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Speaker: Levelling the Playing Field

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  • Kumara Republic,

    On top of that, the Weinstein Bros are suing Warners for what appears to be Hollywood accounting practices. Sir PJ's been there before.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I hope we can find a way forward

    Got any ideas?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    On top of that, the Weinstein Bros are suing Warners for what appears to be Hollywood accounting practices.

    To be fair, and precise, the crux of this lawsuit appears to be over the interpretation of the language of a contract which further complicated the already tangled films rights in The Hobbit and its three sequels. Not quite the same thing as Jackson's dispute with New Line over *cough* how his profit participation was calculated. Whatever you think about Jackson, and he's not universally loved around here, it's just ridiculous that he spent several years litigating simply so an independent auditor could get access to the paperwork.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    This is an interesting and insightful article. Thanks.

    If I understand correctly, technology has meant that the costs of production have dropped massively. This has created opportunity for new entrants (which surely the cam-corder did a couple of decades ago) but the real kicker is that the distribution opportunities have expanded massively.

    That expansion can lead to large markets for niche products.

    Sounds like a dream for Kiwi creative businesses.

    But, there's a monetisation problem.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Don Christie,

    But, there’s a monetisation problem.

    A big one.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    A big one.

    and one many of us face, whether it's in software, journalism, the arts or music.

    I believe there is a role here for much more solid public financing of NZ content. I'm not much of a TV watcher but my view is the Māori TV is demonstrating just how well that model works.

    I have bought two "albums" recently. My first in e-format. Lorde and the truly excellent Pipi Pickers. http://pipipickers.bandcamp.com/ I can get all the music from both bands for free - at their instigation.

    Lorde is probably already doing reasonably well out of sales*, the Pickers...ask Nat.

    My rambling point is free availability to a mass market doesn't close off the opportunity to make money even though many of us (me) tend to oversimplify that opportunity.

    *I'm sure folks from the music industry will correct me on this assumption. But I bet *someone* is making plenty $s from Lorde's music.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand, in reply to Russell Brown,

    .... And the distribution problem, when film distribution and programming in NZ is dominated by Australian companies, or Australian-based affiliates of US distributors. There are around 9o+ independent/-art house cinemas in NZ (see a full listing on my site http://cinemasofnz.info) but they tend to operate on a uncoordinated, individual basis with distributors, and NZ films are not always favoured.
    I remember encountering the guys who made Netherwood (a decent local Western) when they were travelling around in a van in search of friendly cinema managers, and attempting to recruit patrons by running a BBQ outside the cinema,

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2560 posts Report Reply

  • bluebook,

    I'm offended I'm not worth a tax break. I am human. I've got bills to pay. My custom could do with a 10% tax rate too!

    auckland • Since Dec 2013 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Campbell Walker,

    Cheers, Jonathan, I know this conversation partly comes out of your own experiences as someone forced to self-fund in order to make work. Living in a similar (but smaller) boat a long way further down this particular river, I have always found some of the points you're making here to be not only self-evident, but of critical importance in understanding the problems we're facing in terms of the production of cinema in New Zealand.

    As someone who makes films in New Zealand, but deliberately exists outside of the film industry, I'm not sure I'm interested so much in the questions of whether we should have a substantial film industry that employs a lot of people. More salient to me was the original tweet, "personally i think the '$2bn income and jobs for 15 000' and 'telling our own stories' are almost entirely separate and unrelated issues".

    This is important. My experience is that New Zealand's cinema culture is very thin and very conservative, compared to, say, our music community. Our greatest strength is in technical ingenuity, but as a culture we lack the slightest sophistication around different possibilities of how films can be made.

    When I started making films in the late 90s, we made the first digital features here, and they were received very well by audiences and critics, and with hostility and condescension by the industry. In hindsight, the work we were doing was the visible start to what Jonathan is describing here as the devaluation of craft skills, and I would have liked to better appreciate at the time that people were alarmed.

    Certainly the first "wave" of digital features here (the Aro films directed by myself, Colin Hodson and Elric Kane & Alexander Greenhough, and the Auckland films made by Gregory King and Florian Habicht) were made by artists who placed more value on original ideas, the lateral use of technological and ontological possibilities, and an engagement with the history of cinema. Subsequently, the field became dominated and to an extent taken over by genre-heads, industry people looking for a new way to produce work and young filmmakers looking to make "calling-card" first features. These films tended to present a much more conservative filmmaking model.

    Certainly my understanding of making cinema was that the non-technical craft specialisations of filmmaking, like working with actors, and understanding how ideas like minimalism and duration effected an audience, were completely neglected here, but represented ways of capturing our culture for close and necessary examination without having to enter an industrial apparatus, and the strong and surprised responses we got from audiences backed that up.

    Of course, since the mid-2000s, even the minimal funding structures for digital art films were removed from Creative NZ and given to the Film Commission to make what I would typify as "international low-budget genre films", and this killed off a genuinely unique, developing mode of NZ cinema.

    Personally, I continue to make work, but all the structures I used to be able to use to fund and screen it have dissipated into the commercial, the complacent and the negative.

    CNZ has not only cancelled the Independent Filmmakers Fund after the Film Commission pulled their share of the funding, they've also cancelled the Media Arts category that moving image work was folded into. I haven't even looked at how they might fund work for a couple of years, because I just see it as counter-productive.

    I enjoyed great support in the past from the Film Festival. In line with the way that our present market-based political system hollows out cultural institutions, they are now in much less of a position to support work on a cultural basis alone, but rather are forced to select films that can return money to them.

    Because I see people who work on commercial cinema as endangering their ability to make work that is original, i have chosen to not attempt to work in the industry. Instead i do whatever i can to continue being someone who can make the work I see as important. A year selling insurance in a call centre a few years back contributed to a marriage break up and several years of depression, more recently i am now studying again, and living in the cheapest city in the country to live in. I'm nearing completion on my 5th feature, shot in Dunedin a couple years ago, for about $40. As always, its about New Zealand culture, it features some of what I would describe as my best work, and it was held up when someone broke into the house and stole a shitty laptop and a hard drive that had the film on it; no-budget filmmaking means you can't afford to make backups all the time. I'd like to be working on it now, but instead I'm firing off job applications to supermarkets and retail stores and going to the foodbank. But it'll get finished and a few hundred people will see it and i'll run into them years later and we'll talk about it. So life is pretty good, really.

    So, I guess I'm also in the category where I'm maybe a tad suspicious of exactly why we should have the particular species of subsidisation that promotes more than anything the lobbying skills of its representatives. Its great when people have work, and even from my radical artist's perspective I still believe in commercial moving-image making as being of community value. But, because of our political climate we still seem to be much more interested in the people at the top than the people working in making the actual work. The actual filmmakers and crews are often treated feudally and contemptuously, and expected to demean themselves along the way, with crowdsourcing as popularity contests and a culture that refuses to call anyone on their shit out of fear for their own revenue streams. This is clearly not the best way to foster and build work that can reflect anything but the most banal and standardised versions of our culture.
    (Sorry that was somewhat long)

    Dunedin • Since Dec 2013 • 14 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Don Christie,

    And our TV networks seem to suffer from a bad case of cargo cultism. How else to explain the overseas popularity of NZ-made shows like Wild South and Flight of the Conchords, when our TV networks didn't want to know about them first up?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell, in reply to Don Christie,

    That expansion can lead to large markets for niche products.Sounds like a dream for Kiwi creative businesses.But, there's a monetisation problem.

    Ah - product placement - there's the answer - we need to get the NZ tourism industry to kick in every time we show a mountain or a geyser or a lake ....

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2622 posts Report Reply

  • Jonathan King, in reply to Campbell Walker,

    Thanks for contributing, Campbell -- I think you're completely on the money (if not, as you mention, in the money) with everything you're saying.

    Since Sep 2010 • 185 posts Report Reply

  • Chaz Harris,

    I'll chime in here and say that as much as I'd like to tell some NZ stories one day, they would be passion projects not designed to make money and purely funded from profits off mainstream internationally appealing content I've made.

    I don't know how alone I am in this, but from where I sit - Peter Jackson's success with The Lord of the Rings has spawned a legion of Kiwi filmmakers and drawn others from around the world who aspire to that same goal of international success, from New Zealand. The problem is, there is absolutely no mechanism in this country right now to support that kind of commercial filmmaking - and because of that lack of foresight, we are now in this mess of dependency on subsidies and international shows.

    If there had been investment in developing the careers of filmmakers with a commercial mindset after Lord of the Rings then we would have a number of filmmakers like Peter Jackson now operating in the mid-budget space with a sense of loyalty to making their projects based here. However, what is now happening is those people are taking themselves and their projects offshore because London and LA actually have mechanisms and enough producers looking for those types of projects - NZ does not.

    Producers in this space need to have money to support the advanced development of these projects with things to spend time on budgeting, casting attachments etc. and the NZFC does not support commercially viable projects that have more chance of attracting international co-producers (largely because their legislation, operating structure and lack of commercial filmmaking experience on staff is prohibitive to this).

    The only solution in the short term is to raise the incentives to be attractive enough to be competitive and keep us in the game internationally and retain crews here - but SIMULTANEOUSLY we should be investing in the advanced stages of packaging commercial projects and helping New Zealand writers/directors to develop more of that IP which has an international audience. Once these projects get off the ground, made and hopefully generate some financial success - these very creatives can then become the kind of producers who are able to invest in advanced development of their own projects and others.

    It's fine for the NZFC to continue funding films in the cultural content arena, I don't dispute the importance of those kind of films being made, but there should be someone else handling the commercial end. We have the infrastructure and world-class crews and facilities to make Hollywood standard films and only when we prove to the rest of the world we have premium content to offer will the dependency on rebates no longer be the main part of the conversation. Until then, we have to compete or let the NZ industry die altogether and send everyone offshore to become successful.

    I left my job at Miramax 7 years ago and moved here from the UK because I could see the potential of NZ to be the next big place for global filmmaking. I could have stayed in London to make films there, but I've since learned and still believe New Zealand, and particularly Wellington, is the best place for me to do it. I still have hope that can be the case if the right decisions are made, but they must be made fast enough so that crew and content creators don't leave.

    There's my lengthy two cents ;)

    Wellington • Since Oct 2010 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    What is currently in place to develop the storytellers in our screen industry, as opposed to the crews?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    How else to explain the overseas popularity of NZ-made shows like Wild South and Flight of the Conchords, when our TV networks didn’t want to know about them first up?

    I don't know if Flight of the Conchords is a very good example because 1) it was created in collaboration with British multi-hyphenate James Bobbin for HBO (and drew heavily from a radio series they did for the Beeb), and, 2) 20/20 hindsight is a beautiful thing, but I'm not sure its terribly useful here. And let's be honest, there would have been a shitstorm of intergalactic proportions if NZ on Air has put a penny in a show set and shot in New York.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Lots to think about here. Really appreciate Jonathan and Campbell's take on the state of film-making in NZ. (Looking forward to seeking out some of your films.)
    It's a confusing time- it's never been so good (the technology is cheap and readily available- and distribution is almost frictionless), or so bad (money has dried up, and 'cinema culture' - at least as important- is thin on the ground.)
    Music is finding a way. Cinema will too. But it's unlikely to come out the other side the same critter.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    And let's be honest, there would have been a shitstorm of intergalactic proportions if NZ on Air has put a penny in a show set and shot in New York.

    I believe they did pitch a show to NZ TV before they went to NY. It was set in NY and shot there, because that's where they were. It would have been a different show in NZ, but would still have been funny.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2935 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    And let's be honest, there would have been a shitstorm of intergalactic proportions if NZ on Air has put a penny in a show set and shot in New York.

    It brings to mind the controversy over the CRTC refusing to classify Bryan Adams' Waking Up The Neighbours as Canadian content, due to the heavy involvement of British super-producer Mutt Lange. For the benefit of all, the CRTC ended up relaxing the rules slightly.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    John Barnett, writing in the Herald, lists the benefits of attracting offshore screen production but proposes a key change to the LBSPG scheme:

    But the Government could take a leaf out of the Australian/German/Canadian incentive schemes, where a portion of the incentive is only available to an actual locally domiciled producer.

    This creates local IP, and it also pushes local producers into the front line and turns them into sales people for New Zealand, not as price takers, but with a real tool in their kitbags.

    That producer comes to the negotiating table with the strength of being the conduit through which the rebate funding flows.

    This is a very strong hand and it means IP remains in New Zealand with that New Zealand domiciled producer. Once upon a time it may have been folly to suggest this, but given the reputation of our leading producers' the ability to bring money (the Rebate) in exchange for a piece of the profit, is not unrealistic.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I guess if a programme gets 0.5% of the US audience, it will bring in similar money to one that gets 50% of the NZ audience. So HBO can afford to fund things that are a lot more niche than TVNZ can?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    I guess if a programme gets 0.5% of the US audience, it will bring in similar money to one that gets 50% of the NZ audience. So HBO can afford to fund things that are a lot more niche than TVNZ can?

    HBO is in a different position in that it's a pay channel -- it's niche by design. I gather they took on the Conchords as part of a strategy to bring in younger viewers/subscribers, and Brett and Jemaine delivered handsomely. Although most Americans never saw the show, things like 'Business Time' spread into popular culture.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Sue,

    it's not just an issue NZ faces.
    In LA they have created a 'film Czar' to try and stop the flow of productions being made outside LA.
    Breaking Bad as an example filmed in Albuquerque because tax incentives offered were impossible to turn down.

    It's not a uniquely NZ problem

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 527 posts Report Reply

  • Ken Sparks, in reply to Sacha,

    A friend of mine in her early 20's has just completed the one year post grad scriptwriting course offered by the Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria Uni. She has found it challenging but stimulating and enjoyable and she was full of praise for Ken Duncum's input. It'll be really interesting to follow her progress from here on - I'll certainly be full of encouragement.

    Cox’s Creek • Since Apr 2011 • 60 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Campbell Walker,

    This is important. My experience is that New Zealand's cinema culture is very thin and very conservative, compared to, say, our music community. Our greatest strength is in technical ingenuity, but as a culture we lack the slightest sophistication around different possibilities of how films can be made.

    Made and shown. I chaired a discussion at the Big Screen Symposium earlier this year under the title 'Who Gives a Damn About New Zealand Film' and that was quite enlightening for me. It's not enough to just try and get local films a cinematic release, because that sometimes just results in the trauma of the miserable cinematic failure of films that haven't had a chance to create a buzz, or which were basically never going to work in a multiplex environment.

    Are there other ways to engage people, other screens, other forms of film or video that work better in the current environment? How do you get people excited about New Zealand film in the way that they are New Zealand music? How can you present the heritage of New Zealand film? Could you fill a venue for a night to watch Sleeping Dogs, or The Quiet Earth? Could you make it a party for people?

    Your comparison with music is well-made. And one thing that's happened with the changes in that sector is that form has changed along with format.Singles are important again. Albums that used to tediously fill a 70-minute CD have come back to the more natural-seeming length of a vinyl record. New revenue streams are emerging.

    Also, it seems clear to me that the success of Mount Zion was partly related to its use of music, which brought in an audience that might not otherwise venture to a small, local film.

    On the other hand, you have Roseanne Liang, two feature films under her belt, currently having the time of her life making Flat 3 in five-minute chunks. I dunno, are there potential solutions emerging in other territories?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    This just in:

    Innovative new projects to excite and engage online audiences

    13 December 2013
    Fresh support from NZ On Air’s Digital Media Fund will bring six innovative projects to online audiences.
    The latest funding round saw 61 applications to the Kickstart fund for transmedia projects and 54 applications for webseries. The applications were seeking a total investment of more than $20 million.
    “The applications for the Digital Media Fund, the only such fund in New Zealand, just keep getting better. This is clearly an area of growing demand, and where local content creators are thinking outside the square. We love the collaborations and innovations we are seeing in these digital projects,” said NZ On Air Chief Executive Jane Wrightson.
    Among the projects funded this round is Sign Ninja, a web-based interactive game for children to access and learn New Zealand sign language, which will receive $122,000.
    “We congratulate Deaf Aotearoa on coming up with this excellent idea to help children learn sign in a fun way. The project demonstrates the new possibilities the digital world opens up,” said Ms Wrightson.
    The second Kickstart project is Road Trip, an interactive docu-drama based on a road trip throughout New Zealand which will uncover New Zealand stories as suggested by audiences. Road Trip will receive $300,000.
    Four webseries will receive up to $100,000 each. Yeti is a comedy based on an outrageous, popular stage play. High Road 2 is a comedy about a burnt out rockstar DJ-ing a radio station in a caravan at Piha, which has already found a strong online following with its first series.
    Flat 3 will bring audiences a new series of this popular comedy, which follows the daily lives of three young Kiwi-Chinese women flatmates in Auckland. Outward Bound is a comedy webseries based on the renowned outdoor experience at Anakiwa.
    Funding details

    Road Trip – interactive docu-drama, KHF Media, $300,000
    Sign Ninja – web-based interactive game, Deaf Aotearoa, $122,000
    Yeti -comedy webseries, Semi-Professional, $100,000
    Flat3 Series 3 -comedy webseries, Flat3 Productions, $100,000
    High Road Series 2 – comedy webseries, Tomorrowland, $100,000
    Outward Bound – comedy webseries, Longline Productions, $100,000

    I see Ant Timpson has made some good points on Facebook about joining the dots – webseries don’t just get audiences by right. They need marketing.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

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