Tag Archive for: NZFC

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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

Script to Screen announced the three films selected for the 2024 Kōpere Hou – Fresh Shorts fund. DEGANZ member and current Incubator participant Jo Luping is attached as director for the animated drama I Duok om I Bohuntung – The Owl and the Rainbow.

Kōpere Hou Fresh Shorts is a short film fund offering development resources and a grant of $30,000 per film from the NZ Film Commission. Across six weeks, the teams will participate in workshops and receive mentorships to refine their stories, visions, and production plans.

This year was particularly competitive, with 119 applications submitted for the grant.

Congratulations to Jo and the team! We look forward to watching I Duok om I Bohuntung – The Owl and the Rainbow when it is out.

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Greetings from DEGANZ for 2024!

Currently overseas on a personal trip and headed back as I write this. I’ve had a couple of goes at this op-ed but still felt I wasn’t getting the tone right.

As I reflect back on what has passed and what we face in 2024, it’s hard not to be pessimistic.

The global screen industry has undergone seismic shifts and continues to do so. These have long-term impacts for us as a domestic screen industry. Yet, we seem to move so slowly in adapting to those changes here in New Zealand that we are constantly forced to play catch-up. And we’re not catching up.

At the same time, we face a year of economic challenges that’s pushed Arts and Culture off the government agenda—with a government that doesn’t have an Arts and Culture policy.

The Minister of Finance has just announced the cuts expected across all ministries, including a 7.5% cut to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s spending. This on top of the belt-tightening that’s underway at the NZ Film Commission now.

NZFC has just released  a draft strategy for review. On the face of it, it seems to have some positives, but like all strategic plans that don’t outline concrete tactical objectives, it is widely open to interpretation. We shall have to wait and see. All the screen orgs are preparing their feedback now, including us.

At a certain level, there is ongoing funding available for domestic production, albeit at budgets that remain low across all genres in film and TV. At the same time in the last two years alone, the cost of living in New Zealand rose 7.4% in the 2021 – 2022 year, and 7.2% this last year.

Most directors and editors rates have moved little in the last 10 – 15 years. Crew rates meanwhile have increased with the introduction of the techos guild’s new rate card. While international productions can afford these rates, domestic productions are finding it difficult, particularly in film. This will worsen when the competition for crew increases. It’s clear that there aren’t going to be increases in funding for our funding bodies, so who’s going to pay? Or do we still expect everybody to do it for the love?

On the positive side, the NZ Screen Production Rebate for domestic TV productions now allows for both the rebate and funding body funding for all genres. But the requirement for a free-to-air broadcast either up front or at some point still significantly hinders our ability to capitalise on global opportunities.

Another positive is that international production shooting in New Zealand is on the up. That is good news, especially as our international rebate at 20 – 25% is no longer directly competitive with many other countries.

It’s also good that SPADA has finally woken up to the need for a levy on streamers. Many other countries already have them in place. The joint effort recently announced by SPADA and other international producer associations to drive streamer levies is encouraging. Read here.

I was always of the belief that with great change comes great opportunity. You only have to look at the Australian screen sector to see that’s true there—even with the lower number of streamer commissions there now, the Aussie industry is buoyant.

For us though more concerned with domestic NZ production, if our funding bodies and we don’t find other sources of revenue for making NZ films and programmes, sooner or later the question has to come: Are we going to continue to make a lot for a little, or are we going to fund things appropriately but at much smaller numbers?

2024 is not going to be easy for NZ’s domestic production sector, but there will undoubtedly be rays of hope amidst the gloom we are facing.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

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You’d have thought things might have settled after the COVID years. But, no, it’s still crazy. And what a year it’s been.

The long mooted merger of TVNZ and RNZ finally fell over.

The $60 million taken away from NZ On Air returned with an additional one-off $10 million.

The New Zealand Screen Production Grant, after months of uncertainty, while MBIE and MCH tried to figure out what to do, ultimately with a few tweaks became the NZ Screen Production Rebate.

New NZFC CEO Annie Murray replaced the missing-in-action David Strong and kicked off a major shake-up at the commish, appointing a Change Manager in Dana Youngman.

The writers’ and actors’ strikes in the U.S. that essentially paralysed Hollywood and shook up the global screen industry for half a year were resolved, with the actors’ membership just ratifying the deal.

We now have a three-party coalition government with Paul Goldsmith as Minister of Culture and Heritage, Melissa Lee as Minister of Media and Communications and Economic Development, and Brooke van Velden of the Act Party as the new Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety, from whence the Screen Industry Workers Act sprang.

DEGANZ became the talk of the town with its opposition to a British director directing ‘New Zealand’ film The Canyon, which tells the story of a woman who finds herself in peril traversing the Grand Canyon. It went ahead despite our protests.

And the television of unease that has been After The Party has concluded to rapturous acclaim. It seems our now eschewed, uniquely strange and dark film industry traits have permeated Kiwi telly to good effect.

Just some of the things making 2023 a momentous year. So what’s coming up in 2024?

I’m aware of at least four international productions arriving on our shores over the next few months, so if you are looking to hire experienced crew for a scripted production, good luck. If you are a graduating film school student or someone looking for a job change, however, a below-the-line crew job probably won’t come any easier.

A $6 million budget cut at NZFC doesn’t bode well for NZ film unless the board gets off its chuff and finds more money for the org. to make films with. Perhaps SPADA’s about turn on the idea of a streamer levy might inspire the NZFC board to look further than government coffers.

NZ On Air is full of enthusiasm about its role as a multi-party and gap financier for New Zealand productions with international finance partners and the opportunities that might bring, thanks to the Screen Sector Investment Review. Quite how this fits with its focus on making content for New Zealanders first and with a free-to-air remit is going to be an interesting watch.

Warner Bros. Discovery and SKY seem to be finding their mojo while TVNZ still seems a bit aimless with no replacement for former CEO Simon Powell in sight. How to make a commercially-driven,  public-broadcasting behemoth into a lean and fit, profitable fighting machine amidst a world of declining advertising revenues is going to be a herculean task for anyone in 2024.

As I’ve mentioned previously in this column, the international streamers are going to make you pay for the pleasure of watching advertising on their platforms. This seems to have inspired local streamer Neon to up its prices and announce the introduction of advertising. We’ll find out how Kiwis respond to that.

At the same time, the mad rush of streamers to make original content and own it is now on the downward slope, with licensing programming the new mantra. After ten years of peak TV drama internationally, we seem to be just finding our feet locally with shows like Far North and After The Party (two Premium Drama projects). As we never got in on the international streamer commissioning act except for the long ago Dark Tourist, licensing might prove to be our saviour.

At the Guild, we have a new board in place filled with enthusiasm for the work in the year ahead. There’s going to be a lot.

Undoubtedly, the changes coming at NZFC will not suit everyone, and there will be discussions to be had. The ever-changing marketplace for content brings both opportunities and challenges for our members and our industry that will require our attention. The need to remain financially viable in these tough economic times for everyone, demands our focus, too. Then of course there’s the new government and what that will mean for our industry. And once again, thanks to NZFC, we have a comprehensive professional development programme to roll out in the coming year.

It’s important though to take stock of where we are at right now.

We have improved membership numbers, though we still need more to help us do our work. We have good working relationships with the funding bodies and organisations that impact our sector. Collaboration with the other guilds and associations has grown over the last few years to a point where we communicate and cooperate effectively, even with our differences.

We have many dedicated people both on and off our board who give time, expertise and knowledge voluntarily—a special thank you from me and the organisation goes out to them.

Thanks also go to the New Zealand Film Commission, New Zealand On Air, the Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collection Society and Screenrights who have contributed financially to our operations and the work we did over the last year, and some, many years. While accounting firm VCFO, Resene Paints, and now Madman Entertainment make in-kind contributions or offer discounts or products that members can take advantage of.

I also wish to thank the staff who have helped me in 2023—Maddie Payne our Events and Marketing Manager, Izzi Hoskyn our Membership Coordinator, and our recently departed accounts person Caroline Harrow, who has seen the guild through three EDs in Anna Cahill, Fiona Copland and me across her 13 years working for us.

Things are crazy busy and will continue to be so for us here. We hope the same for you and that success will come with your mahi, however, it manifests itself.

We also hope that you find the time during the festive season to enjoy, rest and replenish your energy for 2024.

Ngā mihi o te wā

 

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