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Over the last two and a half months, we have been having educational evenings on the Screen Industry Workers Act (SIWA) across four sub-sectors:

  1. Advertising & Marketing Content
  2. Factual & Entertainment
  3. Scripted
  4. Film – Narrative & Documentary

Directors, editors, and assistant editors have been coming together to learn what the Act is about, how it affects them, what rights they have, don’t have, and could have, and what they can contribute to, allowing us to define the ‘claims’ (i.e. the minimum pay rates, terms, and conditions), which we will negotiate for in collective bargaining. Working groups are forming with four to six members in each, one for directors and one for editors, in each of the sub-sectors except for Film, which will have separate working groups for Narrative and Documentary. Each working group is led by a highly experienced practitioner in that sub-sector.

Up to the end of September, the working groups will be formulating thoughts, taking input, asking for feedback, and shaping potential claims, with the aim to put a draft set of claims in front of as many directors, editors, and assistant editors as possible within each of the sub-sectors. The feedback we receive on these draft claims we hope will allow us to settle on the final claims we will take into bargaining. We will also hold additional hui to update you on progress as we go.

We would like you to start interacting with the working group leaders/members in the sub-sectors that are relevant to you. We need to get as much input and feedback as possible to ensure that we are truly representing your interests and desires when it comes to helping determine the minimum pay rates, terms, and conditions that will govern your work once collective agreements are in place. Please contact me directly at the Guild to find out who is in the sub-sector that you wish to communicate with.

I would like to extend my thanks to the Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collecting Society for their financial support as we go through this entire process. ASDACS is a vital organisation that works with us to improve directors’ rights and remuneration and to administer the collection and disbursement of royalties due to directors for the screening of their work.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

In some ways, the story of how I got into the screen industry really shows my age.

While I’ve wanted to be involved in the film and TV world since age 14, when I snuck into a screening of Oliver Stone’s hyper-violent Natural Born Killers and subsequently had my mind blown by what I was seeing and feeling, I had never taken the plunge into the business due to…well let’s call it cultural pressure from family and community to not engage in ‘lowly’ arts industries. Indians become doctors, lawyers, accountants, not filmmakers. And despite the fact that I had had a decent break in the acting industry by age 21 when I got to play a featured villain on Xena: Warrior Princess, New Zealand’s acting scene in the 1990’s meant that roles for Indians were practically non-existent outside playing dairy-shop owners. Even theater was out of the question; these were still the days where even stage work was cast for largely around skin-tone ‘authenticity’.

Director Rajneel Singh on the Xena: Warrior Princess set / Photos: Supplied

I had given up by age 22, armed myself with a degree in Psychology (no, parents were not impressed by that) and decided to slug it out in the world of corporate IT. I did, however, keep up my hobbies and one of them was an interest in Chinese martial arts. My particular Kung Fu school, by sheer coincidence, had a flock of students who were junior stunt people and word got around the class that I had access to my father’s video camera and some editing software. So when you’ve got day-job money and free weekends, what does a frustrated creative person and a bunch of young stuntmen get up to? Zero budget, shot-on-handycam, Kung Fu shorts.

One year later, the shorts had become increasingly more polished, the filmmaker skills had started to emerge and the world was in the middle of Matrix-mania as the sequels to The Matrix were just around the corner. It’s the early 2000’s, so of course we all had the same dumb idea at the same time: we know Kung Fu. Let’s make a Matrix fan-film! Our most ambitious project to date, shot for a gigantic budget of $900 NZD over nine freezing cold winter nights, The Fanimatrix: Run Program was a 13 minute action extravaganza that we released online in 2003.

The film, hosted secretly on a server at Internet provider iHUG, became such a viral phenomenon that it caused bandwidth problems for the company and was downloaded over 3 million times in the buildup to the release of the actual Matrix sequels. It became the most widely seen short film in New Zealand history prior to the birth of YouTube and is still being distributed today as the world’s oldest, still running, torrent file.

That’s when the filmmaking bug sank its fangs and released its brain-altering poison into my bloodstream. I had to be a filmmaker.

I had to be a director.

I was fortunate enough, at the time, to have a fellow hobbyist filmmaker confront me and basically dared me to put up or shut up. He said he would subsidise my income for six months if I quit my nice, comfy, corporate IT job and pursued filmmaking full-time. Specifically a job I had stumbled upon – from the popularity of The Fanimatrix – as a behind-the-scenes camera-operator on the Back of the Y feature film called The Devil Dared Me To. Terrified, but knowing it was now or never, I took the plunge into the film industry at the very late age of 26. Yes, still lying to my parents the whole time and insisting I was working in the IT world.

Director Rajneel Singh on set / Photo: Supplied

Working on that film and seeing the process gave me the confidence to chase the idea of doing something more legitimate and I had come across a short story – a parody of Reservoir Dogs – about fairytales that I had really wanted to make. Before the age of Kickstarter, myself and my producer friends went to every single person we knew and crowdfunded $13K NZD to produce a short film that became known as Big Bad Wolves. Shot on video, but with very high-end production values for the time and budget, one of the actors in the film was a producer at a post-production company and offered me a job as a junior offline editor. My first paying gig and a job that I did for over 4 years at his post facility while dabbling in directing TVCs, music videos, short films and filling out hundreds upon hundreds of funding applications.

Forbidden by family and culture, corrupted by youthful Kung Fu shenanigans, elevated by a Matrix fan-film and a Quentin Tarantino parody, there really are no two identical paths into this business nor really any identical paths to success.

That’s my story.

Oh yeah. One more thing. Years later I found out from Barrie Osborne that the Wachowskis absolutely loved The Fanimatrix and that it’s their all-time favourite fan-film.

This business is weird, man.

 


About Rajneel Singh

Rajneel made his directing debut with 2003 fan short The Fanimatrix: Run Program, which was downloaded millions of times in the age before YouTube. He followed it with Reservoir Dogs meets fairytale Big Bad Wolves. In 2010 his film Blank Spaces was one of five short films chosen for a Tourism NZ ‘Your Big Break’ competition. Rajneel is also part of directing duo The Unkindness.

How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out.

I’m 18, with frosted tips, earnest to a fault, about to graduate South Seas Film & TV School. I post out my CV to every production company I can find: nobody bites. (Though, I did send it with a bar of soap wrapped in 16mm film and the opening line, “You don’t know me from a bar of soap…” *double cringe*).

Then one of my tutors puts me in touch with a graduate student who is working on The Lord of the Rings, shout out to Dan Story! Dan takes my CV to the production manager, Brigitte Yorke. While unimpressed with the soap, Brigitte, an alumnus of South Seas, appreciates my grades and hires me as a runner for two weeks. I martyr myself to the job. Changing lightbulbs, making coffee, spilling coffee, wearing my studio-issued ID like an Olympic medal. Two weeks turns into two months, and before I know it, I’m off to Wellywood, leaving behind my hometown in the Tron.

I quickly learn the magical business of show business can be a high stakes, lawless place, and I’m sucked into the pressure, the hierarchy, the people. It’s intense, intoxicating, compulsive… a wild west of bullshit, politics, nepotism, sexism, slave drivers. And I bloody love it. Because when you finally see your name roll up in the credits, it’s suddenly all worth it. Addicted, I jumped from one film to the next… King Kong, The Water Horse, The Lovely Bones, Avatar, The Hobbit… going from runner to driver to cast PA. Watching. Learning. It wasn’t until I became James Cameron’s driver, 8 years after leaving film school, that I decided I had to tell my own stories. I quit James and made my first short film… and then the next one, and the one after that.

One day, producer Katie Millington saw my short Darryn Exists and took a punt hiring me, believing I could learn how to direct commercials. I moved to Auckland, but had nothing to show for myself, and advertising people want you to prove you can tell a story in 30 seconds or less. So I self-funded a couple of ‘spec ads’ to build a showreel for myself. This got me my first job directing a TV commercial. I guess things snowballed from there, but not without the loving mentorship I’ve received from great people and places along the way.

Director Jamie Lawrence on set / Photo: Supplied

Looking back, it really does feel like a collision of passion and opportunity that got me into (and keeps me in) the industry. Thank you South Seas, thank you Dan, thank you Brigitte, thank you James, thank you Katie.

It can be a long road, so when it comes to weathering the storm, the things I tell myself:

Turn away from rejection, towards something you love. I’m quick to go on the offensive, taking shit personally. But actually, the truth is sometimes it’s them, not you. If I lose a job to another director, I reframe it in my mind like an actor that loses the role to somebody more “quirky looking” and “on brief”, while I must be too handsome for the part. Then I lock myself in my room and write my screenplay. This way, I not only ‘bounce back’ from the setback, I also have something to ‘bounce to’.

Phone a friend. Nurture these relationships and connections because they are a wellspring to refuel from when you’re in the eye of the storm. Having a cup of tea/gin with a mate toughens/loosens me up every time.

You can say ‘no’. It’s human rights. Sometimes you can’t afford to turn down an opportunity. And sometimes you can’t afford not to. It’s okay to say ‘no’. For better or worse. It can be bad for business (ask my producer or my husband) but it also makes room for other important stuff. I’ve made a list of deal breakers that match my values – a way to measure a job and decide if it’s something I want to do. Yes… it’s idealistic, probably unsustainable, and sometimes I get a nosebleed on my high horse. But it’s not as bad as doing something I hate.

Good luck out there. Thanks for reading.

 


About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie is a director who has balanced short films with a career directing commercials. His debut short in 2008, Somewhere Only We Know, showed he could tell a story without any dialogue at all. Follow up short comedy Darryn Exists debuted in the NZIFF, and got an Honourable Mention at the Oscar-Qualifying Nashville Film Festival. Jamie has received a NYC Film Academy scholarship, a DEGANZ Director’s Attachment, and a Script to Screen FilmUp mentorship. As a commercials director, he has ranked in Best Ad’s top 10 Kiwi directors, and has received nominations for the Emerging Talent Award and multiple Best Direction Awards at the CAANZ Axis Awards.

mrjamielawrence.com

How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out. Get in touch with admin@deganz.co.nz if you’re a member and would like to share your story.

I should preface by saying that I never planned to be working in the film and television industry. The honest truth is that when I finished school and decided to go to university, Film and Television papers seemed like a fun choice in amongst English, Sociology, Philosophy, and Art History. As it turned out, the Film and Television papers were the most engaging and fun, and that drove me into doing a Masters in Creative and Performing Arts, specialising in writing and directing for film. After graduation, my first paying gig in the industry was a small assistant editor role through one of my tutors. She connected me with a post-production supervisor who was helping facilitate a short film cutting from his house. It was exciting to be working on something film-related and I got paid a sweet $100.

Meanwhile, another contact through the same tutor, got in touch looking for an assistant editor on a children’s television drama. This would be my first dip into a longer form of drama, as well as a show that had quite a few VFX to contend with. It was at this point that I really began to get hooked into post-production. Even though pickings can sometimes be slim in our industry, I made the conscious decision to only do drama work which is where my passion lay. I was in a position in my life where I had very little financial out-goings and personal commitments so I let myself be open to opportunities, even if they weren’t my original plan. I was in no hurry to make the leap into editing and was hungry to get as much experience as I could.

Editor Jochen FitzHerbert editing Emmy Award-winning series ‘INSiDE’ from his home / Photo: Supplied

It was about five years of assisting work before my break into editing happened. I had assisted on a couple seasons of Power Rangers and one of the regular editors was starting back late due to a scheduling conflict. The returning producer offered me those blocks and I made the quick decision to make the official move to being an editor. Power Rangers was a great first show to cut as I was familiar with it from my assisting time there, but also it had the resources to have a big post team and manageable schedule.

The jump from assistant to editor is one of the trickiest things to manoeuvre. You forge a career as an assistant and work with a bunch of people around town, building a reputation only to have to turn on that and say that you are not that thing any more. Work can be slow in this transitional period but if you dig around enough there are little jobs you can flex your muscles on like low-budget web series or assemble editing.

As the Power Rangers season was finishing, Spartacus started shooting in Auckland. No, I did not get hired for Spartacus, but a lot of great local editors did which meant there was a gap in the industry. It was a perfect storm where the industry was booming and everyone was busy so there was room for people to step up. One of the directors I had just worked with on Power Rangers was going onto one of the said local dramas and he thankfully took me with him. From here, I felt I had my foot in the door.

My advice to anyone starting out now is don’t feel like you have to hurry. Make every job a learning experience and forge lasting connections with people you work with. You never know where or who your next job might come from.

 


About Jochen FitzHerbert

Jochen is an award-winning film and television editor with a long list of credits including Creamerie, Mystic, Power Rangers and The Gulf, for which he won an NZTV Award for Best Editing in a Drama in 2020. He also edited the international Emmy winning series INSiDE, which also won him a Webfest Award for Best Editing.

jochenfitzherbert.com

How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out. Get in touch with admin@deganz.co.nz if you’re a member and would like to share your story.