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I’ve been writing this blog for the DEGNZ newsletter for close to six years now. There have been a few times when I’ve been stuck for what to write about, but ultimately came through. But from memory there were two or three times when I couldn’t move from the blank page and we’ve had to delay the newsletter to the following week.

I listen to Jeff Goldsmith’s podcast The Q & A. One of the questions he always asks writers he interviews is what they do when they have writer’s block. Of course the answers vary from: I don’t have it, I go for a walk, I just write anything to get through it, and multiple other responses.

You perhaps have twigged that the above is what I am doing now to address what was the blank page staring me in the face. Moving on.

Something else I listen to on a regular basis is Standing Room Only on RNZ. Last Sunday it featured a Simon Morris interview with the new CEO of NZFC, David Strong. In it, Strong quoted the Jackson Court Report of 2010, in which Peter Jackson said, “Arguably, there might be no more than 25 or 30 truly talented screen writers and directors working in a country the size of New Zealand.”

Supposedly, in each round of EDF at NZFC now, there are 20 – 30 applications. There are five EDF rounds a year. I understand that around 50% of projects applying for EDF get it. They are either new projects or projects coming in again for another round of EDF.

EDF these days doesn’t mean that a script is in early development. The competition for EDF is so strong that if a project isn’t a good way along the development path when it first goes in, then it’s unlikely to get funded. In other words, a lot of blank page staring must be going on during spec writing to get a script in good enough shape to be seriously considered for funding.

Strong also outlined how scripts going through NZFC were selected to be made—EDF with internal and external assessors, and ADF where local and international assessors were used to decide whether or not the film would get greenlit for production funding.

NZFC production funds between 10 – 15 films per year, some of which are documentary features. The remainder are narratives.

With some unscientific number crunching looking forward, you could make a guesstimate that of the 150 or so films that apply for funding each year 75 get EDF, so the odds of getting EDF are 50%, or one in two.

If 75 films got EDF each year and 10 – 15 films are made, then the odds of a film getting EDF and getting made are 20% or one in five.

Another way of looking at it is that of the 150 films in any given year applying for EDF funding, only 10% or one in ten will get over the line and get made, perhaps substantiating Jackson’s view. Some, I’m sure, would dispute that the best scripts always go into production.

Morris also asked Strong what vision he pitched to the NZFC board to get the job. His response: he didn’t pitch an “agenda”. Rather he went on to speak of the dramatic change in the film business globally and the need to continue to attract international production to deliver economic and other benefits that will help to make the New Zealand film industry sustainable—his job he sees it is to create the environment to deliver that. I don’t believe that’s a message that going to resonate with New Zealand filmmakers, but one that will certainly make crew happy.

Coming into the Film Commission doesn’t give any new CEO a blank page. In this instance, Strong picked up on the more recent legacies of former CEOs Dave Gibson and Annabelle Sheehan.

But each CEO gets to decide the direction in which they will drive the organisation. As Morris pointed out, Gibson drove it towards commercial fare, Sheehan towards diverse. You could take from the interview that international production is a priority for Strong, even though he pointed out repeatedly the cultural remit of the organisation and the need to tell NZ stories on screen.

There is perhaps light at the end of the tunnel, though. Earlier in the piece he did state that the whole purpose of being a director or writer is to have their own voice… “Let the director have their voice because we go to cinemas to see great stories, and great stories have to be inspired by great writers and great directors.” If Strong can achieve this for New Zealand film while treading the path of attracting international production, then he will have made his own mark on the industry, and it will be considered a success by NZ creatives. Now if he would only stop calling films “shows”.

You can listen to the full interview here.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

The NZFC and Script to Screen yesterday announced the six successful teams funded through the highly contestable Fresh Shorts initiative. Congratulations to members Hweiling Ow and Mia Maramara with their short film project Vivie, and DEGNZ events manager, Tema Pua, who will be directing Cradle & Grave! The Fresh Shorts teams will be granted $15K towards their short films.

The six were selected from a pool of 97 applications. 18 teams were shortlisted and given feedback from independent assessors. Supported by Fresh Shorts facilitator Miriam Smith they submitted a more detailed application to Whiringa Tuarua – Stage Two in January. From the 18 submissions, six were selected.

Read more

NZ On Air logo and NZFC logo

Tēnā koe,

The New Zealand Film Commission has issued a document for consultation on the Premium Productions for International Audiences fund ($50 million premium drama fund) across FY21-FY22, which is designed to support the production of high-quality feature films or series dramas that tell strong New Zealand stories with international appeal.

The Fund is a jointly administered initiative between NZFC and NZ On Air, developed in partnership with Te Māngai Pāho.

They have requested that all feedback be channeled through the industry guilds. DEGNZ is collating feedback and ask that you send yours, if you have any, to admin@degnz.co.nz by the end of business day this Friday 30 October.

NZFC is holding a public webinar today to brief the industry on the document and to answer any questions that arise. The webinar info:

How to join the Q & A

Join the event here at 5pm on Wednesday 28 October

  • This will open a new tab in your browser
  • Click ‘watch on the web’ instead
  • If you have a Microsoft account, sign in; if not, attend anonymously

To ask a question, click ‘Ask a question’ in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. Enter your name and type your question.

We encourage your participation in the webinar and feedback.

Noho ora mai, nā

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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On Wednesday evening, Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Carmel Sepuloni, together with the Minister for Economic Development, Phil Twyford, and Minister for Broadcasting, Kris Faafoi, announced the Screen Sector Recovery package. Included was $140 million previously announced in the budget, being $115 million to the international NZ Screen Production Grant, with $25 million to the domestic Screen Production Grant for local productions.

The rest of the announcement was new funding, but how much and where it went was clear as mud. As far as I can figure out it breaks down like this:

  • $15.4 million to NZFC with $2 million allocated to cultural capability funding and the rest to recovery for production affected by COVID.
  • In a guess on my part, $8 million to NZ On Air for production affected by COVID.
  • $50 million in a new fund to be dedicated to high-end drama and film projects, targeting streamers it would seem, with criteria still to be developed.
  • An additional $25 million, which seems to have materialised out of nowhere, for NZ On Air to spend over four years for Pacific, student and disability broadcast media.

The elephant in the room, though, is insurance. Without it, no new high-end drama or feature film will be able to get up without a major studio willing to bankroll the whole thing and take the associated risk that COVID has brought.

How to get insurance and completion bonds for production is a global problem putting the brakes on production everywhere. The insurance industry has already been hit with massive COVID-associated claims. Consequently, insurers won’t issue insurance to cover COVID-19.

Screen industries around the world are hatching various plans to deal with the insurance issue, but they all, to a greater or lesser degree, come down to one thing: government underwriting of insurance.

The New Zealand Film Commission commissioned the Screen Production and Development Association (SPADA) to write a paper for Government to outline the issues and justify the call for Government to come up with a solution that would allow new drama and feature film projects to get up. While the new funding announced on Wednesday night was welcomed by everyone, a significant number of those in attendance at the Beehive waited with bated breath for a Government response to the insurance issue. It never came.

Small productions and those that had existing insurance coverage prior to COVID will get made, but independent production everywhere needs the insurance problem solved. That includes any NZ On Air funded drama soon to be announced from the last round. Without an insurance solution or a studio willing to take on the risk, we could all be watching a lot more low-budget short-form web series to satisfy our scripted desires.

Unfortunately, we are still waiting cap in hand for the Government to come to the rescue. If they do, we will then truly be able to take advantage of the very fortunate position we find ourselves in as a screen industry in comparison to the rest of the world.

Here’s hoping.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) took an official delegation to China and Taiwan in June of this year, and I was fortunate to be invited along to Taipei for the Taiwan leg as the ED of DEGNZ.

There was a strong indigenous focus to the visit with the New Zealand Commercial Investment Office (our government’s official representation there) and the NZFC organising a Matariki Festival with a number of events for the Taiwanese Film Industry, and public screenings of some New Zealand films.

On show were Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Born to Dance, and My Wedding and Other Secrets, with director Tammy Davis and DEGNZ board member and director Roseanne Liang along to introduce and do Q & A’s for their films. Also attending were writer and director Michael Bennett, representing Ngā Aho Whakaari, and playwright and screenwriter Briar Grace-Smith.

Taiwan has 11 officially recognised indigenous tribes and there is a very strong link between the Taiwanese indigenous peoples and Māori, with everyone acknowledging whakapapa through our DNA connections. This connection has received official acknowledgement with the New Zealand Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New Zealand signing a document entitled “Arrangement on Cooperation on Indigenous Issues”. This will establish cultural and “people-to-people” connections between Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and New Zealand Māori in order to promote mutual understanding and friendly relations.

This was my second visit to Taiwan, following my time there in October of last year to attend the Asian Producers Network conference. I was once again struck by the friendliness of the people, particularly the strong and positive response by the indigenous locals to anything and anyone Māori. There was even a Māori cultural group made up of ex-pats out of Hong Kong to give the various events some distinctive Aotearoa New Zealand flavour.

As part of the effort to develop bonds between Taiwan and New Zealand, the NZFC and the Taipei Film Commission announced a Professional Sreenwriters Exchange. Under the exchange one professional screenwriter from Taiwan will travel to New Zealand and one professional screenwriter from New Zealand will travel to Taiwan for at least a month, in order to strengthen cultural ties and promote greater cooperation between the film industries on both sides.

The exchange is intended to occur on an annual basis and is aimed at applicants who have experience writing a minimum of one feature film script that has been produced as a feature-length film. They also need to have either direct personal experience or a strong interest in Māori culture and/or the Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan.

I lived in Japan for a long time and have visited China a couple of times and many Southeast Asian countries repeatedly. Of them all, I feel that Taiwan is at the moment perhaps the most proactively open to doing coproductions with New Zealand. While the budgets there aren’t big with US$1 million being the average film budget and an almost purely commercial focus on box office, Taiwan I think offers great opportunity for filmmakers who want to work with Asian partners … with the right story.

On our delegation were some producers who are already engaged with Taiwan on projects, looking to leverage off a Taiwan-NZ connection, or working with Taiwan to access Mainland China.

Official activity aside, Taipei has great architecture, galleries and museums, outdoor activities and fabulous food. And wouldn’t you know it, after delegates found various ways to wing their way there via stopovers in Singapore, Hong Kong or Brisbane, Air New Zealand opened up direct flights to Taiwan after our visit.

I guess you can’t have it all.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director