Where Are The Women?

18 February 2015

Why are there so few female directors making dramatic feature films in New Zealand?

It’s a vexing question with no easy answers.

A couple of stats drawn from published NZFC data:

  • Of the 28 dramatic features (discounting Hollywood and overseas independents) released with NZFC investment from 2010 to April 2014, four (14%) were directed by women (Simone Horrocks, Roseanne Liang, Kirstin Marcon, Juliet Bergh), of which one was a micro-budget Escalator film.
  • And of the 99 shorts funded in the NZFC Fresh and Premiere Shorts initiatives from 2010 – 2015, 36 (36%) had female directors.

The gathering that attended the DEGNZ/WIFT panel discussion on gender imbalance in the NZ screen industry chaired by Kim Hill at Auckland’s Basement Theatre in August last year came up with one idea to address the issue: A motion was passed to approach the NZFC to ask for state funding, [to pursue] gender equality through positive discrimination that will be in place for a certain amount of time until it’s not needed, so that women’s work can have a special place where applications go.

The motion came about from the discussion that night that mooted a number of potentially influencing factors. Amongst them were:

  • It’s a market driven industry where the main cinema audience is males aged 18 – 35.
  • Feature film directing is bloody hard work and all consuming, putting a considerable number of women off the job.
  • Women’s stories tend towards more complex arthouse drama, without the whams, bams and kapows of boysie films, so they are less appealing to the mainstream audience.
  • The psychology of filmmaking has been influenced primarily by men, pushing female protagonists and women’s stories to the sidelines.

Another cause suggested was that the gatekeepers are a key reason why the number of female directors is low. So I took a look at the NZ film gatekeepers to see how the gender statistics stacked up.

In the last five NZFC annual reports, 44 board members including the chairs were listed, with 12 of those female (27%), one the chair for all five years.

Across the same period, we had one CEO, Graham Mason, thus 0% female.

In the same timeframe, Marilyn Milgrom departed as Head of Development to effectively be replaced by Graeme Mason, and then Lisa Chatfield, making two out of three Heads of Development female (66%). And of the seven development executives listed for those years, excluding the Heads, three were female (43%). The full development teams across that time with Graeme Mason included gave a 50/50 gender split. (Although there is a significant lead time for feature film, I did not look earlier when Ruth Harley was CEO and Caroline Grosse Head of Development.)

These gatekeeper stats don’t look too bad, except we could obviously do with more women on the NZFC board.

How about the screenwriting?

In the NZFC statistics on gender released in September last year we see that female writers made up 34% of applications going in for development funding, and 29% of those who received development funding.

Of the 28 features looked at earlier, 7 had female screenwriters credited (25%) while with the 99 shorts, I identified 33 females (33%) as the screenwriters.

Does this mean that if we funded more female writers for feature development, we would get more films greenlit that are written by women and thus more films directed by women? This is a possibility, particularly with the propensity for NZ feature films to be the output of writer/directors.

NZFC is aware of the gender inequality issue and considering how best to respond.

A number of the guilds are debating it as well and taking action as they see fit.

At DEGNZ in the last year, we lost three key female board members in Leanne Pooley, Kirstin Marcon and Briar March, each for personal reasons. We were fortunate to recruit to the board director Louise Leitch and editor Annie Collins who joined director Roseanne Liang, giving females three of the 10 seats (30%). Director Kezia Barnett has taken up an Advisory Board role with the guild strengthening the numbers. With our selection panels, we are seeking at least a 50/50 split in gender terms. However, there is much more to be done, both at DEGNZ and in the industry at large.

Gender inequality in the screen industry will be a hot topic when Screen Industry New Zealand convenes later this month to look at the issues we face. And we are all interested in what strategies and initiatives the NZFC will devise and implement. Hopefully they will allow Jane Campion to unclench her jaw a little more when next asked to comment about it.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Waitangi Day Te Reo

5 February 2015

We are already into February and Waitangi Day is almost upon us. For those of you unfamiliar with Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) or wanting to brush up on the detail, here’s a good primer on the NZ History website.

Waitangi Day and issues around the Treaty are lightning rods for debate and discussion from all sides. This is a good thing.

My mind today went to two documentaries made by DEGNZ members that previously brought Māori issues to the fore: Peter Berger’s docudrama Waitangi – What Really Happened? and past guild president Dan Salmon’s documentary 2050: What If… Māori Gain Sovereignty – Tino Rangitiratanga?

There are many of our members who have worked on projects that have laid the issues out for deliberation.. And so have others. Even Gareth Morgan’s getting on the bandwagon. This is all good; even the redneckery (a new word), because it requires us to review our thoughts and opinions about rights, fairness and justice for all New Zealanders.

Here’s my little fuel to the fire for the coming weekend.

I am of the opinion that te reo Māori should be a compulsory subject at pre-school, primary, intermediate and secondary levels.

The reason I advocate for compulsory te reo in schools is because I believe bilingualism opens our eyes wider to the world and its cultures, making us more accepting of cultural differences.

Bilingualism is a positive.

Te reo Māori is a non-English language that we can have the easiest of access to, not just through schools, but through our neighbours, communities, marae, and the airwaves thanks to Maori Television and the Iwi Radio Network, amongst others. And te reo is ours. Another unique asset.

Radio New Zealand (RNZ) and the televison networks make a bilingual effort every Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week). RNZ now carries it through the rest of the year. This is to be applauded.

I was heartened to read of the protests this week outside the Bilingual Unit at Richmond Road School, just down the street from the guild office (I can’t see it from up here, though). Budgets had been ‘adjusted,’ and some parents believed it was to the detriment of the bilingual education happening there.

At a more personal level, I have admired the efforts of actor Jennifer Ward Leland (Actors Equity President) to use the reo.

There’s room for everyone to increase the usage of te reo Māori, especially in the media and screen industries. The Dead Lands gave us a great example on the big screen.

So this weekend why don’t you give the reo a try if you’re not already using it. Speak te reo Māori this Waitangi Day, even if it’s just to call someone a hua.

You’ll be making a contribution to bilingualism and te reo Māori language advancement, idotic statement or not.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Welcome to 2015

22 January 2015

Kia ora!

And welcome to 2015 with the Directors & Editors Guild of NZ.

This year is shaping up to continue the extremely positive last six months of 2014 with a range of productions happening.

We have the MTV series Shannara at Auckland Film Studios, Amblin TV’s Lumen pilot for TNT is underway, as is Disney’s feature Pete’s Dragon, and according to the trades and gossip, Rob Tapert is coming back with Ash vs Evil Dead later in the year. And these are just some of the international projects on the go.

On the domestic film front, the NZFC greenlit 5 projects at the end of last year and CEO Dave Gibson said there are 5 more possibly to come in the first half of this year. Tammy Davis’s first feature Born to Dance is in post production, and Jackie van Beek’s first feature The Inland Road will get under way later this summer.

In TV land, SPP has the second series of The Brokenwood Msteries, and Rachel Laing and Gavin Strauhan’s Filthy Rich gets its first run, amongst others on the drama front.

The digital realm is here to stay, and we’ll be seeing further series of Tomorrowland’s High Road, DEGNZ board member Roseanne Liang’s Flat 3, and more.

Internationally, Sony’s confirmation that its misfired feature The Interview has earned US$40 million online and On-demand is the mainstream film industry’s gamebreaker for digital distribution.

At DEGNZ, two major initiatives are in the wings for the first quarter. We will announce the successful recipient of the inaugural International Director’s Mentorship. This follows on from the International Editor’s Mentorship with Justine Wright (Locke, The Iron Lady, The Last King of Scotland), awarded to Cushla Dillon. And renowned Australian acting and directing coach Rob Marchand will run his 5-Day Character-based Improvisation Workshop in March–this thanks to financial assistance from NZFC, and support from Script to Screen. On top of this we will continue our busy professional development programme from last year with the Collaborator Series, Rehearsal Room, a Documentary Director’s International Mentorship, another International Editor’s Mentorship, Director’s Toolkit, a Directing Actors Workshop and more masterclasses. And don’t forget our networking drinks each month with different guilds and industry bodies.
Big picture, we still have some work to do:

  • Get memberships up–and you can help by encouraging your colleagues to join, enticing them with everything we have to offer.
  • Talk with government–new Broadcasting Minister Amy Adams and Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry should now be settled in. We’ll be communicating with them and others who have a major influence on policy and legislation that affects us.
  • Maintain and improve dialogue with NZFC and NZOA–Dave Gibson has given clear indications that he wants to talk to industry through the guilds and DEGNZ will be making the most of this. Jane Wrightson has an open door policy that we welcome.
  • The stratospheric approach of Minister Steven Joyce with the NZ Screen Advisory Group needs to be brought closer to earth, as DEGNZ operates at the coal face of professional development for directors.

These are just some of the more important tasks that we will be taking on in the coming months.

There are and will be some new faces at DEGNZ to help with this work. TV Commercials director Kezia Bennett will take up an advisory role with the guild, bringing her advertising knowledge and connections to bear on our behalf. Leah Goffe Robinson started this month as our Marketing and Events Coordinator, and we are seeking two new interns to assist us. (Role outline on The Big Idea.)

Please remember that as a member, we are a resource for you to utilize. We take our commitment to ensuring your creative, cultural and financial wellbeing seriously. So get in touch if you need to. And have a fantastic 2015!

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

2014 With DEGNZ

19 December 2014

DEGNZ has had another fantastic year. Thanks to all of you for continuing to support us and the NZ film industry. Across 2014 we have rolled out our new brand and website, and seen the implementation of a fantastic new professional development programme.

This from director and member Miles Murphy about 2014 with DEGNZ:

“I just wanted to say how impressed I have been with the DEGNZ and your support for directors. In the last 12 months I have really stepped up my attempts to gain knowledge and experience to help my directing career and found the courses and opportunities the guild are offering to be very exciting. I will continue to do my own external work in this area but it’s such a great thing to know this resource is available. I really wish I joined earlier as I had no idea how helpful it would actually be. So thanks for that.”

We have also had a number of staff changes over 2014. Tui Ruwhiu has taken over from Fiona Copland as our Executive Director. Fiona did an amazing job at the guild and we thank her for all her hard work. We are sad to farewell our Marketing and Events Coordinator Lucy Stonex, who is leaving the guild to travel and work on her own projects in 2015. Leah Goffe Robertson, a young documentary filmmaker, will take over in 2015 and we welcome her to the guild. This year we were also fortunate to have the help of two fantastic interns–Esmee Myers and Elina Osborne. Their efforts over the course of our busy year have been invaluable.

At board level we said goodbye in 2014 to dedicated members Grant Campbell, Kirstin Macon, Briar March, Leanne Pooley and John Reid. And we welcomed onto the board Louise Leitch and Annie Collins.

Merry Christmas, best wishes and see you all again in 2015!

– The team at DEGNZ.

Members Address

15 Oct 2014

I have arrived at DEGNZ at a time of significant change for the screen industry.

Digital’s impact on the broadcasting and film landscape is immense. There are new opportunities for content makers online. Exhibitors are coming under intense pressure from companies seeking to circumvent traditional distribution windows and trial online services. DVD and Bluray sales are on the decline as digital sales rise. The renaissance in episodic drama is in full swing, at least internationally, as film directors are pursuing the longer character and story arcs afforded by drama series, particularly on cable and digital outlets. These are just some of the changes. The problem at this point is still revenue: Digital distribution is not yet delivering meaningful revenue for filmmakers. Once again it’s the middlemen—the aggregators and digital distributors—and the digital services they feed that will profit.

Dave Gibson has now been CEO at the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) for just under a year, and he has begun implementing his ‘Planets’ strategy. We now have the ‘stepping stones’ pathways to feature film. Premiere Shorts is gone, replaced by Premiere Pathways. The hesitation over Escalator has disappeared, and a new low-budget approach has been phased in. A feature film component to 48 Hours filmmaking will be introduced. Three new Business Development Scheme teams have been funded. The Screen Advisory Board of Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, Jane Campion, Andrew Adamson, James Cameron and Jon Landau is in place, as are the new incentives for both film and TV. All these Gibson undoubtedly hopes, together with the other tweaks and shifts in NZFC’s modus operandi, will help to align his planets. While the strategy continues to tout culturally significant films as important—the area where New Zealand’s past success has come from both with features and shorts—it does seem at this point that NZFC itself is more focused on low budget genre filmmaking.

New Zealand On Air has not been sitting idly by with the advent of the digital landscape. For several years now it has pursued a digital strategy that has seen a number of projects funded. The latest initiative—a co-production fund for interactive projects with Canada Media Fund. With prime time free to air TV littered with tentpole DIY property shows, singing contests and cooking competitions, new initiatives like the Canada New Zealand Digital Media Fund are welcome.

On the broadcaster front, Prime TV has made a foray into serial drama with Brokenwood Mysteries. TV3’s just announced a call for a five-day-a-week soap that will create another pathway for directors, editors and others to shape their drama mettle. The recent shakeups in management at Maori Television herald change—hopefully for the better. TVNZ’s recommitment to telefeatures was well received and its first multi-night drama heads for production. TVNZ 7 seems such a distant memory.

In television commercials production, budgets are down except for the biggest brands, and online content is up. Most companies have already adapted to the requirement for branded content and are making native advertising to sell product. One producer when I asked for the lay of the land responded: “Rome is burning. Too many producers, too many directors and not enough work.”

On the domestic political landscape we have new Ministers in Amy Adams with the Broadcasting portfolio while Maggie Barry takes up Arts, Culture and Heritage. Both come with little experience or knowledge in these areas. While Broadcasting sits at No. 7 with Adams, a position relative to where it has been for the past two terms, Arts Culture and Heritage takes a nosedive to join Barry at No. 20. This is a long way from the heyday at No. 1 when Helen Clark as Prime Minister held it, or around No. 8 with the Arts-inclined Chris Findlayson. Barry is not known for her Arts patronage. We can only hope that her passion for Kiwi ‘kulcha’ evolves to meet the needs of New Zealand culture.

But what do the above and the many other changes that have taken place in the screen industry and are still to come mean for the directors and editors in our guild.

The signs all point to unrelenting pressure to do more (work), with less (budget), for less (pay).

A prime example of a typical workload now is a low budget, independently made documentary or no/lo-budget feature. The director is expected to engage in crowdfunding, run ongoing social media, and undertake the marketing and distribution in addition to making the production, all the while trying to get something else up.

With digital equipment and distribution channels, we now have an incredible glut of content available: films, web series, viral videos, the list goes on. Everyone has taken to the catch cry of ‘Story’ with a passion, and the democratization of filmmaking means anybody can create something, and pretty much everybody now does. With so much free stuff around, some of it good, the pressure comes on for great work to be done for not a lot.

Educational institutions still continue to pump out graduates with a film, TV or production diploma or degree in hand. They will intern to get that break, and they will take that basic salary or rate if they are lucky enough to be offered it. The demise of documentary and the rise of reality shows have changed the role of the TV director forever. And TV producers bemoan the fact that they are increasingly fixing up poorly skilled directors’ work in post. While there are good rates for good directors and editors in TV, they are not across the board.

In film, the pressure is increasing for the key creatives of writer, director and producer to defer their fees, particularly as more private equity comes into film in first position. For low-budget productions, it is everyone including editors who have to work for the minimum or not much more. Actor, writer and director Peter Mullan had a salutary lesson for us all when he was out here recently. When Peter made The Magdalene Sisters in 2002 he had to defer 60 per cent of his fee. The film made US$34 million on a £2.5 million budget. It took him 12 years to get his deferred fee back, and he hasn’t seen another cent.

So what can we do about it? Here are some thoughts.

First. Be incredibly good at what you do. One way of ensuring you get paid well is being exceptional at your job. DEGNZ runs workshops, seminars, mentorships and networking opportunities that can help. Take advantage of them.

Second. Make sure you get what you want from taking that low or no-pay job. Satisfaction. Credit. Something great for your showreel. A favour for a rainy day. A warm fuzzy feeling. Be strategic, so that you get what you want when you give. Whatever that may be. Or say, “No.” You actually may be better off for it. If you think some person or company is trying to take advantage of you and you’re not sure what to do about it, talk to us. We can help.

Third. The power of ‘Story’ is a wonderful thing. Tell great stories. They will cut through the clutter and help get you noticed.

I would like to close out by paying tribute to the former ED Fiona Copland whom I have replaced. Fiona stepped in at short notice after the passing of long-time ED Anna Cahill, who had fought valiantly for the guild through a funding crisis due to a change in approach at NZFC, later resolved. Fiona gathered up the pieces and has put in place a fantastic programme for our members with the money to run it—funding kindly provided by NZFC. I have been fortunate enough to inherit this as we approach Year Two of the three-year run. My aim is to increase our offering to members and work on their behalf while further securing our financial well being.

When I started at DEGNZ on the first day, I looked at the banner we use at stands, workshops and elsewhere to promote ourselves. The tagline at the bottom said:

DEGNZ—Dedicated to the creative, cultural and financial wellbeing of New Zealand directors and editors.

I think that sums up perfectly what we are here to do for you.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director