Posts

View from the Top banner

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

View from the Top banner

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

View from the Top banner

We’ve got the elections this year and that means everything is up in the air.

Simon Bridges says he’ll likely reverse the TVNZ-RNZ merger if National gets back into power.

The Film Industry Working Group’s recommendations around collective bargaining for the screen industry could go out the window.

NZ On Air could get an increase in funding… Or not.

There is some certainty in the media space, though. My predictions:

TVNZ will continue to lose money as long as it stays the way it is, no matter how good a job Kevin Kendrick does (and by all accounts he’s doing a good one).

TV3 will face the same uncertain future it has since it started in 1989, even with a new owner.

The NZ Screen Sector Strategy 2030 will… do something good, bad or indifferent (industry bets seem to be on either of the latter two at the moment).

NZ On Air will have a new CEO shortly—whether it’s a great opportunity for someone new to make a mark or a hospital pass will come clear by the end of 2020.

And the rest of the world, including Australia, will keep capitalising on the demand for internationally-focused TV drama produced locally.

At DEGNZ, it’s very much steady as she goes.

We have a strong board in place who are highly proactive around key issues for us and the industry.

Our focuses strategically will be copyright, collective bargaining legislation, post-production workflow and training, and keeping an eye on the vocational education work being done by various entities, which will get a lot of attention in 2020. There are, of course, always unexpected developments that need a response and we’ll stay alert to these as the need arises.

As a union now affiliated to the Council of Trade Unions, we will have an opportunity to sharpen our skills and knowledge with them in preparation for negotiations should the collective bargaining legislation go through.

We’ll continue to provide membership services including our professional development programme, thanks to the financial support of NZFC, the Vista Foundation, the Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collecting Society, accounting firm VCFO, and with the support of Resene, Event Cinemas, Rialto Cinemas, Dominion Law and Handy Training Online.

We’ll maintain our partnerships on various activities with the NZ Writers Guild, Equity NZ, SCGNZ, NZAPG, SPADA, WIFT, Ngā Aho Whakaari, NZCS and look to forge a relationship with the newly-formed PASC.

DEGNZ is committed as we always say to ‘the creative, cultural and financial well-being of New Zealand directors and editors’.

With the shake-ups in our domestic screen industry scene including more SVODs coming online, and on the international stage with Brexit, the U.S. elections, and the novel coronavirus, we hope that you will join with us as we head into what is undoubtedly going to be a tumultuous 2020.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

 

 

 

 

View from the Top banner

It has been a big year for DEGNZ and the Screen Industry.

At the Guild we have unionised, and we have recently been accepted by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) as an affiliate. We are now well poised to represent New Zealand directors and editors in negotiations over minimum rates and terms and conditions should the proposed legislation go through next year that will allow collective bargaining for contractors. There are a number of other key benefits to our unionising. We are much more closely aligned with the New Zealand Writers Guild and Equity New Zealand, both of who are also unions and affiliates of the CTU. As representatives of three of the four above-the-line creatives, we have many common interests when it comes to our relationships with producers. The CTU has experience, expertise and resources we can call upon. And internationally, we now have have equal status with the Directors Guild of America, the Directors Guild of Canada and the Australian Directors Guild, who are also labour unions.

DEGNZ became a founding member of the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Writers and Directors (AAPA) following DEGNZ’s attendance in May at the General Assembly of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) and the Executive Committee Meeting of Writers and Directors Worldwide (W & DW). This has already paid dividends with the Director General of CISAC Gadio Oron here last week to help us lobby the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Kris Faafoi and others over director’s copyright and fair remuneration for authors as the Copyright Act Review continues. Gadi is a lawyer and copyright expert and brings an important international perspective to the deliberations.

The Guild continues to input into the Film Industry Working Group (FIWG) as drafting of the proposed legislation to go to the House is finalised, and we have made considerable effort to put our views across as the NZ Screen Sector Strategy 2030 has gone about its work. DEGNZ board member Michael Duignan has played an important role with the Strategy as a member of its Facilitation Group.

DEGNZ worked closely with Equity as it updated its Guidelines for Nudity and Intimacy on Stage and Screen, and Guild board member and South Island representative Louise Leitch went through the full training conducted by UK Intimacy Coordinator Ita O’Brien on best practise guidelines for intimacy, simulated sex and nudity on set. Louise ran her first workshop for this in Christchurch in November, and we will look to her to continue this work so that all directors can have the opportunity to upskill in this critical area. As well, we maintain ongoing feedback to the Screen Women Action Group (SWAG) as it goes about its efforts to change the culture that enables bullying, harassment, discrimination and other abuses of power over women in the screen industry.

2019 was the third year we ran the Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator to help address the poor numbers of women directing feature films in New Zealand, and to help female directors advance their projects and careers. We have now seen 23 women go through the Incubator to date and there has been good progress:

  • One has made her first feature,
  • one has just received production finance for her first feature,
  • one has gone on to work regularly as a TV drama director
  • one has moved into directing commercials as she continues to pursue feature directing,
  • one has entered the Shortland Street Directors Programme,
  • one will direct her first TV drama on a U.S. series next year,
  • two have entered the NZ Advertising Producer Guild’s Female Commercial Director Mentorship Programme

and all the others are driving forward on their careers and projects. We still have a ways to go to address the inequities in the numbers of women having sustainable careers as directors, but we are making some headway.

We maintain an extensive professional development programme for directors and editors. In particular, we have honed in on post production workflow and assistant editors as this has proven to be a problematic area because of the technical knowledge and skill required to ensure projects run effectively and eficiently. Our work on this has been driven by our three editor board members Annie Collins, Francis Glenday and Margot Francis. These three are also shaping the  standard feature film editor agreement we plan to make available in the first quarter of 2020.

As we close out the year we have just learned that Minister Faafoi will not be making an announcement about the future of TVNZ and RNZ. We expect that the merger will go ahead but there is obviously a significant cost associated with this, and it will be on an annual basis, not a one-off. The article on the RNZ website today mooted the possibility of increased funding for NZ On Air. This would be welcomed by many, as would an increase in funding for NZFC who have far greater calls on monies than their budget allows for. We shall have to wait and see.

I want to thank the membership for their continued support of the Guild in 2019. DEGNZ is committed as our slogan says to the creative, financial and cultural wellbeing of New Zealand directors and editors. We have a dynamic board in President Howard Taylor, Vice President Louise Leitch, Treasurer Phil Gore, and board members Annie Collins, Michael Duignan, Margot Francis, Francis Glenday, Roseanne Liang, Robyn Paterson and Gabriel Reid who work voluntarily and tirelessly on our behalves and have been tremendous support to me throughout the year.

I also want to thank my Events and Marketing Manager Tema Pua and Accounts person Caroline Harrow who keep the Guild operations functioning smoothly.

Thanks also go to the other guilds and associations we have worked with across the year, whether it be in our workshops, seminars and networking and social functions, or on the bigger picture representations we have made such as the FIWG and Screen Sector Strategy. We are all in this together even though we may have different perspectives and positions.

Finally, I want to extend our gratitude to our core financial supporters the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ On Air,  Vista Foundation and the Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collection Society, without who we would not be able to deliver many of the services we do, and to our other sponsors accounting firm VCFO Group and Dominion Law.

Wishing you all a Meri Kirihimete and a Happy New Year for 2020!

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

View from the Top banner

Well it’s happening. The SVOD wars have really kicked off.

Apple TV+ debuted in New Zealand on 1 November with 14 original shows. Very much a tortoise approach from Apple, and you don’t have to pay for it for a year if you’ve bought an Apple product recently. Otherwise you’re up for $8.99/month.

Disney+ meanwhile will be off like a hare at the starting gates, launching more than 600 movies and shows from Day 1, being 12 November (19 Nov. in NZ). Expect every household in the country with kids to at least consider adding a subscription at $9.99/month.

NBCUniversal’s Peacock will soft launch in April 2020 with 15,000 hours of programming, while HBO Max comes online in May with more than 10,000 hours of programming.

Netflix is already feeling the heat.

FilmTake reports that Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in the U.S. since they started in 2011. It has likely reached saturation in the market, and we can expect to see the massive international growth of Netflix to slow or halt, or worse for them, decline.

We all thought Netflix was shaking the screen industry to its core, and it has. But it was primarily Google and Facebook that was impacting on New Zealand’s Free-to-Air market, taking advertising dollars away from TV screens.

The initial streaming entities in NZ did contribute to a decline in Free-to-Air viewership, but our Free-to-Air market was still holding up with significant numbers of New Zealanders continuing to watch mainstream TV. But is that going to be the case now with Disney+ and Apple+ in the market, together with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Neon, and Lightbox and with others to come?

You have to imagine that Neon and Lightbox are fretting about their continued existence, unless Neon has done a deal to retain HBO content and possibly keep HBO Max out of the NZ market. Spark-owned Lightbox will most likely be the first casualty unless their strategy has sport and other offerings in the wings. Spark has the All Blacks and cricket afterall. Unlike Peacock, who is mooted to pursue sport, news and live programming, Spark doesn’t have the programming and financial resources of NBC and Unversal to draw upon. It’s rumoured though that Lightbox is for sale. You’d need big cojones to step into that space , or cash+ and programming+. Streamers who don’t have studio majors and/or their parents as backers are really at a disadvantage. With Netflix now paying a premium to license shows because they are losing the content owned by their competitors, you can’t imagine our locally-owned streamers having deep enough pockets to play in the big leagues. And how much longer will our broadcasters be able to access the best of international product?

At TVNZ, Kevin Kendrick is focusing on more NZ content to differentiate its Free-to-Air and OnDemand brands and help to avoid the price wars on the international scene for programming. This is an area they are likely to be able to call their own, as we can’t expect the international SVODs to commission much here unless they are forced to as the Australians are seriously contemplating making them do. With reality TV to undoubtedly feature highly in the offering, is TVNZ really going to be able to keep NZ viewers in good numbers?

What about Three? Only the woman upstairs knows what’s going to happen there. The gossip: it’s going to be bought by… someone.

Kris Faafoi’s decision about what to do with the soon-to-be loss-making TVNZ and with public broadcasting becomes even more critical now.

And just as this is all happening, NZ On Air CEO Jane Wrightson resigns to become the new Retirement Commissioner.

Jane has done a fantastic job navigating NZ On Air through the tumultuous changes that have impacted on broadcasting in the 12 years she’s been at the helm. But has she been prescient?

In this now constantly changing screen industry world, we’ll undoubtedly find out if NZ On Air gets retired before Jane runs her course in her new job. We’ll certainly learn whether or not Netflix will survive. If you are a producer on a multi-year pay down schedule for the content you sold them, you are going to be hoping somebody will buy Netflix out rather than it going under. As of 30 September, Netflix reported US$12.43 billion in debt and they are adding to it to keep the originals and higher-priced acquisitions coming. That US$292 Netflix share price is definitely going to take a hit sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, hunker down and get binge watching. There’s going to be more than enough for everyone with one, two or three SVOD subscriptions… for a very long time.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director