Posts

View from the Top banner

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

 

View from the Top banner

Thanks to the New Zealand Film Commission, I was fortunate to attend the Cannes Film Festival 2018 where hopes and dreams are realized or not, and was reminded of where we Kiwis sit in the global film industry with our 5 – 15 films each year—somewhere towards the back unless someone has been good enough to put themselves in the front row.

The film industry remains dominated by two territories—North America and Europe. In 2016, 2,123 feature films were produced in Europe alone, in the US 789, while the total worldwide for that year for the top 10 markets was approximately 7,973. India with its massive output including Bollywood films tops the list with 1,903. China is clearly a major player now, too, with 944 films, but it is still grappling with how to be most effective with its money and create films with international appeal.

Although Europe is a conglomeration of cultures, in fact in film they have a shared sensibility. European films dominated European sales agents’ catalogues at Cannes, although films from South America, Africa, and the Middle East vie for space as Europe looks to other territories for the next great filmmakers. Saudi Arabia has recently thrown its film doors open and both the commercial and cultural film sectors are queuing to get in.

It’s this attraction for the new that’s possibly one reason New Zealand has been thrust aside at Cannes. In many respects we’ve already had our time in the Cote D’Azur sun. Vincent Ward, Jane Campion and a couple of others preceded Christine Jeffs with Rain, which was the last NZ film selected for Cannes in 2001. A more likely reason is that we just haven’t had a filmmaker and film with Cannes appeal. That doesn’t stop us from trying, though.

Each year thousands of films including those from NZ seek selection at Cannes. It’s hard to get in and when films do, the filmmakers, their film bodies or investors, and their sales agents celebrate. Director’s Fortnight, International Critics Week, Un Certain Regard and the most prestigious of all, Official Competition, are the sought after sections. Repeaters who are Cannes darlings often dominate official competition. This year it was Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s turn to take the top prize, the Palme d’Or, with his seventh Cannes selection.

While we all dream of a film in competition, what most Kiwi filmmakers attending Cannes are doing there is hoping to secure international sales and distribution for films that have yet to be made. A fantastic script, unknown but talented director, internationally renowned cast, commerciality, festival potential—all or a combinations of these things are what sales agents are after.

Some seek films that are bright, full of hope, comedic, or genre, and exhibiting clear commercial potential. Others are attracted to the darker side, the auteur vision, the arthouse film that could break out, although it’s definitely harder to find sales agents for such films these days even though it’s what many Europeans are still making.

We are in a sub-category of our own at Cannes, like our Australians and Canadians colleagues, with our English language peculiarities that are neither definitively US indie or European arthouse. UK sales agents although part of the European makeup are obviously more friendly to English language films, but certainly are more driven by commerciality than their European counterparts. The same for those from the US.

Elevated genre is one way for us to break out, whether it’s horror, drama or thriller, but you can’t go past a great script whatever type of film you are pitching. It’s a matter then of finding a sales agent who loves the script as much as you do. But you’ve got to get them to read it first. To do that you and your project will be put through the wringer, sometimes gently sometimes not, to see if it meets that particular sales agent’s yardstick. And the yardsticks do differ.

One key ingredient that gets films made and into the market it seems to me is passion—The passion of the writer, director and producer that’s going to see them go the hard yards across many years to get their film up. And the passion that the sales agent and distributor must have to take a film on—it’s a tough environment for them these days and you hear of as many bankruptcies or close downs as you do successes. One sales agent I know told me that from Berlin in February to Cannes in May this year, he knew of four sales agents that went bust.

Filmmaking ultimately though is about hopes and dreams, whether it’s arthouse, tent pole or something in between. Every filmmaker understands this no matter what genre or budget they are working with. The big question we all confront sooner or later is whether our hopes and dreams can be realized or they just remain pie in the sky. And Cannes can help you find the answer while delivering the spectacle that makes it the most glamorous film festival around.

I highly recommend that anyone who wants to make a film go to Cannes. It’s fun, sobering, hard work, overwhelming, and it will break you out of that isolationist world that we all mostly operate in. And I suggest you go soon. If Cannes doesn’t adapt to the changing screen world, it could end up as just a fond memory of what it used to be.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director