I had someone who came to see me recently who had worked on an American production shooting here in NZ. This person unfortunately ended up the worse for wear from a situation where protocols about what you can and cannot do were breached—doubly worse as this individual had until this opportunity came along been unable to get any real traction formally as a director and was hopeful that the door was beginning to open.
In seeking to understand what if any differences there are between working on New Zealand productions and international productions shooting here, particularly US ones, I talked to a number of people operating in different spheres of the industry. There were of course differing opinions about what you should and shouldn’t do on set, and whether there were any real differences between working on a 100 per cent NZ drama project and a US drama shooting here. Some said yes, some said no.
In chatting with the highly experienced 1st AD and Production Manager Simon Ambridge, who has worked on big international and small NZ productions alike, his feeling was that there wasn’t a big difference between the two.
Our conversation then swung more generally to whether or not Kiwi directors and editors will have the opportunity to work on the international projects coming in.
As Simon pointed out and many of us know, there are already Kiwis who have directed and cut on international shows, but it is hard for New Zealanders to get a shot, particularly for the first series of a TV show.
International producers he told me are nervous about whether or not they can achieve what they need to when they first arrive. They arm themselves with the people they know and trust to get the job done. It’s not long however before they realize the incredibly high level of talent and craft skill that exists in the New Zealand screen industry. And that, along with the incentives and exchange rate, is often what sees them want to come back. As well as that unique New Zealand culture that they encounter on and off set. With that understanding, innternational producers then become more amenable to having some of the directing and or editorial done by local hire. We are fortunate in New Zealand to have local producers who work on these projects and who tirelessly promote New Zealanders for key creative roles on international productions. Every once and awhile, they pry that door open and get people through.
Those who do get a shot, though, have already proven themselves, either on local shows here that have travelled internationally, or they themselves have gone offshore and enriched their CV with projects that prove their worth.
At DEGNZ, we are absolutely focused on getting more directors and editors working on international shows shooting here.
The director attachments we run together with NZ On Air, NZFC and the significant private sector support of American producer Rob Tapert, and more recently local production company heads, are geared towards increasing the pool of directing talent who understand the unique demands of fast-turnaround television. These are entry-level efforts designed to get emerging directors their first mainstream TV drama gig. Our hope at the guild is that the number of international dramas coming into New Zealand offers more opportunities to those New Zealand directors and editors who are already well established. In this way, we would have rather than a door to walk through, an escalator that moves talent upward from the point where they step on to local drama to increase their experience and grow their capability, and then step off into the high-demand world of big-budget international productions.
The next hump to get over is for one of our director attachments to get a regular gig as a director on an NZ drama. And for that to happen, we need the broadcasters to be willing to move beyond the small pool of established directors they have relied on for so long.
In the meantime, mind your Ps and Qs no matter whose set you are on.