On Wednesday evening, Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Carmel Sepuloni, together with the Minister for Economic Development, Phil Twyford, and Minister for Broadcasting, Kris Faafoi, announced the Screen Sector Stimulus package. Included was $140 million previously announced in the budget, being $115 million to the international NZ Screen Production Grant, with $25 million to the domestic Screen Production Grant for local productions.
The rest of the announcement was new funding, but how much and where it went was clear as mud. As far as I can figure out it breaks down like this:
- $15.4 million to NZFC with $2 million allocated to cultural capability funding and the rest to recovery for production affected by COVID.
- In a guess on my part, $8 million to NZ On Air for production affected by COVID.
- $50 million in a new fund to be dedicated to high-end drama and film projects, targeting streamers it would seem, with criteria still to be developed.
- An additional $25 million, which seems to have materialised out of nowhere, for NZ On Air to spend over four years for Pacific, student and disability broadcast media.
The elephant in the room, though, is insurance. Without it, no new high-end drama or feature film will be able to get up without a major studio willing to bankroll the whole thing and take the associated risk that COVID has brought.
How to get insurance and completion bonds for production is a global problem putting the brakes on production everywhere. The insurance industry has already been hit with massive COVID-associated claims. Consequently, insurers won’t issue insurance to cover COVID-19.
Screen industries around the world are hatching various plans to deal with the insurance issue, but they all, to a greater or lesser degree, come down to one thing: government underwriting of insurance.
The New Zealand Film Commission commissioned the Screen Production and Development Association (SPADA) to write a paper for Government to outline the issues and justify the call for Government to come up with a solution that would allow new drama and feature film projects to get up. While the new funding announced on Wednesday night was welcomed by everyone, a significant number of those in attendance at the Beehive waited with bated breath for a Government response to the insurance issue. It never came.
Small productions and those that had existing insurance coverage prior to COVID will get made, but independent production everywhere needs the insurance problem solved. That includes any NZ On Air funded drama soon to be announced from the last round. Without an insurance solution or a studio willing to take on the risk, we could all be watching a lot more low-budget short-form web series to satisfy our scripted desires.
Unfortunately, we are still waiting cap in hand for the Government to come to the rescue. If they do, we will then truly be able to take advantage of the very fortunate position we find ourselves in as a screen industry in comparison to the rest of the world.