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With the Big Screen Symposium about to kick off tomorrow, it’s yet another recent event at which to be thankful for, for our Government’s response to COVID. We can gather in big numbers will little concern for the spread of the virus, while in many other places around the world the statistics of COVID sickness and death are horrific. I was extremely pleased to hear yesterday that our Trans-Tasman cousins can now travel interstate, relatively freely.

 

And talking of our Aussie cousins, we have a new head at the Australian Directors’ Guild in Alaric McCausland. Alaric has a screen executive background in Australia and internationally, bringing a slightly different focus over his last two predecessors. As always, DEGNZ seeks a strong relationship with the ADG, with my first call with Alaric cordial, informative and supportive.

 

NZFC, NZ On Air and TMP obviously got more feedback than they bargained for in regard to the Premium Productions for International Audiences Fund. They are now late in getting the final criteria out—perhaps they will show at BSS. I have to imagine the number of applications to the fund is going to be as voluminous as the feedback was.

 

I heard yesterday that TV3 is now officially in the hands of Discovery. A Stuff article here. Being run as an Australasian service, it will be interesting to see what opportunities come for local content makers in the trans-Tasman tie, with Discovery’s global network and the planned launch of a streaming service here making for exciting possibilities.

 

Over at Sky they’ve got a new CEO in Sophie Moloney. Martin Stewart wears the blood splashes of his restructuring as he heads back to the UK, and Moloney offers an experienced, friendly, female and kotahitanga approach as she takes Sky forward. Unity is certainly needed in an organisation reeling from job losses.

 

TVNZ’s GM Local Content Nevak Rogers came with Drama and Scripted Comedy Commissioner Steve Barr to talk to our Emerging Women Filmmakers participants at their fifth and final workshop. Nevak was pleased to tell me that TVNZ is now spending around $100 million on local content, which is besting the highest spend during the Charter years at TVNZ. For those not old enough to know what the charter was, this from Wikipedia:

 

The Labour Government introduced a “TVNZ Charter” in 2002. This was a list of objectives for TVNZ which specified it must broadcast a wide variety of New Zealand-made content; the broadcaster was given public responsibility to provide news, drama, documentaries and “promote understanding of the diversity of cultures”. In 2008 the Government announced that the broadcaster was to become “more public-service” like. TVNZ responded by launching two commercial free channels; TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7. By 2011 Prime Minister John Key announced the closure of these channels. 6 in 2011, and 7 in mid-2012, with much of their content put into TVNZ Heartland and TVNZ Kidzone24 which are only available behind a Sky TV paywall. The National Government abolished the Charter in 2011. Political opponents accused the Government of reducing TVNZ’s commitments as a public broadcaster.

 

Just this week at the NZ On Air end-of-year function, Broadcasting Minister Chris Faafoi reaffirmed his commitment to public broadcasting via a video address. Back in October, Faafoi announced that the TVNZ – RNZ merger discussion was back on the table. The partially completed and partially redacted PWC consultant’s report released in September, however, didn’t outline the benefits of combining the broadcasters into a single entity or state how TVNZ or RNZ’s services would change if the proposal was approved. Just what is going to happen and when seems entirely open to discussion. Dealing with COVID and its impacts provides wonderful cover for doing nothing for quite a while yet. Let’s hope something good comes of it sooner.

 

Finally, the DEGNZ Workflow Best Practice Guide, driven by board member and  long-time, drama and documentary editor Annie Collins, continues to win rave reviews. If you want to save your production time and money and yourself stress, become very familiar with the content, available on our website here.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

 

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If you do a search on the Interweb, one of the definitions of a disruptor in business reads:

To be a disruptor is to create a product, service, or way of doing things which displaces the existing market leaders and eventually replaces them at the helm of the sector. Disruptors are generally entrepreneurs, outsiders, and idealists rather than industry insiders or market specialists.

Netflix is a great example of a disruptor. It started as a DVD rental company posting DVDs to customers before becoming the first major streamer. It now dominates screen content creation, delivery and the Hollywood studios globally. How long it maintains that dominant position remains to be seen—it’s certainly the hare among the tortoises. But those tortoises are weighed down by money and muscle through their parent entities as much by hard and relatively inflexible exteriors and slow-moving parts.

I’d posit though that COVID-19 is the ultimate disruptor. It’s creating dramatic change in the way of doing things that even if we overcome it with a vaccine, it has wrought such rapid transformation to business that just a year ago we would have considered inconceivable. We can see that transformation occurring right now, in the screen industry, in New Zealand. Anyone who watched the NZFC/NZ On Air/TMP webinar this week on the Premium Production for International Audience Fund saw an example of it in action.

In the Screen Sector Strategy, one of the ten initiatives in the short-term plan is to work with the Government to modernise the regulation that shapes the sector. I can tell you after two and a half years of working on the Copyright Act Review with Government and at least another year of work ahead, my expectations of quickly modernising the regulation that shapes the sector was not great.

Like the studios, our screen bureaucracy and Government around it is a cumbersome beast, pretty resistant to significant change. Note how we’ve sat on the sidelines as the Golden Age of Television reshaped the global screen industry. Or Netflix changed the screen content business model for creation, distribution, revenue flows and ownership. Or a commercially driven public broadcaster became a loss-making entity with a still-beating commercial heart and a decidedly permanent-looking hand in the taxpayer pocket.

But then COVID.

Now our screen bureaucracy is moving it’s stumpy little legs so fast in COVID recovery mode we are seeing changes mooted for rapid implementation or in place that in the old normal would have taken forever to bring about.

Such as in the Premium Production Fund:

• allowing productions to access NZ On Air funding and the New Zealand Screen Production Grant for drama.
• permitting productions to have no minimum level of Aotearoa New Zealand content.
• Requiring only a minimum level of private international investment for eligibility set at 10% of a production’s total value for TV.
• Doing away with the need for an NZ Free-to-Air broadcaster to get across the line.

Or in the COVID 19 Policy for the NZFC Terms of Trade for films under $2.5 million:

• dispensing with the requirement to have a distributor AND sales agent
• doing away with the need for an NZ theatrical release
• allowing a VOD platform as a distribution partner

I’m not sure if we are ever going to catch the hare, but I can certainly feel my hair—now longer due to COVID—getting ruffled with the winds of change.

Bring on the NZ Broadcasting Act and NZ Film Commission Act reform.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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

Director attachments on Vegas: Tim Worrall and Cian Elyse White

DEGNZ members Tim Worrall and Cian Elyse White have attached to new drama series Vegas with Greenstone TV under the Guild’s TV Drama Director Attachment Scheme.

Both attachments will get to follow their director from prep onwards, until the grade and sound mix.

Tim Worrall (Ngai Tūhoe, Te Arawa) is the successful Second Step attachment and will attach to director Mike Smith for his block, beginning in mid-October.

Cian Elyse White (Ngāti Pikiao, Tūhoe, Tainui, Te Whānau a Ruataupare) has been selected for the First Step attachment to Vegas lead director Kiel McNaughton. Cian is finishing the first week of her attachment, which goes until November 2.

We had an impressive response to our call for applications. DEGNZ warmly congratulates our newest attachments and thanks NZ On Air and Greenstone TV for supporting this initiative.


Tim Worrall

Tim has worked as a writer, director or consultant on a number of productions including: Pukana; Shortland Street; Jackson’s Wharf; Whalerider; Radiradirah; Kairakau; Only in Aotearoa; This is Piki; and Fresh. He is also a member of the Māori collective Steambox Films and has directed the award winning short films: The Road to Whakarae; Tits on a Bull; Meke; Koutuku Rerenga Rua; and Māori Time. Recently he has been a co-lead writer and director for the TV3 drama series Head High; writer of the feature film Whawhai Tonu – Struggle Without End (advanced development funding from NZFC); co-writer/director for anthology feature film Ngā Pouwhenua (scheduled for production February 2021); writer of the TVNZ documentary series Origins (currently screening on TV1); storyliner for TVNZ drama series Vegas; writer and director for Tappy, an episode of the new TVNZ supernatural drama series.

Tim Worrall

Cian Elyse White

Cian has had an extensive career in professional theatre, TV and film as an actress. In 2017, Cian wrote her Te Reo Māori short film Daddy’s Girl (Kōtiro) which received the Fresh 30K grant in 2018 and won the 2020 NZIFF Best Shorts audience award. Daddy’s Girl (Kōtiro) has also been selected for Show Me Shorts, ImagiNATIVE, Asinabka, Hawaiian International Film Festival and was the first NZ film to be selected for Geena Davis Bentonville Film Festival in August this year. In March 2020, Cian was one of eight selected to partake in FilmUP run by Script to Screen. Cian is currently in pre-production for her next short film PUHI.


Cian Elyse White

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I’ve had occasion to review the New Zealand Film Commission Act, more so recently. To understand the New Zealand Film Commission’s (NZFC) role, it’s really the source document to read. And from it, we can then see how they interpret it.

Taking a look at it here, the first thing you will notice is that there are more clauses that are repealed than there are clauses that comprise it. In comparison to the Broadcasting Act that governs New Zealand On Air, the NZFC gets off awfully lightly.

From a New Zealand screen creative’s perspective, in my view, there are only three areas that are of real relevance in the NZFC Act.

The first is in Section 2, Interpretation; the meaning of the word ‘film’:

film includes a photographic film, or a recording on magnetic tape or on any other material, from which a series of images, with or without associated sounds, may be produced

You can see that this interpretation applies, but is not limited to the meaning of film as we in the screen industry use it. In fact, it’s more akin to the interpretation of ‘film’ in the NZ Copyright Act:

film means a recording on any medium from which a moving image may by any means be produced

In other words, ‘film’ in the NZFC Act actually can be interpreted to mean audio-visual content.

The second pertinent part is, I believe, (1A) in Section 17, Functions of Commission:

to encourage and also to participate and assist in the making, promotion, distribution, and exhibition of films

The key word for me here is ‘exhibition’, but more appropriately the active verb ‘to exhibit’:

exhibit – to show something publicly

exhibition – an event at which objects such as paintings are shown to the public, a situation in which someone shows a particular skill or quality to the public, or the act of showing these things

We all think exhibition means theatrical exhibition in film, but the Cambridge Dictionary definition, which I think can be applied here, just means showing to the public. Again, how this is applied is open to interpretation.

The final area of real interest is Section 18, Content Of Films. There are a significant number of stipulations for this, but they essentially tell us that the film should have significant New Zealand content, and be made by New Zealanders in New Zealand, unless it’s an official co-production, which confers New Zealand status on the film.

That’s pretty much it. So, what does it all mean?

Well it pretty much means that the NZFC role is very open to interpretation. And the New Zealand Film Commission’s guidelines for everything it does are their interpretation as they see it, guided by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, who they report directly to, although the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has oversight for the International NZ Screen Production Grant and makes a contribution to international promotion of the NZ screen industry; both elements of economic development.

More than anything else, MCH want films to be seen by audiences—NZ first and then the world. Theatrical release is generally considered the most important way of delivering an audience. Watching a film on the big screen with other people delivers the cinematic experience that is meant to separate ‘film’ from TV.

Theatrical exhibition also delivers box office, which is an indicator of the commercial success—or not—of a film. Commercial success can provide funds for future investment into films. In reality, we all know that nine out of ten NZ films fail to deliver real Return On Investment (ROI), so whatever revenues come in are really only reducing the size of the loss of investment. But nowhere in the Film Commission Act does it say that films have to return investment. The International NZ Screen Production Grant overseen by MBIE is the only film-related investment where ROI is expected.

Let’s take a closer look at the interpretation of ‘film’.

Obviously, NZFC has gone for the wriggle room in the Act to take on premium TV drama as well as film: both audiovisual content. It’s clearly strayed into the domain of NZ On Air here, but by targeting internationally-focused NZ drama content, it’s not stepping on NZ On Air’s toes, which are firmly anchored in domestic terra filma.

How about the guidelines for NZ Content?

The Act is very prescriptive and NZFC adheres to them for local films. Official co-productions, though, allow for interpretation. More than one NZ film with a completely American setting has passed as New Zealand content, Slow West being a good example as a NZ – UK co-production.

What about exhibition?

The film commish has theatrical exhibition as a key requirement. And exhibition, for me, is where my main interest lies, because it’s at the heart of NZFC investment. In fact, like the meaning of ‘film’, it could be broadly interpreted but it’s not at this point, although COVID has thrown a spanner in the works with cinemas shut down during lockdown, and now suffering under renewed COVID outbreak. NZFC has made some temporary changes to adjust for this.

We can take traditional theatrical exhibition as a given for now, although COVID is certainly trying to push it into oblivion. But I think we could be looking at other interpretations as well.

A true public broadcaster in TVNZ could become a channel for exhibition of all New Zealand films. TVNZ OnDemand is an Advertising Video On Demand (AVOD) service. They may not get to be the first window for screening, but they could certainly be made to carry all NZFC-funded New Zealand films that wanted to sit there, with TVNZ making an in-kind contribution for promotion—trailer/promo and airtime—in return for getting the film for free. A Boosted campaign could generate funds for the filmmakers to use on marketing and promotion. Viewing statistics could be shared with NZFC so that they could gauge the film’s and the platform’s ability to deliver.

Of course, there’s no ROI here for NZFC, but does that really matter? Not if they fund these films 100% so there was no need to seek private investment. A budget cap for films of this type could make it feasible. This approach is probably suited to films that struggle to find commercial partners in distributors and sales agents or those who don’t want to go down the traditional path to market. But this doesn’t mean they don’t have an audience. It could well be niche, and there’s nothing wrong with that. OnDemand would find out.

Another approach to exhibition could be Transactional Video on Demand (TVOD). The New Zealand International Film Festival could provide its Online platform for NZ film TVOD, as it did for delivering films in the 2020 festival. This would essentially offer the same revenue generating experience as cinemas. The added advantages would be that NZIFF could clip the ticket, while distributors could be removed from the picture, increasing revenue flow back to the NZFC, investors and filmmakers.

Filmmakers who chose this path as their primary distribution channel should be able to access the NZFC Distribution and Marketing Fund to drive audiences to their film, with NZIFF opening its considerable database to them and providing additional marketing and promotion as theatres now do. Again, viewing statistics and other data could be made available so that marketing plans are adjusted and audience size and revenues determined.

A spin on the TVOD approach would be NZIFF Online becomes the Premium Video On Demand (PVOD) channel, in a Day and Date with New Zealand theatrical exhibition. Online revenue would likely have to be shared with the theatres, and a distributor would also be involved to get the film into cinemas (self-distribution an option, though), adding to the layers of revenue extraction on the way back to NZFC, investors and the filmmakers.

This approach is a revenue generating one and would likely have a sales agent already attached so international sales could help deliver an ROI. With NZ films struggling at the NZ Box Office, this I feel is a viable alternative to getting NZ audiences to watch NZ films. After the film has done it’s run using this approach, it could be put on TVNZ OnDemand so that it had an ongoing opportunity to get additional viewing.

What about the promotion of NZ culture you might well ask?

Well that doesn’t seem to be in the NZFC Act. It’s obviously a concern of MCH, though, and Section 18, Content of Films could be seen to cover it. But does significant New Zealand content equal New Zealand culture?

You’d hope so.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director