I’ve been writing this blog for the DEGNZ newsletter for close to six years now. There have been a few times when I’ve been stuck for what to write about, but ultimately came through. But from memory there were two or three times when I couldn’t move from the blank page and we’ve had to delay the newsletter to the following week.
I listen to Jeff Goldsmith’s podcast The Q & A. One of the questions he always asks writers he interviews is what they do when they have writer’s block. Of course the answers vary from: I don’t have it, I go for a walk, I just write anything to get through it, and multiple other responses.
You perhaps have twigged that the above is what I am doing now to address what was the blank page staring me in the face. Moving on.
Something else I listen to on a regular basis is Standing Room Only on RNZ. Last Sunday it featured a Simon Morris interview with the new CEO of NZFC, David Strong. In it, Strong quoted the Jackson Court Report of 2010, in which Peter Jackson said, “Arguably, there might be no more than 25 or 30 truly talented screen writers and directors working in a country the size of New Zealand.”
Supposedly, in each round of EDF at NZFC now, there are 20 – 30 applications. There are five EDF rounds a year. I understand that around 50% of projects applying for EDF get it. They are either new projects or projects coming in again for another round of EDF.
EDF these days doesn’t mean that a script is in early development. The competition for EDF is so strong that if a project isn’t a good way along the development path when it first goes in, then it’s unlikely to get funded. In other words, a lot of blank page staring must be going on during spec writing to get a script in good enough shape to be seriously considered for funding.
Strong also outlined how scripts going through NZFC were selected to be made—EDF with internal and external assessors, and ADF where local and international assessors were used to decide whether or not the film would get greenlit for production funding.
NZFC production funds between 10 – 15 films per year, some of which are documentary features. The remainder are narratives.
With some unscientific number crunching looking forward, you could make a guesstimate that of the 150 or so films that apply for funding each year 75 get EDF, so the odds of getting EDF are 50%, or one in two.
If 75 films got EDF each year and 10 – 15 films are made, then the odds of a film getting EDF and getting made are 20% or one in five.
Another way of looking at it is that of the 150 films in any given year applying for EDF funding, only 10% or one in ten will get over the line and get made, perhaps substantiating Jackson’s view. Some, I’m sure, would dispute that the best scripts always go into production.
Morris also asked Strong what vision he pitched to the NZFC board to get the job. His response: he didn’t pitch an “agenda”. Rather he went on to speak of the dramatic change in the film business globally and the need to continue to attract international production to deliver economic and other benefits that will help to make the New Zealand film industry sustainable—his job he sees it is to create the environment to deliver that. I don’t believe that’s a message that going to resonate with New Zealand filmmakers, but one that will certainly make crew happy.
Coming into the Film Commission doesn’t give any new CEO a blank page. In this instance, Strong picked up on the more recent legacies of former CEOs Dave Gibson and Annabelle Sheehan.
But each CEO gets to decide the direction in which they will drive the organisation. As Morris pointed out, Gibson drove it towards commercial fare, Sheehan towards diverse. You could take from the interview that international production is a priority for Strong, even though he pointed out repeatedly the cultural remit of the organisation and the need to tell NZ stories on screen.
There is perhaps light at the end of the tunnel, though. Earlier in the piece he did state that the whole purpose of being a director or writer is to have their own voice… “Let the director have their voice because we go to cinemas to see great stories, and great stories have to be inspired by great writers and great directors.” If Strong can achieve this for New Zealand film while treading the path of attracting international production, then he will have made his own mark on the industry, and it will be considered a success by NZ creatives. Now if he would only stop calling films “shows”.
You can listen to the full interview here.