I’ve had occasion to review the New Zealand Film Commission Act, more so recently. To understand the New Zealand Film Commission’s (NZFC) role, it’s really the source document to read. And from it, we can then see how they interpret it.
Taking a look at it here, the first thing you will notice is that there are more clauses that are repealed than there are clauses that comprise it. In comparison to the Broadcasting Act that governs New Zealand On Air, the NZFC gets off awfully lightly.
From a New Zealand screen creative’s perspective, in my view, there are only three areas that are of real relevance in the NZFC Act.
The first is in Section 2, Interpretation; the meaning of the word ‘film’:
film includes a photographic film, or a recording on magnetic tape or on any other material, from which a series of images, with or without associated sounds, may be produced
You can see that this interpretation applies, but is not limited to the meaning of film as we in the screen industry use it. In fact, it’s more akin to the interpretation of ‘film’ in the NZ Copyright Act:
film means a recording on any medium from which a moving image may by any means be produced
In other words, ‘film’ in the NZFC Act actually can be interpreted to mean audio-visual content.
The second pertinent part is, I believe, (1A) in Section 17, Functions of Commission:
to encourage and also to participate and assist in the making, promotion, distribution, and exhibition of films
The key word for me here is ‘exhibition’, but more appropriately the active verb ‘to exhibit’:
exhibit – to show something publicly
exhibition – an event at which objects such as paintings are shown to the public, a situation in which someone shows a particular skill or quality to the public, or the act of showing these things
We all think exhibition means theatrical exhibition in film, but the Cambridge Dictionary definition, which I think can be applied here, just means showing to the public. Again, how this is applied is open to interpretation.
The final area of real interest is Section 18, Content Of Films. There are a significant number of stipulations for this, but they essentially tell us that the film should have significant New Zealand content, and be made by New Zealanders in New Zealand, unless it’s an official co-production, which confers New Zealand status on the film.
That’s pretty much it. So, what does it all mean?
Well it pretty much means that the NZFC role is very open to interpretation. And the New Zealand Film Commission’s guidelines for everything it does are their interpretation as they see it, guided by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, who they report directly to, although the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has oversight for the International NZ Screen Production Grant and makes a contribution to international promotion of the NZ screen industry; both elements of economic development.
More than anything else, MCH want films to be seen by audiences—NZ first and then the world. Theatrical release is generally considered the most important way of delivering an audience. Watching a film on the big screen with other people delivers the cinematic experience that is meant to separate ‘film’ from TV.
Theatrical exhibition also delivers box office, which is an indicator of the commercial success—or not—of a film. Commercial success can provide funds for future investment into films. In reality, we all know that nine out of ten NZ films fail to deliver real Return On Investment (ROI), so whatever revenues come in are really only reducing the size of the loss of investment. But nowhere in the Film Commission Act does it say that films have to return investment. The International NZ Screen Production Grant overseen by MBIE is the only film-related investment where ROI is expected.
Let’s take a closer look at the interpretation of ‘film’.
Obviously, NZFC has gone for the wriggle room in the Act to take on premium TV drama as well as film: both audiovisual content. It’s clearly strayed into the domain of NZ On Air here, but by targeting internationally-focused NZ drama content, it’s not stepping on NZ On Air’s toes, which are firmly anchored in domestic terra filma.
How about the guidelines for NZ Content?
The Act is very prescriptive and NZFC adheres to them for local films. Official co-productions, though, allow for interpretation. More than one NZ film with a completely American setting has passed as New Zealand content, Slow West being a good example as a NZ – UK co-production.
What about exhibition?
The film commish has theatrical exhibition as a key requirement. And exhibition, for me, is where my main interest lies, because it’s at the heart of NZFC investment. In fact, like the meaning of ‘film’, it could be broadly interpreted but it’s not at this point, although COVID has thrown a spanner in the works with cinemas shut down during lockdown, and now suffering under renewed COVID outbreak. NZFC has made some temporary changes to adjust for this.
We can take traditional theatrical exhibition as a given for now, although COVID is certainly trying to push it into oblivion. But I think we could be looking at other interpretations as well.
A true public broadcaster in TVNZ could become a channel for exhibition of all New Zealand films. TVNZ OnDemand is an Advertising Video On Demand (AVOD) service. They may not get to be the first window for screening, but they could certainly be made to carry all NZFC-funded New Zealand films that wanted to sit there, with TVNZ making an in-kind contribution for promotion—trailer/promo and airtime—in return for getting the film for free. A Boosted campaign could generate funds for the filmmakers to use on marketing and promotion. Viewing statistics could be shared with NZFC so that they could gauge the film’s and the platform’s ability to deliver.
Of course, there’s no ROI here for NZFC, but does that really matter? Not if they fund these films 100% so there was no need to seek private investment. A budget cap for films of this type could make it feasible. This approach is probably suited to films that struggle to find commercial partners in distributors and sales agents or those who don’t want to go down the traditional path to market. But this doesn’t mean they don’t have an audience. It could well be niche, and there’s nothing wrong with that. OnDemand would find out.
Another approach to exhibition could be Transactional Video on Demand (TVOD). The New Zealand International Film Festival could provide its Online platform for NZ film TVOD, as it did for delivering films in the 2020 festival. This would essentially offer the same revenue generating experience as cinemas. The added advantages would be that NZIFF could clip the ticket, while distributors could be removed from the picture, increasing revenue flow back to the NZFC, investors and filmmakers.
Filmmakers who chose this path as their primary distribution channel should be able to access the NZFC Distribution and Marketing Fund to drive audiences to their film, with NZIFF opening its considerable database to them and providing additional marketing and promotion as theatres now do. Again, viewing statistics and other data could be made available so that marketing plans are adjusted and audience size and revenues determined.
A spin on the TVOD approach would be NZIFF Online becomes the Premium Video On Demand (PVOD) channel, in a Day and Date with New Zealand theatrical exhibition. Online revenue would likely have to be shared with the theatres, and a distributor would also be involved to get the film into cinemas (self-distribution an option, though), adding to the layers of revenue extraction on the way back to NZFC, investors and the filmmakers.
This approach is a revenue generating one and would likely have a sales agent already attached so international sales could help deliver an ROI. With NZ films struggling at the NZ Box Office, this I feel is a viable alternative to getting NZ audiences to watch NZ films. After the film has done it’s run using this approach, it could be put on TVNZ OnDemand so that it had an ongoing opportunity to get additional viewing.
What about the promotion of NZ culture you might well ask?
Well that doesn’t seem to be in the NZFC Act. It’s obviously a concern of MCH, though, and Section 18, Content of Films could be seen to cover it. But does significant New Zealand content equal New Zealand culture?
You’d hope so.