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.