Online Content – Take 2

It’s rare that I raise the same issue two weeks in a row. But the contracts that online platforms are seeking to put in place—or are with those who either don’t know what they’re signing or don’t care—are so unfair that that the guilds are extremely concerned.

There are four key issues at stake:

1. Compensation
2. Intellectual property rights
3. Editorial Control
4. Sustainable work

Content creators are being asked to deliver high-quality scripted content that will bring eyeballs to screens and deliver revenue, directly or indirectly. The compensation being offered to do this is pitiful for the work required. With appropriate levels of compensation not being the ‘give’ that the platforms are offering for the ‘get’, you would expect that they would be fair and reasonable when it came to terms and conditions for the content. But they are not.

The most draconian of the contracts that the guilds have seen are asking for all rights for ever and a day from those coming in with developed ideas.

Then there are the incidences where creators are being employed for poor levels of pay to generate and develop content ideas that they have no rights in.

And when passionate content creators are asked to produce their own ideas under contracts for little money without the editorial freedom that stimulated many of them into getting into online content in the first place, they feel exploited. And it’s hard not to agree with their viewpoint.

A classic cry from the platforms is that they are offering content creators a space on the internet that can put their content in front of a lot of eyeballs with marketing backup. Another is that in this new world of content creation you can’t expect to get paid well for the work you do in the manner that you may have been in the past. And another is the ‘talent development opportunity’ and ‘talent exposure’ that they are giving you. Yet in this new world of content creation they are employing old world contracting norms that don’t allow content creators to fairly benefit from their endeavours, and to build sustainable careers.

I repeat what I said at our Screenlink evening on Lo-budget Content Making this week—Do NOT sign a contract with an online platform without showing it to a guild or entertainment lawyer. You are doing yourself, your colleagues and your industry a disservice if you do.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Web Series – Opportunities or Rorts?

Ever since Auckland Daze transitioned from online to TV, web series have been seen as an opportunity for young scripted programme makers to get the break they so desperately want and have been effectively shut out of in broadcast in New Zealand.

Of course there are those who see YouTube and other online platforms as a revenue generating opportunity and produce content in the hope that they can turn their web programme making into paid work.

And then there are the truly passionate who just want to make stuff and put it out there for people to see without a lot of expectation, hoping that their good work will get noticed and lead to something better.

On the other hand there are some, like Shoshana McCallum, who created a full spec TV pilot as she did with Animals to pitch to a network, which got shutdown and now it’s online so it at least gets seen.

Then there were Gerard Johnstone and Luke Sharpe who revamped Terry Teo for TV 2 and ended up having it pushed to OnDemand without it seeing the broadcast light of day until TVNZ responded to criticism by promising to schedule it and defending their non-broadcast play citing a viewer rating concern.

Some time ago, particularly after the success of KHF Media’s Reservoir Hill, New Zealand On Air realized there was no turning the digital clock back and so they gradually expanded digital content funding streams to deal with what would inevitably become a growing area of application activity.

The initial largess NZ On Air showed Reservoir Hill with 8 x 8 min. eps at just over $300,000 or $4,700/min. has essentially dropped to $100,000 for web series for around the same number of eps and mins., at essentially $1,500/min.*, although some series are going as low as $500/min., and some as high as $2,500/min. And now you have to make a pilot to go with the application.

Here are some comparable numbers for broadcast comedy shows; the genre most popular with web series: Agent Anna 2 (TV One) at $8,200/min., Auckland Daze (TV One), which moved from online to broadcast at $2,800/min., Paranormal Event Response Unit (TV2) at $4,700/min., and Find Me A Maori Bride 2 (MTS) at $2,800/min.

*(Per minute rates are based on the half hour or hour, not the actual commercial duration.)

It’s my guess that anybody working on a scripted show for less than $4000/min. that varies it’s locations and cast, employs art direction, make up, props, costumes, etc. and pursues a quality production approach is not getting paid properly.

So how are people being compensated fairly?

Are cast and crew getting back end points in the production of a web series on which they work for low or no pay so that they can share in any revenue upside that might come from developments like an additional sale, a move from online to broadcast as in the case of Auckland Daze, or an offshore remake as happened with Reservoir Hill in Sweden?

When producers retain the intellectual property of a show and get cast and crew to work for free or below market rates, they have an obligation to share the success with the team that helped get them there when something goes good. And cast and crew have an obligation to demand it, even when it’s from friends as it most often is.

And what about when media giants want to pay little more than the basic wage for the creation and production of online content, take all the rights to ideas that creators come up with, rely on the creative execution of directors, editors and others to craft good programming, then monetise it to generate revenues for themselves? Something’s not right here, surely.

Film has essentially been the home of the above-the-line creative delusional—web series it seems is now the digital equivalent—There’s no lack of people laying their heads on the digital block with pilots for TVNZ’s and NZ On Air’s New Blood Competition in the hope that something greater will come of it.

If you are not being compensated at market rates for the work you do on a web series or online project, ensure that you negotiate the opportunity through points or another mechanism such as shared IP ownership to benefit later if additional revenues ever flow. Or ensure that you agree to a deferred fee arrangement for the difference and maybe a backend kicker that gets paid to you when the producer/rights holder starts to see money come in, either with the content you helped create or another series, version or manifestation of it.

And get your contract or agreement on paper, even if it’s a deal memo and not a long-form contract, before you start working on a project, not after you’ve started, particularly with mates—it’s merely being professional about the whole thing.

There are many positive outcomes that can flow when you contribute your time and expertise for nix or next to nada, and there are just as many rorts. Make sure you are on the right side of the equation. You deserve it. Otherwise you won’t build a sustainable career.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Just Do It?

I was listening to an interview with British director and editor Ben Wheatley on a podcast the other day.

Wheatley in case you don’t know him is considered the new enfant terrible of British film.

He started out making videos for YouTube and got noticed, went on to create online content and then moved into TV comedy.

He wanted to know how he could get into feature film and was told he needed to make a short. Being impatient, Wheatley pooh poohed that idea and went straight to a feature. He shot his first one in eight days, drawing on his experience doing fast-turnaround TV and approaching it like shooting a documentary, going hand held. The result was Down Terrace, which was released in 2009. It was well received by critics and has an 85% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes. His second feature Kill List, which was shot in 12 days, marked Wheatley as a filmmaker to really watch. Wheatley has with the recent arrival of his latest feature Free Fire now made six feature films, nearly one a year—and the budgets have been getting bigger as has the star power—amongst others Tom Hiddleston in High Rise and Brie Larson in Free Fire.

Wheatley’s from the ‘Just Do It’ variety of filmmakers. He and his mates from outside the film industry (but in the production industry) got together to make Down Terrace, and they’ve been working with each other ever since. He’s trained himself as an editor as well as a director, and this editing experience and his TV training he says has helped him get the coverage he needs on his films and not more, as well as always making his day.

There’s a theory that says TV directors lack a voice and therefore can’t make a decent film. Wheatley’s disproven that as he has a highly distinctive filmmaking voice. And in expressing that voice he’s come up with a process and philosophy that he prescribes to. From amongst many of his thoughts on filmmaking, here are six Wheatley tips for aspiring filmmakers (with my paraphrasing):

  1. Create the Industry Around You—i.e. kick the doors down and don’t wait around for bureaucrats/permission.
  2. Acquire a Particular Set of Skills—if you want to be a good low-budget filmmaker, you need to understand the process and all the roles of production well to be efficient.
  3. . Keep It Small—the bigger the beast, the harder it is to wrangle.
  4. Your Actors Are Your Biggest Asset—great performances work anywhere, poor performances just don’t cut it.
  5. Chop It—get rid of what’s not good… brutally. And don’t be afraid to go against convention when you do.
  6. Don’t Be Precious—just make stuff, and learn from it.

Of course, there are a lot of people out there already with the ‘Just Do It’ approach. And many of them are making bad films because it takes more than an attitude to make a good film—it also requires talent. Which doesn’t mean to say that you can’t learn from your mistakes and get better as you go. Filmmaking however is an unforgiving beast, particularly when it comes to funders. You have a good chance of surviving self-funded flops, critically and box office wise, particularly if not many people have seen it and you’re not using one to promote your next project. Make a flop with a funding body however and you are going to find it hard to get another project up as a director.

Just do it? Yes, that philosophy has its merits. But if you can, make the first one good, and the next one better than the last. That way, you might be the next Ben Wheatley (or Taika Waititi).

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Newsflash

I try to stay up to date with what’s happening in the film and TV industry both at home and abroad by reading as many items and articles as I have time for. A few things have caught my attention in recent times that I would like to share with you. Some bode well for our industry while others take an in-depth look at the difficulties we face going forward, and how some are addressing them.

Firstly, news out of the Statistics Department has Gross screen revenue for the year increased 3 per cent to just over $3 billion with film production revenue doubling to more than $1 billion in 2016. Wellington revenue doubling to $644 million for the year, thanks no doubt to Peter Jackson and the myriad businesses that make up his empire. You can read more on this here.

Auckland can now look forward to an increased level of international production with the securing of the Kumeu studio site used to house Warner’s recent feature film production Meg, which was filmed there. A joint venture between Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development, The New Zealand Film Commission, Warners Bros and China’s Gravity Pictures, the Kumeu Film Studios will operate under a lease arrangement for the next 12 years. Warners made a considerable investment into buildings and two specialized water tanks for water filming—a major selling point for the studio. These legacy assets are already attracting considerable interest internationally and we can expect the studio to be well utilized, particularly if the two mooted new sound stages go ahead. You can learn more about the studio here.

Stephen Follows, a researcher and producer who digs up interesting facts and figures on a regular basis, took a look at the impending Writers Guild of America strike, of which I wrote on in my last column. Follows in his article looks at the numbers behind the possible strike here.

Screen Australia has an excellent blog that covers a wide range of topics. Recently they have done a four-part commercial analysis of the 94 films that Screen Australia has released. While it’s geared towards producers, everyone can learn from the facts that Screen Austalia uncovered here.

The impact of TV drama on the global screen industry has even caught the attention of the French, with Cannes introducing another market, this time for high-end TV drama. There is still politicking to be done around this with the French Government wading in, but Cannes Mayor David Lisnard and MipTV and Mipvom organiser Reed Midem have joined forces to try and ensure that Cannes remains the centre of screen festivals and markets. Info. on this here. It would seem we are going to be having a golden age of TV for some time to come in the drama space.

And finally, one piece of news that seems to have slipped quietly by without a lot of people noticing is that of Canada joining the European film funding body Eurimages. Canada is the first non-European country to do so, and becomes the 37th country to be able to access the approximately $32 million Eurimages contributes annually to around 60 coproductions. You can read about it here. In this time of shrinking funding for film, this would seem an astute move on Canada’s part.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Down Tools?

I was considering what to write about this week when an email came in announcing a possible strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA).

It was 2007 when the WGA last went out on strike. It lasted for 100 days. They were finally able to win one concession from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that saw them achieve for the first time a percentage of digital revenues—they had been completely denied any financial benefit on video and later DVD and bluray revenues and consequently missed out on what had been a far greater revenue stream for the studios and producers than box office. (We can by the way thank this strike for the rise and rise of reality TV.)

The WGA is a union, and in the US they are able to collectively bargain with producers regarding contractual terms and conditions.

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the Motion Picture Editors Guild (MPEG) are like the WGA, a union that collectively bargains on behalf of its members. Through the efforts of the American guilds including the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), their members have been able to get healthcare plans, pensions, and for some residuals—a share of revenues generated whenever producers sell programmes or films that have been made with their creative efforts.

In New Zealand, it is illegal for workers in the screen industry to collectively bargain. This came about because of what is commonly referred to as the ‘Hobbit Law’, which was rushed through parliament by the government in 2010 as part of a deal between Warner Bros and Government ministers to keep The Hobbit film production in New Zealand.

In essence, the law means that screen industry workers cannot be considered employees and therefore are unable to collectively bargain. Screen industry workers are classified as contractors. And when contractors come together in a collective manner to determine pay rates they are deemed to be price fixing in a cartel-like manner, which is illegal.

Here from the Employment Relations Act 2000 is the relevant information:

6 Meaning of employee

(1) In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, employee

(a) means any person of any age employed by an employer to do any work for hire or reward under a contract of service; and

(b) includes—

(i) a homeworker; or

(ii) a person intending to work; but

(c) excludes a volunteer who—

(i) does not expect to be rewarded for work to be performed as a volunteer; and

(ii) receives no reward for work performed as a volunteer; and

(d) excludes, in relation to a film production, any of the following persons:

(i) a person engaged in film production work as an actor, voice-over actor, stand-in, body double, stunt performer, extra, singer, musician, dancer, or entertainer:

(ii) a person engaged in film production work in any other capacity.

Author and playwright David Macaray writing in 2013 on the 2007 – 2008 WGA strike in the Huffington Post characterised the stoush as the “ …classic case of Labor vs. Management. The writers vs. the producers. Those with talent vs. those with money. Proletariat vs. bourgeoisie. Oppressed vs. oppressor. Surfer vs. ho-dad.”

Later in the same article he suggested readers: “ …take a moment and ask ourselves why so many of us root for the Establishment. For a country that, historically, has taken great pride in embracing the underdog, we seem to have lost our footing. We root for the wrong side in these labor vs. management disputes. Working people are the underdogs. All of them. Including those lucky enough to be represented by a labor union. Can’t we see that?”

New Zealand is of course very different to the Hollywood world that the American screen industry revolves around. And because the unions in New Zealand were broken so long ago, the generations that follow the baby boomers have very little if any knowledge it seems to me of what unions fought for and still seek to achieve here. Three terms of right-leaning government with a former ForEx dealer at the helm hasn’t helped. Which isn’t to say that rabid socialist ideology is the answer either. But as I look out the window in Grey Lynn at what was the residential neighbourhood of many a screen industry worker,  numbers of whom it seems are being supplanted by the Range Rover Sport, yoga pants and quinoa crowd, I have to question whether or not we’ve got it right. Are we so mislead by the now defunct American dream here, too, that we can’t see that most of us are our own worst enemies? Escalating house prices a case in point.

A New Zealand producer very recently lamented to me the difficulty of working with the Australian screen industry because they have unions, there are minimum standards and awards, and fringes to deal with superannuation, workers compensation, etc. But the Australian screen industry is on fire. Large international productions are still going there. Local production from drama to reality to information programming is booming.

The spectre of lost screen production that was used so effectively by an American corporate to change New Zealand employment law just doesn’t stack up when we look across the Tasman.

In Australia and New Zealand, production companies have been gobbled up by offshore entities because the creative talent brought to bear in our countries has proven itself both at home and offshore through the sale of the product that embodies our creativity, yet the lot of the above-the-line creative talent of writers, actors and directors is generally worse than it’s ever been.

The director’s position particularly in the New Zealand screen industry has so eroded that most director’s incomes are going down not up. Like a lot of people in a lot of other jobs. It’s fast becoming time that we need a paradigm shift in our industry and our country. Recent studies that show workers in the creative sector are least likely to be replaced by robots and software in the near term is no reason for complacency, or for accepting lower wages and poorer working terms and conditions.

Down tools like the WGA threatens? Obviously not here. But workers’ rights are meaningful. For all of us. Whether or not you own your own house.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

The Slap… Not Just An Aussie Drama Series

While the Australian screen industry is different from ours, there are sufficient similarities to warrant us keeping a close eye on what happens across the Tasman. The uproar that occurred when Freemantle Media hired a Canadian female director to direct an iconic Australian TV series, and later saying that there wasn’t a good enough Australian female director to do it brought into the open what many members of the Australian Directors Guild felt was the disdain that Australian production companies had for Australian TV drama directors. In Australia, this is directly reflected in the terms and conditions of employment of Australian directors and  forebodes for directors  here in New Zealand what Australian producers’  attitudes could be on Australian only or Aus – NZ copros shot here. We are all aware already how the NZ director’s position and the terms and conditions particularly have been eroded in the New Zealand screen industry over the last 15 years. I therefore felt it was important to put out Australian Directors Guild CEO Kingston Anderson’s entire op ed in their latest newsletter for your reading.

Op Ed from Australian Directors’ Guild
CEO, Kingston Anderson:

At the end of 2016 the ADG discovered the Fremantle Media was importing a Canadian director to direct the new television version of the iconic Australia story Picnic at Hanging Rock. The ADG was inundated with calls from members shocked at this move. There had not been an overseas director imported to direct a major Australian mini-series before and the fact that it was an iconic Australian story puzzled everyone. When challenged by the ADG about why this occurred the producers said they could not find a suitable candidate to direct the series. This slap in the face to such directors as Daina Reid, Rowan Woods and many other highly experienced and internationally produced directors was the final straw for many ADG members as it highlighted the disdain and disrespect many production companies had for Australian television drama directors.

But this is not a recent trend and it is highlighted by the ongoing battles the ADG has been having with producers and broadcasters over the retransmission rights that were  granted to directors in 2006. This was supposed to provide a director with a small royalty that would recognise their copyright in a film. However, the resulting opposition by producers to allow directors to claim this right has left a bad taste in many directors’ mouths, especially on productions that have gone on to be great hits and returned the producers both awards and money.

It also goes to the heart of the way director’s fees have stagnated over the past ten years leading to many leaving the industry or leaving the country. At the 2015 SPA Conference in Melbourne, the eminent TV producer John Edwards lamented the demise of long-form TV drama to increasing costs, except in one area – directing. The fact that he specifically mentioned that directors were the only ones who had not seen increasing fees speaks for itself.

It is these three things – Respect, Rights and Remuneration that are the heart of a campaign the ADG is running to highlight the situation TV drama directors find themselves in 2017. While Australian directors who work around the world are both respected and rewarded, many are disappointed at the attitude of Australian producers and production companies to their work. The lack of respect shown to Australian directors when choosing the set-up director for Picnic at Hanging Rock highlights a sea change in the attitude of producers. This attitude, to treat Australian directors as “just crew” has also seen occasions where the DOP on a television series has been paid more than the director.

As Paris Barclay, President of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) said on his recent visit to Australia to support local directors, “The director will shape a TV production in their own creative way. If you give the script to another director it will be a different production from another director.” This seems obvious to many but for producers their attitude to “cookie cutter” television belies this fact.

The advance of quality television around the world driven by the likes of HBO  has seen the movement of feature film directors to the small screen. This has occurred most notably in the United States but recent examples such as Rowan Woods and Tony Kravitz directing “The Kettering Incident” for Foxtel reflect a changing environment where the directors are asked to deliver more higher quality productions to attract that elusive audience. This importance of the TV director is recognised around the world and as such many of our most talented directors have left these shores – Kate Dennis, Michael Rymer, Jessica Hobbs, Daniel Nettheim to name a few. Most are directing in the UK or US where they are respected and paid well and where they receive royalties if their shows are successful.

The ADG is not calling for rates of pay that match their US or UK cousins, we want rates of pay that reflect the large increase in budgets. Those per episode budgets keep going up but the directors fee stays the same. We also see overseas productions being shot here using Australian directors alongside overseas directors, their rates of pay for doing the same job wildly different. A recent television production shot in Melbourne saw the overseas director getting paid more than three times the level of the Australian directors for doing the same work. If the show is successful, the overseas director will get rewarded in residuals but the Australians will not.

So what to do about this inequity?

The ADG is in negotiation with Screen Producers Australia (SPA) to address these issues in an historic agreement for directors. It will address these issues and hopefully with the co-operation of Australian producers we will be able to properly reward our talented TV directors and promote the respect they deserve for their high level creative work. Otherwise we will continue to lose the best and brightest which will inevitably lead to a reduction in quality on our TV screens. And in a world where competition for eyeballs is truly global, this will put the Australian television production industry at a disadvantage.

To illustrate this a producer at a recent SPA conference asked why he couldn’t get one of our directors back from the US to direct his new show.
My question was “Are you going to pay him the same as you always have?”
His answer was “Yes”.
My response was “Then why would he come back?”

Kingston Anderson
CEO
Australian Directors’ Guild
 & Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collection Society

IMG_0403

Doing the Berlinale

I was extremely fortunate to be invited to the Berlin International Film Festival by the German Federal Government last month. I participated in an information tour of the Berlinale together with 25 other guests from around the world, made up of film festival programmers, journalists, and filmmakers from counties as diverse as Cuba, Israel, Tunisia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Australia, Pakistan and Kenya. It was a behind-the-scenes look at aspects of the festival, while at the same time getting the opportunity to experience it firsthand.

This was my first time at the Berlinale and it was a wonderfully soft entry to what is one of the four big festivals and markets for the film industry: Sundance (no market) in January, Berlin in February, Cannes in May, and Toronto in September, with the standalone American Film Market (AFM) bringing up the rear (and the dregs some would say) in November.

Berlin sells over 335,000 tickets to the approximately 400 films it shows. Around 20,000 professional visitors attend the European Film Market, Coproduction Market and Talents programme that make up the industry side of the festival.

As part of the tour we received briefings from the heads of the Panorama and Forum sections of the festival and the World Cinema Fund, and from the artistic director of the German Film Archive – Museum for Film and Television. We heard from four emerging German directors about their highly awarded projects, and received a lecture on New German Cinema. We had the opportunity to visit Berlin’s oldest film school—University of Film Konrad Wolf. We had a formal lunch with the Deputy Director-General for Culture and Communication and Director of Cultural Relations Policy of the Federal Foreign Office, where we each had to speak for our meal. And we joined about 500 other international industry people at the Goethe-Institut film breakfast, where they handed out their own film awards. And of course we could cue each morning with hundreds of others to try and get tickets to the films we wanted to see.

For those who don’t know, film festivals with markets fall into layers: the glamour with the film stars, the film festival with the movies and the punters, and the film market where the business is done. We got to see some of the glamour by attending the opening night, but it was essentially the festival and business sides from then on.

Three New Zealand films premiered at Berlin: DEGNZ member and director Tusi Tamasese’s One Thousand Ropes had it’s world premiere in the Panorama section, and opens in NZ this month. DEGNZ member and director Jackie Van Beek’s film Inland Road world premiered in the Generation 14 Plus section. And director Tearepa Kahi had the European premiere of Poi E, also in 14 Plus. All films received strong reviews.

Another DEGNZ member and director Niki Si’ulepa was the only Kiwi selected to attend Berlinale Talents, which invites 250 emerging international filmmakers to a series of workshops, panel disussions and events in a separate part of the festival.

New Zealand is thankfully a participant in the Berlinale NATIVe section that focuses on Indigenous film, run by expat Kiwi Maryanne Redpath who also heads Generation. NATIVe brings together indigenous filmmakers and organisations that gather around Berlinale and the world’s biggest indigenous film festival immagineNATIVE of Toronto. Libby Hakaraia and Tainui Stephen of the Maoriland Film Festival in Otaki have been driving Aotearoa NZ’s presence at the NATIVe stand, which this year according to imagineNATIVE’s Industry Director Daniel Northway Frank had good traffic through it.

In The Film Collaborative’s online blog American Jeffrey Murphy writing on this year’s festival said he revels in the glorious diversity of culture and languages at the Berlinale but that the festival lived up to it’s reputation of hit and miss programming, which was in his opinion due to the favouring of films “ from Eastern Europe and the like” rather than English or French titles.

In 2016 I attended three small film markets in Melbourne, New York and Prague, but the size of the European Film Market at Berlinale was huge in comparison. The EFM operates out of two official venues, Martin-Gropius-Bau and the Marriott Hotel, and you have to shuttle or walk between the two. There were hundreds of sales agents and a small number of film commissions (more like the old Film New Zealand than our NZFC) and funding bodies flogging their wares to distributors, producers and others across five days, while the Coproduction Market was held in another building where up to 35 projects were presented for coproduction and financing.

As is happening elsewhere, high-end TV drama and Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) is having an impact at the Berlinale. This year was the third that the festival has run a small market for high-end TV drama projects to find coproduction partners and financing. Cannes plans to dedicate an entire market to TV, over and above the two MIPs that already happen there.

The film industry globally is still in flux due to digital disruption. While transactional VOD and Subsciption VOD are starting to show real signs of revenue life, the old business model for film is essentially gone. Real revenues from theatrical exhibition go almost solely to tentpole films. If you are an indie, and all New Zealand films are, you’re exceptionally lucky (and or talented) if your film will survive four weeks in theatres, and there’s little after that to bolster revenue streams with DVD and blu-ray sales and rentals in decline. For an insight into revenues for Australian films, read this commercial analysis from Screen Australia.

One ray of hope from Berlin was that sales agents may be pre-buying again because they are having to compete with Amazon and Netflix for the best films. Hopefully this is a trend and it will grow.

Financials aside the Berlin International Film Festival is a true celebration of film, both critical and commercial, and an experience I won’t forget as a Berlinale newbie.

I’d like to thank the German Federal Government, the Goethe-Institut and the New Zealand Film Commission for their support of my visit.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Shakeup In the Digital World

I was privy to a recent seminar from Italy-based independent consultant Linda Beath on the shakeup in the digital world and thought I would pass along to you a number of (substantiated) facts that she presented, and some of my opinion.

Internet Users

December 1995………… 16 million users………… 0.4%

December 2000………… 361 million……………….. 5.8%

September 2005……….. 957 million……………….. 15.7%

September 2010…………. 1,971 million…………….. 28.8%

December 2015………… 3,366 million…………….. 50.1%

Where are they?:

Asia………………………… 48.4%

Nth & Sth America……… 21.8%

Europe…………………….. 19%

Africa………………………. 9.8%

Oceania…………………… 0.9%

Obviously there is dramatic growth in Internet usage, with Asia far outstripping every other region.

Cinema Attendance

Globally, the drop between 2010 and 2011 was in attendance. Nth American ticket sales sagged 4.7%.

2012 and 2013 attendance was stable

2014 attendance was down 5% from 2013

2015 is up 5.2% from 2014

Movie box office has stabilized—it’s not going down. There are fluctuations but they are not substantial.

In the UK, digital video (transactional VOD), such as iTunes, earned 1.3 billion pounds in 2016.

DVD and blu ray disc sales fell 17% to 894 million pounds.

Rental fell 21% to just 49 million pounds.

This merely confirms what everyone knows and that is that DVD revenue is falling away. The problem is that transaction VOD revenues are nowhere near the peaks of DVD—Digital video is not making up for the significant loss in DVD revenue. Piracy has a lot to do with this.

In Europe at least, sales agents can’t afford the time and expense to handle transactional VOD rights. Therefore, filmmakers will need to try and retain their transactional VOD rights and learn how to market and sell those rights themselves to get revenues in this area.

To 2021, transactional DVD is going to grow, but slowly. The real growth will come in the subscription VOD market, the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Google Play.

SVOD is a global phenomenon.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, Netflix had nearly 90 million subscribers. In the US, they are in 40% of all broadband households. Their content spend in 2017 will be US$6 billon.

But there is competition for Netflix. Amazon spent $3.2 billon on video content last year. Their spend this year is expected to double or triple.

The trades recently reported the latest numbers out of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, providing a good indicator of these companies’ purchasing power, with Netflix number one buyer at a total of US$36.5 million, while Amazon was number two at US$23 million.

If Netflix follows the business model it has used in other parts of the world, we can expect to see Netflix original programming in Australasia in the not too distant future. Undoubtedly, Amazon won’t be too far behind.

It’s interesting to ponder that NZ On Air’s entire budget for national TV screen content in the 2016 year was NZ$81. 5 million (US$59 million)—1.36% of Netflix’s 2017 budget.

Netflix is spending US$66.67 for every subscriber in a growing global SVOD market. NZ On Air is spending US$13.11 in a shrinking domestic free-to-air market.

One other piece of information Linda reported was that the BBC is going head-to-head with Netflix with its iPlayer, abandoning linear exclusivity.

Years ago, British broadcasters were banned from pooling their resources behind a common streaming platform, killing off Project Kangaroo. Perhaps there’s a bit of strategic thinking to be done by public service broadcasters globally on this.

A pity we don’t have one.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Time to Change It Up

Kia ora and welcome to 2017!

I hope that you all had an enjoyable Christmas and New Year’s holiday period, whether you were working or relaxing.

Next week I am going to be talking with my counterparts at the Australian Directors Guild (ADG), the Director’s Guild of Canada (DGC) and the Directors Guild of America (DGA). It will be a good opportunity to discuss the issues affecting directors in each of our territories. More importantly, it will be a reminder that we are all part of a global network of bodies representing directors in the screen industry. And this prompts me to look at a change-up in the editorial for the newsletter in the year ahead.

While I will continue to voice my thoughts and opinions on local issues, I also want to link into the mix international news, issues and developments that will hopefully be of interest and that may well affect directors and editors in New Zealand.

We are working now in a global economy in the screen industry. International productions are a mainstay of the New Zealand production scene. At the same time, we have more and more Kiwi screen workers and companies travelling the globe pedalling their services and products.

As many of you know, I have made a considered effort to strengthen our relationship with the Australian Directors Guild, and more recently Australian Screen Editors. As part of this we have as previously announced securing a seat on the ADG-affiliated Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collection Society (ASDACS) board for DEGNZ board member Grant Campbell, thanks to the kind invitation of the ADG. (All DEGNZ directors should be members of ASDACS–it’s free and there could be a pot of gold (small) at the end of this rainbow.)

As screen working relationships strengthen across the Tasman, we need to be well positioned to represent the membership effectively. For this reason, I will be talking more frequently about our Australian colleagues activities.

To kick things off, I made mention last year of the fight the ADG had with Freemantle Media, who had hired a Canadian director to work on iconic TV series Picnic at Hanging Rock. After much action on the ADG’s part there was a shift in Freemantle’s previously intransigent position as outlined here.

It’s comforting to see that Screen Australia proposes changing its guidelines to guarantee that direct funded television projects are required to use Australian or resident writers and directors. We expect the same from NZ On Air.

I have just learned that the long-time National Executive Director of the DGA Jay Roth has announced his retirement. Jay has been responsible for many considerable achievements at the DGA including managing the organisation through the incredible change that has come about due to digitization. You can read about Jay here.

A couple of other issues I have mentioned frequently are copyright and fair remuneration. Our British colleagues at Directors UK were recently in Strasbourg lobbying the European Union as the European Parliament considers amendments to the EU draft directive on the Digital Single Market. You can read more from Directors UK on this here.

The issue of fair remuneration is much closer to home for us as ADG have been working with Writers and Directors Worldwide on their and our behalves to help ensure fair remuneration for directors, particularly around secondary rights.

I hope in the newsletters to come you feel a greater sense of community with your directing and editing colleagues internationally, and realize that thinking globally and acting locally is particularly relevant for us here now at DEGNZ as the screen industry worldwide continues to morph.

Wishing you the best in the year ahead.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Been There, Done That

As 2016 draws to a close it’s time to look back and prepare for 2017.

First item on the agenda is my editorial of two weeks ago titled ‘It’s Up To You (Unfortunately)’. Some people mistook this to mean that the guild won’t go into bat for you when there are issues. Not true. I had hoped my mention of the effort we went to in regard to the appalling terms and conditions on some productions being produced for Māori TV with Te Māngai Pāho funding (some of which I did not write about) was evidence that we intervene when necessary. And as I also mentioned in No. 3 of my points in regard to what to do with a contract presented to you, you can bring it to us. And if there are real issues with the contract, we will take them up with the producer or production company.

Copyright has been a biggie here at the guild, particularly this year. We are fighting for directors to get copyright in audiovisual production and cinematographic film as they have in many other countries around the globe. When you have copyright, you have a better opportunity to earn revenue for your creative effort beyond the actual production phase. And as the author (not yet recognised either) of the production you deserve it. One of the avenues we work through on this is We Create (former Copyright Council), a body that represents the interests of many organisations in the creative sector. Separately and with We Create, this year we made representations to Government as they investigated the role of copyright and design in the creative sector. You can read the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment review here.

2016 saw the end of our original three-year programme of professional development thanks to the New Zealand Film Commission. In 2016 we were able to draw for our membership on the expertise of directors Niki Caro, Australian Rachel Perkins and Canadian Jennifer Baichwal, editors David Coulson, Australian Dany Cooper and American Doug Blush, Sundance Artistic Director Gyula Gazdag, cinematographer Alun Bollinger, and a host of other talented Kiwis who have given their time and expertise to help advance your craft skills and knowledge. The year ahead will see more of the same, once again thanks to NZFC.

Our efforts to open the doors for directing in TV drama with our attachment initiative has seen two male and three female DEGNZ members observing and directing on episodes of drama series or one-offs: Matthew Saville, Aidee Walker, Jamie Lawrence, Helena Brooks and Cathy McDonald have all had placements, and we will announce one other early in the new year. We look forward to seeing more of these directors’ work on the small screen. NZ On Air has kindly funded our TV drama directors initiative again for 2017.

Our Women Filmmakers Incubator is halfway through its approximately yearlong course, and so far it has provided plenty of stimulation for our participants. Our hope is that it will fast track our filmmakers, providing them with insight and knowledge that will enable them to make good decisions about their projects and careers.

The Incubator is the first of the guild’s practical initiatives designed to help address the gender issue, which has really come to the fore in 2016. Various other approaches have been implemented around the world to deal with gender inequity in the film industry. At home, NZFC has made some moves with a second year of a gender specific award, an unofficial equity policy around talent development, script development and production funding, and the backing of our Incubator. Their statistics, announced at the Big Screen Symposium were encouraging, but expect more on this next year. I had the pleasure of meeting with Australian producer Sue Maslin in November at the SPA – Screen Forever conference. Sue produced the very successful The Dressmaker, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse. Her take on gender inequity in film here.

At the Film Commission, Dave Gibson has been in place for three years now and things have certainly changed in his time. Whether or not you like the direction the NZFC is going in, Dave has made it very clear what direction that is, and that’s a good thing.

There have been some great critical and commercial local box office successes in the last three years: Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Tickled, Poi E, Free In Deed, Chasing Great, Mahana, Born to Dance, A Flickering Truth, The Ground We Won, 25 April, What We Do In The Shadows, Housebound, The Dark Horse, The Deadlands, Fantail and others. Where the line is drawn with these films between Dave Gibson and past CEO Graeme Mason due to long lead times is debatable, but we can celebrate their successes none the less. There’s certainly an obsession now both domestically and internationally with people in the industry for the next Wilderpeople. We may just have to wait for Taika to get around to it. When you look at the figures for the NZ box office earnings in 2016, you can see why. It’s depressing to say the least to see the local box office almost exclusively dominated by US studio films. There is no consolation that it’s the trend globally, even in France.

                                                  TOP 25 FILMS AT NZ BOX OFFICE 2016
(As of 14 December)

                 Film                                                                           NZ$                                   Genre

1. Star Wars: the Force Awakens 14,630,909 Action, Adventure, Fantasy
2. Hunt for The Wilderpeople 12,181,512 Adventure, Comedy, Drama
3. Finding Dory 7,079,648 Animation, Adventure, Comedy
4. Spectre 6,240,375 Action, Adventure, Thriller
5. Suicide Squad 5,331,314 Action, Adventure, Fantasy
6. Deadpool 5,187,330 Action, Adventure, Comedy
7. Hunger Games: Mockingjay 5,175,477 Action, Adventure, SciFi
8. The Jungle Book 5,038,731 Adventure, Drama, Family
9. Captain America: Civil War 4,873,481 Action, Adventure, SciFi
10. Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice 4,828,479 Action, Adventure, SciFi
11. The Secret Life of Pets 4,221,920 Animation, Adventure, Comedy
12. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them 4,093,982 Adventure, Family, Fantasy
13. Zootopia 3,867,374 Animation, Adventure, Comedy
14. Bridget Jones’ Baby 3,439,598 Comedy, Romance
15. Doctor Strange 3,223,748 Action, Adventure Fantasy
16. The Revenant 3,113,551 Adventure, Drama, Thriller
17. The BFG 3,096,791 Adventure, Family, Fantasy
18. Jason Bourne 3,004,682 Action, Thriller
19. The Lady In The Van 2,734,063 Comedy, Drama
20. X Men: Apocolypse 2,684,281 Action, Adventure, SciFi
21. Me Before You 2,363,754 Drama, Romance
22. The Monkey King 2 2,227,352 Fantasy
23. The Conjuring 2 2,215,562 Horror, Mystery, Thriller
24. Ice Age: Collision Course 2,183,649 Animation, Adventure, Comedy
25. Kung Fu Panda 3 2,074,038 Animation, Action, Adventure

NB: Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Finding Dory, The Secret Life of Pets, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Doctor Strange and Pete’s Dragon are still in theatres.

NZ On Air now has a new and streamlined funding strategy in place after a very quick round of consultation. They are still getting lambasted for their drama funding decisions, and seem to be trying to make up for it in the low-cost web series space both with ideas and gender. But a $100,000 webseries budget is a bit different to a $7 million drama one. It is in a tough place, though. NZ On Air hasn’t had a budget increase in nine years and it’s at the mercy of broadcasters who decide what’s going to get made for broadcast. Everybody including NZ On Air is looking to the online space for freshness and innovation, but the revenue model still isn’t there. And that’s not the panacea anyway. The Danish public broadcaster DR has proven with The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen that you can take risks and earn rewards in a non-commercial broadcast environment if you make the commitment. Commerciality seems to kill innovation not breed it in our advertising-driven public broadcaster model. Now that Broadcasting is no longer a Ministerial portfolio, we could be up for more woes in the NZ TV sector in the year ahead. Will we as Screenz editor Keith Barclay mooted in his latest e-news see the merging of NZFC and NZ On Air in 2017?

2016 has been the year of the streaming player Netflix. They are firmly cemented in the production and distribution landscape, and a staple of the NZ screen consuming diet. Their acquisition and production might is immense, from Oscar fodder like Beast of No Nation to Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down and now The Crown. You can’t talk to a NZ TV producer these days who isn’t scheming to sell something to Netflix. Together with Lightbox, Neon and now Amazon Prime, Netflix dominates the screen content landscape, at least amongst particular demographics. I was at an event recently where a broadcaster asked for a show of hands from a small group of filmmakers for those who watch free-to-air TV—nobody put their hand up. Yet free-to-air audiences in NZ are still big, as NZ On Air’s 2016 audience survey attests. But the changes in the screen industry won’t let up.

AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) are the new buzz acronyms. At every conference or market I’ve been to this year in Europe, the US, Australia and here, AR and VR are being touted as the next big thing. The only examples I’ve experienced have been VR. And I’ve yet to come across anything that’s delivered more than novelty value. But there’s always next year.

2016 has been a very buoyant year for the screen industry. Domestic production levels have essentially stayed the same. There has been a lot of international film & TV production in New Zealand, thanks to the incentives. When speaking to one of the main crewing companies a week or so ago I was told that 80 per cent of the people on their books were on jobs. Commercials filmmakers are busy, and branded content is still on the up. Inquiries at NZFC for international projects are steady, and there are a number of big projects confirmed: Ash Versus Evil Dead 3, Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines with Christian Rivers at the helm, The Shannara Chronicles, and Ava Duvernay’s film A Wrinkle In Time for Disney.

We may well see more of an Australian invasion in 2017. Matchbox and Seesaw have set up here, and the Australians are very keen on our incentives for TV. Matchbox has been shooting the second series of Wanted in Queenstown, and SPP has the third series of their NZ – Aus copro 800 Words with Seven Productions well in hand. There is the possibility of a yet-to-be officially announced series in the offing from Seesaw, which will likely be shot here.

At the guild, our long-serving president Peter Roberts has stepped down after nearly four years to be replaced by Wellington-based director Howard Taylor. Peter served the guild well during some tumultuous times and proved an ever-present resource for the guild and the membership, and we thank him for it. Howard is a highly experienced director (and former editor) who, living in Wellington, gives us a stronger presence with government and the funding bodies as well as an ear on the ground with our Wellington colleagues. We said goodbye to board members Richard Riddiford and Costa Botes and thank them for their efforts, and welcomed Alyx Duncan to the board, which now has equal gender representation.

Thanks for your support in 2016.

Next year DEGNZ will undoubtedly see more of the same challenges and some new ones. We remain committed to ensuring the creative, cultural and financial wellbeing of our members. We are here to serve your needs and available to talk, meet and take up issues on your behalf, so get in touch if you need to.

Have a safe and enjoyable break, and see you all next year.

Ngā mihi o te Kirihimete me te Tau Hou

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director