N/A $824,897.00 $97,015.00 $0.12
19 For My Father’s Kingdom $385,543.00 N/A $385,543.00 $63,762.00 $0.17
19 The Chills: The Triumph and Tragedy of Martin Phillips $600,000.00 N/A $600,000.00 $73,157.00 $0.12
18 Merata Mita: How Mum Decolonised The Screen $129,999.00 N/A $129,999.00 $39,039.00 $0.30
18 Maui’s Hook $100,000.00 N/A $100,000.00 $23,376.00 $0.23
18 She Shears $220,302.00 N/A $220,302.00 $133,474.00 $0.61
18 Born Racer $1,087,136.00 $2,717,839.00 $3,804,975.00 $155,588.00 $0.04
18 The Heart Dances – The Journey of The Piano: The Ballet $437,500.00 N/A $437,500.00 $33,502.00 $0.08
18 Wayne $574,980.00 $1,437,449.00 $2,012,429.00 $22,164.00 $0.01
17 McLaren $1,426,397.00 $3,565,992.00 $4,992,389.00 $768,248.00 $0.15
18 Yellow Is Forbidden $338,631.00 N/A $338,631.00 $46,716.00 $0.14
17 My Year With Helen $446,000.00 N.A. $446,000.00 $281,949.00 $0.63
17 Kim Dotcom: Caught In the Web** $1,010,628.00 N/A $1,010,628.00 N/A
17 Pecking Order $200,000.00 N/A $200,000.00 $538,378.00 $2.69
 

16

Chasing Great $1,026,678.00 $2,566,697.00 $3,593,375.00 $1,828,941.00 $0.51
16 The Free Man (AKA Welcome to the Thrill) $1,024,086.00 $2,560,216.00 $3,584,302.00 $18,817.00 $0.01
16 Poi E: The Story Of A Song $921,984.00 N/A $921,984.00 $1,199,830.00 $1.30
15 25-Apr $1,783,348.00 $4,458,369.00 $6,241,717.00 $19,390.00 $0.0031
*Still in theatres
  **No mainstream theatrical release

 

TOP 10 NZ DOCOS TO 2021

YR RANK TITLE TTL NZFC FUNDING NZ B.O.
16 1 Chasing Great (NZSPG) $3,593,735.00 $1,828,941.00
09 2 Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls(SPIF) ($1,900,000.00*) $1,820,000.00
16 3 Poi E: The Story of Our Song $921,984.00 $1,199,830.00
13 4 Beyond the Edge (SPIF) $3,799,385.00 $884,743.00
11 5 Billy T – Te Movie $1,000,000.00 $794,816.00
17 6 McLaren (NZSPG) $4,992,389.00 $768,248.00
17 7 Pecking Order $200,000.00 $538,378.00
21 8 Six60 – Till the Lights Go Out $580,000.00 $535,402.00
21 9 James & Isey $365,345.00 $529,270.00
13 10 Gardening with Soul $15,000.00 $489,931.00

*SPIF figure not available for this film so NZFC Equity Investment only.

 

Of course, the first question in examining the success or not of any film is “Did it reach its target audience?” And the next question could be: “How much was spent in doing so?” Target audiences can vary from niche small audiences to mainstream large audiences but budget level is generally meant to be reflective of expected audience reach. Looking at funding investment and ROI only, NZFC hasn’t done well with its documentary funding decisions over the last six years—One more thing on the list the new NZFC CEO could turn his head to when he arrives.

And for TV, lobbying NZ On Air to fund one-off documentary would obviously help—something ourselves and others are intent on doing.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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Go back fifteen years and it was pretty easy to figure out what success was for screen content. For the small screen it was the Nielsen ratings. For the big screen it was the box office. The show that knocked it out of the ratings park or the film that pulled significant box office clearly indicated it had found a lot of eyeballs. These measures only account though in essence for popularity.

What about the Māori news or information programme on a Sunday morning that Māori loved? Or the arthouse feature that had its world premiere at the A-list festival in Berlin and then did well at the A and B-list festival circuit but only did $250k at the NZ box office. This content reached its intended audiences, but they were niche not broad.

We all recognised this, though. Figure out your audience, broad or niche, and target your content at them. Even for niche audiences, you could still learn whether or not you were successful.

Nowadays, however, in a fragmented market, it’s not so easy to identify what success really is.

A series intended for Free-to-Air that doesn’t rate could find a much bigger audience when it’s moved to On-Demand. A film that does average box office in New Zealand could end up selling or being licensed to a global streamer and potentially be seen by millions more people than was ever thought possible.

The old indicators still work, but it’s simplistic to use them as the only measures of success, especially when popularity is the only yardstick being championed.

The digital world of content distribution has changed the paradigm and complicated how to measure real success, especially when those who control the means of distribution. Netflix, for example, rarely reveal what the very accurate data they alone have access to indicates about audience specifics.

To define a new measurement for screen content success, New Zealand company Parrot Analytics developed a 360 measurement system to take into account multiple points of digital activity around the world. This system is used by, amongst others, TVNZ, CBS, Disney, Sky, and WarnerMedia. Without the data from the content platforms available, this would seem a very valuable service. Perhaps something NZ On Air might want to consider to support their funding decisions if they don’t already utilise it.

But film sits in a very difficult position amongst this digital measurement system. The shared theatrical experience is considered first and foremost for film, unless you are making a telefeature. Filmmakers want their films to go on the big screen before they find their way to the small. Look at the ructions Warner Bros. created when they decided to send their entire 2021 slate straight to HBO Max at the same time as the theatrical release.

Even with the NZFC playing in the series drama space, NZ film is very much its raison d’etre. But the audience for New Zealand film just isn’t there like it used to be. The writing was on the wall before COVID arrived.

NZ film has had a tropical vacation in theatres while Hollywood has been on hold due to COVID, but winter is coming with the onslaught of backed up blockbusters about to hit us.

Amongst all the other changes needed at NZFC right now, defining success for NZ film is another thing that needs to go on the agenda. A paradigm shift in thinking is required because we can’t rely solely on box office numbers any more. Even more so because film is both art and business. There has to be room for both.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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I was listening to a podcast this morning in which Eliza Hittman, the director of the feature film Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always was being interviewed. It very clearly highlighted to me that she is a talented filmmaker, although I have yet to see this film or any of her others. She just talked like one, both in terms of her writing and her directing. But something caught my ear as she was discussing her work, and that was the praise that she had for her editor.

Now I’d have to say it was brief, and understandably so. The interviewer was pressing her on her approach to filmmaking and she was trying to respond succinctly to his questions.

But in pondering what to write about this week it made me want to highlight the craft of editing that can so often go unacknowledged, whether it be in features, drama, or any other genre. Sure, we have awards that bestow upon the editor some recognition, but in general conversation both within and outside of the industry you rarely hear someone say that the editing was amazing.

Of course it’s not that easy to single out editing, in big part because the best editing is invisible according to many of the greats who practise the craft at the highest levels.

It can be easy to think that editing is a technical craft, particularly since digital technology took over the edit suite. Yes, button pushing, technical wizardry and digital manipulation have replaced scissors and tape. Editing operates though at both a conscious and an unconscious level—feel, mood, pace, tension—these and all the other elements of filmmaking are as much the realm of the editor as they are of the director.

As in Eliza’s case, the person most likely to complement the editor is the director, particularly in features. They generally are true collaborators crafting the work together: Scorsese with Schumacher, Caro with Coulson, Pooley with Woodhouse. You don’t have to dig deep to see where the director – editor bond exists, and stays when the connection is found.

In television, it’s more often the producer who appoints the editor or editors to a project. And most producers know a good editor can save their bacon. Smart directors quickly figure this out as well.

We are fortunate in New Zealand to have a lot of good editors. On the DEGNZ board, Annie Collins, Francis Glenday, Margot Francis. Peter Roberts, former President of DEGNZ, another. Current President Howard Taylor, who now firmly sits in the director seat, started out and worked for many years as an editor. And we have many other current and past members who have made their mark as editors on both New Zealand and international features and shows. As well, we see in our workshops and through the work we are exposed to new generations of editors who are grasping both the craft and the art that makes great editing.

Next time you watch something great on the big or small screen, take some time to find out who the editor was if it’s not something you do already, and look them up. They will have made a big a contribution to your enjoyment most likely because you didn’t notice it.

So let’s move that rarely said acknowledgement to sometimes or always, making editors and editing a little more real to everyone.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director