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Just when you thought we were all stuck in our ways, along came COVID-19. Now changes are flowing thick and fast to adapt to the brave new world this deadly virus has inflicted upon us.

The Resource Management Act is being given the flick to allow for shovel-ready infrastructure projects. Tourism operators are now having to give a toss about Kiwi tourists. (I’m surprised nobody has questioned yet whether we really want all those international tourists to return and put the strain back onto our environment and infrastructure.) The Australian and New Zealand governments are figuring out how to hold hands and sing kumbaya in a Trans-Tasman bubble. We might even have a new National Party leader by the end of the week.

Just look at the changes the NZ screen sector has gone through in two months. We have temporary Terms of Trade at NZFC that say, amongst other things, goodbye to the NZ theatrical distribution requirement and hello to a VOD platform. TVNZ is commissioning Maori and Pacific genre drama with its supernatural anthology RFP. Domestic production has all of a sudden become vitally important to crew.

South Pacific Pictures took the bit between its teeth and developed its own COVID Health & Safety (H&S) protocols signed off by WorkSafe to allow Shortland Street to get back up. We now have the WorkSafe-approved COVID Protocols and Standard thanks to the hard work of individuals from the Screen Industry Guild of Aotearoa (Techos), the NZ Advertising Producers Group and a number of others.

And the draft Screen Sector Strategy unleashed on us during the lockdown? Well after further ‘feedback’ it’s going through some additional ch-ch-changes as well.

But what’s happening out there in the big wide screen world? Iceland, South Korea and Sweden are already in production, with Iceland unveiling details on how international productions can get back up and running there with a special immigration channel and quarantine rules. Some Eastern European countries, which get a lot of US and UK runaway projects, are restarting with the Czech Republic and Poland leading the way.

The UK government is allowing film and TV production to restart. A coalition of Britain’s top platforms have published a guide for TV production, while The UK’s new protocols for film and high-end drama are expected at the end of May. In the US, though, production is still at a standstill. Directors Guild of America board member and Contagion director Steven Soderbergh has been put in charge of the guild’s efforts to address COVID. According to an article in the LA Times, it’s the guilds and the unions that will determine when production will start there.

Across the ditch, Neighbours is up and running and Wentworth is supposedly about to restart. The guilds there have been working hard on their COVID-19 H&S protocols and expect government sign off on them shortly.

Thankfully, Level 2 is allowing production in film and TV here to get going, so we’re in a good place. But there’s much further to go, and more changes that need to occur before we can have the New Zealand screen industry humming again. Each one of us has a part to play in making this happen, whether it’s helping to effect the changes necessary, or just washing our hands, maintaining social distance and staying home when sick.

As we head into this next phase of life under COVID, stay safe, stay well and remember you can call on us here at DEGNZ at any time. We will do our best to help you out.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

With COVID-19 upon us, it’s even more important than ever that we get a strategy for the screen sector right. DEGNZ is hosting a panel discussion on Facebook Live to be moderated by business journalist and commentator Rod Oram on Friday 1 May at 2PM.

Senior screen industry practitioners Bailey Mackey, CEO, Pango Productions; Philly de Lacey, CEO, Screentime; Stephen Knightly, Board Member, NZ Game Developers Association; Mel Turner, Producer, Ground Control; Duncan Greive, Managing Editor, The Spinoff, and Julia Parnell, Director/Producer, Notable Pictures, will share their thoughts on the draft and what now needs to be taken into account to forge a sustainable and successful future for NZ’s screen industry.

WHEN:  Fri 1 May, 2pm
WHERE:  Directors and Editors Guild of New Zealand Facebook page. If you don’t have a Facebook account, you can watch the live-stream below on this post, but you won’t be able to ask questions/comment.

Feedback on the draft Screen Sector Strategy 2030

The Screen Sector Strategy 2030 Facilitation Group is currently seeking industry feedback on the draft strategy. The extended deadline to provide your feedback via questionnaire is Friday 8 May. Find out more

Panel Discussion Live-Stream Recording

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You would think 28 days in lockdown would give you plenty of time to think. For me, it hasn’t as I have been extremely preoccupied along with a number of other industry people in the Pan-Sector COVID-19 Action Group, working on how to get the industry back into work. I can tell you that the weekends, and in particular Easter, were very welcome.

But as we head towards the fateful Day 28 of Wednesday—which could very well pale into insignificance at 4pm today—I would like to reflect right now on what it was like before and what it will be like after Coronavirus.

I’m a Boomer. I’ve never known war, although my brother and his friends did have to give some thought to how to avoid ending up in Vietnam. The closest I’ve gotten to a bomb was when I arrived at my Soho hotel in London the day after the nail bombing of the nearby Admiral Duncan pub by a Neo-Nazi. I was living in Tokyo though when Shoko Asahara and his Aum Shinrikyo cult unleashed Sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system, killing 13 and injuring thousands of others—I got to report it, not experience it, luckily.

Still, none of this compares to the devastation that COVID-19 has wrought on the world. Some have referred to it as the World War of the 21st Century without a visible enemy. Sure, we’ve had to queue for food like they used to during World War II, but we can still choose between a Savvie, a Chardie or a Pinot. Hardship? Not in this sense, to be truthful. But economically, a definite “Yes!”

Of course, like many people I’ve had financially difficult times in my past, but it’s always been up to me to get out of them and it was always possible to do so—the economic environment even during the GFC was never as bad as it is now for all of us.

Most of us in the screen industry, myself included, are contractors. I’m fortunate in that the Guild still has paid work for me to do, albeit on reduced hours that I voluntarily instituted to help out (I’m still working fulltime, though). My wife’s small business has gone from a comfortable sole trader income to almost zero. Many of you have no income right now except for the Wage Subsidy. I hope that you have all applied for and received it. And if you were declined, please ensure you entered the correct IRD number and are classified as a sole trader and not an employee. One of these could be the reason why you were declined.

Can we go back to the old normal? Even with a vaccine, it doesn’t seem possible. So what’s in store for us all in the screen industry in the new normal?

It’s clear now that the world is suffering from a lack of content. Broadcasters, streamers, cable, AVOD, TVOD—they all need it. From Israel to Bulgaria, the UK and the U.S. to Argentina, Australia and to a minor extent New Zealand, development is in overdrive and everyone is getting ready for new production to feed the Content Beast that’s starving.

Andrew Shaw, General Manager Commissioning and Production at TVNZ recently told me that internationally, existing content that had been passed on before is being re-examined in a new light. This means opportunities for sales offshore that producers might not have been able to secure previously. Then there is also produced material that hadn’t yet gone to market. All this will run out in quick time, however, and reruns are reruns no matter how you look at it.

As I’ve said before in this column: With great change comes great opportunity. But you’ve got to grasp it with both hands. Everybody internationally is gearing up to do so.

Jeffrey Katzenberg has grabbed the opportunity with Quibi, the new short-form content platform that’s just launched. Katzenberg took big risk in founding the successful Dreamworks with Spielberg and Geffen when it was considered insane to start a studio without an archive. Prior to that he took a massive punt with Roger Rabbit when he was Chairman of Walt Disney Studios. As a former professional gambler, Katzenberg was used to betting the bank. Being a card counter, you can understand that he always had a strategy to win. So, what about the New Zealand strategy to grasp all the opportunity and win in the screen industry?

Well, one was mooted before COVID-19 hit. And we have it now in the draft strategy released two weeks ago. Granted, it was formulated prior to COVID-19, so it should be measured upon that. And I’m happy to do so.

My personal opinion—and, I am at pains to point out, NOT DEGNZ’s position—is that it’s a document lacking in vision and the independent spirit of the New Zealand screen industry, being full of bureaucratic intentions rather than specific, entrepreneurial action plans needed to truly move the industry forward. The advent of COVID-19 means it now must be rewritten. And we have once again been provided an opportunity to feed back, which I encourage every single person to take.

So what might the New Normal look like that we need to strategise about?

On the film side, which is so dependent on theatrical exhibition, it’s a changed world. Sales agents are making sales but no longer paying Minimum Guarantees for films—essentially deposits that were used to help finance features, and producers were required to have.

Distributors are selling to streamers, broadcasters and others, but as Elizabeth Trotman of Studio Canal said in a Screen Producers Australia (SPA) interview two weeks ago, they were really dependent on blockbusters to make money because independent film didn’t pay. How to move from that old business model and into the new environment is something StudioCanal are thinking hard about. Paul Wiegard, co-founder of Australasian distributor Madman, said last week in another SPA interview that they are in a fortunate position because they have their own streaming platforms in DocPlay and AnimeLab, and other diversified revenue streams. While passionate about narrative feature film, Wiegard was more optimistic about documentary. In the end, he was clearly uncertain about theatrical exhibition for narrative features at this point.

The future of theatrical exhibition is decidedly unclear, with many exhibitors headed towards bankruptcy. Social distancing won’t help theatrical survivors to persuade customers back into theatres, and it certainly won’t deliver the box office they, the distributors and the studios will need. Independent film—and that is all New Zealand film—has a decidedly sketchy future for the foreseeable future unless it can find a home on a digital platform, pay channel or free-to-air broadcaster. And the NZFC requirement for theatrical release to get financing will obviously have to change.

On the television side, we will likely see a merged TVNZ and RNZ sooner rather than later. It’s clear public broadcasters have an unrivalled position when it comes to News and Current Affairs when the chips are down. And TVNZ did a very good job in building TVNZ OnDemand, a platform they can monetise, and HeiHei in partnership with NZ On Air. They are in a good spot. Let’s hope the Government gets the mix right. Our futures as television makers depend on it.

NZ platforms though are suffering a lack of content, just like their international counterparts. There’s only so much self-isolating content we can all take. With a transition to Level 2, we will likely see an increase in documentary and unscripted first, then drama as we find ways and means to operate safely in larger numbers. The stimulus package for the NZ screen sector now being talked about will absolutely be needed if we are to climb our way out of the hole we are in and back into production.

Private, free-to-air broadcasters and media organisations are struggling with the massive decrease in advertising, although SKY’s subscriber platforms are helping them to weather the storm. Private media is looking to the Government to rescue them and they should hear about their package soon.

Production for the international market in New Zealand is one of the tougher nuts to crack. On the one side, for serviced production we have to get the international talent into the country to complete projects and to start new ones. On the other side, we don’t have sufficient talent here for local production of internationally-focused shows. And the opportunity for locally-produced global shows seems to be rapidly closing. We don’t yet have the funding and processes from our funding bodies to really take advantage of the international opportunities. Hopefully, we will see changes soon enough for New Zealand producers to exploit.

The big problem facing us all is cost and how that’s paid for. Increased Health & Safety should mean new line items to the budget and increased shooting days, not greater demands on directors and editors (and other crew) to do more for less. The funding bodies understand this, and are looking to ask for more. But in an environment when every sector needs assistance, there’s only so much largess the Government can provide. Meanwhile we are back where we were a few short years ago when DEGNZ with the NZ Writers Guild waged a battle against digital platforms and producers working with measly budgets and grabbing all rights.

So here we all are, sitting with bated breath waiting for a Government announcement that will decide our immediate fate and shape our long-term future. It’s not all grim. As Queen Elizabeth said in her address, “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return.”

For all of us, I’m sure that those better days can’t come soon enough.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

DEGNZ

DEGNZ will host its first CONNECT forum for members on Thursday 16 April from 2 – 3PM.

DEGNZ Executive Director Tui Ruwhiu will provide an update on the work the COVID-19 Action Group is engaged in. He will then be available, together with President Howard Taylor and Board Member Michael Duignan, to answers any questions you may have, listen to any concerns you may wish to raise or ideas you might like to put forward at what is a tumultuous time for us all.

To participate, register below. Information on how to join the Zoom meeting will be emailed to you once you have registered.

We hope you are all safe and well and look forward to connecting with you face-to-face on Thursday.

Registration

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DEGNZ

Some of you may be wondering what we have been up to in the last two to three weeks, so I thought it time to update you all.

Rather than make an effort only under the DEGNZ banner, we quickly decided to join with many of the other guilds, industry organisations and some companies to come together as the Screen Sector COVID-19 Action Group. I joined the Action Group and in the last two weeks I have been a part of meetings with TVNZ, Mediaworks, Maori Television, Sky, NZFC, NZ On Air, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment pushing to get development and production funds flowing out to industry.

I have also participated in multiple internal Action Group meetings. We have set up and are working on a number of workflow groups designed in the short and medium term to help get the sector working again, and to plan for the various scenarios that may eventuate. You can see the work going on here. I, Felicity Letcher of Main Reactor and David Brady who is currently doing work for ATEED are  preparing the business case for the Group, so that we can attract desperately needed funding to execute some of the Group’s initiatives.

Rather than flood your Inboxes with messaging from DEGNZ, we have tried to keep our communications to those that are really pertinent and possibly helpful to members, and encourage you as much as possible to go to the COVID-19 Action Group website for highly valuable information: www.screenindustrynz.co.nz

As an affiliate to the Council of Trade Unions (CTU), DEGNZ is under the umbrella of their efforts to protect workers and their rights during this difficult time. I have been participating in multiple CTU meetings where we have been able to have a voice in the efforts the CTU is making with Government to get various types of support including on the wage subsidy, hopefully rent relief and other initiatives.

I am currently working with the other two unions in the screen sector, the New Zealand Writers Guild and Equity New Zealand, preparing for submissions on the Screen Worker Bill now in Select Committee. Thankfully the deadline was pushed from early April to early May because of the COVID-19 crisis, which has given us more time to prepare.

This Bill is the outcome of the work all the screen sector bodies did during the many months of discussion we had in the Film Industry Working Group, which resulted in recommendations to the Government. It’s vitally important for us to see this Bill go through as it will allow us to collectively bargain for minimum rates and terms and conditions for all directors, editors and assistant editors. You will hear from us shortly on this as we will be asking individuals to make submissions as well and have been preparing materials to help you.

Internationally, tomorrow I will have the second of two meetings within the last two weeks with the heads of the American, Canadian, UK, Irish and European Directors Guilds as we all grapple with how to deal with the COVID-19 crisis affecting all our members. This is essentially an information sharing exercise out of which we hope for some concrete initiatives to come. I was also in  touch on the weekend with our colleagues in Writers & Directors Worldwide and the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Writers and Directors for essentially the same purpose.

While the above has been a massive workload across the last two weeks, we have also been moving as much of our professional development online as we can. At the start of the lockdown period, we issued a call for the Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator for 2020, which will take place over Zoom. We ran a Young Creators session with commercial video production company Chillbox Creative on Facebook Live last week. You can catch-up on the Q&A here. We will complete our Directors Toolkit with Peter Burger online this weekend too, which was interrupted by COVID-19. DEGNZ will continue to put out calls for various other workshops and initiatives over the next three months.

Finally, to help with mental health and wellbeing, we introduced a Membership Holiday for people suffering financial hardship and cannot afford to become members or renew their membership. We launched DEGNZ Play to give members a creative outlet during lockdown and continue to assess what else we can do. We are open to ideas — if you do, get in touch with me directly.

I received a suggestion from a member that prompted us to compile a database of DEGNZ editors who have editing equipment and software that allows them to work from their bubbles. The response has been great so far. The database will be pushed out to the sector as there may well be work opportunities.

We are all facing this difficult time together and united we will more effectively improve the situation for everyone. DEGNZ will continue to focus its efforts on behalf of members through the COVID-19 Action Group as this is the most efficient way for us to achieve outcomes. An example of this is the SPADA online interview with Annabelle Sheehan of NZFC and Cameron Harland of NZ On Air, which put forward many of the Action Group’s discussions.

The kaupapa of DEGNZ – to ensure the creative, cultural and financial wellbeing of our members – remains the same. From time to time, I will share further updates with you on the work we are doing.

Stay safe, be kind, stay at home, break the chain.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director