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

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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

It’s Up To You (Unfortunately)

In the past couple of weeks I have been contacted twice about director terms and conditions. The first was from a director who had worked on a number of projects that required out of town travel and no allowances were paid for per diems, accommodation or mileage for the use of a personal vehicle on the job.

The second was from a director disturbed about the rates being offered for a contract directing position, which from the director’s perspective devalued the creative contribution they would make as an experienced director.

As we all know and I’ve said this before, NZ is a deregulated labour market and in the screen industry all negotiations over contracts are done on an individual basis. We are unable to collectively bargain at this time to set rates and terms and conditions, and any guild standard contracts are used on a voluntary basis by production companies (and usually adapted).

Each individual must try to set the terms and conditions under which they will work. In such an environment, the individual is at a distinct disadvantage.

On the DEGNZ website, we have a guide to pay rates for directors and editors. We are revamping one by one our outdated standard contracts, which is a very slow and involved process. We look to have the first new one available in the first quarter of 2017.

The Blue Book, which is a guide to terms and conditions set by the NZ Film & Video Technicians Guild, is the defacto standard for screenworker contracts in New Zealand.

Funding contracts from the New Zealand Film Commission and NZ On Air expect producers to adhere to the guidelines in the Blue Book.

Te Māngai Paho, the Maori screen funding agency, is the only major screen funding body that does not reference the Blue Book in its contracts. This essentially allows unscrupulous production companies working with TMP funding to avoid what are generally accepted as fair terms and conditions for screenworkers, and has I believe institutionalised what I term the ‘poverty production’ levels of a number of Māori production companies making projects for Māori Television. DEGNZ has specifically requested to TMP that their contracts include a clause requiring producers adhere to Blue Book T & Cs and been turned down.

Essentially contract negotiations fall to you, so here’s what you should do:

  1. Read your contract it before you sign it.
  2. Check the Blue Book here to see what standard terms and conditions are if you don’t know them.
  3. If you don’t understand the contract or are uncertain about it, get a knowledgeable friend, your guild, or your lawyer to read it and discuss it with you.
  4. If there are specific items you want addressed, request amendments, additions or deletions.
  5. If you remain unhappy with the contract terms on offer, decline the work if you can afford to do so. (By accepting, you essentially endorse the conditions.)

John Key resigning is not going to make any difference to NZ labour laws anytime soon.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

What’s Happening to Your Screen Tax Payer Dollars?

I was at the Screen Producers Australia – Screen Forever conference last week in Melbourne. An interesting issue was brought up by highly regarded independent Australian producer Trish Lake, who highlighted the fact that many of the primetime slots on Australian TV and large chunks of Australian taxpayer funding distributed by Screen Australia are taken by non-Australian companies, i.e., companies that once were Australian but have been bought out by foreign entities, an example being one of Australia’s most prolific production companies Matchbox Pictures, which is owned by NBC Universal. Trish feels that foreign-owned companies should not be accessing discretionary Screen Australia funding. She is not alone in this.

In New Zealand we now have five of the largest TV production companies foreign-owned: NHNZ by Fox International, South Pacific Pictures by the U.K’s all3media (who also own 50% of Satellite Media and 51% of Kura Productions), Screentime by the French Banijay Group, the former Eyeworks Touchdown by U.S. studio Warner, and Greenstone by Australian outfit CJZ.

Two Australian companies—Matchbox Pictures and See Saw Films have recently set up here, but not received NZ On Air funding to date.

I decided to take a look at the primetime slots (7 – 9:30PM) across the mainstream TV channels (1, 2, 3, Prime) to see who did what this week (Wed. 23rd – Tues. 29th Nov.). Here’s what I found with the New Zealand-made shows that aired:

NZ Broadcasters
Stripped shows
Seven Sharp, Current Affairs – TVNZ
Story, Current Affairs – TV3
The Crowd Goes Wild, Sports – SKY on Prime

Series
Country Calendar, Documentary – TVNZ
Fair Go, Consumer Affairs – TVNZ
First Dates NZ, Reality- TVNZ
The Friday Story, Light Ent. – TV3

Foreign-owned independents
Stripped shows
Shortland Street, Drama – South Pacific Pictures/all3media

Series
The Brokenwood Mysteries, Drama – South Pacific Pictures/all3media
Police Ten 7, Reality – Screentime/Banijay
Motorway Patrol, Reality – Greenstone/CJZ
Our Big Blue Backyard, Documentary – NHNZ/Fox

NZ Independents
Series
Dirty Laundry, Drama –Filthy Productions
Terry Teo, Comedy – Semi-Professional

The foreign-owned independents certainly seem to dominate primetime this week.

To see what was happening with NZ On Air funding I went back through the last four funding announcements in 2016 to see who got how much across all timeslots, not just primetime shows:

Broadcasters…………………………………………………………………… $4,044,942       11.00%
Foreign owned Independents……………………………………….. $11,403,637       30.98%
NZ Independents…………………………………………………………… $20,732,213       58.02%

Total funding allocated (Mar to Sept. 2016 rounds)………..$36,805,774      100.00%

NB:

  1. Satellite Media received funding so I split it equally between Foreign and NZ
  2. Funding this year does’nt relate to programming this year.

While NZ independents took the biggest slice of the cake in 2016, foreign-owned independents took a not unsubstantial 31 per cent of the money available for shows on 1, 2, 3 and Prime.

I thought I would also take a look at what foreign-owned companies have received from NZ On Air for mainstream broadcast (1, 2, 3, Prime) since they became 100 per cent foreign owned. Here are the numbers:

Since 5 April 2013 when all3media took total control of South Pacific Pictures they have received $29,624,564, and Satellite Media have received $4,080,113, 50% of which is attributable for a total of: $31,664,621
From the time CJZ took control of Greenstone in December 2013 they have received:   $4,566,766
Screentime became wholly owned by its Australian parent in June 2009, and later by Banijay at a date I found difficult to determine. Since June 2009, Screentime has received from NZ On Air: $34,172,527
It looks like Eyeworks Touchdown/Warner has been foreign-owned since April 2006. Since that time they have received from NZ On Air: $22,857,516
NHNZ would seem to have been 100 % foreign owned since at least November 1997, but they only seem to have received from NZ On Air:   $5,563,647
TTL $98,825,647

It’s all a little unscientific and essentially not comparing apples with apples, but there’s no denying that nearly 100 million dollars has gone to foreign-owned production companies from NZ On Air funding, at least 75% of it in the last six years.

So what does it all mean? Here are some thoughts:

With TVNZ a commercially-driven public broadcaster getting $8.5 million from the government for operating revenues and returning an $8.3 million dividend from a $28.1 million net profit in 2015, you have to wonder why they are allowed to dip into NZ On Air’s coffers for production funding.

Foreign-owned independents  took 31% of NZ On Air funding in 2016, and apart from the broadcasters totally dominate the primetime slots in the period looked at. Certainly they employ Kiwis and contribute to the local economy but at what cost? Surely they are stymying the growth of NZ production businesses by being so dominant.

As more offshore entities buy out NZ companies and foreign independents set up here more of NZ On Air’s funding will go to them, leaving less for NZ owned independents. And more of the profits made with NZ tax payer funding will head offshore.

Our situation here is essentially the same as in Australia except they have a public broadcaster and quota and we don’t.

This issue regarding who gets the discretionary screen tax payer dollars is certainly something we should all be giving a lot more thought to.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

NB: I didn’t look at what foreign-owned companies in NZ might or might not take from the New Zealand Film Commission’s discretionary funding (not including the Screen Production Grant).

Wherefore Art Thou Public Service Content Provider?

10 November 2016

New Zealand On Air’s recent announcement of changes to its funding strategy and to a lesser extent the mooted desire of TVNZ to take over Freeview have brought discussion of public service broadcasting once again to the fore.

Public service broadcasting has had a chequered history since 1989 with both the Labour and National Parties ensuring Television New Zealand’s ability to operate as a commercial public broadcaster.

The doing away of the charter in 2008 by National let loose the commercial beasts at TVNZ forever and public service content has diminished significantly as a result.

NZ On Air was set up to ensure a broad range of NZ content on screen. While they have fought their fight, they do not control the broadcast platforms that operate at the behest of advertisers. Consequently, it is difficult to get a broad range of public service content screened because broadcasters shoot for the lowest common denominator and are unwilling to take creative risks in case they affect advertising revenue.

Now NZ on Air is proposing a new funding strategy that essentially expands the content gatekeeping from the commercially-driven broadcasters to include the commercially-driven online platforms, the likes of NZME and Fairfax Media.

Some look to Radio New Zealand as the great online hope. But like NZ on Air, Radio NZ hasn’t had an increase in funding for the last eight years. Yes, they have developed the Wireless, revamped their website and are now generating screen content with the filming and broadcasting/streaming of Checkpoint. They’re also engaging in providing independently produced digital content with a platform as they did with Christchurch Dilemmas. It’s likely that they’ll start commissioning more independently produced content. But they can’t compete with the media giants of the world in the online space without a lot more funding.

Could Radio NZ be the home for public service TV? Unlikely. Funding issues aside, the shelf life of linear TV is up for debate and the infrastructure costs are high. Without deep pockets, nobody wants to take on the voracious content beast that is a linear TV channel, which has to chew up and spit out content non-stop. Viceland, a new TV channel from digital hipster Vice Media and partners A & E in the U.S. and Rogers Media in Canada illustrates what’s needed for a linear channel start-up: distinctive content, lots of it, and piles of money to make it or buy it and play it out.

It’s clear that a lot of people still watch linear TV as NZ On Air’s recent Audience Report showed. It also identified the significant increase in online services, particularly SVOD, such as Lightbox and Netflix. This trend is reflected internationally as well.

David Abraham, Chief Executive of Channel 4 in the UK, claimed that the future of TV lies “not with either linear or on-demand, but a creative and visual integration of the two worlds, blending the strengths of both into a single brand.”

NZ On Air’s refocusing of its funding strategy is necessary in light of the impact of the digital world. But it doesn’t address the real issue that lies at the heart of screen content delivery in New Zealand—When TVNZ 7 was shut down by the National government, we lost what potentially could have been our non-commercial, public service content TV broadcaster. And now with the growth of digital content providers looking to satisfy the need of content consumers after whatever they want, whenever they want it on multiple screens, we don’t have a non-commercial, public service online platform to guard against the total commercialization of content in that space.

With our current business-driven government, what we need is a bright spark or two to put a convincing case forward that meets the need of public service content on TV and online and the government’s desire for a return on investment that’s attractive–not necessarily a monetary one.

Until we get a public service content provider fit for the digital age, we are going to continue to wince and grimace our way through the majority of what’s on offer just like we’ve done with the US election coverage.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

An Inspiration

26 October 2016

It’s been a helluva busy year, and I’ve been offshore more than once, the latest in October when former head of the Council of Trade Unions Helen Kelly died of lung cancer.

I never met Helen Kelly. I only knew her from the media as she fought her fights as a fierce champion of workers’ rights.

In the screen industry, she is probably best known for her intense opposition to Warners Bros’ ultimately successful efforts to get NZ employment law changed to have movie workers classified as self-employed contractors.

Perhaps more pertinently for all of us, Helen Kelly’s fight for improved health and safety conditions for NZ forestry workers undoubtedly helped contribute to the H & S changes that came into effect on 1 April of this year, which will make screen industry workers safer on set.

I wanted to acknowledge Helen Kelly because although the passage of the Employment Contracts Act in 1991 effectively rendered unions irrelevant and put most workers into a situation of selling their labour in a private transaction under an individual contract, she continued to passionately pursue an agenda to make it easier for unions to represent workers and negotiate collective employment contracts.

Helen Kelly’s fight is in essence every guild in New Zealand’s fight.

All of our members negotiate individual contracts for their employment, and most often are at a distinct disadvantage when doing so. They have no job security. And are under increasing pressure to do more for less.

As a guild one of our roles is to seek to ensure a fair and respectful workplace environment for our members. We can only look at the Directors Guild of America’s situation with envy.

The DGA as a union negotiates collectively on behalf of its members, setting pay rates for DGA productions. They protect the creative rights of directors and ensure residuals for ongoing compensation for directorial authorship. Healthcare and pension plans are just some of the other benefits of DGA membership.

Like the NZ unions, the DEGNZ’s efforts for worker’s rights are made difficult by our deregulated labour market. And because of this we can look to Helen Kelly’s approach to making unions relevant for guidance in how to move DEGNZ forward: make it a social movement with a set of values and activities that people will want to be associated with.

All of us at DEGNZ—board members and workers—seek the best working environment possible for career directors and editors in New Zealand.

At board level we are engaged now in discussions that have will have a significant impact on future working conditions for our members. And at the Annual General Meeting this weekend, NZ on Air CEO Jane Wrightson will speak to one such topic—the restructuring of NZ On Air’s funding strategy. As we approach this and the many other current and future issues that we will have to deal with, we can look to Helen Kelly’s no-nonsense approach for inspiration.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Shakin’ It Up

29 September 2016

Last week I was at the No Borders Coproduction market in New York, which is part of IFP Film Week. Across 6 days I mixed with mainly American writers, directors and producers who were trying to get their narrative features or documentaries financed. The way the Americans go about it sits in stark contrast to what most New Zealand filmmakers are faced with.

US filmmakers are entirely dependent on attracting investors to their films—industry investors who put up time, equipment, facilities; cash investors who want a premium on their equity and can make use of Section 181—legislation to make a tax deduction on their investment; or non-profit foundations that want to support filmmaking, often social issue documentary. The idea of earning fees for a US first time feature filmmaker is mostly a dream.

I met three filmmakers from Texas who make a good case in point. They all work in or around the film industry. They and many of their mates support each other in their filmmaking endeavours. One was the director of the film they were at Film Week with, so the other two who were also directors had taken on the roles of producers to help their friend. They estimated that their film was going to cost them north of US$200k to shoot. They were putting up US$60k themselves in cash, and had brokered deals in kind to cover the rest. They were at Film Week to find finishing funds and distribution. The writer/director’s aim for his feature was of course to make a great film, with the hope that his talent shone through sufficiently to attract more money and distribution for his next feature—if not he’s back riding the same bicycle if he wants to make another. In fact, his talent had been noticed with the two shorts he had already made at what we in NZ would consider B & C level film festivals. This was getting him some traction in the market. I don’t know how well the Texans did at Film Week finding funding sources, but they were six weeks out from first day of principal photography when I meet them.

I arrived back from No Borders on Sunday morning in time to attend the second day of the Big Screen Symposium. I had missed the presentation by NZ on Air CEO Jane Wrightson on the draft strategy for dishing out around NZ$127 million in government funding for local content, but was in time to hear Dave Gibson outline the NZFC’s new thoughts around how they spend the more than NZ$20 million of government funding they receive each year for New Zealand feature film development and production. I know that the Americans can get tax breaks, have a much bigger market, and that we have cultural imperatives, but it’s still stark, right?

I have yet to go carefully through the information that has been put out by NZ on Air and NZFC with these announcements, but a few things stand out:

NZ on Air is openly talking about TV producers having to bring investors to the party for anything with a budget over $500k. Those investors will primarily be the broadcasters. But the language signals a change in attitude from government funding to public/private sector partnership. And now the vertically integrated local digital studios such as NZME—with funding, infrastructure, marketing clout and channels, and distribution channels to a large number of eyeballs—can openly compete for funding with bedroom-based production companies. Competition indeed. No wonder the MBIE mantra “Innovation” now sits front and centre in the NZ on Air lexicon.

On the NZFC front, CEO Dave Gibson finally openly declared that dark (read arthouse) drama is going to struggle in the current regime. That of course wasn’t news. Nor the fact that NZFC is looking for lighter, warmhearted fare. What was news was that a new strategy is coming for Māori. With a management change and a few years under the bridge from the failure that was Te Paepae Ataata, NZFC is once again looking at how to bring Māori into the fold, and finally getting Māori telling the Māori stories that have proved so successful in film. Here’s hoping.

The other news of note from NZFC was the announcment of GPS 2026 (another MBIE-like label), a forward looking initiative to imagine what the industry should look like and be doing a decade from now. This is a positive and DEGNZ will take up Dave Gibson’s invitation for the guilds to be involved. Ten years ago, the biggest player in the film industry today, Netflix, didn’t exist and nobody even imagined they were coming, but perhaps a bit of proactive crystal ball gazing on our parts might be prescient.

NZ on Air and NZFC are shaking it up; a necessity to be honest. Digital disruption is usually attributed as the cause for everything in the screen industry these days. And it’s true. Out with the old and in with the new, whether you like it or not. The glass half empty leftie conspiracy theorists would say the neo-liberalists are using digital disruption to impoverish the established screen middleclass and put as many of the young working class as close to the breadline as possible. The glass half full screen industry practitioners would likely enthuse as Cliff Curtis did in his closing at the Big Screen Symposium about what a wonderful world it is now for the young in film and TV to make their mark.

As I sit in my malfunctioning chair at the Guild, however, it looks to me like there is more opportunity than ever in this new era to make even lower wages as a director or editor. I guess that Americans would say we should be thankful to have government funding to help us do that.

DEGNZ will be making a submission to the proposed draft strategy for TV funding. If you have any thoughts you would like to share, please feel free to do so to me and to NZ on Air.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director