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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

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Scrolling through my Facebook feed yesterday to catch up on industry news, a Stuff article caught my eye. “Can Aotearoa make the screen the next primary industry?” the hook headline blared.

Diving into the article, I read that SIGANZ President Brendon Durey believes the “constrained” rebate doesn’t go far enough (the rebate offered to international productions shooting here) as other countries like the United Kingdom and Canada offer higher amounts. A white paper put together by educational outfits YooBee College of Design and UP Education calls for more Government money and resources to go into creativity education. And new Wellington outfit The Granary gets its marketing video promoting the use of LED technology backdrops showcased. Multiple handclaps to all three for getting their PR into Stuff.

My hat does go off to the educational outfits and The Granary, though, because they both promote the idea of local IP creation, with YouBee and Up giving a big plug to the possibilities with local stories and within the New Zealand gaming sector, while The Granary seeks to give Kiwi content creators a way to bring Hollywood tech pizazz to local production in an affordable manner.

One of the key reasons Aotearoa has a massive opportunity on its doorstep, journalist Andre Chumko tells us in the article, is that our sector “struggles to keep up with an unprecedented glut of production born from the Covid-19 pandemic.” I would suggest, however, that that glut isn’t going to continue unabated.

As the whole sector was wrestling during our first lock down with how to get back into production, I was having calls with the Directors Guild of America about what we were doing. NZ’s Screensafe COVID protocols were written up and out while the US guilds were still wondering what to do. Although slow to get their protocols in place, American production has for some time now been operating both domestically and internationally amidst the pandemic with strict guidelines that are keeping on-set infections low. Now, with the vaccine rolling out, the sleeping U.S. behemoth of backlogged productions and a year of new shows developed by showrunners and writers locked up in their homes is going to start hitting.

Will Aotearoa get a slice of that pie? Undoubtedly. As will Australia, which is seen as just as safe as New Zealand by Americans, but with more crew, facilities, and perhaps most importantly, onscreen talent that can pull international financing and audiences. Canada, Eastern Europe, and other countries will also benefit as the American juggernaut gets rolling.

The idea that we are going to be awash in streamer and other international production until the Apocalypse, however, is a little far-fetched in my view. A lot of American production will again take place in the U.S. and Canada, just like it always has. A strategic approach and well managed tactical implementation will I believe see New Zealand continue to benefit long term from production coming in from overseas. But the real opportunity I maintain lays in “constrained” local IP generation, and not just with identifiably Kiwi content.

Putting our culture on screen is vitally important, and we must continue to do so. Māori content cuts through in the global marketplace. Indisputable. But it’s the lack of investment in our screen content that is constraining us, whether it’s identifiably New Zealand or not.

NZ On Air, TMP and NZFC are still essentially operating on the same levels of funding they were receiving 10 years ago. COVID funding, though, has shone a spotlight on local IP.

Depending on which whisper you listen to, there were somewhere between 50 and 150 applications for the one-off $50 million Premium Fund. That’s a lot of local IP vying for, in the greater scheme of things, not a lot of money. There would definitely have been more than one pie-in-the-sky idea thrown in with no chance of success. But even if only 10 per cent of the proposals met a key criteria of being high-quality productions that tell New Zealand stories for global audiences at a scale and ambition not previously possible, that’s a clear indication of how much viable, untapped IP is out there.

Our local screen industry needs more investment to take advantage of global content opportunities:

  • More annual funding for NZ On Air, TMP and NZFC
  • An annual Premium Fund
  • More support for New Zealand’s gaming sector

A massively stimulated local industry will provide more than enough employment for current and future crew, and work for suppliers, with the added benefit of generating export dollars and actually creating and retaining IP here. International serviced production will then become a nice-to-have rather than a must-have for the New Zealand screen industry to survive and prosper.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

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The standoff between the Australian Government and the global digital platforms has been a fascinating insight into the power the platforms, particularly Facebook, now hold.

Australia’s News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, just passed by the Australian Senate in the last 24 hours, allows the Australian Treasurer to designate global platforms who then must start negotiating with news businesses about how much to pay them for content through mediation, or if that fails, arbitration.

None of the platforms were happy with the thought of having to pay for something they have been getting for free up until now. And nor did they care that the advantage they had was driving news publishers out of business. However, the big stick of proposed legislation forced Google to reach deals with some major Australian news media outlets. It’s highly likely though that this would never have come about if Bill Gates and Microsoft hadn’t stepped into the breach with the threat of its search engine Bing replacing Google—sufficient enough a concern for Google to cave in.

Facebook however is a different matter. It’s such an all-pervasive platform with no real competition that Mark Zuckerberg felt emboldened enough to cut Australian news feeds from Facebook rather than pay up. An unintended consequence of this was to remove from Facebook Australian-originated information that was considered vital, such as that from health services providing Covid information, charities, food banks, and other important sources. Additionally, the removal of trusted news sources also reignited criticism of Facebook as a promoter of conspiracy theories and fake news.

Facebook’s bullying tactics were lambasted by UK and European Governments, but they did in fact force the Australian Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, to amend the proposed bill. Rather than all platforms being designated from Day 1, the Treasurer is required to give 30-day’s notice before a platform goes on the list. And Facebook gets to avoid going on the list at this point.

There has been considerable criticism of the Australian Government’s bill from a variety of sources, ranging from that it’s an incredibly blunt instrument to it being favourable towards the major Australian media players while doing nothing for small publishers. There’s more to come on this David vs Goliath battle but Round One seems to have gone to Facebook.

Meanwhile, at the Australian screen producers conference Screen Forever, Australian producers decried the Australian Government’s deregulation of Australia’s commercial networks while failing to regulate Subscription Video On Demand providers like Netflix. Deregulation means the screen industry there has lost the stringent quotas for local content that used to be required of the networks. At the same time, the Producer Offset—the Australian equivalent of the New Zealand Production Grant–for feature film was also lowered from 40% to 30%. These two hits created significant uncertainty about the ability of many Australian production companies to survive. Although there is a mooted requirement from the Aussie Government that SVODs and AVODs invest a percentage of their revenue on Australian content in the form of commissions, co-productions and acquisitions, it’s only in its early consultation phase with nothing concrete expected should it come to pass for some time. While a figure of five percent of revenue has been flagged by Government there as a level streamers would be required to invest in Australian content, amongst the production community 20 per cent is being touted as much more realistic.

This side of the Tasman it’s far too easy to say that the New Zealand Government is being gutless by avoiding to talk about any kind of regulation of global platforms or SVODs. I’m hoping that doesn’t prove to be true.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

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With the vaccine within sight and just when we thought all we had to worry about was who was going to win the America’s Cup… here we go again.

It’s only through the news, our friends and other sources do we comprehend the horror of what COVID has perpetrated on many parts of the world. Our experience has been minor in comparison. The low numbers of check-ins using the COVID app has highlighted the nonchalance with which many Kiwis have treated the threat. And now here it is amongst us once more.

Fortunately, many productions schooled through our last lockdowns have maintained their vigilance and practices. A visit to Amazon’s Lord of the Rings studio locations highlighted that. Screensafe’s and SIGANZ’s considerable effort, with all the guilds and associations pitching in, means we have the resources and now the experience to provide the safest environment possible for production amidst a pandemic. Let’s hope we don’t have to rely on these for too long.

The fund NZFC and NZ On Air operates for COVID-hit productions has already been used by a large number of projects. How much money is still available has suddenly become a pressing issue. As will the availability of more if we are faced with a longer time in lockdown.

We got away almost unscathed from the Pullman outbreak. This looks much more serious with the UK variant of the virus confirmed in the community cases.

In the meantime, DEGNZ will continue to operate as we did through Levels 2, 3, and 4. We are all working from home, so office hours are essentially the same as usual. Once more we have to adjust our events to cope with the situation. We will be communicating with you about any workshop or event that was already on our calendar and that may be affected.

As always, the guild will be available to our director and editor members with advice or assistance, so do not hesitate to reach out. Hopefully, we will not have to take on a bigger picture role because of a prolonged lockdown period—having done a lot of work already, the screen sector is in a lot better shape than it was the first time around.

As I sit in front of my computer at home listening to the rain falling on a vege garden and property that welcomes it with open arms, and another sunny weekend just gone, I sincerely wish that all is over by midnight Wednesday. I will then be able to look forward to the coming weekend, which will hopefully deliver good surf so that I can try out my new surfboard lying untested in its bag in the carport.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

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Considering the significant impact of COVID on the entertainment industry, it’s hard not to be pleased with the incredible amount of activity going on in the New Zealand screen industry right now.

New Zealand is being seen as a good, safe destination to shoot in, with a number of international productions happening and others wanting to come in. This means crews are busy and getting paid well, more New Zealand actors are getting cast in roles that at another time would have gone to internationals, and the economic impact of the spend is going around the country.

As well, New Zealand productions, whether domestic or coproduction, are also happening. Vegas in Rotorua, One Lane Bridge in Queenstown, Mystic’s going again, Head High has gotten another series, The Panthers is shooting. These are just some of the bigger ones, in addition to the many small and medium-sized productions that typically get made in any given year.

Producers are lining up with projects for the Premium Drama Fund. A number of these will shoot this year. Shortly, the development component of the PDF will come out. All this on top of the typical funding from our three content funding bodies.

What’s the problem? Well crew rates and budgets for a start.

Crew are putting their prices up because demand exceeds supply, making it very difficult for NZ productions to get highly experienced crew. So if you’ve got an inexperienced teenager, relative or friend who’s been longing to get into film and TV, there’s never been a better time.

Budgets from the funding bodies for regular production haven’t increased, which means NZ can’t compete with their international dollars. The Premium Fund projects have hopefully taken increased rates into account, but for right now this is a one-off fund. Now is the time to lobby Government for more money for the funding bodies. This is particularly the case for NZFC as filmmakers are essentially paying—not getting paid—to make their low-budget films. While independently-funded films often operate in this way, it shouldn’t be the case for films funded by NZFC.

On the big picture front, we’ve heard that the Screen Industry Workers Bill is walking at tortoise pace while the government puts the afterburner on Fair Pay Agreements. Movement is happening on the proposed pan-sector body The Copyright Act Review is stuck in limbo. Considerable effort is going into the shaping and establishment of the Workforce Development Councils, driven out of the Reform of Vocational Education. This is a real positive for the screen sector as it will hopefully provide pathways into screen sector work that will address the shortages we face on the crew side particularly, but also in other areas.

Frankly, though, we are in a pretty good place considering. Now we just have to pray like hell that those COVID variants don’t wreak havoc on what could be a very good year for us all.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director