Digital Kapow!

10 July 2015

We are being assaulted by digital technology and the digital realm and its effects on our chosen careers and our livelihoods are irrevocable.

I have written about this previously, but recent events bring it once again to the fore.

Digital editing has been around for a long time and for editors it has been a relatively slow and measured transition to the new paradigm. With the decline in the quality of footage shot in the field for a lot of TV shows, it really does often boil down to “We’ll fix it in post.” A good producer and editor is what save many a TV show these days. And this has helped maintain their value.

For directors, a couple of now institutional advents heralded real change and devaluing of their skill. The first was one person camera (OPC), which really had its place in TV news. Doing away with the soundperson and putting the responsibility for everything on the camera operator, who in many cases was already directing for the reporter, laid the groundwork for what is now an everyday occurrence in reality TV.

The arrival of the PD150 and other such cameras made opc a reality mainstay in non-news programming, and cemented the position of opc as director on many shows, which continues to this day. This helped give jobs to the increasing number of graduates being pumped out of film and television schools.

Digital production and post equipment and film school graduates also wrought havoc on the corporate video market, where unsophisticated clients chose low cost over quality approach and hastened the growth of low-priced content marketing. In this arena, one-person film graduate outfits compete with TV commercials production companies who lament the loss of the big budget commercials of yesteryear.

Much information, marketing, and educational video content and a good proportion of reality, light entertainment and documentary programming today is made without a dedicated director at the helm, and it’s common for the same person to shoot, direct and edit projects, particularly in the content marketing arena.

A look at the lay of some of the land will help to show what is going on:

  • In the 2013/14 year, the Department of Statistics identified 12,500 people working in producing, contracting and broadcasting in the screen industry in 23,700 jobs—2.9 jobs/person.
  • 2,130 students with diplomas or bachelors degree graduated in Communications and Media Studies in New Zealand in 2013.
  • YouTube statistics state 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute—from video selfies to web series and everything in between.
  • In a Brightcove sponsored survey of Business 2 Business Content Marketers in Nth America by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 76% are using video in content marketing, with YouTube the platform of choice for 72% of them.
  • The shift with the funding bodies, who have been stuck on the same level of funding for years with no real increases in sight, is a further clear indicator of digital ramifications.

Last night saw the launch of the second round of Loading Docs, an online initiative for 10 x 3 minute documentaries. This project receives both New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) and New Zealand On Air (NZOA) support. Each of the successful applicants was required to generate $2k in crowdfunding and received 2k in matched funding and other non-financial support.

NZOA has a Request For Proposal (RFP) out for web series of around 6 episodes of approximately 5 – 7 minutes for a $100k budget, down from the heady times of Auckland Daze ($357k for 6) and The Factory ($600k for 20). The web series strand is just one of five separate digital funding streams for content at NZOA now.

Te Māngai Pāho is on the digital bandwagon, too, following a joint initiative with NZOA last year. Hahana ($40k for 10) was the first webseries to receive funding.

On the up side, the democratization of video production has brought down the barriers to entry and allowed new talent to come to the fore. Creators can now take risks, experiment and develop their skills free from the interference of funders, investors and others seeking control, often in the hope of being recognised and given mainstream opportunities. This of course also means there are yottabytes of crappy content out there that you have to wade through to find something good.

On the downside, because so much content is being produced for free or next to nothing, professional cast and crew are regularly being asked to work for nix or close to for content for digital and increasingly broadcast.

In short—more content, more content creators, and less or no money for budgets.

The latest bastion to be assailed in New Zealand by digital is drama—short films and low or no budget feature films have been round long enough already.

I have mentioned before the ridiculous, maximum $45k per half hour of broadcast drama that Māori Television has issued an RFP for. Producers are falling into line for this, self- and cast and crew- flagellating whip in hand. At DEGNZ we have taken a strong stance against this development because directors, editors and others will not be fairly compensated for their work. This particular issue has become so contentious that the other guilds and associations are making noises, too.

It’s not hard to imagine that the generally fair and equitable pay rates for traditional NZ TV drama is going to come under digital threat at some point, particularly as NZ web series become more prolific.

With NZOA’s latest web series RFP, producers are running around town seeking cast and crew to make pilot samples for free on the promise that if they get commissioned they will be paid for their services retrospectively.

Our role at DEGNZ as we often reiterate is to enhance the cultural, creative and financial wellbeing of New Zealand directors and editors.

Our fight for fair pay rates is made the more difficult by individuals agreeing to working conditions that are not only patently unfair, but sometimes raise serious occupational health and safety concerns.

We ask that you give careful consideration to the overall ramifications of your agreeing to work on drama projects where you are not adequately compensated. Otherwise, you could end up knocking yourselves out.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director