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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

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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

Tom Eagles

DEGNZ Selects is honoured to present a special industry Q&A evening with New Zealand editor Tom Eagles on Monday 2 March.

Oscar and BAFTA-nominated for his work on Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit and recently back from the red carpet, Tom joins us to discuss his career, his craft and his collaborations.

Tom was recognised by the American Cinema Editors with the award for Best Edited Feature Film (Comedy) for Jojo Rabbit at the 70th Annual ACE Eddie Awards held in January. Tom also edited Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do In the Shadows, Jackie van Beek’s The Inland Road and for television, Wellington Paranormal, Ash vs Evil Dead and Go Girls amongst other projects. He is currently cutting Roseanne Liang’s thriller Shadow In the Cloud

WHEN:           Mon 2 March 2020, 7pm. Talk starts 7:15pm
WHERE:         Horse & Trap – Loft, 3 Enfield St, Mount Eden, Auckland

Cash bar

Event Registration

Register to reserve your seat.

DEGNZ members – Free

Non-members – $5 (cash only at the door)

We collect diversity data during registration so we can report to our primary funder, the NZ Film Commission. Any data reported will remain completely anonymous.

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This event is part of DEGNZ Selects, presented by the Directors & Editors Guild of NZ

Flat3

Make something. Anything. And be prepared to face some hard unpaid work. JJ Fong and Ally Xue will discuss how they found their creative soulmates (Roseanne Liang and Perlina Lau) to form Flat3 Productions, and turned their pipe dream into a reality.

If you’re serious, or even curious, about making web series, you won’t want to miss this honest Young Creators session with the filmmakers behind award-winning series Flat 3, Friday Night Bites and Unboxed!

WHEN:           Tue 26 November 2019, 7pm. Talk starts 7:15pm
WHERE:          Longroom, 114 Ponsonby Rd, Auckland

 

Flat3 Productions was founded by 4 Kiwi women of Chinese heritage. Since their humble beginnings, they have accumulated a wealth of experience in writing, directing, and producing scripted comedy/drama for online consumption. Flat3’s award-winning content has garnered four NZTV award nominations. After 8 years together, the team has decided to make the jump into premium TV format. This next phase has already begun with the company securing NZ On Air production funding for a TVNZ television comedy (Creamerie). Individually, Ally and JJ have expanded their interest into other areas of filmmaking – primarily producing and writing. The pair recently wrapped principal photography on their TVNZ OnDemand teen comedy webseries (MEME).

Registration

DEGNZ members – Free
Non-members – $5 (cash at the door)

Because of liquor license conditions, under 18s must be accompanied by their parent/legal guardian.

We collect diversity data during registration so we can report to our funder, the NZFC. Any data reported will remain anonymous.

 

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DEGNZ Young Creators is a programme of events with a mission to inform and inspire younger or emerging directors and editors to build successful, sustainable careers in the screen industry.

DEGNZ Young Creators logos

The Gulf

Call for Applications – Deepen your knowledge of the craft in this Directors Toolkit with experienced director Charlie Haskell. The two-day workshop, run by the Directors & Editors Guild of NZ, will be held in Wellington on 16 – 17 November.

Charlie Haskell will provide a practical guide to emerging directors as to what the craft of directing is really all about. It will cover such topics as understanding the script, telling the story visually, inspiring great performances and running an inspirational set. There will be an emphasis on effective communication and how to get the best out of the creative team, and of course, how to deal with the ticking clock.

About Charlie Haskell

Charlie HaskellCharlie has been a freelance director in the New Zealand film and television industry for the past 25 years, initially specialising in action as a 2nd Unit Director (Hercules, Xena: Warrior Princess), before moving on to drama. He has directed on a wide variety of NZ and international productions, such as Power Rangers, The Almighty Johnsons, telefeature Tangiwai – A Love Story and docudrama Pirates of the Airwaves. He has worked on three seasons of the Starz network show Ash vs Evil Dead in the dual role of 2nd Unit Director/Associate Producer. Recently, Charlie directed two episodes of the Danish/NZ co-production Straight Forward, as well as being lead director on Germany/NZ co-production The Gulf. He is passionate about projects that combine great storytelling with global outreach.

Workshop Details

Price:
DEGNZ member – Free
Non-member – $180

Lunch and refreshments provided

When:
Saturday 16 November 2019, 9am – 5pm
Sunday 17 November 2019, 9am – 4pm

Where: Te Kāhui Auaha (New Zealand Film and Television School), 65 Dixon St, Te Aro, Wellington

To Apply

Applications Close: 9AM, Friday 1 November 

STEP 1: Complete the registration form below.

STEP 2: Send in one PDF to tema@degnz.co.nz:

  • your bio and CV/filmography, and
  • a brief, maximum 1-page letter that summarises why you would like to participate and what you hope to gain from the workshop.

Late or incomplete applications will not be accepted.

Travel Allowances
DEGNZ Full members may apply for financial assistance of up to $250 (incl. GST) towards their travel costs.

  • DEGNZ has up to 2 travel allowances available for this workshop.
  • Applicants must live outside the Wellington region.
  • For further information and criteria, see here.

Registration Form

 

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Refund Policy: Requests for refunds must be received by Sunday 10 November. Refunds can take up to approximately 10 working days to process.

 

This initiative is brought to you with the generous support of the New Zealand Film Commission.

NZFC