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The world of film continues to be shaken up both at home and abroad. The only thing that’s clear is that streaming is here to stay and picking up steam.

Disney is just undertaking an entire reorganisation of its business to put streaming front and centre with content leading the way. The Mulan experiment as a Premium Video On Demand (PVOD) release possibly helped decide their future direction. Even with the need to subscribe to Disney+ just to get the ability to pay the premium price, punters made Mulan the fifth most-streamed SVOD title in the US in September, as tracked by measurement company Park7 Data.

Disney’s move follows WarnerMedia’s refocusing on content after the tepid response to the launch of HBO Max. Over at NBCUniversal, they too have reorganised along with the introduction of their streaming service Peacock.

So where does that leave the theatrical exhibitors?

Just two months ago, the world biggest theatrical exhibitor AMC and NBCUniversal paved the way for PVOD to become a Hollywood fixture when they overcame a bitter windowing disagreement to do a deal. Showing how quickly the old model is now becoming defunct primarily due to COVID, attendance numbers are nearly 85% down on what remains of AMC’s just under 500 theatres still open in America. Even worse, AMC predicts it will run out of cash to operate by the end of the year.

The second largest theatrical distributor on the planet, Britain’s Cineworld, has just announced it will shutter nearly 700 theatres in the UK and the US, threatening nearly 45,000 jobs. It doesn’t know when it will reopen them.

All of this comes amidst the moving feast of tentpole film releases. Christopher Nolan managed to convince Warners to put Tenet into theatres this year, but Cate Shortland’s Black Widow, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Bond film No Time to Die and Christopher McQuarie’s Mission Impossible 7 are just some of the films pushed back to 2021. All this does is put more pressure on the exhibitors.

Theatres are crying out for tentpole films to help generate revenue, even with social distancing measures in place. They just can’t get them. The situation is so dire directors James Cameron, Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen amongst others signed a letter to the US Government that said without additional support, 69% of small and mid-sized cinemas in the US would likely go bankrupt or close.

In New Zealand however, NZ films are having a bit of a dream run with no tent poles and not a lot else to compete against.

DEGNZ member director Sam Kelly’s Savage hit a million dollars at the box office, David White’s This Town has done just over $700k. Paul Murphy’s Low Down Dirty Criminals is still in theatres at Week 7. In the old normal it would likely be gone by now, pushed aside by new releases.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Film Commission just extended for a further six months its COVID-19 Policy regarding its Terms of Trade. This means for films up to $2.5 million, you no longer need to have both a distributor and a sales agent. You only need one or the other. Or, in a major change, a recognised VOD platform can replace the sales agent or distributor.

Frankly, I believe the mandatory need to have any of them for films up to $2.5 million is an old and broken model. If you have a good script and package and they believe in the project, then a sales agent, distributor or platform will come in.

And if they don’t and you make a good film, you will just as likely find them when the film’s ready to show. The supposed financial commitment they make through a Minimum Guarantee (MG) can sometimes be a sham anyway, so why have it as a mandatory requirement for the finance plan? If you have a finished film and more than one sales agent or distributor wants it, it puts you in a stronger negotiating position.

Guaranteed distribution on the public broadcaster’s OnDemand service would deliver the potential for eyeballs with marketing the key to getting people to watch, guaranteeing a viewing avenue for the NZ public.

Theatrical exhibition then becomes the nice-to-have, not the must-have, while still offering the box office revenue opportunity. Window the theatrical first as is still being done and you protect the box office from pillaging by the OnDemand.

Over the Tasman, Screen Australia has already done away with the need for Australasian distribution. A positive amongst the carnage that’s been wrought there in film and television. The big ‘If’ there is whether or not the streamers will pick up the slack as the Australian Government hopes they will. Not levying streamers to produce local content in the expectation that they will take Aussie content anyway is a bet Australian production companies don’t like the odds of.

Meanwhile, here we sit, basking in the glow of the setting sun of the old film industry, hoping like hell that the Golden Age of television is going to save us.

We shall see.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

The DEGNZ Drama Editor Attachment Scheme is a new initiative giving emerging drama editors the opportunity to advance their craft through shadowing and mentoring from an experienced drama editor.

Emerging drama editors are invited to apply for our third DEGNZ Drama Editor Attachment. The successful candidate will attach to editor Peter Roberts on feature film Juniper, directed by Matthew Saville, and produced by Desray Armstrong and Angela Littlejohn.

Since relocating from the United Kingdom, Peter Roberts has made his mark in New Zealand as an editor. Roberts found his editing niche at TVNZ, before a prolific freelance career saw him cutting a string of documentaries, shorts, and features — including award-winning drama The Dark Horse. In 2013 he became the first editor to be elected President of the Directors and Editors Guild of New Zealand. Peter’s other credits include Sam kelly’s feature Savage, due for release in NZ in 2020 following its world premiere in 2019 at the Busan International Film Festival; hit NZ – Aus. TV drama series Cleverman; telefeature Jean, helmed by Rob Sarkies; and Bryn Evans directed feature doc. Hip Hop-eration.

The DEGNZ Drama Editor Attachment initiative is targeted at editors who wish to move into feature film editing. Its purpose is to allow an emerging drama editor to:

  • learn through attendance during editing, and later at director, producer and or funding body screenings about the critique and response process so vital to the successful creative collaboration required of the feature film editor.
  • get on-the-job feature-editing experience.
  • receive feedback and mentoring from an experienced feature film editor in a safe environment.

The opportunity for the attachment to get limited hands-on cutting experience is possible but entirely at the discretion of the editor, director and producers of the production.

This is a paid Auckland-based attachment and requires the successful candidate depending on experience and flexibility to start at the earliest in February 2020. If non-Auckland based, the candidate must cover their own travel and living costs. They are also required to be a Full member of DEGNZ for the duration of their attachment.

The duration of the attachment would be up to a maximum of 30 full days, but may well be broken down into a mixture of full days and half days. The first week is expected to be full time.

Eligibility

To be eligible, applicants MUST:

  1. Be a FULL member of DEGNZ
  2. Be fully competent with the AVID editing system
  3. Have some past dramatic narrative editing experience (does not have to be extensive)
  4. Be available to participate fully during the post production period, starting in February
  5. Most importantly, have a passionate desire to become a feature film editor

To Apply

Application Deadline: 5PM, Friday 17 January 2020

Send your application in a single PDF to admin@degnz.co.nz with ‘Editor Attachment’ in the subject line.

Your application must include:

  • a maximum 1-page letter on why you would like to do the attachment
  • your CV and filmography, including links to a showreel/video samples that illustrate your dramatic narrative work
  • a completed Editor Attachment Application Cover Sheet.

Download the Editor Attachment Application Cover Sheet

DEGNZ will notify you as to whether or not your application has been successful, but the decision will be final and no further correspondence will be entered into regarding your application.

We look forward to receiving your applications.

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

 

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I had the good fortune to attend the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) for the official launch of the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Writers and Directors (AAPA) last week. Guild president Howard Taylor signed the MOU for DEGNZ’s participation in this alliance in Tokyo in May.

AAPA is dedicated to serving as an independent and impartial advocate on behalf of the audiovisual creators community in the Asia-Pacific region and seeking to strengthen copyright protection.

Already we are benefitting from belonging to this Alliance with considerable support coming from Writers & Directors Worldwide (W & DW) and the International Federation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), under whose umbrellas the Alliance sits.

Present at BIFF were two guild members with their films: David Stubbs with his feature Daffodils, and Sam Kelly with Savage, which had its world premiere in Busan. It has been a while since a New Zealand feature was selected for BIFF, so it’s quite a coup to have two here. Congratulations to David and Sam for their achievements in getting their features into what is arguably still the most prestigious film festival in Asia.

While there, I took the opportunity to look at the feature film projects being pitched from around the Asian region, both by young emerging filmmakers and those more established. It was interesting to note the similarities and differences between what is happening across Asia and in New Zealand.

One of the first things that struck me was that like many aspiring New Zealand writer/directors, many Asian writer/directors expect to write a script from their treatment and have it move into production within one year. The average time for a film to move from initial idea to completion (if it does get made) in New Zealand and Australia is five to seven years. Case in point is Sam Kelly’s film Savage, which spent over six years in development. I asked Professor Darcy Parquet, who lectures in Korean film at the Busan Asian Film School, if in Asia it was unrealistic to expect such rapid progression. He agreed that it was.

Budgets also vary considerably. In speaking to one Japanese producer, I was told that indie film budgets in Japan typically sit in the range of US$30,000 – 300,000. Korea is a highly commercial market where indie films struggle as they do in Japan. Korean independent films have slightly higher indie budgets than Japan, but nowhere near the typical US$5 million budget a Korean commercial film gets. Elsewhere in Asia, indie film budgets seem to range from US$200,000 to US$600,000 – 750,000. An important consideration to remember is that there is not a lot of government support for film around Asia, unlike in New Zealand and Australia.

We are certainly not alone in wanting to tell dark dramas. In a number of pitches I heard, cancer and suicide featured frequently and there were quite a few tough films wanting to be told. This was balanced by genre or genre hybrid projects—a reflection I believe of the lower budgets, lack of government funding and a need to get returns for investors, as well as a desire to tell more genre stories.

Highly obvious at the Asian Film Market that sits alongside BIFF is the European presence. Many European organisations and producers are seeking to strengthen ties with Asia for co-production, which is the mainstay of the European film industry. There is also a fascination with Asia and its stories. Europeans, who are masters of co-production and have access to a variety of soft-funding sources, are searching out talented Asian filmmakers with strong stories to support. It’s such a pity that co-production in New Zealand and Australia is so limited by both attitudes and resources, as well as isolated by geographic distance. New Zealand has co-production agreements with South Korea, Singapore, China and Taiwan, but these are rarely used.

I’d have to say that I’ve never before met as many film festival programmers from other festivals before as I met here. That can probably be attributed to the fact that it’s a smaller market than others I’ve been lucky enough to attend. I think, however, that it’s another sign of the European interest in the region.

Streamers are having the same impact in Asia as is happening elsewhere, with the future of indie film still very uncertain. SVOD still hasn’t picked up the slack that DVDs used to bring in terms of revenue. That doesn’t seem to have slowed the Asian passion for indie features though. Everyone still seems to be rushing forward. But nobody it would seem is yet sure if it’s towards oblivion or a brighter future.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

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When Bob Iger of Disney speaks about the future of film, it’s worth listening.

Why?

Because amongst the hundreds of companies that sit under the Disney umbrella are 20th Century Fox, Lucas Film, Marvel, and Pixar. Brands number in the thousands and include through whole or partial ownership indie darling Fox Searchlight, streamer Hulu, and networks ABC, ESPN, FX, National Geographic and A & E.

Of course Disney doesn’t own everything. There are other conglomerates out there, the likes of Amazon, Apple, Comcast, and TimeWarner who are shaping the screen content world we are in now. But Iger demands everyone’s attention.

So this month at Disney’s third quarter earnings announcement when Iger essentially declared that big movies belong in theatres, and everything else will go to its streamers Hulu and the soon-to-launch-globally Disney+, everyone sat up.

Reporting on this, Journalists Dana Harris and Chris Lindahl in Indiewire wrote that “The very, very top films with awards potential will see generous theatrical offers and bidding wars that price out all but the deepest pockets. The highest-quality films with no clear awards play will also see strong offers and bidding wars, but from streamers, and considerably less generous offers from independent theatrical distributors. For everyone else, it looks like a struggle — although they could also benefit from the streamers’ ongoing arms race to acquire the content mass necessary to achieve market dominance.”

So where does that leave us in New Zealand with our 10 or so narrative and documentary features a year? Blissfully unaware some say.

A recent article in The Hollywood Reporter gives some indication that even the top names in film can see the writing on the wall. Directors including Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan amongst others were behind the Ultra High Definition Alliance’s announced introduction of a “Filmmaker Mode” TV setting. Director Ryan Coogler essentially admitted the fate of film by saying, “I care deeply about how cinema is experienced at home because that’s where it lives the longest. That’s where cinema is watched and re-watched and experienced by families. By allowing the artists in the tent to help consult and give feedback to the electronics companies on Filmmaker Mode, we can collectively help make the consumer’s experience even more like it is in the cinema.”

Of course the name directors will still get their films into theatres—witness the Netflix launch of Scorsese’s The Irishman, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, and Amazon’s commitment to theatrical release for the auteur directors it backs. But for the rest of us? We might have to get used to premieres in Filmmaker Mode unless you can get your films into festivals.

Once streamers Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime and WarnerMedia are in full swing here, perhaps NZFC might even relax its demand that you have to have NZ theatrical release to get production funding.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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My op-ed this week is devoted to personal musings in the lead up to the NZ Screen Sector Strategy hui, and the changing nature of the screen industry as we know it.

Colin Peacock on the Radio New Zealand website wrote on the weekend about ‘Convergence’: what it is and what it has led to—telecommunications and broadcasting merging due to digital technology and the Internet.

One outcome of the convergence that’s happened here, which I wrote about last newsletter, was the TVNZ board reporting to Government that it will not be paying a dividend for the foreseeable future.

In the same RNZ convergence article, TVNZ CEO Kevin Kenrick is quoted as saying that TVNZ will refine the data from TVNZ OnDemand users to allow advertisers to tightly target ads to online viewers.

Following last year’s revamp of TVNZ OnDemand, RNZ also reported Kendrick as saying, “Consumers of online video are pretty clear they pay with their wallet, their data or their time. We’re in an ad-funded world.”

With no profits in sight and the Government forgiving TVNZ its requirement as a state-owned company to deliver a dividend, is it time to turn TVNZ back into a public broadcaster and forget about advertising as the main revenue stream?

If convergence is the reality, how about converging ONE, TVNZ 2, DUKE, TVNZ OnDemand and Radio NZ into a new media powerhouse for public broadcasting? Let’s call it Aotearoa Media Powerhouse – Digital (AMP-D) for ease.

The commitment by Kendrick to a significant increase in local content, the mix between local and international shifting markedly towards local, and investment in an online future while making that content available across more devices would make absolute sense for AMP-D. This would parallel the efforts the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) are making to survive.

Granted, TVNZ would be moving from a business that cost close to $300 million to run in 2018—essentially what they earn from advertising—to a public broadcaster that has to find other ways to earn revenue.

How about an AMP-D Studios along the lines of BBC Studios, whose remit is to produce and market programmes not only for the BBC, but for other broadcasters on the open market at home and internationally, returning profits back to the BBC. AMP-D Studios would give the commercially inclined at TVNZ a new playground to play in.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to AMP-D is we’d get away from this navel-gazing that differentiates New Zealand content for local audiences, which is fragmenting away before our eyes. AMP-D Studios and independents could produce programming that is—to steal something else from the BBC—distinctive (in our case NZ), world-class content. Why couldn’t AMP-D Studios generate shows like The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen, produced by Danish public broadcaster DR, which sold all around the world? There’d have to be a cap to how much of the public purse AMP-D Studios could get, though.

AMP-D could also generate news and current affairs nationally in a revenue generating service to commercial media companies, much as the NZ Press Association and the worldwide video news service Visnews did previously. This would allow the commercials to put their own spin on the content without the major cost of resourcing.

AMP-D OnDemand could have two operational tiers: Subscriber Video On Demand (SVOD) that’s ad-free and costs a monthly fee, and Ad-Supported Video On Demand (AVOD) that carries advertising in a free-to-air service. Hulu already operates this hybrid system.

In such a new environment, it would make sense for NZ On Air and the NZ Film Commission to ‘converge’. Let’s call this the Aotearoa Media Fund (AMF). AMF could manage the discretionary funding allotted to it to spend between broadcast, digital audio-visual content for the Internet, film and radio.

To really power AMP-D up, AMF could be required to stop funding content on the commercial platforms, dedicate its funding to AMP-D and meet its requirement to deliver great New Zealand content that is valued and enjoyed by many New Zealand audiences on multiple public broadcasting platforms. A cap in funding for internal production for both screen and radio content could be levelled to ensure independent production companies could operate in the new environment.

AMP-D could benefit local feature films by being required to carry all films funded by AMF, guaranteeing free-to air play to New Zealand audiences for every NZ film, which doesn’t happen now. The best films would get significant marketing and promotion. The not-so-good would get buried in AMP-D OnDemand—the same for not-so-great content on Netflix—where they’d sit for those still interested enough to search them out. (Smart Kiwi producers could take a page out of Norwegian producer Anders Tange’s book on how to build an audience independently of a streamer as he did for his Viking comedy Norsemen on Netflix.)

It’s almost certain that there would be an increased cost to establishing and running AMP-D that would take a long time to mitigate if ever, even with the efficiencies of a combined entity. That would be the cost of continued existence.

But perhaps it might be useful to compare New Zealand content and its industry to the kakapo — an endangered species that’s potentially headed towards extinction if we don’t do something paradigm-shifting to save it.

“What about us?”, the commercial platforms here would scream?

Frankly, it’s a fight for survival and we have to ensure first and foremost that our content and our platforms survive and flourish in the brave new world that’s upon us. Sorry, you commercial guys, you’re going to have to sort it for yourselves. Or maybe ‘converge’.  And if they withered and died, maybe it would all be for the better for AMP-D. After all, it would still have to face Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +, HBO +, Hulu and others. Heck, AMP-D might even have to team up with the public broadcasters in Australia, Canada, the UK, the U.S. and elsewhere to live to fight another day. Such collaborations are already happening in Europe.

I’m happy for anyone to shoot holes in my postulations above. I’ve only spent a couple of hours daydreaming, not weeks and months devising a strategy. The intent is to get you to do more thinking about our industry with the screen sector strategy upon us. We can now imagine our own futures and let Government know.

We are going to be sending out the list of questions I wrote about in the last blog to everyone on our database. We want your thoughts about the direction the New Zealand’s screen industry should go. So please take the time to ponder, write to and or tell the Screen Sector Strategy NZ and DEGNZ your opinions. We’ll make sure we collate them and submit them from the Guild along with our thinking, so that we all have a say.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director