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I attended the DEGNZ Rialto Film Talk last night of James Ashcroft’s Coming Home In The Dark.

Listening to James talk in the Q & A facilitated by DEGNZ member Hweiling Ow, it was clear to me that not only had James worked incredibly hard to earn the success he is having with his film, but that he has been very strategic in going about it.

Prior to the screening, James had mentioned to me that he’d made eight short films before directing his debut feature.

In response to a question from Hweiling, James told her that Coming Home In The Dark was the fifth feature film script he’d written with writing partner Eli Kent, and that he and Eli had written two more features after finishing the Coming Home In The Dark script. The majority of these done according to the NZFC funding data, without development funding from the New Zealand Film Commission.

James also mentioned that when he left his job as the Tumuaki/CEO of theatre company Taki Rua at the end of 2013 to pursue his career as a film director, he was without any collateral to work with and show. So he optioned a number of books, found a writer he could work with in Eli, and started cranking out feature film scripts—one a year to now.

Eight years later, with his Sundance-selected film under his belt and a manager and agent to represent him, James and Eli are polishing a script for Hollywood indie Legendary Entertainment, with James tapped to direct. And all this prior to the theatrical release of his first feature, which went into theatres this week.

In the U.S. there’s no script development funding system for aspiring screenwriters. Hollywood reps expect their clients to have a body of work and to keep adding to it so that they have something fresh that they can market their clients with. Everybody essentially writes on spec. until they come up with a good enough script to get them noticed and commissioned to write… something else.  Or, they raise the financing from investors to put their script into production: there’s no cultural funding body there to provide production financing either.

In New Zealand it seems to me, too often aspiring screenwriters and writer – directors are more intent on getting Early Development Funding or NZWG Seed Funding to fund the learning of their craft on one passion piece than doing the work, repeatedly, that will hone their skills. And most of us look only to NZFC to finance our films. The self-funded feature here is rare. Those that do it should be applauded, not matter what the film turns out like.

Anybody can write a feature film script. I’ve written two myself. But not that many people can write a good one. James and Eli it would seem to me are a great example of that maxim, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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The New Zealand International Film Festival is upon us again. And there’s an even bigger selection of New Zealand films on offer, both feature-length and short, than I’ve encountered before—18 offerings, four of which are made up of programmes of short films. This is a fantastic selection—a high number from DEGNZ member directors and editors.

As Bill Gosden, the festival director pointed out in his speech celebrating the 50th birthday of the festival, it couldn’t have existed without the passion of film lovers who have nurtured it to the point where it has become what NZIFF is today—a truly great International film festival, showcasing the best of New Zealand and international film.

As always I encourage you to get along and watch films to encourage independent filmmaking everywhere.

In other news, Clare Curran is certainly the minister who keeps on giving, unfortunately not so much in the funding realm. The latest in the Radio NZ saga is a measly $4.5 million dollars to RNZ from the $15 million in the May Budget allocation for public media. NZ On Air gets just $4 million, while a new Innovation Fund to be jointly managed by Radio NZ and NZ On Air gets the lion’s share at $6 million.

It must be disturbing for Curran to hear from chair Michael Stiassny of the Ministerial Advisory Group she appointed that not even they support a fully funded RNZ+ television station. What you get—or not—for the price of a cup of coffee.

In a related development, Head of NZ On Air Jane Wrightson responded to an article in Newsroom by Dr Bryce Edwards of Victoria Univeristy, who singled out our current dual funding model of contestable and fully-funded public broadcasting for criticism. In her reply on the same platform Wrightson said that “In the 21st century media landscape it’s highly unlikely that one media provider model will fit all, and so a combination of ring-fenced and contestable funding is a clever response by a small country where media cost structures are always under pressure.”

There are supporters and detractors of the dual funding model approach. Whatever your opinion on the matter, I think we all need to acknowledge the incredible work NZ On Air has done in seeking to adapt to the rapidly changing screen industry while being incredibly underfunded.

Thankfully, we now see broadcasters slowly being willing to take risks with the arrival on air of Taika’s and Jemaine’s Wellington Paranormal, and two new dramas commissioned and screening at a later date: The Bad Seed out of South Pacific Pictures, and Fresh Eggs from Warners NZ. And we are starting to see more locally driven international efforts bear fruit with Screentime’s copro Scandi – NZ noir Straight Forward now in post and destined for TVNZ.

And talk about change, there sure as hell seems to be a lot going on at the Film Commission—a new pou whakahaere in the wonderful and talented Karen Te O Kahurangi Waaka-Tibble, new job opportunities with the departures of Development Executive Karin Williams and Investment Executive Chris Moll, and obviously a change of approach that always comes with a new CEO, this time with the arrival of Annabelle Sheehan who has been with us seven months now. Watch this space for more to come.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director