Making the Intangible Tangible

On July 24, esteemed documentary director Leanne Pooley will explore how a director crafts and communicates the tone of a film, a fine finish to our workshop series on tone for 2021, which seeks to pin down this elusive subject.

When you are dealing with the stories of real people and portraying them on screen, getting the tone wrong can lead to significant problems. Tone is part of everything a documentary director does when approaching a story. It’s part of the narrative, the pace, the look, the music.

Tone is part of every decision a director makes, and in this workshop, Leanne will share practically using examples from her films on how directors make these decisions.

About Leanne Pooley

A documentary filmmaker for over 25 years, Leanne has directed films all over the world and has won numerous awards (including Best Documentary at TIFF). Leanne is a New Zealand Arts Laureate, a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was named an “Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit” for Services to Documentary Filmmaking in the 2017 New Year’s Honours List.

Her work includes The Girl on the Bridge on suicide survivor and activist Jazz Thornton, We Need to Talk About A.I. for Universal Pictures and GFC, animated feature documentary 25 April and acclaimed local box office success Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls.


Who’s it for?

Documentary directors wanting to better understand tone – you’ll come away with useful ideas that can be applied to your own process, whether you’re directing on your first short film or moving onto longer content (e.g. a first feature documentary, a webseries).

Workshop Details

When: Saturday 24 July 2021, 9:30am – 4pm

Where: Saint Columba Centre, 40 Vermont Street, Ponsonby, Auckland 1011


DEGNZ member – Free
Non-member – $95

Lunch, tea and coffee included.

Travel Allowances

DEGNZ Full members based outside of Auckland can apply to the Guild for travel support up to the value of $250 (incl GST). We have six grants available.

To apply you must meet these criteria:

  1. You live outside of the Auckland region.
  2. You are a NZ Citizen or permanent resident.
  3. You have a confirmed place in one of the Tone workshops.

Please indicate if you wish to apply for a travel allowance when you register. For additional information and criteria, see here.


To Apply

Applications close: Tuesday 20 July, 3PM

  1. Submit the application form below.
  2. Email your CV or a bio with filmography to Please include links to your work.

We will then review your application and email you to confirm that you have a place. Spaces are limited and applications will be reviewed as they are received.

Application Form




This initiative is brought to you with the generous support of the New Zealand Film Commission.


DEGNZ member Julia Parnell’s documentary film SIX60: Till the Lights Go Out is now available to watch free on TVNZ OnDemand. The film follows the incredible rise of SIX60, a student band turned national phenomenon, giving audiences unprecedented access to the Kiwi band’s untold story and featuring a soundtrack comprised of all their hit songs.

SIX60: Till the Lights Go Out premiered on the 23rd of November 2020 to a sold-out crowd at Auckland’s Civic Theatre. It spent four weeks at the top of the box office when it was released in cinemas shortly after.

Speaking to Stuff, Parnell said she began the project simply wanting to document a band making history but discovered an “untold story of ambition and creative vulnerability”.

Watch SIX60: Till the Lights Go Out

View from the Top banner

Thanks to the Doc Edge Festival, I was able to attend their opening night film The 7 Years of Lukas Graham, a story about Danish pop sensation Lukas Graham’s lead singer Lukas Forchhammer’s wrestle with fame. It got me thinking about the woeful state of documentary in New Zealand, something the guild identified at the 2019 NZ On Air Factual Summit in 2019 and sought to generate conversation about. COVID unfortunately disrupted our plans, but it’s back on our agenda.

One-off documentary internationally is in a strong place, although former Amazon Studios film head Ted Hope cautioned at the Danish doc fest, CPH:DOX, recently that the big players prefer documentary with mass appeal. Hope did go on to say however that with the proliferation of niche platforms catering to specialised audiences, there are greater opportunities for more distinct fare.

From Variety’s article:

One of the key things to recognize is the streamers’ need for a “targeted audience at a low price point,” [HOPE] stressed. “That’s basically the equation for efficiency. The most valuable type of audience member for a streamer is the new audience member. How do you attract new people to the platform? People that are not only passionate about something but have actually displayed their passion in a predictable way, are ripe precisely for that acquisition.”
Hope emphasized how different the business goals of streamers are from the world of exhibition. “It’s not profit and loss so much as customer acquisition. Drilling down to what that means I think reveals a lot.”

New Zealand documentary however is meant to target New Zealand audiences first, although with NZFC its international appeal is also taken into account when funding decisions are made.

In taking a look at the TV market for one-off documentary in New Zealand it’s pretty easy to see… there really isn’t one. NZ broadcasters on the whole aren’t interested in one-off documentary as they often tell us, although Māori Television does occasionally commission them.

Feature-length documentary suffers pretty much the same fate with the channels. While short form doco. has found its place with platforms and does attract NZ On Air funding, there’s nothing longer format for these documentary makers to go onto in TV, so they have to turn their heads to theatrical documentary features if they want to move to longer form.

Reviewing the latest figures/films available for NZFC-funded documentary feature for the  NZSPG/SPIF* and non-NZSPG/SPIF documentary films back to 2015 provides some interesting insights.

Please note: The funding totals are for NZFC administered funds only and do not take into account ‘market money’—Distributor/Sales Agent MGs, private investment, broadcast/platform fees or other non-NZFC investment. The box office totals are for NZ only and do not take into account Australia or Rest of World revenues.

In these latest stats:

  • NZSPG/SPIF films with higher budgets and commensurate marketing spend and screen numbers tend not to reach NZ theatrical audiences well, Chasing Great aside.
  • Non-NZSPG/SPIF films in general deliver a better Return on Investment (NZ B.O./TTL NZFC FUNDING) for every NZFC-administered dollar than NZSPG films in the NZ theatrical market.
  • Although the ROI of NZSPG/SPIF films is generally not great, the top two NZ documentaries by box office are NZSPG films, and four are in the top 10.

*NZSPG – NZ Screen Production Grant   SPIF – Screen Production Incentive Fund



YR TITLE (In alphabetical order) NZFC EQUITY NZSPG/


21 Dawn Raid $1,715,000.00 $1,317,490.00 $3,032,490.00 $332,074.00 $0.11
21 James and Isey* $365,345.00 N/A $365,345.00 $522,101.00 $1.43
20 Six60 Till The Lights Go Out $580,000.00 N/A $580,000.00 $535,402.00 $0.92
20 The Girl On The Bridge $690,000.00 N/A $690,000.00 $21,855.00 $0.03
20 We Need to Talk About A.I.** $1,044,783.00 $1,044,783.00 No NZ Release
19 Capital in the Twenty  First Century $804,224.00 $2,010,560.00 $2,814,784.00 $85,458.00 $0.03
19 Herbs: Songs of Freedom $824,897.00 N/A $824,897.00 $97,015.00 $0.12
19 For My Father’s Kingdom $385,543.00 N/A $385,543.00 $63,762.00 $0.17
19 The Chills: The Triumph and Tragedy of Martin Phillips $600,000.00 N/A $600,000.00 $73,157.00 $0.12
18 Merata Mita: How Mum Decolonised The Screen $129,999.00 N/A $129,999.00 $39,039.00 $0.30
18 Maui’s Hook $100,000.00 N/A $100,000.00 $23,376.00 $0.23
18 She Shears $220,302.00 N/A $220,302.00 $133,474.00 $0.61
18 Born Racer $1,087,136.00 $2,717,839.00 $3,804,975.00 $155,588.00 $0.04
18 The Heart Dances – The Journey of The Piano: The Ballet $437,500.00 N/A $437,500.00 $33,502.00 $0.08
18 Wayne $574,980.00 $1,437,449.00 $2,012,429.00 $22,164.00 $0.01
17 McLaren $1,426,397.00 $3,565,992.00 $4,992,389.00 $768,248.00 $0.15
18 Yellow Is Forbidden $338,631.00 N/A $338,631.00 $46,716.00 $0.14
17 My Year With Helen $446,000.00 N.A. $446,000.00 $281,949.00 $0.63
17 Kim Dotcom: Caught In the Web** $1,010,628.00 N/A $1,010,628.00 N/A
17 Pecking Order $200,000.00 N/A $200,000.00 $538,378.00 $2.69


Chasing Great $1,026,678.00 $2,566,697.00 $3,593,375.00 $1,828,941.00 $0.51
16 The Free Man (AKA Welcome to the Thrill) $1,024,086.00 $2,560,216.00 $3,584,302.00 $18,817.00 $0.01
16 Poi E: The Story Of A Song $921,984.00 N/A $921,984.00 $1,199,830.00 $1.30
15 25-Apr $1,783,348.00 $4,458,369.00 $6,241,717.00 $19,390.00 $0.0031
*Still in theatres
  **No mainstream theatrical release



16 1 Chasing Great (NZSPG) $3,593,735.00 $1,828,941.00
09 2 Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls(SPIF) ($1,900,000.00*) $1,820,000.00
16 3 Poi E: The Story of Our Song $921,984.00 $1,199,830.00
13 4 Beyond the Edge (SPIF) $3,799,385.00 $884,743.00
11 5 Billy T – Te Movie $1,000,000.00 $794,816.00
17 6 McLaren (NZSPG) $4,992,389.00 $768,248.00
17 7 Pecking Order $200,000.00 $538,378.00
21 8 Six60 – Till the Lights Go Out $580,000.00 $535,402.00
21 9 James & Isey $365,345.00 $529,270.00
13 10 Gardening with Soul $15,000.00 $489,931.00

*SPIF figure not available for this film so NZFC Equity Investment only.


Of course, the first question in examining the success or not of any film is “Did it reach its target audience?” And the next question could be: “How much was spent in doing so?” Target audiences can vary from niche small audiences to mainstream large audiences but budget level is generally meant to be reflective of expected audience reach. Looking at funding investment and ROI only, NZFC hasn’t done well with its documentary funding decisions over the last six years—One more thing on the list the new NZFC CEO could turn his head to when he arrives.

And for TV, lobbying NZ On Air to fund one-off documentary would obviously help—something ourselves and others are intent on doing.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Directed by members of the Rebel Film Collective: Niva Kay (DEGNZ), Emily McDowell, Nia Phipps and Phil Stebbing, High Tide Don’t Hide follows Kiwi teens as they join the global School Strike for Climate and soon discover that activism, authority and awareness make for a steep learning curve.

Currently participating in our 2021 Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator, Niva has always been passionate about storytelling, environmental and social justice. She was responsible for the production, directing and shooting of key scenes and characters in Auckland and Thames.

At the recent Doc Edge Awards, Thomas Gleeson won the Best New Zealand Editing Award for his work on the film.

High Tide Don’t Hide will premiere in Auckland on June 11 and in Wellington June 25. Both screenings will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. It will also be available to rent online between June 26 to July 11 as part of the festival.

DEGNZ member Peter Young’s film, The Last Ocean, has been named one of the top 10 best ocean documentaries by ScreenRant.

Released in 2012 and directed by Peter, one of Aotearoa’s leading nature cameramen, The Last Ocean follows activists as they race to protect Antarctica’s Ross Sea from being ravaged by fishermen, and raises the simple ethical question: do we fish Earth’s last untouched ocean or do we protect it?

This question was answered in 2017 when a joint proposal by New Zealand and the United States unanimously voted to make the Ross Sea a marine protected area. Speaking to NZ Herald in 2017, Peter expressed his relief and happiness that this decision “brings closure to an incredible 10-year journey, one that began with a passionate few and grew into an international environmental movement”.

The Last Ocean is available to rent or buy here.