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.