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While the world continues to reel from COVID-19, we sit in our smug little bubble wondering what the fuss is all about. So far, we’ve escaped relatively unscathed the medical turmoil associated with Corona, but are now facing up to the emotional, psychological and economic impact that will be with us for many years to come. Looking across the ditch at Victoria, we see how quickly it could all go pearshaped for us.

Production-wise, all of the offshore projects that were interrupted by COVID are now back. Local production that was shut down is returning as well. Local TV drama will hopefully get a shot in the arm from NZ On Air shortly. TV productions with funding and small crews seem mostly to be on their feet.

The advertising sector, however, is still suffering from nervousness on the part of clients who don’t know if they have the marketing budget to spend or what to do with it and when, if they do.

NZ shorts and features that were interrupted are also getting up again but as mentioned in my last op-ed, without the insurance issue solved, we still have a problem with new productions, Houston.

The numbers of people continuing to take up our COVID-19 Membership Holiday offer tells us, though, that there is pain out there with directors and editors. The Guild would like to get a better fix on this. Within the next two weeks we will put out a short survey to ascertain more clearly what the employment situation is like for members and other directors and editors in the industry.

We ask that you please take the short time required to fill it out. Your responses will help us to better strategically and tactically respond in ways that are meaningful and useful.

It’s hard not to look around at the moment and think that we are in the eye of the storm. Everything is peaceful, calm and quiet, except on the political front. Hopefully we can move with the eye rather than stray out of it where we’ll get a lashing.

In the meantime, I would like to remind you all of the Vista Foundation/Home and Family Counselling offer, which is still available. Information on our website here. If you are having a particularly difficult time right now, please reach out and let us know and we’ll see if there’s anything we can do.

Stay safe, stay strong, be kind.

 

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