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To Be or Not to Be? That Was the Question.

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Almost a year ago, the Directors & Editors Guild of NZ membership voted to become a union. At this year’s AGM on Saturday 5 October, DEGNZ will adopt a new constitution that will allow the Guild to formalise its status as a union and affiliate with the Council of Trade Unions.

I thought it worthwhile to provide some background information that will help members to better understand what this change of status is all about.

In trawling the Interweb to find background material to write this op-ed, I came across a two-part article from US entertainment lawyer Christopher Shiller that has essentially done the job for me. Yes, it applies to the US situation for the screen industry but it’s very pertinent to us, particularly with the changes that will come about from the Film Industry Working Group recommendations to Government that DEGNZ was a part of.

Here are the links to that two-part series.

Legally Speaking, It Depends – Guild or Union, Part 1

Legally Speaking, It Depends – Guild or Union, Part 2

At our AGM, the NZ Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff will give an overview of the CTU and speak to the CTU’s perspective on the work being done by the Film Industry Working Group to address the inequities of the Hobbit Law.

I encourage you all to read the articles from the links, and to attend the AGM — this will be a momentous occasion for DEGNZ in regard to its work to ensure the creative, cultural and financial wellbeing of New Zealand directors and editors. Please RSVP to attend the AGM here.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive DIrector

Just Not Cutting It

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Just over four years ago a group of senior editors were sitting around on a Sunday afternoon in Auckland lamenting the fact that standards just weren’t like they used to be. They questioned each other as to why that was. The answer they came up with was that in the old days, i.e. the days of film, assistant editors worked in the cutting room like apprentices, learning their craft under the tutelage of the cutting editor.
In this way they were learning the technical aspects of their work and:

  • observing the editor at work,
  • getting the chance to cut on the project and have their work critiqued by the editor,
  • and being part of the conversations between the editor and the director, producer, funding body, broadcaster, etc.

All the while they were on the project for essentially the full length of the edit.

With the advent of digital editing, the role of the assistant editor quickly morphed into dealing much more with the technical preparation of material for editing, often on opposite shifts from the editor. This was usually done in a cost-saving exercise by the producer so that one edit setup could be used across 24 hours, rather than having to hire two to work in parallel. Additionally, the assistant editor’s time working on the project was reduced, because producers could see that once the technical work was finished there was a way to further lower costs.

All this meant that the chance to observe, cut and receive critique was often curtailed unless the editor made a considered effort to ensure their assistant got the opportunities. For the editor it meant working unsupported through post, dealing with the increased digital complexities of an edit on top of doing their job.

The impact this had became obvious when senior editors were being brought onto projects to ‘fix’ them because less experienced editors were being held responsible for not delivering a satisfactory cut.

At the same time, the technical nature of the work was becoming more complex and assistant editors were often required to figure it all out by themselves without significant guidance from the editor who was too busy doing what they were hired to do.

With the financial support of the NZ Film Commission, DEGNZ began to offer Assistant Editor Workshops in late 2018 to seek to formalise and standardise the technical aspects of the assistant editor’s role in a two-level training programme, which also recognises the Technical Assistant Editor as a career path in itself.

DEGNZ, again with NZFC support, introduced Feature Film Editing Attachments, so that junior editors seeking to work in features could get back into the room with the editor for the creative aspects they are often missing out on.

A third issue arising from digital editing and productions is digital workflow. Again, many are being left to figure it out for themselves with the result that a digital mess is being delivered to professional post production houses who have to waste precious time and resources sorting it out. This of course costs money that could be used to better effect on the creative side of post-production.

DEGNZ approached the Screen Production and Development Association (SPADA) with the issue. As a result, inaugural Post Production Workflow Workshops will be run by SPADA with DEGNZ in Auckland and Wellington next week, primarily targeted at producers who are the ones most likely to suffer when post doesn’t go well.

A bigger picture issue that DEGNZ is currently working on with a number of post houses nationally is to develop Best Practice Standards for post-production. We hope that the initiatives we have put in place and others we want to introduce over time will deliver greater creative outcomes and make the technical side more efficient and cost effective for everyone.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Where to From Here?

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The Screen Sector Strategy has announced the dates of its intended hui in 3 locales to gather industry input into a strategy document for the New Zealand Screen Industry. This will be taken to Government in the first half of 2020.

This is an important opportunity for every individual to give their ten cents worth on how they would like to see the direction of the screen industry go.

The DEGNZ board has put together a list of questions for members to help stimulate your ideas. You can find the Guild questionnaire available here to download. Please do send your responses back to us at admin@degnz.co.nz with ‘Questionnaire’ in the subject line.

Below are some recent developments that could contribute to your thinking.

The Spinoff reported in an article on Saturday that for the foreseeable future, TVNZ will not report a dividend to government—essentially, TVNZ’s profitability is way down and is likely to remain so. The impact of Google and Facebook on onscreen advertising revenues is a major factor in this, as well as the advent of Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) services such as Netflix and the fragmentation of the media market.

In the same article, The Spinoff reported an unprecedented call-out by NZ On Air to all the major news providers to attend a meeting to discuss the long term sustainability of journalism.

Across the ditch in Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Final Report into Digital Platforms addresses this topic amongst others. Key findings include:

  • The availability of a wide range of high-quality news and journalism provides significant benefits to Australian society and is important for the healthy functioning of democracy.
  • News and journalism risk under-provision for a number of reasons, including the general inability of commercial news media businesses to capture the broader social benefits of journalism.
  • Media businesses, particularly traditional print (now print/online) publishers, have experienced a significant fall in advertising revenue as advertisers follow audiences who have migrated online to access news and other content. This has coincided with strong growth in online advertising, which now accounts for half of all advertising expenditure. Google and Facebook together account for nearly two-thirds of online advertising expenditure.

These aren’t earth-shattering revelations, but clearly highlight the fundamentals of what we all are wrestling with and that are driving TVNZ, Mediaworks, Fairfax, and NZME amongst others to the wall.

The Australians have also called for a levy on streamers to fund local content, the need to maintain broadcast TV quotas, and an end to cuts for screen funding bodies and public broadcasters as previously written about in the Guild blog here.

Funding cuts have impacted heavily on Screen Australia and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In New Zealand in comparison, our funding bodies (NZFC, NZ On Air) have had relatively static funding for years, with more and more calls upon it.

As many of you will now be aware, there is international production work to be shot in New Zealand coming out of our ears. We are already seeing a shortage of experienced personnel and crew rates and other production costs are rising while New Zealand budgets stay the same. The question of how local production can survive and thrive in the face of the onslaught of offshore work arriving is vexing a number of us.

We are at a crucial time for both the local and international screen industries. There are seismic shifts still to come as Disney, WarnerMedia, Apple and other streaming services come online and continue to shake broadcast and theatrical to their foundations.

The Screen Sector Strategy work now underway needs to be completed quickly and effectively if we are to have a sustainable industry in New Zealand that benefits from international production and contributes to the development of local screen content and Kiwi screen IP.

Please share your thoughts on where to from here with us at the Guild, at the Screen Sector Strategy hui and with submissions, so that a well thought out strategy is distilled that will work for us all.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Time For A Paradigm Shift

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At the Annual General Meeting on 6 October, the Guild and its membership voted on two remits from President Howard Taylor for DEGNZ to unionise and to affiliate with the Council of Trade Unions (CTU).

The motions passed and DEGNZ will unionise and affiliate with the CTU.

Essentially nothing will change.

We will still be the Directors & Editors Guild of NZ, but we will be constituted as a union and no longer as an incorporated society.

This brings us into line with our guild colleagues in Australia, Canada and the U.S., all of who are unions.

When DEGNZ was formed in Wellington in 1996 as the Screen Directors Guild of New Zealand, it was felt that directors weren’t well represented and needed a body that could best speak to their particular needs. Later of course, editors felt the same way and asked to join with us.

Our desire then as now is still the same: to ensure the creative, cultural and financial well-being of New Zealand directors and editors.

Well-known producer John Barnett in a Showtools interview not so long ago pooh-poohed the idea of DEGNZ becoming a union, saying that we’re in a talent-based business and he knows a few directors with vineyards and editors working fulltime, so a union’s no answer for anyone, not even those who don’t have an excess in talent. This was rather disingenuous of John because unions aren’t just about ensuring the wellbeing of the most talented. Rather, it’s the everyday working directors and editors who most need to have their welfares safeguarded and who are often most exploited, particularly those in the first few years of their careers. John mooted the idea of directors and editors using agents, but agents are talent-based and don’t take on everyone who comes through their doors. It is also the Directors Guild of America, a union, that has ensured a number of those vineyard-owning directors are well compensated, have pension plans and healthcare, and could afford to buy those vineyards.

Unions in New Zealand don’t have the power they once had and possibly nor should they. However, their roles are to represent their memberships to the best of their abilities. DEGNZ has been doing this for directors and now editors since its inception. It will continue to do so as a union.

On Wednesday Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety Iain Lees-Galloway announced the recommendations from the Film Industry Working Group of which DEGNZ was a part. These recommendations may well lead to the Guild taking on the role of a negotiator in collective bargaining.

In our 2017 survey of directors and editors, which was independently conducted by Trace Research, at least 84% of respondents were interested in DEGNZ negotiating collective agreements with minimum rates and conditions. As a union, we will be better positioned to do so effectively with CTU support than if we had to shoulder the responsibility on our own.

The long and the short of it is: nothing much has changed and yet, everything has. As a union, DEGNZ will be well able to continue its role of representing the best interests of New Zealand directors and editors.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Correcting the Imbalance

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Ten years of business-focused government policy is now seeing a correction taking place in the New Zealand labour market.

Health and education have been the focus of recent labour matters, but thanks primarily to Radio New Zealand, the independent contractor market is now in the spotlight.

RNZ has put considerable effort into bringing into the open the plight of courier drivers, who are forced to operate as businesses, buying their own vehicles, uniforms, and scanners yet being dictated to by the companies that contract them as though they were employees. Worse, after deducting all their expenses, many it seems are earning less than the minimum wage. John Campbell interviewed Minister for Safety and Workplace relations Iain Lees-Galloway on this here. RNZ offered CEO Mark Troughear of Freightways, who owns NZ Couriers, the chance to respond here.

Thanks, or no thanks to the Hobbit Law, all film workers are classed as independent contractors and thus prevented from negotiating as a group to improve their terms and conditions.

Now I am not comparing the terms and conditions of courier drivers with those of screen industry workers. We all know which lot is in a better place. But we also all know that in the domestic screen industry, particularly with digital content, the unscrupulous are taking advantage of screen workers.

First Union are taking up the cause of courier drivers as you can read about here. And it’s the guilds’ role to represent the interests of those in the screen industry.

DEGNZ along with the other guilds took part in the Film Industry Working Group to address our (DEGNZ’s) and the government’s concerns about both the Hobbit Law and the inability of screen industry workers to collectively bargain. In due course those recommendations should be made public. All the guilds worked in good faith on this and represented their memberships as they are expected to do. Guilds are after all essentially unions, although some officially are not, including us.

Until now, DEGNZ has not been a union, although it has been a question that the board has asked itself—Should DEGNZ unionise? In the last few months the board has looked into this carefully, and met with various parties to weigh up the pros and cons.

At a recent board meeting, the board unanimously voted “Yes” to unionisation. This coming Annual General Meeting the board of DEGNZ will propose to the membership for the Guild to unionise and ask for a vote on it.

In the lead up to the AGM we want to give the membership as much opportunity as possible to make their views known, ask questions and debate the merits of unionisation.

This is an important issue that we will ask all paid-up financial members to decide upon, so do let us know what you think. And please put the AGM, scheduled for Saturday 6 October at 10AM in Auckland, in your diary. We would like as many of you as possible to come and hear why the board supports this view, and to get behind whatever decision is made.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director