Editing For Success

The professional development programme for this year is well underway at DEGNZ. I wanted to let all the editors in the Guild know about the opportunities available so that you stay on the lookout for them as they arise.

Editing Workshop
Firstly, we have our Editing Workshop. This is something we have run over the last three years and we currently have a call out now for a workshop with one of NZ’s leading editors and our former president Peter Roberts. This is a hands-on workshop across two days in mid-April, in which Peter will give insight into his process and work, focused this time on editing drama. As well, you will have the opportunity to cut material he has supplied for individual and group review. The deadline is coming up on Wednesday 28 March, midday so if you are interested, get your application in.

Feature Film Editing Attachment
Second, a new initiative launched this year with the support of the NZFC is our Feature Film Editing Attachments. We have one about to start on a telefeature being edited by Paul Sutorius, and directed by John Laing. DEGNZ would like to congratulate Anastasia Doniants for being the successful applicant for this inaugural attachment.

The intention of the attachment is to put an emerging feature film editor who wants to make a career of editing features into the room alongside an experienced editor, and not working in the role of the assistant editor. With the changed nature of the role of assistant editing ushered in by digital technology, we are seeing the assistant editor’s role becoming much more specialized in the preparation and technology arenas, resulting in a lack of opportunities for assistant editors to work alongside and learn from the editor.

There will be more of attachments to come as and when we can find a willing editor and production to attach to.

Assistant Editor Workshop – Mandatory Skills
Third, another new initiative targets assistant editors, and the skills and knowledge they need to be most effective in their role. In the second half of this year we will run an Assistant Editor Workshop also supported by NZFC, focused on going through everything an assistant editor needs to know and do to be most effective in their role. The workshop content was planned by one of NZ’s top editors Jonno Woodford Robinson, who has a particular bent for the tchenical as well as the creative.

Training with Andy Day
I would like to mention for those who are relatively new to editing or wishing to learn more advanced technical skills that we have a members discount arrangement with Andy Day for creative software training.

Andy is a 25-year industry professional who is an Apple Certified Master trainer for Final Cut, Logic Studio & an Apple Certified Consultant, an Adobe CS6 Certified Instructor and Lead Instructor for Maxon’s Cinema 4D. Andy also taught for many years on Avid. If you want to take advantage of this, just get in touch with Andy via www.handytrainingonline.co.nz and tell him you are a member of DEGNZ.

Finally, I would like to ask all our editor members out there who have festival or award success to keep us updated so that we can celebrate your work and achievements. As you know, it’s often hard to identify editors from festival announcements and we depend on you to make us aware. Help us keep an eye out for you.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

RNZ Minus?

When Broadcasting, Communications & Digital Media Minister Clare Curran announced her plan to ramp up Radio New Zealand to RNZ+ with additional funding of up to $38 million, there were a lot of smiles out there including on my dial. I love Radio NZ and spend all of my driving time—and that’s a lot of course in Auckland—listening to it.

Equally, there is a lot of concern about what this actually means.

Nobody including me wants to see large chunks of money spent on hardware to build a free-to-air public media TV station to play out linear programming. That sentence there has a number of conundrums worth exploring.

Is it expensive to actually build a TV station? Not necessarily. Having peripherally or directly been involved in three digital channels, I can unequivocally tell you there would be a lot of change from $38 million. However, to feed a TV station with content is like feeding a beast. It consumes everything in its path 24/7 or however many hours you are programming for.

The best way to do it is to buy already made content, which generally comes from offshore because it’s cheaper than making it. Then you can of course rotate it in blocks of four or multiples of, to fill a 24-hour day, and introduce new content to whatever your change in/change out strategy is. That doesn’t help local content makers, though, which is why we have NZ On Air.

You could of course hold up the Maori TV model and say, look at all the local content they are making with the $33 million they get. The immediate reply would likely be, look at the quality of the material that often comes out of there and what Maori Television Service has done to budgets and rates of pay for the programme makers who do the work—that’s potentially the path to devastating the whole industry and certainly not what we want from any RNZ+.

A more important question doing the rounds right now is why build a new channel at all? TVNZ is government owned and TV One could be the free-to-air public broadcaster it should be. This had been proposed by NZ First. It would seem the Minister views the commercial culture of the organisation as a key reason for that not happening, and therefore the need to build a public broadcaster in the screen space out of RNZ.

The simple suggestion mooted in some quarters to fix TVNZ is to replace the board and top management and everyone else in the organisation will fall into the public broadcaster line that the new lot would institute. There are a lot of sceptics about this thinking, including Clare Curran obviously. But it’s not as simple as it sounds, I believe. There would be a lot of complexities involved in moving ONE from it’s commercial positioning to a public broadcaster, which may or may not see change from $38 million. But worth looking at perhaps if it hasn’t been done already?

Then you have to consider what free-to-air actually means. In the People’s Public Media Report, a joint effort between Action Station and the Coalition for Better Broadcasting, presented to Government in December 2017, panellist and independent producer Kay Elmers wrote this:

As we move away from using public money to fund content for free-to-air broadcast delivery platforms, and increasingly fund content that is delivered online only, we have a fundamental problem that this publicly funded content is no longer freely accessible to all citizens.

In talking to Kay about this, she explained that if you have to pay to have data or Internet access to get online content then that’s not free-to-air—with TVNZ or Radio NZ, you only need the hardware to receive the programming. This is a key point of differentiation.

Another key consideration is what does public media mean? Wikipedia’s take, which comes from the widely accepted British definition, has as principles:

  • Universal geographic accessibility
  • Universal appeal
  • Attention to minorities
  • Contribution to national identity and sense of community
  • Distance from vested interests
  • Direct funding and universality of payment
  • Competition in good programming rather than numbers
  • Guidelines that liberate rather than restrict

But, when you read the paper put to cabinet by Minister Curran or the terms of reference provided by her for the just appointed Public Media Advisory Group who will look into the role and scope of the mooted Public Media Funding Commission, you can see an emphasis on news and current affairs and less on the wider content scope that makes up public media in totality.

Drawing on the People’s Public Media Report again, this time from panellist and long-time news and current affairs broadcaster Mark Jennings:

It [public service media] is now seen as perhaps the last bastion of independent, quality news and current affairs, in a media world that is collapsing under a deluge of click-bait and the impact of failing financial models.

So is the Minister throwing out the baby (broad public media content that keeps many of us employed) with the bathwater (TVNZ) to provide quality, independent news and current affairs on an energized Radio NZ (RNZ+)? Here’s hoping the Public Media Advisory Group looks into this. Or do the redacted bits in the cabinet paper (apart from those hiding the group member who withdrew) make RNZ+ a fait accompli?

Another conundrum to discuss: Is there a need for a public media linear channel for RNZ?

When asked by STUFF about it in October last year:

“RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson said RNZ was doing ‘television-like things.’

“We see that growing and improving

“Whether that translates into a fully-fledged, ‘old-style’ linear channel, I am unclear and I probably think it is not necessary given where the market and technology is going.

“Even before taking the new policy into account, we were moving down a path of having more audio-visual delivery of content live and on-demand,” he said.

“This policy would probably accelerate the development of our multimedia plans, but the definitions of what a television channel is and what audiences want and need is changing really quickly and we would have to take that into account,” he said.

Thomson reiterated this in a boisterous select committee hearing last week reported by NEWSROOM, although Curran wasn’t letting them completely off the hook when she added that a free-to-air linear station might be an option “down the track.”

I for one subscribe to Thompson’s approach to the RNZ+ offering. It won’t require major infrastructure spending, and would mean the majority of the new funding RNZ would get from the $38 million could be spent on news and current affairs content.

More importantly, this tack would leave NZ On Air as it is and hopefully provide them with a significant chunk of the $38 million to spend on other local content that is not news and current affairs, rather than receive insignificant funding, which won’t do anyone any good.

There’s a conspiracy view out there that a coterie of grey-bearded academics, embittered former public broadcasters and others have it in for NZ On Air and want it done away with entirely. Every working person in the screen industry I have spoken to about this so far feels that would be absolutely disastrous. As much as we bemoan NZ On Air when they say “No” to our proposals, there is almost universal agreement in the screen industry that it’s efficient and effective, must be kept, and given a lot more money to play with.

We all need to keep a close watch on developments around RNZ+ to make sure we will continue to get a good volume of quality NZ content, including independent news and current affairs, and a real public media offering, all the while ensuring we don’t slide into screen poverty with lower budgets and rates.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Where’s the Data?

Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran last year shared her vision for RNZ+ as a non-commercial, audio-visual and multi-platform entity, with its services expanded to include a free-to-air non-commercial television service … progressively developed from Radio New Zealand. She likened this enhanced RNZ to the BBC or ABC.

Across the ditch last week the Chairman of the ABC Justin Milne unveiled the organisation’s vision for the future at a public meeting in Sydney.

“We’ll improve our content partnerships so that we can produce more and better Australian content,” he said. “We plan to constantly increase our investment in Australian production to help ensure both a healthy Australian screen industry and to provide more and new stories for Australian audiences.

“We’ll improve our commercial operations so that our content can be seen by more people all over the world and extra funds generated can be ploughed back into more Australian content.

“In tomorrow’s media environment we can expect ongoing intensity from a number of huge international players. Australia has always been at risk of being culturally swamped by overseas media and I believe that risk has never been greater, so ensuring that the trusted and much loved voice of the ABC can continue to be heard has never been more important.”

Milne described their plan of Investing in Audiences as a series of projects which will make the ABC better for audiences and better for staff, creating an initiative he called ABC 2.0.

“ABC 2.0 will use technology to transform the way we serve content to our audiences and it will change how our people operate, attracting the brightest creative and technical talent and making the ABC an even better place to work,” he said.

As an integrated platform provider with TV, radio and digital offerings and a far larger budget, the ABC is at a significant advantage over RNZ. The $30 million that RNZ will get to transform into RNZ+ is not going to go far. Yet, RNZ is faced here with exactly the same challenges that the ABC faces: increased competition from international players and the pervasiveness of cultural colonialism from offshore.

Thankfully, Radio New Zealand is the voice of our country, long abrogated by TVNZ with its commercial imperative. And it’s proving it. In the year to 18 November 2017, among all radio stations in New Zealand, RNZ National’s station share of 11.3% makes it Number 1 nationwide (among people 10+).  Its audience of 586,700 listeners makes it the Number 2 station for cumulative audience size nationwide behind The Edge It’s this statistical data from GfK Radio Audience Measurements that tells RNZ how well it’s doing.

It’s the data and the knowledge that you can glean from it that is the Fort Knox in the new media realm.

Netflix makes its US$10 billion dollar and growing content budget decisions based on the detailed data they take from their subscribers, which provides a wealth of information well beyond surveys. And they don’t reveal to anyone else what that data tells them, not even the programme makers whose content they screen. That’s how valuable it is.

So where’s the data on New Zealanders’ viewing habits? Well firstly, its in the Nielsen ratings, which no matter how many times you are told is statistically valid, you still doubt the insights that the PeopleMeter panel of 600 households provide.

More relevant now though is the detailed data that the NZ online platforms are amassing: TVNZ OnDemand, ThreeNow, Prime Catch Up, the SVODs Neon, Lightbox, Quickflix, Amazon Prime, Netflix of course and others such as Fairfax Media, Stuff and Vice.

This detailed screen data is what RNZ+ needs to plot its course into the future and help ensure a healthy New Zealand screen industry. But it doesn’t really have it now. Here’s hoping somebody there comes up with a bright idea for them to get it, rather than leave it all with TVNZ and private players.

Data is the new power and having your own platform to mine it is the new game if you have the money and can get the audience. RNZ+ offers that opportunity, and NZ On Air and NZFC would do well to take heed of that. I think it would be a safe bet to say that the ABC has already got this in hand and I can’t imagine it’s gone unnoticed at Screen Australia.

You can read ABC Chairman Justin Milne’s full speech here.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Hello 2018!

We’re into the year and we’ve got a significant period of change coming.

The Government’s first hundred days are up in two weeks and it has already made good progress or is about to in terms of tertiary education, housing, child poverty, mental health and other social issues. Yet, it’s in the area of workplace relations that progress had been slow, and understandably so because the shift will be significant. However, today the Government announced a slew of employment law changes in favour of workers. Labour’s Fair Pay Agreements, which are still to come are potentially contentious with a fear that they’ll bring strikes and economic decline. Labour’s adamant they won’t.

In regard to the screen sector, following the attention-grabbing announcement that the Hobbit Law would be repealed, the government scrambled quickly to assure everyone that it did not want to affect attraction of international production to New Zealand. Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced the formation of a working group to consider options for replacing the legislation. The Film Industry Working Group will meet shortly and DEGNZ is a member. So for the moment,  film workers will not be able to collectively bargain, although the government fully intends for those workers to have that right.

Clare Curran confirmed at NZ On Air’s year-end celebration in December that Radio NZ will get a significant funding increase of around $20 – 30 million, and that NZ On Air and a new overarching public media funding commission would share the remainder of the $38 million fund, intended primarily for news and current affairs programming. This should start to flow this year.

The commitment has drawn the ire of Mediaworks CEO Ian Anderson, who complains it will weaken media diversity and hasten the end of Free To Air TV. Instead he suggests, turn TV1 into a true public broadcaster—Talk about flogging a dead horse. He also suggests that TVNZ has the TV business talent that Radio NZ does not. Many in the industry would think that puts Radio NZ in a good place not a bad one. And try telling that to former Maori Television CFO Alan Witherington and former MTS Head of Programming, and TV news and current affairs producer Carol Hirshfeld, both of who hold top management jobs at Radio NZ.

There’s been no mention of any additional funding for the New Zealand Film Commission, but we have to hope that NZFC would have put in a bid for additional funds for 2018/2019. The $13 million NZFC has to fund local production for 2017/2018 and the annual $16 million in Screen Production Grant funding for NZ films for the next four years won’t go far.

A major change at NZFC in 2018 is new CEO Annabelle Sheehan. An educator and bureaucrat with a production background, Sheehan can be expected to bring a different approach to the way the organisation operates from her predecessor producer Dave Gibson. As former head of the highly regarded Australian Film, TV and Radio School (AFTRS), we can expect she’ll have strong opinions on talent development. She will still though be reporting to the National Government-appointed NZFC board, and they were after all the ones she had to convince to get the job. We can expect Labour’s hand will come into play as board members on both NZFC’s and NZ ON Air’s boards reach their ends of terms and new appointments are made.

One of the big shifts at NZ On Air will happen in February or March when they announce their new drama strategy. After the incredible noise generated around the Filthy Rich and Dirty Laundry funding, primarily by Duncan Grieve, and the constant chatter around digital funding and the lack of support of emerging content makers, again very attributable to Mr Grieve, NZ On Air went into a major reassessment of scripted programming. No doubt the cracks that opened will widen. Interesting to note another change in Grieve stepping down as editor of Spinoff to focus on managing the company’s business, which includes two new TV shows.

On the international scene it’s a bloodbath. We are effectively saying goodbye to Hollywood studios and hello to high-tech companies. Once all the mergers and acquisitions are done, it’s likely Disney, who recently acquired Fox from Rupert Murdoch, will be the only one left standing and it’ll be competing with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and Google/YouTube. China funding in the US entertainment industry has dried up but the massive players in the Chinese online space are surging. Get used to saying Baidu, Tencent, iQiyi, Youku, Tudou and Sohu. News out of Sundance so far sees only one major acquisition going to new players Neon and AGBO, with a US$10 million spend to acquire all rights for Assasination Nation. Netflix and Amazon have yet to acquire anything.

It’s not looking any prettier for NZ film. The arthouse market where NZ film sits has dried up except for Europe, and its even tough there. Amazon was shedding a ray of light for independent film, particularly US indies, because of Ted Hope, who is a major supporter of auteur filmmaking. But online media intelligence site FilmTake has just reported that Amazon is moving away from small indies and into the $50 million budget space. And Netflix is supposedly proving a harder door to open now that it’s well established with a solid roster of content suppliers it already has relationships with.

On the domestic front it’s hard not conclude that the Australasian distribution system for NZ film is broken. Sure Wilderpeople and some of the more popular docos are still getting over the $1 million mark and small films like the recent Waru are punching well above their budget weight, but if you’re not making overtly commercial films you’re chucked out in two weeks to make way for the next Hollywood blockbuster, so there’s no chance for word of mouth to build up and grow an audience. That is if you can get theatrical distribution in the first place. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. Catering to niche audiences with good light entertainment as the Three Wise Cousins team is doing with their latest self-funded romcom Hibiscus & Ruthless is one model for the way forward.

On the guild front things are a little steadier. We have a lot of big picture work in front of us with the Film Industry Working Group, Copyright and the Code of Ethics to focus on. With professional development we will be running a full programme of training workshops for directors and editors, introducing a drama editor attachment scheme to complement the TV drama director attachment initiative we will do again this year, and putting one more intake through the Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator. We are also planning further events specifically targeted at young creators. To round things off we’ll have our regular networking events where you can hear speakers and connect with like-minded screen industry professionals.

DEGNZ is here to work on your behalves, so make yourselves known to us whether it’s for assistance or just to say hello. We appreciate your support both through membership and patronage at our events and look forward to connecting with you in 2018.

Finally our thanks go out to the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ On Air, Vista Foundation and our other supporters Dominion Law, Resene, Seresin Wines, Pieter Holl & Associates, Event Cinemas, Reading Cinemas, Rialto Cinemas and Hoyts who support us in supporting you.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

A Heck of a Year

It’s been a heck of a year with a number of significant changes that affects many of the things we do in the screen sector.

The first of major import was NZ On Air’s move to its single media fund model in July of 2017. Already an avenue for aspiring content makers who couldn’t or didn’t want to get their content seen via traditional channels and a way for traditional players to put their toes in the digital waters, NZ On Air’s reshaped approach now sees a whole raft of new and much bigger players push through the gates to create an even greater level of competition for the organisation’s capped funding. NZME, Fairfax and Vice amongst others are now competing with bedroom web series makers, and often throwing their weight around in doing so. But some things have remained the same. Adding to the gatekeepers in broadcast, we now have a new bunch of gatekeepers in digital platforms with their own sometimes onerous demands for letting you play in their playpens if you want funding.

One of the players in both the old and new spaces, TVNZ has had another shake up and, surprises of surprises, things there actually seem to have changed this time. A new Head of Content and a new Digital team, together with a ‘we’re-going-to-have -to-do-something-or-die’ reality pushing them along, has transformed their attitude and approach. A clear example of this is HEIHEI, the new digital platform for children, a joint initiative between TVNZ and NZ On Air that will launch in 2018. It seems to me that TVNZ from the top down is now open particularly in the digital space to new ideas, approaches and teams with an open-door policy that’s refreshing.

The most fundamental shift we observed this year that has major impact on us was the change in government from National to a Labour-led coalition. National never saw the cultural benefit in the Arts; Labour does. National put employers to the fore; Labour puts employees (or in our case contractors for the majority of us). We are going to see shifts in Arts funding, as exhibited by the Government’s commitment to add $38 million to Radio NZ and NZ On Air’s pots. We will experience changes in workers’ terms and condition of contracting and employment as the miss-start with the Hobbit Law indicates. More important though will be the psychological impact of a government that supports artistic endeavour and also understands that artists need to be financially supported to express themselves in a way that allows them to have a sustainable career doing so. If the government can encourage creative expression and risk-taking, protect intellectual property rights and provide opportunities to channel creative output into revenue-generating product for international markets, we’ll all be better off.

Amidst this sea of change that’s upon us, only some of which I’ve mentioned here, we need to do our own bit to ensure the creative, cultural and financial wellbeing of not just directors and editors, but everyone in the screen industry. This is why DEGNZ initiated and is driving the establishment of a Code of Ethics. We want to stop exploitation, create an environment where everyone is protected mentally and physically, and ensure that the work we do creatively sustains us. The other guilds and associations are on board with this and we hope to bring the funding agencies and government in on this, too. If you haven’t filled in the small survey that we have circulated through every guild and association, please do so. This is an important step for us to be able to move ahead.

On the more tactical front we have had some good wins this year. As part of our efforts to address gender inequality particularly for women directors, we completed our first Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator, closing out the fifth and final workshop in August. We have 10 women directors raring to go from this. We saw two of our TV drama attachments payoff big time with Helena Brooks going on to direct a block of two episodes on 800 Words, while Aidee Walker will direct a block of Westside next month. These talented directors made their attachments work for them, and our other attachments have proven themselves or await the opportunity to do so as they all came through their attachments with flying colours.

In the year ahead we have another Incubator to look forward to with a call for applications out now. We will continue to do TV drama attachments, and are excited about the new dramas that just received NZ On Air funding as well as those that were already planned. We have our full programme of other professional development to implement in 2018. And with the change of government, our advocacy and lobbying efforts on your behalf have already ramped up and will do so even more next year.

At all the screen-related Xmas functions I have been attending this month (and there have been a few), I can say that there is an air of positivity about. It’s shaping up to be a great 2018.

I wish all of you safe, happy and relaxing holidays so you, too, are in good mettle for the year to come.

Mere Kirihimete!


Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

What’s Up Doc?

As we approach the end of another hectic year like many I’m sure, I’m feeling a little low in energy from the stress and strains of work, the knocks or outright rejection that are a staple of our industry, and the long hours that our passion for the creative sector often demands of us.

I was having a conversation recently about mental health in Film & TV with the head of another guild as we all know someone if not ourselves who has been adversely affected in either a minor or major way by mental health issues.

Ben Neutze writing in the Daily Review in October 2016, cited statistics from a report by Entertainment Assist and Victoria University that revealed… almost half of the people working in Australia’s entertainment industry have moderate to severe anxiety (a rate ten times higher than the general population) while even more suffer from depression, and almost 60% have sought professional assistance for mental health issues at some point in their lives.

He goes on to say: While those surveyed reveal a strong passion for their work and creativity, it’s clear that there are severe stressors affecting those workers. The report identifies: “a powerful, negative culture within the industry including a toxic, bruising work environment; extreme competition; bullying; sexual assault; sexism and racism.”

Further: The rates of suicide ideation amongst those surveyed is also alarmingly six times higher than the general population, with suicide planning four times higher, and suicide attempts twice as high, at 7.7%.

Australian actor and filmmaker Ben Steel is making a documentary about mental health in the Australian entertainment industry called ‘The Show Must Go On’. You can learn more about it here.

I can’t imagine we are much better off here in New Zealand.

While mental health issues are commonplace they are still talked about in hushed tones if at all, particularly suicide. It’s a welcome relief when it’s brought out into the open as Sir John Kirwan did. He got his knighthood not as much for his rugby but for services to mental health, having been for several years at the forefront of the campaign to heighten public awareness of depression, an illness from which he suffered.

Mental health in the New Zealand entertainment industry needs some attention, both in terms of assessment and treatment. It’s an industry-wide issue that could go on the agenda for 2019. We have Screen Safe addressing Health & Safety in the workplace. DEGNZ has just started on an initiative for a Code of Ethics that we hope will come to fruition in 2019 and may well address some aspects related to mental health. But a more focused effort on mental health for our sector is overdue. An academic study would be a good first step, so if you know anyone looking for a PhD thesis topic why not make a suggestion.

In the meantime as we head into the silly season, don’t damage your brain too much with Christmas conviviality.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Ructions in the Screen Shire

When Minister for Employment Iain Lees-Galloway told ONE News just over two weeks ago that the government would repeal the Hobbit Law, all hell let loose.

The Hobbit Law prevents screen industry workers from unionising by making all film workers contractors not employees, thereby preventing collective bargaining.

To understand why the Hobbit Law was forced on the screen industry, there’s a need for a bit of history around two key events: The Bryson vs. Three Foot Six case which was settled in the NZ Supreme Court in 2005, and the move by Actors Equity NZ to unionise on The Hobbit in 2010. And I’m going to simplify things because it’s all a bit complex and convoluted.

The Supreme Court decision in 2005 saw James Bryson classified as an employee not a contractor and therefore able to pursue a personal grievance claim against Three Foot Six, the production company that made The Lord of The Rings.

In 2010, Equity NZ made an untimely play around The Hobbit to collectively bargain to improve working conditions for actors with the support of Australia’s Entertainment union the MEAA and the Screen Actors Guild of America among others.

Sir Peter Jackson and the Techos got up in arms about the potential loss of work and revenue to the screen industry due to the actors’ actions, and the National government swung in behind the pro-business argument. At the same time, Warner Bros., the studio behind The Hobbit saw a massive opportunity to squeeze greater concessions from the NZ Government, and duly did.

The upshot was the rushed through Hobbit Law, which prevents film workers being classified as employees and therefore stops them from unionising and collectively bargaining, and supposedly providing certainty for international studios and producers when assessing NZ as a destination for film productions.

The Techos, who have recently rebranded as the Screen Industry Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand, were understandably nervous with Lees-Galloway’s announcement—their concern is about a loss of work and revenue such as was threatened around The Hobbit and which became a reality during the dry patch in 2012 and 2013 because the screen incentives for international production were uncompetitive and the NZ dollar was high. At the time, many either moved overseas or out of the industry. The National Government in 2014 finally came to the party and upped the incentives. International production into New Zealand began to flow again and our crew capability and capacity, while still wearing scars from that time, has returned.

It’s important to say at this point that directors, editors, writers and composers very rarely work on international productions—they depend on local production to survive—and on having capable technicians available to work with them on those productions. Technicians work across both international and local productions, while most producers work on local productions and a handful on international ones.

Back to two weeks ago. It seemed like battle lines were being redrawn with the actors, together with directors and editors, stunties, and composers on one side wanting collective bargaining to improve what they view as their poor terms and conditions, the writers as a union wanting to protect the rights of workers, and the producers uncommitted. On the other side were the technicians who don’t want to see their livelihoods eroded or eliminated should the number of international productions coming here slow down or cease, while also wanting the choice to work as contractors and not employees. And driving the issue, a worker-oriented government wanting to get rid of unjust legislation that is also illegal according to an international convention NZ is a signatory to.

After an initial flurry of activity from the individual guilds we all settled down to talk and then we agreed at the government’s invitation to all settle down to talk in a working group to resolve the situation to the satisfaction of all parties. The ball is essentially now in the Government’s court to sort it out with all our input. We will keep you posted on developments.

For a more in-depth look at the issues, a recent NZ Herald article is well worth reading and I highly recommend you follow the threads and read the associated articles. You can find it here.


Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director


Around the Traps

Last newsletter I postulated about what might and might not occur in regard to the screen industry once the portfolios were assigned. Little did I know it would be referenced in the Hollywood Reporter here.

I was wrong about Grant Robertson getting the Arts portfolio but happily so as Jacinda kept it.

My suggestion that the Hobbit Law was ‘goneburger’ was closer to the mark—the government’s announcement that it would remove the ‘Hobbit Law’ within the first 100 days has prompted a flurry of activity both in front of and behind the camera. We are in dialogue with all of the guilds at this point, and have been communicating with the minister involved. There’s a lot more to be done in and around this and it will take some time. We’ll update you when we have something to say.

Duncan Grieve gave his opinion yesterday on what the new government means for TV here.

And Clare Curran, the new Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media in Radio NZ’s Mediawatch programme gave answer to my thoughts on Radio NZ+, TVNZ and other matters here.

A more interesting development with our digital platforms is the current appeal by Stuff and NZME against the Commerce Commission’s decision to reject their merger. The Crown has brought out the big guns with Jim Farmer QC representing its case. It will be interesting to see if the outcome is StuffMe or “Stuff you!” The latest on this here.

Media watcher John Drinnan on his blog tips interim CEO of Māori Television and Māori businessman Keith Ikin as the next MTS CEO in a short article seriously in need of a spelling and grammar check here.

And finally, a tip of the hat to Taika Waititi… again. Thor: Ragnarok has topped the box office charts in NZ in 2017 with $2.23 million in its first weekend. Global box office is expected to hit US$400 million by Sunday, when the film will see its first weekend in the highly lucrative US market. Those are amazing numbers considering Thor still has a lot of legs left in international markets, and the global total for the last film in the Thor franchise six years ago was US$449 million all up. Taika will be laughing all the way to the pēke.


Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

What Does Jacinda Mean For Us?

Like most everyone else, I’ve been walking around with a smile on my face since Winston Peters decided which side of the seesaw to get on.

I’m not as rabidly dogmatic as many left of centre seem to be in the screen industry, but I do know that the social fabric of New Zealand society has been torn under National, the Arts have suffered, and it deeply disturbs me that we can’t swim in many of our waterways anymore.

I’ve read numerous articles online about what the change of government means for education, transport, trade, the economy, the environment and other sectors, but I haven’t seen anything yet on what it means for the Arts, and more particularly for the screen industry. So like everybody else, I’m going to postulate about some things.

Firstly, the minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage will be Grant Robertson, moving it far up the ladder from where it sat with Maggie Barry. Jacinda is passionate about the Arts and has been Labour’s Arts spokesperson, but won’t have the time this term to deal with it. I believe she’ll give the portfolio to Robertson, another strong Arts supporter, who himself will be busy with Finance. I’ll happily eat my words if Jacinda keeps it, though.

Second: the Hobbit Law. It’s goneburger. Labour outlined in its Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) the ability for employers or employees/unions to be able to begin negotiations on FPAs once a sufficient percentage within an industry call for one. Under The Hobbit Law, all workers in the screen industry are classified as contractors, cannot collectively bargain and are not subject to the minimum working wage requirement—all the antithesis of what Labour stands for. The Hobbit Law will go and it’s up to the guilds to make sure that happens and that we unify to seek sustainable careers in the screen industry.

Next, copyright for directors. The Copyright Act Review is underway. I put considerable effort into lobbying Jacinda directly about director copyright when she was the Opposition spokesperson for Arts, Culture and Heritage. Director copyright is about sustainable careers, a touchpoint for Labour. Our chances on changing the copyright law are now slightly improved but will still need significant effort on our part. It’s not a big ticket item for government, but hopefully with Robertson we’ll have a more sympathetic ear and will be able to get to the other ministers who will count.

The other aspect of copyright is Google’s desire to see relaxed US Fair Use and Safe Harbours legislation enacted here, replacing our Fair Dealing regime that is more stringent and protects the intellectual property of creators better. They must have choked when Winston Peters said he was going with the Labour Party. Years of upfront and behind-the-scenes lobbying to swing National to their view just hit a major speed bump. But they had moved many beaureaucrats toward their line of thinking as well so we’re not off the hook yet. We still need to fight hard to keep Fair Dealing in the face of Google’s enormous financial muscle.

Then there’s public service TV. Radio New Zealand will be transformed into Radio NZ + as promised, giving us a digital platform that will deliver more quality reporting and investigative journalism, Maori, Pasifika and other diverse community content, as well as education and entertainment for children. How the additional $38 million will be spread between the proposed independent Public Media Funding Commissioner and NZ On Air funding is unclear, but it would seem that anything that falls under the remit of the new commissioner that currently is being funded by NZ On Air will move to the new fund, thereby not increasing NZ On Air’s funding but giving it more money to play with in the commercially contestable realm, which will continue to be its responsibility.

Labour understands that the Arts can also generate revenue, and that the screen industry is a significant employer as well as a hotbed for commercial innovation, particularly at the higher end. Steven Joyce never liked the screen incentives although he was smart enough to know we needed them. They will stay, and everyone will await the outcome of the full Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment assessment of the screen incentives currently underway. We might see more production funding for the NZFC for NZ films, which didn’t increase under National although they did top up the Screen Production Grant for both NZ and international films. This funding increase would come out of the Ministry of Economic Development portolio, who is supported by MBIE, who essentially controls the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, at least for the moment. David Parker will be the new Minister for Economic Development.

What about a Minister of Broadcasting? I’m sure Amy Adams helped do away with this as the last minister because she viewed broadcasting as a sunset industry. Labour won’t reintroduce one because Broadcasting, which essentially means Free-to-air these days, no longer holds the sway it once did.

We have to give thought to our public broadcaster TVNZ. This is a vexing question. It’s not the public broadcaster it’s meant to be. Labour would probably flog it off if there were a buyer for it, but who would want it? Perhaps a US network like CBS who has just won its battle to acquire Australia’s Network 10 for US$167 million? Or Fox, who lost out to CBS? Or a private equity fund like Ironbridge who stepped in to save Mediaworks? I don’t think there will be a knight in shining armour for TVNZ, though, with Mediaworks sitting there as an abject lesson, essentially held up by its radio business.

I’m guessing that Labour will leave TVNZ to its own commercial devices after stripping it of its public service mandate, and using whatever dividend it generates to help fund public broadcasting. A more interesting question is what will happen to the public broadcasting and current affairs shows funded by NZ On Air currently on the commercial channels, including the Māori programming? I think they’ll be looking for a new partner to + with.

Will Māori get more money to play with in the screen sector? Yes, because of the work that’s been done by NZFC around their Māori strategy, but that was coming anyway. No for Te Māngai Pāho who already received a boost last year, although not for content. I’d personally prefer that Labour made te reo mandatory in schools through their education policy rather than funding TMP to revitalise the language via Māori Television, although Whakaata Māori would need to keep producing Māori language content until we all caught up.

I don’t believe NZFC and NZ On Air will be merged. We have a new NZFC CEO who will be on a three-year contract. And with other changes to come and those that have recently occurred in and around the funding bodies, it doesn’t make sense to pursue such an idea now.

Creative New Zealand is going to get some attention. Grant Robertson as Associate Spokesperson for Arts Culture & Heritage in a Radio NZ interview prior to the election outlined thoughts that will require some restructuring at CNZ to achieve Labour’s ideas around regional Arts development, more practioners at the top table, and how to ensure young and emerging artists get a fair crack at the funding pie.

In the same interview Robertson gave Labour’s perspective on the Arts:

“Arts are the window to the soul of our people and our country.”

Labour is supportive of the Arts. It wants to see more funding go to the Arts. But it will take time for this to happen and their main focus will be elsewhere for awhile. I don’t think any of us will complain too much if they give first attention to homelessness, mental health, the minimum wage and the housing crisis.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

The Times, They Are A Changin’

I’ve had an incredibly busy time these last few weeks attending industry gatherings, and if there’s one thing certain, it’s that change is coming.

New Zealand On Air held a drama day recently with more than 130 industry people who intersect with drama. As most of you will know, there has been a large amount of criticism levelled at current NZ scripted content, primarily by The Spinoff’s Duncan Grieve. He has a low opinion of the high-end drama that is currently being made, and he is supportive of the idea that those operating in the self-funded and low-budget digital realm—including himself—should be given more money and opportunity. His complaints have resonated with a lot of people.

Also, we at DEGNZ and the NZ Writers Guild have been particularly vocal about the appalling exploitation of creators by online platforms, some of whom are doing it with NZ On Air funding attached. (Look out for our upcoming Young Creators events.) After a day-long talk fest that was productive, NZ On Air has published a summary that identified four areas of focus for them:

  1. Development
  2. Diversity
  3. Innovation
  4. Newer platforms

They are currently working on developing a drama strategy that will take these into account. In the meantime, they have suspended funding for any new drama development funding. It’s likely that it won’t be until the first quarter of 2018 that their new strategy will come through in their operations, but there’s definitely some change on the way. Read the summary from the Drama Day here.

A week later, I attended a presentation by streamer Lightbox, who announced their first commissions. After showing us the multi-million dollar per episode US dramas and multi-hundred thousand dollar per episode NZ On Air funded reruns they stream, Lightbox announced the funding of new digital content from, you guessed it, Duncan Grieve and the web series makers behind High Road. While Lightbox were breathless about their low-budget commissions, there was a collective silent sigh in the room from those who didn’t already know that Lightbox wasn’t coming with Netflix-style commissioning budgets.

Still, it’s better than nothing, which is what had been happening in the paywall streaming space with commissions (that is public knowledge) until this point in New Zealand. Lightbox assured us that they had money to spend. If so, it’s a pity that didn’t make the bold move that everyone is craving for, rather than low-risk ones.

With Netflix committed to spending $500 million in original programming in Canada next year, we can only hope that they will spread some of their largess around here sooner rather than later or we’re all going to die from anticipation.

On the Friday before the Big Screen Symposium (BSS), DEGNZ brought the other guilds and associations together to discuss the concept of a Code of Ethics for the screen industry. As I have written about repeatedly, we are extremely concerned about the terms and conditions being offered in commercial transactions by platforms/producers for scripted web series.

The worst offender is NZME, although there are others who aren’t too far behind. With one of a number of projects I am aware of, the content creator ended up getting approximately $10.00 per hour to create and produce a web series, has no right to revenue share and retains no IP whatsoever in the project. These are just some of the issues with the contracting for this particular show.

Opportunity for eyeballs, future work, blah, blah, blah are the big carrots that entice creators to take on these projects. But in the Guild’s view the platforms are exploiting creators for their own commercial ends—this we believe is unethical behaviour.

DEGNZ feels we need a Code of Ethics for all in the screen industry—funders, platforms, broadcasters, screen industry practitioners—to protect the rights of writers, directors, producers, cast and crew, particularly in the brave new world of no-budget and low-budget screen content creation. After considerable discussion, all of the guilds and associations have agreed to raise the idea with their memberships, and in the first instance, get feedback as to what people are experiencing at the coal face.

DEGNZ is determined to bring about change to help ensure sustainable careers not just for directors and editors, but also for all screen industry practitioners. Our President, Howard Taylor, is the instigator and main driving force behind this initiative. We will update you on this as we go.

At the BSS, current CEO of the NZ Film Commission Dave Gibson gave his valedictory speech entitled ‘Change and Challenge’. The biggest change coming with NZFC is who will replace Dave after he finishes up in December. We wait with bated breath and should find out soon.

In his speech, however, Dave spoke to the changes that have and are occurring in the small screen, and many of those he wrought in relation to our big screen. Some key points he made were around the introduction of a further three planks of NZFC affirmative action to address gender inequity, and some significant time spent on explaining the structure of the New Zealand film library Te Ahi Kaa, and the establishment of the New Zealand film rights management entity Te Pun Ataata. Both are intended to help preserve and provide access to New Zealand’s film history. He also hinted at the Māori Strategy, which has been in development at NZFC for two years. You can read Dave’s full speech here.

Then on the Monday after the BSS, I attended a day-long Industry Summit that brought together all of the funders, guilds and associations to discuss industry issues. Each participant was asked to speak briefly to three topics that most concerned them. I spoke about:

  1. Copyright
  2. Code of Ethics
  3. Quality versus Quantity, i.e. less productions, more money per production

With 21 attendees there were a range of issues. What was most encouraging from our perspective was that Jane Wrightson of NZ On Air identified with our thoughts on a Code of Ethics. What was clear was that the screen industry till now has not had an effective, unified voice to talk particularly to government with.

It may well be that Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett who facilitated the discussion and who is developing a ‘Next Step’ plan for us, will identify this as one area of focus. There will be more to come on this, which we will keep you appraised of. Thanks have to go to Brian Kassler of Showtools who organized this event.

And finally, the weekend after BSS I attended the Ngā Aho Whakaari Hui-ā-Tau two-day conference. I was asked to speak to our work around the Code of Ethics and was also invited to sit on the panel for the short film pitches. But staying with the theme of change, we heard in oblique detail from NZFC CEO Dave Gibson more on the Māori Strategy, which they hope to have confirmed at the board meeting this week. There is a considerable shakeup coming with how NZFC deals with and funds Māori.

A lot of the initiatives Dave will leave behind will be fait accompli for the new CEO Anabelle Sheehan, but she will undoubtedly  have some of her own changes in mind she’ll want to bring about. Let’s hope that they are good ones.

Preceding all of the above was a three-day NZFC workshop I attended as part of my ongoing professional development. I think I need a cup of tea and a lie-down.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director