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

Prof. Dev. – The Next Best Thing To Doing It

With the Big Screen Symposium almost upon us again with a host of excellent speakers to hear from, I thought I might reflect on professional development.

Eight or so years ago I decided to focus on narrative feature film and TV drama. I had come from a background of documentary, news, travel, and marketing storytelling for the screen, but I knew very little about dramatic narrative storytelling.

I threw myself into learning and haven’t stopped. For the first five years I applied for and attended a large number of professional development opportunities the New Zealand Film Commission and other bodies offered. If a talk was on with Script to Screen, SPADA or with anyone else, I was there. At the same time I was making or helping to make short films and developing features and TV drama series.

Three years ago I was contracted in to DEGNZ as the Executive Director. A good part of my responsibility has been to run the guild’s professional development programme for directors and editors. I’ve managed mentorships, film talks, attachments, workshops, panel discussions and seminars. And until this year I made a point of attending every single one of them.

Last year I took part in a year-long professional development programme in Europe. And this year I’m doing one here.

I think I can fairly say that when it comes to professional development, I’ve had a lot of experience with it. And I see the benefits. Not just for me, but for others, too.

Now of course professional development is not actually ‘doing it’, which is the best school of all. Most of the good speakers I’ve encountered have a long history as industry practitioners, which is how they accumulated the knowledge they impart—from on-the-job successes and failures. This is why workshops where you get hands-on experience are particularly valuable—it replicates to a greater or lesser extent the actual work involved without the pressure.

In my time focusing on narrative drama, I’ve met a lot of directors who say they want to direct a feature film. And I mean a lot. TV drama, web series, TVCs and short films offer directors the opportunity to practise what’s required to make a feature. But because drama and comedy are scripted, the amount of time devoted to the actual directing is usually much less than the time spent on developing the scripts to be made. Consequently, unless you are a TV drama director who is regularly employed, it’s likely that your ‘doing it’ is broken up by lots of ‘developing to do it’ or ‘applying to do it’, or just ‘waiting to do it’. And it’s in these troughs that you can ‘learn to do it’.

In New Zealand alone, there are lots of opportunities to learn from industry peers, the up-coming Big Screen Symposium a prime example. And overseas there are many, many more if you have the time and or money.

What astounds me is from that large “I want to direct a feature” group, there is actually a much smaller pool of people who actively seek through professional development the skills and knowledge required to learn to direct feature film well. Directing actors particularly is something crucial that you can learn about through attending acting classes or workshops, having read-throughs, rehearsing scenes, improvising material, or engaging in other director – actor focused activity.

Common comments I hear from experienced actors who either attend or facilitate our workshops is that many directors they’ve worked with either don’t know how to communicate with actors to get good performance or that the directors are actually afraid of actors.

It doesn’t surprise me that a good number of directors who make their way successfully in film or TV drama in New Zealand are also actors: Michael Hurst, Peter Burger, Aidee Walker, Danny Mulheron, Jackie Van Beek, Oliver Driver, Kathy McRae, Ian Hughes, Matthew Saville, Roseanne Liang, to name a few. I don’t think it’s a prerequisite. But it’s obviously an advantage.

Editors are fortunate in that if they are working they are practising their craft every day. But they too need to learn to adapt to narrative drama storytelling  if that’s their ambition.

I encourage everyone in the guild to grab as many opportunities to upskill as you can. Whether it’s applying to the Story Camp Aotearoa, attending a Rehearsal Room, going to a WIFT Coproduction Summit, or doing a Drama Editing workshop. I reckon Prof. Dev. is the next best thing to doing it.

See you at the Big Screen Symposium. I’ll be there. And if you want to talk, swing by the DEGNZ booth. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the guild’s professional development programme or anything else you’d like to share.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

P.S. While I may gush enthusiastically about Prof. Dev., others don’t. Case in point: Guardian writer Caspar Salmon on director Q & A’s after films here.

Knockin’ Around Asia

I was fortunate to have been invited to the Asia-Pacific Producers Network annual meeting last week in Taiwan. There were 40 or so producers there from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, and Patrick Frater, Variety’s Asia Bureau Chief, who is based in Hong Kong.

I spoke to a good number of them and there was one topic on pretty much everyone’s lips — China. Everyone has been, is or wants to be doing productions with the Chinese. The Koreans however are excluded at the moment because the Chinese government doesn’t like the Thaad Missile Defense System the Americans moved onto a disused golf course there, as a counter to North Korean missile test firings towards Japan. Until that’s resolved the Koreans are getting the cold shoulder from the Chinese entertainment business.

As a counter to this, a Korean producer pitched me a NZ-China co-pro because he could no longer do it between China and Korea. His proposed Chinese producing partner was also attending. It transpired that in the month that we had been communicating about it prior to my arrival, the Chinese producer was no longer interested. The reason — Chinese demand had changed. It’s name directors and actors and big budgets now, not small comedies as he had planned or any other lower budget projects.

According to Variety’s Frater, the Chinese market can dramatically change from week to week and it’s almost impossible to keep up. It’s been obvious for some time however that the Chinese government was clamping down on capital outflow. Chinese company Dalian Wanda is the most obvious example of this. Wanda bought mini studio Legendary Pictures and the US’s AMC Entertainment Group, which is now the largest theatre owner in the world. It had to abandon its plans to acquire Dick Clark Productions for $1 billion. Other deals that suffered include Xinke’s US$345 million planned purchase of Hong Kong’s Voltage Pictures and last week Recon gave up on its US$100 million acquisition of LA-based Millennium Films.

Even though it can take up to two years to get money out of China if at all, it hasn’t deterred Asian production companies from wanting to do business there. All the highly active Hong Kong producers now either have offices in China or live there. Taiwanese producers I was given introductions to were away in China for meetings. The Japanese I met were making frequent trips to China to drum up business.

China now has 41,000 movie screens, over 700 million mobile internet users and three major streaming providers in iQIYI, Youku Tudou and Tencent with a combined total of 70,000,000 paying viewers in the first quarter of 2017. Revenue from paying users of internet video in China is expected to hit US$2.2 billion this year. No wonder Asian producers are making films, TV series, and web series for and with the Chinese.

American streamer Netflix, who is dominating in the rest of the world, is playing catch up in Asia. It’s done a deal with China’s iQIYI, is producing local content in Japan and India, has announced a licensing deal for Korean shows and will be premiering Korean original material in 2018. In Singapore and Indonesia it has partnerships with local telcos for distribution. Elsewhere in Asia, though, Netflix has far greater competition from domestic streamers who already have significant local offerings.

So what does all this action in Asia mean for us here?

Natural History New Zealand and Sir Richard Taylor’s Pukeko Pictures have well established relationships in China built over many years, and they are already producing TV content with the Chinese. Huhu Animation announced a multi-picture deal and the first official China-NZ co-production, animated feature Beast of Burden. These apart, there’s not a lot going on although two official feature co-productions with China and one with Korea are mooted.

We have seen in recent months a small number of Chinese TV series shooting in Queenstown, and we can expect more such inbound productions. I believe it’s unlikely though that we’ll see the volume of China-related production that Asian producers are engaged in, in the short to medium term.

One of the great difficulties we and the Australians face in dealing with China or any Asian country for that matter, is the language and or cultural divide. The Asians are much better at understanding each other culturally, and the similarities have made programmes and films cross borders there a lot more easily. A Japanese producer I spoke to told me that his drama series was selling all around Asia and that it had been remade in Korea.

Of the 78 film and TV co-productions the New Zealand Film Commission has on record since 1988, only five have been with Asian countries, three of those with China. The rest are with predominantly English speaking countries such as Canada , the UK, and Australia, although Germany does feature in the statistics, too, primarily because they have come in as minority co-production partners who have an affinity with NZ content, particularly, Maori. English-speaking Singapore, with whom we have a co-production treaty and one film (The Tattooist) under our belt, has an undeveloped film sector and a highly active domestic TV production base. The other English speaking country in Asia is the Philippines, with whom we have no formal co-production agreement. With both, though, there is the cultural divide.

I expect that when we have more Chinese-speaking directors, writers and producers in New Zealand we will see volume pick up. But until then, we’ll just have to look to Netflix, Lightbox and hopefully Amazon Prime for increases in New Zealand film and TV production volume. And perhaps one day soon, someone will crack the straight to international market TV drama nut and provide a pathway for others to follow.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Express Yourself

There are a number of opportunities fast approaching for you to voice your opinions on the state of the industry and how it affects you. I encourage all of you to engage as we are all faced with ongoing rapid transformation that will have a profound effect on your career prospects, opportunities, and incomes.

First up—The New Zealand Film Commission has finally gotten around to working on a tangata whenua strategy to support Māori in film.

With Māori stories and content being the key differentiator of New Zealand film on the international scene and Māori-driven projects having outstanding box office domestically, you have to wonder why it’s taken so long since the disaster that was the Te Paepae Ataata initiative for NZFC to get into action. Māori used to be at the forefront of indigenous filmmaking but that position is now well and truly occupied by Aboriginal Australians. Amazing what good levels of funding can achieve. NZFC is running a roadshow to gather input for the strategy. You can have your voice heard in Rotorua, Wellington, Auckland and the South Island. Details here.

Then there is our annual membership survey.

As a financial member you will have received a direct email with a link to it. It’s anonymous and will help us gauge what’s happening in your work sphere, what you think about what we as the guild are doing, and what you think we should be doing. As we continue to engage with funding bodies, government and other organisations over your creative, cultural and financial wellbeing, it’s also important we have facts to back up our arguments, so please take the seven minutes required to complete the survey. It will be a big help.

Next: I mentioned last week that on Thursday 24 August in Mt Eden the top five political parties will have representatives presenting their thoughts on the NZ screen sector.

Not only is this an opportunity for you to hear what they have to say, but it will also give you a chance to put your questions forward to the party individuals present. The election is up for grabs at this point and all of us need to lobby government to get our messages across. Seats are still available to attend this evening, which will be hosted by media commentator Russell Brown. RSVP here.

And then a little further out the Copyright Act review coming up in 2018. Directors are authors of audiovisual content and cinematographic film. For this reason directors should have copyright of such. They don’t. We can change this if we get the required changes to the Copyright Act. You can make a submission when the opportunity becomes available. Read what you need to know here, register to receive updates, and make a submission when invited to.

Finally, we are now just over five weeks to the general election. If you are not enrolled, please do so. And most of all, please vote to voice your opinion on the future of our country as it will be determined by the political party/parties in power.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Politics and the Screen Industry

Jacinda Ardern’s rise to the top of the totem pole in the Labour Party brings politics and the screen industry into focus.

Jacinda, like Helen Clark before her, has always been a big supporter of Arts and Culture, and she’s been proactive in her engagement with the screen industry across the last few years.

When Labour was last in power Helen Clark held the Arts and Culture portfolio, putting it front and centre at No. 1 on the cabinet list. Trevor Mallard held the Broadcasting portfolio at No. 7.

When John Key became prime minister, he took up the Tourism portfolio and Arts and Culture was given to Chris Finlayson at No. 9. Craig Foss held Broadcasting at No. 17.

In 2015, Maggie Barry became Minster of Arts, Culture and Heritage at No. 20, while Amy Adams held the Broadcast portfolio at No. 7—Adams is entranced with the digital realm and views broadcasting as a sunset industry.

As of today, Maggie Barry holds Arts, Culture and Heritage at No. 16 while Broadcasting is no longer a cabinet portfolio, perhaps a reflection of Adams’ view.

I think this is a pretty explicit indication of the importance of arts, culture and heritage, and broadcasting to the current government, although they have been persuaded to keep the incentives in place for screen production and provide some more funding for international incentives and the New Zealand Screen Production Grant for NZ productions, even though Minister of Finance Steven Joyce has publicly expressed that he would prefer not to have to offer incentives at all.

Both the NZ Film Commission and NZ On Air get their government funding through the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. As I’ve said before, NZ On Air hasn’t had a funding increase in 10 years. NZFC got a one-off windfall through Lotto but there’s not been a lot of movement in funding for NZ productions. Maori TV received an extra $10.4 million for infrastructure as part of a government funded te reo initiative, but their programming budget is unchanged.

To adapt to changing times while still playing with the same level of funding, NZ On Air now has its new platform agnostic funding model, but merely seems to be throwing more digital foxes into the chicken coop with the content-laying chooks while throwing their hands in the air and saying its not their responsibility.

Our public broadcaster TVNZ is exerting the same stranglehold on its OnDemand platform that it has held on its broadcasting channels, but now has more competition for funding from other players including NZME and VICE. The Filthy Productions lambasting Duncan Grieve of The Wireless online news platform has had his digital hand out for a while. We can assume that former TV3 News boss Keith Slater’s own platform Newsroom will be doing the same.

While TVNZ abandoned any pretence of public broadcasting a long time ago, Radio NZ is coming to the fore in this arena and competing with everyone else online. Not only are they continuing to put out quality radio, but their mix of video, podcasts, and online print news on their website is a welcome respite from all the dross that our established news providers are offering. Their Wireless website for ‘yoof’ is also now well established. The $2.84 million annual increase RNZ received after an eight-year funding freeze is small but welcome.

The giant in the digital room, Google, is preparing its case for more flexible Fair Use and Safe Harbour provisions with the government announcing a review of the Copyright Act in 2018 after the election. The guild views this as extremely threatening to sustainable careers in the screen industry. As part of its lobbying, Google touts the idea that more relaxed legislation will lead to greater innovation and thus new and increased revenue opportunities, which seems to have been bought lock, stock and barrel by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. They will increasingly rattle this particular cage but while attractive to those who see digital as a shiny new bauble, its not proven—Google of course is seeking to prove it.

Google through YouTube is just one of the many foreign companies operating in the New Zealand screen sector, which now includes the former Touchdown, Screentime, Greenstone, and South Pacific Pictures—all 100 percent foreign controlled—as well as Amazon Prime and Netflix. Mediaworks has been in foreign hands for a long time, as has NZME with the NZ Herald and Fairfax with Stuff. We have to wonder if we’d be better off if TVNZ was foreign-owned and their archive became a state asset. It’s no secret that Labour has looked closely at what’s required to create a true public broadcaster. It’s my view that Radio NZ is almost there—it just needs more money to make it happen. TVNZ 7 did pretty well with $15 million a year, and having worked in the past in niche channels I know that it doesn’t take that much to set up if you have a slot to go out on.

The above are just some of the topics we can ponder on and question about as we face an election in just seven weeks time. Where do the political parties sit with issues in the screen industry? Thanks to Film Auckland, we now have a golden opportunity to find out.

On the 24th of August in Auckland from 5pm – 8pm at Industry Connect, 34 Shaddock Street, Mt. Eden, media commentator Russell Brown will facilitate a forum with the top five political parties invited along to give their takes on the screen industry. You can reserve a free spot at this event here.

I encourage all of you to get along and find out what our political parties think about your future career prospects, and to put questions to them.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director