Tag Archive for: Annie Murray

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I watched Loren Taylor’s directorial debut The Moon Is Upside Down the other night. For me, it’s a well-crafted film with quirky characters, very smart dialogue (both scripted and improvised), and comedy and depth in abundance, woven into an intriguing story.

It was a 125 film, being a film financed at $1.25 million through an initiative for female filmmakers instigated by former NZFC CEO Annabelle Sheehan, and funded as part of an initiative to celebrate New Zealand’s 125 years of universal suffrage.

This kind of film is extremely difficult to get financed these days. There are no A-list stars although Jemaine Clement, Rachel House, and now Robyn Malcolm who appear in the film amongst other stellar cast have excellent international profiles.

It’s a quintessentially Kiwi film with a very European sensibility—understandable when Loren cites Before the Rain by Macedonian director Milcho Manchevski and German director Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann amongst her inspirations.  It’s no wonder then that Moon was selected for the highly regarded Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia, where Loren won Best First Feature. But it wasn’t easy getting it produced.

One of the things that allowed the film to be made according to producer Philippa Campbell, who was in the Q & A after the screening, was that Moon didn’t have the typical NZFC requirement on it to have an international sales agent who was putting up some funding through a minimum guarantee.

Finding a sales agent willing to put up money today for a New Zealand film is a difficult thing to do. They don’t want drama unless you’ve got A-List international stars. And even then it can be tough. But they do want genre. Or something like a name director or an indigenous story, preferably with genre elements, that elevates the film above the myriad out there clamouring for funding. The international market is exceedingly tough for indie films, and all NZ films are considered indie, no matter the genre.

Moon is a genre film in that it’s categorised a comedy on IMDB, although it’s a comedy drama in my view as it’s a comedy with heart and soul, more akin to an art house film than something like the slapstick Cocaine Bear. And it’s in art-house film where NZ has excelled in the past, whether it’s Christine Jeff’s Rain, our last film to get into Cannes, or the high hopes held for the recent New Zealand – Australia coproduction Went Up The Hill, directed by ex-pat Kiwi Samuel Van Grinsven, which has been positioned as a horror/thriller with seemingly arthouse smackings. We have in the past, and do now, though, have genre chops, too.

NZFC CEO Annie Murray has praised Went Up The Hill as a film deserving of NZFC investment. She has said that NZFC won’t look just at box office potential when deciding to fund films—films with A-list festival potential are also worthy of NZFC funding. She’s also told us that market interest, being distributors and sales agents (and maybe streamers) who are willing to put up money because of potential commercial returns will have a key role in deciding which films get funded. And she’s highlighted the importance of audience eyeballs on our films. There’s a seeming dichotomy here, so I look forward to the funding model being revealed that allows for a breadth of New Zealand screen storytelling that can generate critical acclaim, box office success, or both.

In the meantime, I’ll relish the experience of having watched The Moon Is Upside Down, because it tells me at least that New Zealand film is alive and well.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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NZ On Air’s Where Are the Audiences Survey 2023 confirmed what previous reports have been warning of—the death of linear television in New Zealand. (WATA research here.)

Three telling points were highlighted in the document that attest to this:

• All traditional media continue to show consistently declining audiences, with TV no longer attracting the biggest audiences during its traditional peak time of 6-10.30pm.
• For the first time the study is showing significant declines in traditional media use among 60+ year olds, and 40-59 year olds are now at the cross-over point where digital media audiences overtake traditional media.
• 2023 also represents the cross-over point when New Zealanders overall start to spend more time using digital media than traditional media.

I’m in one of those older demographics, and I can tell you that I spend more time watching YouTube than I do watching broadcast TV.

If you look at the most popular channels, sites and stations graph, you can see that I’m one of the people who has in 2023 made YouTube the biggest attractor of New Zealand audiences each day at 44%, with Netflix sitting just behind at 42%. TVNZ 1 has gone from 48% in 2014 to 34%, while TVNZ 2 doesn’t even do well enough to get on the graph, at 11%–a death rattle if ever I’ve heard one. TV3 is the bottom player on the graph, going from 34% in 2014 to 17% this year. The rising TikTok sits two percentage points above at 19%. No wonder NZ On Air is throwing money at TikTok in pursuit of the elusive yoof audience.

New Zealand’s bastion of commercial TV media, our public broadcaster TVNZ, after a post -COVID advertising recovery under the canny watch of former CEO Kevin Kenrick, is in throes of its own. With a projected loss of $15.6 million in the 2023/2024 year due to slumping advertising revenue, the belts there are being severely tightened. Head of Drama and Scripted Comedy Steve Barr got the push under a restructure, and now Chief Transformation Officer Kate Calver (Slater) has left to take up the CEO role at Great Southern TV. A positive for TVNZ is that TVNZ+ on the NZ on Air graph has seen its audience reach grow from 14% in 2016 to 32% in 2023, sitting just under TVNZ 1. I think some acknowledgement for this needs to go to former TVNZ CEO Rick Ellis and his digital strategist Simon Aimer, who drove TVNZ into the digital era with their “Inspiring on Every Screen” strategy. With an interim CEO still in place after the departure of Simon Powell following the collapse of the RNZ – TVNZ merger, and a new chair in current NZFC Chair Alastair Carruthers, there’s undoubtedly more transformation to come in that balliwick.

Back at the NZFC ranch, Dana Youngman has been appointed Change Manager by new NZFC CEO Annie Murray, to bring about transformation that the filmish screen industry has been baying for, for years. Change there is also driven by the recent budget cuts NZFC has suffered or will face in the near future. We shall find out what comes in this space in the not-to-distant future, but for the time being we’ll just have to wait… like we’ve been doing since Annabelle Sheehan departed in 2021.

Competition has seen Netflix and some other streamers on the advertising-driven bandwagon for some time now. Netflix has just introduced title sponsorships and binge ads to its advertising offerings. At the same time, its subscription prices for their ad-carrying service and their ad-free service have gone up in the US and will soon in the UK, France, and undoubtedly elsewhere. It’s ironic when you think about it: you used to get advertising for nothing on Free to Air TV. Now you have to pay for it on advertising-carrying subscriber services.

Consolidation is coming in the streamer world is the catch cry we hear more and more these days. We are also being told that peak TV is over, with streamer budgets and commissioning shrinking. Not only has NZ completely missed the Golden Age of Television Drama globally, but it’s become increasingly harder for us to play catch up with the same old or decreasing domestic budgets–we shall see if the New Zealand Screen Production Rebate changes this.

Exacerbating the uncertainty for the NZ screen industry is the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. I’ve heard international productions are backed up, wanting to get into NZ to shoot. Yes, the writers are writing but nothing can be done without actors. The actors’ down-tools has gone past the 100-day mark with no real end in sight. Both the guilds and the studios while still talking do seem to be at considerable loggerheads.

I guess the only thing to do at this point is to smile and sing a little tune:

Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to
Problems that upset you, oh
Don’t you know
Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine…

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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It was close to a year that the NZ Film Commission was without a permanent CEO. That was resolved when Head of Sky Originals Annie Murray was announced as the new CEO, replacing David Strong. The response from the industry has been overwhelmingly positive. Annie comes from a lengthy background in TV commissioning at Sky, Whakaata Māori and TVNZ. It will be interesting to see how she adapts to the very different world of film and what that means for the greenlighting of features going forward. Every NZFC CEO brings their own take to what gets funded. David Strong wasn’t around long enough for us to find out what his was. With Annabelle Sheehan, it was Māori and female-driven projects to the fore. With Dave Gibson, it was essentially genre. Graham Mason was a mix of auteur and commercial. Annie will most likely and rightly shepherd more Māori and indigenous films into existence—They are repeatedly proving themselves at the box office, after all, and there are Ti Tiriti obligations. But it will be interesting to see what else gets across the line.

Another major hindrance for the screen industry was the lack of information about what was going to happen with the funding taken from NZ On Air and given to the cancelled ANZPM (TVNZ – RNZ) entity. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ statement that more would go to public media funding when the merger was called off was decidedly opaque. Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson didn’t provide any further clarity at the recent Ngā Aho Whakaari hui when he told everyone there that RNZ funding would be dealt with first and NZ On Air funding would become clear by June. Thankfully, last Thursday, Jackson revealed the funding for both entities, with NZ on Air getting all its funding back, plus a $10m increase for 2023/24 which will focus on reaching new audiences. NZ On Air has revised the strategy it put out when the money was taken away, but it’s still very much targeted to minority communities and under-represented voices. (New investment strategy here.) There was a collective sigh of relief, but frankly, we are only back to where we were before, but with a different strategy. We are still way behind the eight ball when it comes to the opportunities in the global screen industry. The golden age of TV drama has now reached its peak and is retracting, and NZ is still not participating in it while Australia is going great guns. Strategically in this area, we are either an ostrich with our head down a hole or a chicken running around headless.

The one ray of possible sunshine in the whole mess is the outcome of the New Zealand Screen Production Grant (NZSPG) review, which has also been going on for close to a year. The Hollywood studio lobbying group, the Australia-New Zealand Screen Association, put its best foot forward last week with the Sweet Tooth roadshow in Wellington, touting the positive economic impact of the production on the New Zealand screen industry. (See the report here.) This is another clear example of the benefit international production brings to New Zealand and the need for the international rebate to continue. However, what continues to be ignored is the opportunity to grow New Zealand talent, IP, and exports of it to global markets. Shows such as SPP’s Brokenwood Mysteries and a number of others from other production houses do find markets overseas, but the Government, their ministries, and our funding bodies aren’t doing enough to stimulate what is potentially a good revenue earner and a great cultural export. The SPG review, with the right outcome, could help change that. However, the industry’s collective voice on this seems to have fallen on deaf ears. I only hope that my pessimism about this is crushed by jubilant celebration when the review outcome is announced. Whenever the hell that is.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

The vocational education system for all industries is undergoing massive reform right now. It’s come at a time when the New Zealand screen industry has been suffering from a lack of experienced workers due to the high levels of domestic and international production going on in the country.

It has also brought to the fore concerns about the lack of real-world preparation of students by film schools and media courses at tertiary education facilities. The industry needs workers to hit the ground running and that’s just not happening with the current levels of haphazard training that’s going on.

In 2018, the Government launched the Education Work Programme. One of the four reviews undertaken was the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE), with the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) tasked with undertaking structural change.

Six Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) were established to assist with the structural change. The Screen Industry falls under Toi Mai, the WDC for Creative, Cultural, Recreation and Technology.

A small number of guilds including DEGNZ have together with WeCreate (former Copyright Council), the Council of Trade Unions and others been working to ensure that our WDC is getting the right input so that the resulting vocational education is fit-for-purpose for the screen industry. Recent appointments to Toi Mai reflect our efforts to have people with screen industry knowledge and experience involved:

  • Alice Shearman of the New Zealand Writers Guild as a screen union rep
  • Aliesha Staples, founder and CEO of Staples VR and a TVNZ board member
  • Annie Murray, Head of Sky Originals at Sky
  • Jana Rangooni, former General Manager Radio Live and Newsroom and Group Programme Director at Mediaworks
  • Rhonda Kite, previously owner of Kiwa Productions and audio post house Native Audio
  • Victoria Spackman, ex CEO of the Gibson Group

Right now, guilds and associations are mapping out career pathways to identify the skills needed for each individual role. Determinations will be made as to whether or not apprenticeships are suited to certain roles, while others may require trainees.

We will be involved in creating Skill Standards building to micro-credentials for new entrants coming into the industry. The overall outcome is to have a simple, efficient and appropriate vocational education delivered via the various educational providers. At the same time we seek an administration system that suits the very unique nature of project-based work that happens in the screen industry.

DEGNZ board member Annie Collins is now leading the work on behalf of DEGNZ, SPADA, SIGANZ, SMSG and NZWG, all of whom have been active in this space for the last two years or so. We are now going out to everyone in the screen industry to bring them up to speed with what’s happening.

RoVE is a massive undertaking that will impact on every industry in New Zealand. For the screen industry, we have undertaken this work so that it can develop and grow its capacity and capability to service productions well into the future with skilled workers who have the right education and training to make a positive contribution from Day One.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director