I was listening to an interview with British director and editor Ben Wheatley on a podcast the other day.

Wheatley in case you don’t know him is considered the new enfant terrible of British film.

He started out making videos for YouTube and got noticed, went on to create online content and then moved into TV comedy.

He wanted to know how he could get into feature film and was told he needed to make a short. Being impatient, Wheatley pooh poohed that idea and went straight to a feature. He shot his first one in eight days, drawing on his experience doing fast-turnaround TV and approaching it like shooting a documentary, going hand held. The result was Down Terrace, which was released in 2009. It was well received by critics and has an 85% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes. His second feature Kill List, which was shot in 12 days, marked Wheatley as a filmmaker to really watch. Wheatley has with the recent arrival of his latest feature Free Fire now made six feature films, nearly one a year—and the budgets have been getting bigger as has the star power—amongst others Tom Hiddleston in High Rise and Brie Larson in Free Fire.

Wheatley’s from the ‘Just Do It’ variety of filmmakers. He and his mates from outside the film industry (but in the production industry) got together to make Down Terrace, and they’ve been working with each other ever since. He’s trained himself as an editor as well as a director, and this editing experience and his TV training he says has helped him get the coverage he needs on his films and not more, as well as always making his day.

There’s a theory that says TV directors lack a voice and therefore can’t make a decent film. Wheatley’s disproven that as he has a highly distinctive filmmaking voice. And in expressing that voice he’s come up with a process and philosophy that he prescribes to. From amongst many of his thoughts on filmmaking, here are six Wheatley tips for aspiring filmmakers (with my paraphrasing):

  1. Create the Industry Around You—i.e. kick the doors down and don’t wait around for bureaucrats/permission.
  2. Acquire a Particular Set of Skills—if you want to be a good low-budget filmmaker, you need to understand the process and all the roles of production well to be efficient.
  3. . Keep It Small—the bigger the beast, the harder it is to wrangle.
  4. Your Actors Are Your Biggest Asset—great performances work anywhere, poor performances just don’t cut it.
  5. Chop It—get rid of what’s not good… brutally. And don’t be afraid to go against convention when you do.
  6. Don’t Be Precious—just make stuff, and learn from it.

Of course, there are a lot of people out there already with the ‘Just Do It’ approach. And many of them are making bad films because it takes more than an attitude to make a good film—it also requires talent. Which doesn’t mean to say that you can’t learn from your mistakes and get better as you go. Filmmaking however is an unforgiving beast, particularly when it comes to funders. You have a good chance of surviving self-funded flops, critically and box office wise, particularly if not many people have seen it and you’re not using one to promote your next project. Make a flop with a funding body however and you are going to find it hard to get another project up as a director.

Just do it? Yes, that philosophy has its merits. But if you can, make the first one good, and the next one better than the last. That way, you might be the next Ben Wheatley (or Taika Waititi).

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Last updated on 21 February 2018

Members of DEGNZ, SPADA and the Screen Composers Guild of NZ are warmly invited to our next Screenlink networking event on May 10!

Joining us is Department of Post’s Katie Hinsen who’ll be giving a short talk on how we need to be able to deliver to the world if we’re to stay sustainable as an industry and to keep telling our stories to the world.

We hope to see you there!


Screenlink Invite

Last updated on 9 April 2018

The Rehearsal Room with Michael Duignan – Auckland

The Rehearsal Room brings together professionals – actors and directors – in a safe, supportive environment to practise working with each other on scenes under the guidance of an experienced moderator.

Register on our event page to have your name in the draw to participate. For each event, 4 directors and 8 actors will be selected. If you are selected, we’ll email or phone you to confirm your participation.

When: Saturday 29 April 2017, 9:30am – 1:30pm

Where: Kingsland, Auckland

Register at: Eventbrite

Director registrations close: Friday 21 April

Actor registrations close: Wednesday 26 April

Cost: Free – Open to DEGNZ & Equity NZ members ONLY. 


Moderator – Michael Duignan

Michael is a writer/director creating film, television, commercials and photography. His short films have screened all around the world including the New York Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival and many others. His last short film Ten Thousand Days had its world premier at the Seattle Film Festival and was featured on Vimeo Staff Picks, Short Of The Week and Film Shortage. He has created TV commercials for clients like Mastercard, NRMA, Cadbury and Frucor. Michael has directed episodes of top rating and critically acclaimed shows The CultGo Girls and The Blue Rose which was nominated at the 2013 Monte Carlo TV festival alongside Breaking BadThe Killing and Homeland. His last project was Filthy Rich a brash outrageous multi-night drama for TVNZ. In 2015 he was awarded a writing residency at Studio One Toi Tu where he continued to develop a number of feature film projects.


Who is The Rehearsal Room for?

Professional actors and directors. It is open to Actors Equity and DEGNZ members of all levels of experience, from novices to virtuosos.


Directors will be asked to provide a two-character scene (2 pages) or, if you prefer, a scene will be provided for you. Directors and actors will receive scripts in advance.

Structure of the event

Directors and actors will spend time rehearsing their scenes, with emphasis on connection and content.

After morning tea, participants will block their scenes, before presenting them for shooting, followed by viewing and discussion. The shooting is a wide shot only, intended as a means to review performance, not for directors to direct camera. 

The Rehearsal Room is hosted by Directors & Editors Guild of New Zealand and the Equity Foundation, with financial support from New Zealand Film Commission.

Last updated on 26 February 2018

I try to stay up to date with what’s happening in the film and TV industry both at home and abroad by reading as many items and articles as I have time for. A few things have caught my attention in recent times that I would like to share with you. Some bode well for our industry while others take an in-depth look at the difficulties we face going forward, and how some are addressing them.

Firstly, news out of the Statistics Department has Gross screen revenue for the year increased 3 per cent to just over $3 billion with film production revenue doubling to more than $1 billion in 2016. Wellington revenue doubling to $644 million for the year, thanks no doubt to Peter Jackson and the myriad businesses that make up his empire. You can read more on this here.

Auckland can now look forward to an increased level of international production with the securing of the Kumeu studio site used to house Warner’s recent feature film production Meg, which was filmed there. A joint venture between Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development, The New Zealand Film Commission, Warners Bros and China’s Gravity Pictures, the Kumeu Film Studios will operate under a lease arrangement for the next 12 years. Warners made a considerable investment into buildings and two specialized water tanks for water filming—a major selling point for the studio. These legacy assets are already attracting considerable interest internationally and we can expect the studio to be well utilized, particularly if the two mooted new sound stages go ahead. You can learn more about the studio here.

Stephen Follows, a researcher and producer who digs up interesting facts and figures on a regular basis, took a look at the impending Writers Guild of America strike, of which I wrote on in my last column. Follows in his article looks at the numbers behind the possible strike here.

Screen Australia has an excellent blog that covers a wide range of topics. Recently they have done a four-part commercial analysis of the 94 films that Screen Australia has released. While it’s geared towards producers, everyone can learn from the facts that Screen Austalia uncovered here.

The impact of TV drama on the global screen industry has even caught the attention of the French, with Cannes introducing another market, this time for high-end TV drama. There is still politicking to be done around this with the French Government wading in, but Cannes Mayor David Lisnard and MipTV and Mipvom organiser Reed Midem have joined forces to try and ensure that Cannes remains the centre of screen festivals and markets. Info. on this here. It would seem we are going to be having a golden age of TV for some time to come in the drama space.

And finally, one piece of news that seems to have slipped quietly by without a lot of people noticing is that of Canada joining the European film funding body Eurimages. Canada is the first non-European country to do so, and becomes the 37th country to be able to access the approximately $32 million Eurimages contributes annually to around 60 coproductions. You can read about it here. In this time of shrinking funding for film, this would seem an astute move on Canada’s part.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Last updated on 21 February 2018

We held our most recent Rehearsal Room in Wellington and what a great day! Tandi Wright facilitated, beginning with a group warm up called ‘every actor’s worst nightmare’. This was followed by a discussion on the all important director-actor relationship and how to use character objectives to explore the potential of a scene.

Directors and actors then broke off into their groups to work on their individual scenes. Everyone enjoyed digging into the rehearsal process and coming back together to watch everyone’s scenes afterwards.


Last updated on 20 March 2020