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Scrolling through my Facebook feed yesterday to catch up on industry news, a Stuff article caught my eye. “Can Aotearoa make the screen the next primary industry?” the hook headline blared.

Diving into the article, I read that SIGANZ President Brendon Durey believes the “constrained” rebate doesn’t go far enough (the rebate offered to international productions shooting here) as other countries like the United Kingdom and Canada offer higher amounts. A white paper put together by educational outfits YooBee College of Design and UP Education calls for more Government money and resources to go into creativity education. And new Wellington outfit The Granary gets its marketing video promoting the use of LED technology backdrops showcased. Multiple handclaps to all three for getting their PR into Stuff.

My hat does go off to the educational outfits and The Granary, though, because they both promote the idea of local IP creation, with YouBee and Up giving a big plug to the possibilities with local stories and within the New Zealand gaming sector, while The Granary seeks to give Kiwi content creators a way to bring Hollywood tech pizazz to local production in an affordable manner.

One of the key reasons Aotearoa has a massive opportunity on its doorstep, journalist Andre Chumko tells us in the article, is that our sector “struggles to keep up with an unprecedented glut of production born from the Covid-19 pandemic.” I would suggest, however, that that glut isn’t going to continue unabated.

As the whole sector was wrestling during our first lock down with how to get back into production, I was having calls with the Directors Guild of America about what we were doing. NZ’s Screensafe COVID protocols were written up and out while the US guilds were still wondering what to do. Although slow to get their protocols in place, American production has for some time now been operating both domestically and internationally amidst the pandemic with strict guidelines that are keeping on-set infections low. Now, with the vaccine rolling out, the sleeping U.S. behemoth of backlogged productions and a year of new shows developed by showrunners and writers locked up in their homes is going to start hitting.

Will Aotearoa get a slice of that pie? Undoubtedly. As will Australia, which is seen as just as safe as New Zealand by Americans, but with more crew, facilities, and perhaps most importantly, onscreen talent that can pull international financing and audiences. Canada, Eastern Europe, and other countries will also benefit as the American juggernaut gets rolling.

The idea that we are going to be awash in streamer and other international production until the Apocalypse, however, is a little far-fetched in my view. A lot of American production will again take place in the U.S. and Canada, just like it always has. A strategic approach and well managed tactical implementation will I believe see New Zealand continue to benefit long term from production coming in from overseas. But the real opportunity I maintain lays in “constrained” local IP generation, and not just with identifiably Kiwi content.

Putting our culture on screen is vitally important, and we must continue to do so. Māori content cuts through in the global marketplace. Indisputable. But it’s the lack of investment in our screen content that is constraining us, whether it’s identifiably New Zealand or not.

NZ On Air, TMP and NZFC are still essentially operating on the same levels of funding they were receiving 10 years ago. COVID funding, though, has shone a spotlight on local IP.

Depending on which whisper you listen to, there were somewhere between 50 and 150 applications for the one-off $50 million Premium Fund. That’s a lot of local IP vying for, in the greater scheme of things, not a lot of money. There would definitely have been more than one pie-in-the-sky idea thrown in with no chance of success. But even if only 10 per cent of the proposals met a key criteria of being high-quality productions that tell New Zealand stories for global audiences at a scale and ambition not previously possible, that’s a clear indication of how much viable, untapped IP is out there.

Our local screen industry needs more investment to take advantage of global content opportunities:

  • More annual funding for NZ On Air, TMP and NZFC
  • An annual Premium Fund
  • More support for New Zealand’s gaming sector

A massively stimulated local industry will provide more than enough employment for current and future crew, and work for suppliers, with the added benefit of generating export dollars and actually creating and retaining IP here. International serviced production will then become a nice-to-have rather than a must-have for the New Zealand screen industry to survive and prosper.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

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Considering the significant impact of COVID on the entertainment industry, it’s hard not to be pleased with the incredible amount of activity going on in the New Zealand screen industry right now.

New Zealand is being seen as a good, safe destination to shoot in, with a number of international productions happening and others wanting to come in. This means crews are busy and getting paid well, more New Zealand actors are getting cast in roles that at another time would have gone to internationals, and the economic impact of the spend is going around the country.

As well, New Zealand productions, whether domestic or coproduction, are also happening. Vegas in Rotorua, One Lane Bridge in Queenstown, Mystic’s going again, Head High has gotten another series, The Panthers is shooting. These are just some of the bigger ones, in addition to the many small and medium-sized productions that typically get made in any given year.

Producers are lining up with projects for the Premium Drama Fund. A number of these will shoot this year. Shortly, the development component of the PDF will come out. All this on top of the typical funding from our three content funding bodies.

What’s the problem? Well crew rates and budgets for a start.

Crew are putting their prices up because demand exceeds supply, making it very difficult for NZ productions to get highly experienced crew. So if you’ve got an inexperienced teenager, relative or friend who’s been longing to get into film and TV, there’s never been a better time.

Budgets from the funding bodies for regular production haven’t increased, which means NZ can’t compete with their international dollars. The Premium Fund projects have hopefully taken increased rates into account, but for right now this is a one-off fund. Now is the time to lobby Government for more money for the funding bodies. This is particularly the case for NZFC as filmmakers are essentially paying—not getting paid—to make their low-budget films. While independently-funded films often operate in this way, it shouldn’t be the case for films funded by NZFC.

On the big picture front, we’ve heard that the Screen Industry Workers Bill is walking at tortoise pace while the government puts the afterburner on Fair Pay Agreements. Movement is happening on the proposed pan-sector body The Copyright Act Review is stuck in limbo. Considerable effort is going into the shaping and establishment of the Workforce Development Councils, driven out of the Reform of Vocational Education. This is a real positive for the screen sector as it will hopefully provide pathways into screen sector work that will address the shortages we face on the crew side particularly, but also in other areas.

Frankly, though, we are in a pretty good place considering. Now we just have to pray like hell that those COVID variants don’t wreak havoc on what could be a very good year for us all.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director