When you look at the problems besetting the world, with amongst other things COVID-19 still rampant in many countries, the U.S. a powder keg ready to explode and war raging on a number of fronts, it’s hard not to look at little ole New Zealand, steal the Aussie phrase and say, we’re The Lucky Country. And in comparison to Australia’s, we have to say we’re the lucky screen industry.
No matter what your political persuasion, the New Zealand screen sector has been blessed with a prime minister who is also the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. In Australia, Scott Morrison’s government abolished the Arts Department (our MCH) in December 2019 and merged it with Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Development.
The Federal Government over there has resisted calls for a nation-wide industry stimulus package. In New Zealand, meanwhile, the response to COVID has been:
- $7.9 million for Careers Support for Creative Jobseekers
- $70 million over three years for a Creative Arts Recovery and Employment Fund
- $60 million over three years for a Cultural Innovation Fund
- $20 million for a Cultural Capability Fund
- $16.5 million for a New Zealand Music Recovery Fund
- $16.5 million top up for New Zealand On Air
All this is in addition to other funding for the Culture and Heritage sector announced in the budget. And we are all waiting with bated breath for a stimulus package that will have funding specifically for the screen sector.
When it comes to screen workers, a high percentage of workers here quickly received the wage subsidy. In Oz, the response was slow and according to a just released Australian Directors Guild survey, nearly 50% of their members do not qualify for the Australian Government’s Job Keeper (Wage Subsidy) or Job Seeker (Unemployment Benefit).
Fingers crossed we have at least contained if not eliminated the Coronavirus. This has allowed our domestic soap, small crew projects and this week, our first film back into production. We have 56 international personnel allowed into the country through a special immigration channel, under managed quarantine at Wellington’s Museum Hotel and ready to kick start Avatar back into life and kick off another still-secret film.
With other international projects also likely to start shortly and NZ On Air expected to fund a considerable amount of drama from the recent round, we could well find ourselves back in the situation we were in at the beginning of the year with a dearth of experienced crew and international productions poaching crew off each other with offers of higher rates. Without a Trans-Tasman bubble in place, we certainly won’t be bringing crew in to fill the high demand here as was happening before.
Australia is also getting ready to swing back into production with their Health & Safety Standard & Protocols just released. However, they are faced with a continued blanket suspension of commercial free-to-air content quotas, which their producers’ organisation, SPA, feels smothers commissioning demand at a time when their industry needs it more than ever.
At the Guild, we are feeling lucky too, as we rapidly return to the new normal. Across the last two months we have been running a considerable number of Zoom and or Facebook Live workshops and sessions because of COVID. But this Friday we are holding our first in-person session with the first of five DEGNZ Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator workshops for 2020. We do though need your continued support because as an organisation we haven’t escaped unscathed, understandably, with financial membership down because of the pandemic.
With domestic tourism now key to our tourism sector’s survival and location production an important contributor to transport, food and accommodation providers, we have an opportunity to help out and at the same time see how lucky a country we really are.