Trans-Tasman Friendship

I took some time off work a couple of weeks ago to go to a script development lab in Margaret River with a writer I am working with. There were six Australian writer or writer/directors and their producers there with their projects.

The Australian funding system for screen production is somewhat similar to ours, and the encounter highlighted that we share many of the same difficulties and issues in getting productions up while trying to make a living. For me, it was the first real opportunity to bond with Australian filmmakers, and I did.

The shared experience also extends to the Australian Directors Guild (ADG) and its efforts, and ours, in seeking to secure the financial wellbeing of its members.

A week earlier I paid a visit to Kingston Anderson, the head of the ADG in Sydney, to discuss matters of mutual interest, primarily the struggle to get directors rights recognized when it comes to authorship. The Copyright Act in both countries vests authorship primarily in producers, although Australian directors do have Moral Rights and can access retransmission royalties, which New Zealand directors do not and cannot.*

Just this week, DEGNZ came out in support of the ADG over the Express Dispute Resolution Process that was introduced by Screenrights, a body set up by the Australian government to distribute royalties collected primarily for audio-visual content use in the education sector and government.

If you read our press release, you would have seen that we supported the ADG position:

Under the EDRP, Screenrights makes two critical assumptions that clearly undermine directors’ entitlements to royalties:

  1. Against Australian directors ‐ Screenrights refuses to presume that Australian directors are entitled to retransmission royalties unless their share of entitlement is specifically set out in the contract. Meaning that many Australian directors may miss out on their fair share of royalty payments.
  2. Against foreign directors ‐ Screenrights refuses to recognise laws in other countries such as Europe and South America where directors have well‐established and clear legal entitlements to royalty payments. For example, if a Spanish film is aired in Australia on FOXTEL, the Spanish director’s royalties may now be paid incorrectly to the producer rather than the director.

Screenrights disputes these interpretations. However, the surfacing of this latest development serves to highlight what has been a bug bear for both guilds for some years—the Copyright Act in both countries legislates against our efforts to see directors fairly remunerated for their creative authorship. The Act is a real barrier to securing financial wellbeing for directors by accessing future revenues from their work—Producers are currently seen as the copyright owners and can therefore exploit the primary economic rights. And in reality the revenue generated by retransmission rights that Australian directors can access is minor.

I won’t bore you with any more dry explanation. Suffice it to say we are and will be working more closely with our Australian friends at the ADG on behalf of New Zealand directors. And I hope to be working more with Australian filmmakers. They’re all just like us, really—Not a bad lot.

*(The Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collecting Society (ASDACS) collects and distributes royalties on behalf of Australian and New Zealand directors, and every New Zealand director should be a member. It’s free and you may be entitled to royalties if they have been collected in countries where the director is recognised as author.)

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director