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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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If you do a search on the Interweb, one of the definitions of a disruptor in business reads:

To be a disruptor is to create a product, service, or way of doing things which displaces the existing market leaders and eventually replaces them at the helm of the sector. Disruptors are generally entrepreneurs, outsiders, and idealists rather than industry insiders or market specialists.

Netflix is a great example of a disruptor. It started as a DVD rental company posting DVDs to customers before becoming the first major streamer. It now dominates screen content creation, delivery and the Hollywood studios globally. How long it maintains that dominant position remains to be seen—it’s certainly the hare among the tortoises. But those tortoises are weighed down by money and muscle through their parent entities as much by hard and relatively inflexible exteriors and slow-moving parts.

I’d posit though that COVID-19 is the ultimate disruptor. It’s creating dramatic change in the way of doing things that even if we overcome it with a vaccine, it has wrought such rapid transformation to business that just a year ago we would have considered inconceivable. We can see that transformation occurring right now, in the screen industry, in New Zealand. Anyone who watched the NZFC/NZ On Air/TMP webinar this week on the Premium Production for International Audience Fund saw an example of it in action.

In the Screen Sector Strategy, one of the ten initiatives in the short-term plan is to work with the Government to modernise the regulation that shapes the sector. I can tell you after two and a half years of working on the Copyright Act Review with Government and at least another year of work ahead, my expectations of quickly modernising the regulation that shapes the sector was not great.

Like the studios, our screen bureaucracy and Government around it is a cumbersome beast, pretty resistant to significant change. Note how we’ve sat on the sidelines as the Golden Age of Television reshaped the global screen industry. Or Netflix changed the screen content business model for creation, distribution, revenue flows and ownership. Or a commercially driven public broadcaster became a loss-making entity with a still-beating commercial heart and a decidedly permanent-looking hand in the taxpayer pocket.

But then COVID.

Now our screen bureaucracy is moving it’s stumpy little legs so fast in COVID recovery mode we are seeing changes mooted for rapid implementation or in place that in the old normal would have taken forever to bring about.

Such as in the Premium Production Fund:

• allowing productions to access NZ On Air funding and the New Zealand Screen Production Grant for drama.
• permitting productions to have no minimum level of Aotearoa New Zealand content.
• Requiring only a minimum level of private international investment for eligibility set at 10% of a production’s total value for TV.
• Doing away with the need for an NZ Free-to-Air broadcaster to get across the line.

Or in the COVID 19 Policy for the NZFC Terms of Trade for films under $2.5 million:

• dispensing with the requirement to have a distributor AND sales agent
• doing away with the need for an NZ theatrical release
• allowing a VOD platform as a distribution partner

I’m not sure if we are ever going to catch the hare, but I can certainly feel my hair—now longer due to COVID—getting ruffled with the winds of change.

Bring on the NZ Broadcasting Act and NZ Film Commission Act reform.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director