The Cost of Screening

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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

 

Last updated on 1 February 2024