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With the Big Screen Symposium about to kick off tomorrow, it’s yet another recent event at which to be thankful for, for our Government’s response to COVID. We can gather in big numbers will little concern for the spread of the virus, while in many other places around the world the statistics of COVID sickness and death are horrific. I was extremely pleased to hear yesterday that our Trans-Tasman cousins can now travel interstate, relatively freely.

 

And talking of our Aussie cousins, we have a new head at the Australian Directors’ Guild in Alaric McCausland. Alaric has a screen executive background in Australia and internationally, bringing a slightly different focus over his last two predecessors. As always, DEGNZ seeks a strong relationship with the ADG, with my first call with Alaric cordial, informative and supportive.

 

NZFC, NZ On Air and TMP obviously got more feedback than they bargained for in regard to the Premium Productions for International Audiences Fund. They are now late in getting the final criteria out—perhaps they will show at BSS. I have to imagine the number of applications to the fund is going to be as voluminous as the feedback was.

 

I heard yesterday that TV3 is now officially in the hands of Discovery. A Stuff article here. Being run as an Australasian service, it will be interesting to see what opportunities come for local content makers in the trans-Tasman tie, with Discovery’s global network and the planned launch of a streaming service here making for exciting possibilities.

 

Over at Sky they’ve got a new CEO in Sophie Moloney. Martin Stewart wears the blood splashes of his restructuring as he heads back to the UK, and Moloney offers an experienced, friendly, female and kotahitanga approach as she takes Sky forward. Unity is certainly needed in an organisation reeling from job losses.

 

TVNZ’s GM Local Content Nevak Rogers came with Drama and Scripted Comedy Commissioner Steve Barr to talk to our Emerging Women Filmmakers participants at their fifth and final workshop. Nevak was pleased to tell me that TVNZ is now spending around $100 million on local content, which is besting the highest spend during the Charter years at TVNZ. For those not old enough to know what the charter was, this from Wikipedia:

 

The Labour Government introduced a “TVNZ Charter” in 2002. This was a list of objectives for TVNZ which specified it must broadcast a wide variety of New Zealand-made content; the broadcaster was given public responsibility to provide news, drama, documentaries and “promote understanding of the diversity of cultures”. In 2008 the Government announced that the broadcaster was to become “more public-service” like. TVNZ responded by launching two commercial free channels; TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7. By 2011 Prime Minister John Key announced the closure of these channels. 6 in 2011, and 7 in mid-2012, with much of their content put into TVNZ Heartland and TVNZ Kidzone24 which are only available behind a Sky TV paywall. The National Government abolished the Charter in 2011. Political opponents accused the Government of reducing TVNZ’s commitments as a public broadcaster.

 

Just this week at the NZ On Air end-of-year function, Broadcasting Minister Chris Faafoi reaffirmed his commitment to public broadcasting via a video address. Back in October, Faafoi announced that the TVNZ – RNZ merger discussion was back on the table. The partially completed and partially redacted PWC consultant’s report released in September, however, didn’t outline the benefits of combining the broadcasters into a single entity or state how TVNZ or RNZ’s services would change if the proposal was approved. Just what is going to happen and when seems entirely open to discussion. Dealing with COVID and its impacts provides wonderful cover for doing nothing for quite a while yet. Let’s hope something good comes of it sooner.

 

Finally, the DEGNZ Workflow Best Practice Guide, driven by board member and  long-time, drama and documentary editor Annie Collins, continues to win rave reviews. If you want to save your production time and money and yourself stress, become very familiar with the content, available on our website here.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

 

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If you do a search on the Interweb, one of the definitions of a disruptor in business reads:

To be a disruptor is to create a product, service, or way of doing things which displaces the existing market leaders and eventually replaces them at the helm of the sector. Disruptors are generally entrepreneurs, outsiders, and idealists rather than industry insiders or market specialists.

Netflix is a great example of a disruptor. It started as a DVD rental company posting DVDs to customers before becoming the first major streamer. It now dominates screen content creation, delivery and the Hollywood studios globally. How long it maintains that dominant position remains to be seen—it’s certainly the hare among the tortoises. But those tortoises are weighed down by money and muscle through their parent entities as much by hard and relatively inflexible exteriors and slow-moving parts.

I’d posit though that COVID-19 is the ultimate disruptor. It’s creating dramatic change in the way of doing things that even if we overcome it with a vaccine, it has wrought such rapid transformation to business that just a year ago we would have considered inconceivable. We can see that transformation occurring right now, in the screen industry, in New Zealand. Anyone who watched the NZFC/NZ On Air/TMP webinar this week on the Premium Production for International Audience Fund saw an example of it in action.

In the Screen Sector Strategy, one of the ten initiatives in the short-term plan is to work with the Government to modernise the regulation that shapes the sector. I can tell you after two and a half years of working on the Copyright Act Review with Government and at least another year of work ahead, my expectations of quickly modernising the regulation that shapes the sector was not great.

Like the studios, our screen bureaucracy and Government around it is a cumbersome beast, pretty resistant to significant change. Note how we’ve sat on the sidelines as the Golden Age of Television reshaped the global screen industry. Or Netflix changed the screen content business model for creation, distribution, revenue flows and ownership. Or a commercially driven public broadcaster became a loss-making entity with a still-beating commercial heart and a decidedly permanent-looking hand in the taxpayer pocket.

But then COVID.

Now our screen bureaucracy is moving it’s stumpy little legs so fast in COVID recovery mode we are seeing changes mooted for rapid implementation or in place that in the old normal would have taken forever to bring about.

Such as in the Premium Production Fund:

• allowing productions to access NZ On Air funding and the New Zealand Screen Production Grant for drama.
• permitting productions to have no minimum level of Aotearoa New Zealand content.
• Requiring only a minimum level of private international investment for eligibility set at 10% of a production’s total value for TV.
• Doing away with the need for an NZ Free-to-Air broadcaster to get across the line.

Or in the COVID 19 Policy for the NZFC Terms of Trade for films under $2.5 million:

• dispensing with the requirement to have a distributor AND sales agent
• doing away with the need for an NZ theatrical release
• allowing a VOD platform as a distribution partner

I’m not sure if we are ever going to catch the hare, but I can certainly feel my hair—now longer due to COVID—getting ruffled with the winds of change.

Bring on the NZ Broadcasting Act and NZ Film Commission Act reform.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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We are in the midst of election turmoil both here and in the United States.

Pork barrel politics are in full swing here with promises from all sides intended to sway voters.

We are fortunate, though, that the Arts has already received funding from Government due to COVID in the $8 million-dollar Cultural Capability allocation over two years ($2 million each) to New Zealand On Air, the NZFC, the NZ Music Commission and Creative New Zealand.

Additionally, from the total $150 million allocation it’s managing for the Government’s COVID 19 Sector Regeneration Fund for Arts, Culture and Heritage, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage (MCH) is sorting out now how to best spend the other $12 million in Cultural Capability funding. A number of us in the screen sector and from other Creative and Arts-related organisations have been in focus groups with MCH to discuss this.

Participating in these focus groups has made me very aware of how fortunate the screen sector is in comparison to other Arts sectors. There are many creative organisations and individual artists who are barely hanging on in the COVID environment. It was particularly poignant to hear of suicides in the music sector.

Another very clear reminder of the screen sector’s difference for me in these meetings was the fundamental blending of art and commerce that is central to our sector. Our art comes about as the result of tens or hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars in investment to generate a work. The annual budgets of NZ On Air at $150 million, NZFC at $26.4 million and with a New Zealand Screen Production Grant Budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars exhibit this.

In television, there’s no real tension between art and commerce. It’s a business. Everybody knows it. That’s not the case in film. Film still remains the domain of the auteur director, whether they are making an art house film or a Hollywood blockbuster.

Director Christopher Nolan has been given the authorial right by Warner Brothers to bet the bank on a cinema release with the $200 million film Tenet. Why?

Nolan exhibited his artistic talent with his first film Following. His second feature, Memento, on a $9 million-dollar budget grossed $40 million worldwide. His Batman trilogy, Man of Steel, and Interstellar have generated billions. That’s why. Nolan is now an established blockbuster auteur.

Nolan’s debut feature Following was made on a budget of £3,000. Most of the cast and crew were friends of the director, and shooting took place on weekends over the course of a year.

Of course, not everybody who’s a director has the talent or will take the path of Christopher Nolan. But we should celebrate every New Zealand film that gets made whether its self-funded or the beneficiary of NZFC financing.

Sam Kelly and Guy Pigden, two of the latest DEGNZ members to finish films, took different paths to the same result.

Sam’s NZFC funded Savage is knocking it out of the park at the moment, having taken over a million dollars at the box office in two weeks. Guy’s film Older, funded through Pledge Me, had its official premiere last weekend, and is available to stream on Prime Video. Streamer reviews are looking good too.

As well, we have DEGNZ member directors Armagan Ballantyne in production on her sophomore feature Nude Tuesday, Michelle Saville on debut feature Millie Lies Low restarting after a COVID shutdown, Linda Nicol wrapping up on her debut Poppy, and Leanne Pooley with feature documentary Girl On A Bridge, which has finished its cinema run and is now available online.

Even amidst these COVID-created tough times, we have much to celebrate with the success of our members in the feature film arena and the funding our sector’s received.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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There are a few key unresolved issues in our sector and we are sitting on our hands waiting for action. The transformation of TVNZ into a proper public broadcaster is one. Then there’s the Screen Industry Worker Bill that will allow contractors to engage in collective bargaining. Another, the underwriting insurance needed to get the domestic film industry up again.

I know there is an election on, but we are still some ways away from the transformational change needed to get going properly, as well as grasp the opportunities on offer in the new world we are in.

In the UK, the new Director General of the BBC is moving rapidly to address the challenges there. Amongst them the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of diverse representation, political pressure, pay disparity, technological disruption, the emergence of competing news outlets, a battle to maintain relevance and the threat to the licence fee. A number of his changes will undoubtedly prove unpopular as he drives the organisation to be leaner and more commercial as well.

Yet here we sit still waiting for the Government to address the public broadcaster issue. It was December last year when Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi proposed merging TVNZ and RNZ. In January, he presented a revised plan and was asked for a business case due last month. Meanwhile, streamers have become the new global studios, YouTube has become the most popular source of video content in New Zealand, and TVNZ continues to lose money. The only wait that’s been blessedly terminated is what’s happening to TV3. The good news is Discovery’s acquisition of some of Mediaworks assets including the network—perhaps the first time in the channel’s history that it’s going to have real money in the bank to draw on.

Starting in 2018, the Film Industry Working Group toiled for months to unanimously come up with recommendations to help shape the Screen Industry Worker Bill. This extended process together with the time to draft the Bill, the Select Committee submissions and the interruptions caused by COVID mean we have to accept there will be no passage of the bill into law prior to the election. We are now faced with its fate hanging on the election result. Even after all the Select Committee submissions were predominantly in support of the Bill, National continue to oppose it. They will throw it out if they come into power. Accepting the rejection of the Hobbit Law they were responsible for putting in place would obviously be too much for them.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for the industry right now is the lack of commitment from our Government to underwriting the local film industry, replacing the insurance companies who won’t insure for COVID. In June, the Australian Government put in place an AUD$50 million fund to provide financial guarantees because insurance companies are not providing coverage for COVID-19. In July the British government launched an emergency £500M (US$646M) film and TV coronavirus production insurance fund. NZFC and SPADA have already made representations to Government to underwrite local production. Nearly two months later and we still haven’t heard an answer.

I know that the New Zealand screen sector has received monies to address the impact of COVID. We are all thankful for that. But this underwriting is necessary if any new New Zealand films are going to get made. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too much longer to find out.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director