NZ Film Industry Needs Government Funding, Less Interference

Wellywood Sign

The Herald today carried an article telling us that, according to a review written by Peter Jackson and David Court, government funding is “critical” to the NZ film industry and that

“There is an obvious question: ‘Do we need the New Zealand Film Commission?’,” the report asked.

“The answer is unreserved: Yes,” it said.

“Movies showcasing New Zealand culture and character would be virtually impossible to make if we were to lose this critical funding provided by the Government and the State Lottery.

“We believe it is in every New Zealander’s interest to have a strong, successful film industry of which we can all be proud.” source

If this funding is so vital, why was the report delivered six months late? (maybe a clue may be found here – the commission had been “talking” to the film makers during the course of the review)

“Sir Peter has been working on the report for a long-time, and it was finally released today, six months behind schedule.”

Good job it wasn’t a film he was working on. Time is money in the film industry.

We’ve had a look at the report. (get a copy from the Box widget in the sidebar) which contains vast swathes of criticism and talked about an “Us and Them” attitude and a streak of vindictiveness in the culture with one producer saying that

They were taking such an adversarial role. You might expect that from a commercial partner but it wasn’t them, it was the Film Commission putting all the barriers in the way.’ ‘There’s almost an us and them attitude. It’s death to creativity.’ ‘There’s an us-and-them situation. They don’t see the realities or potential of the industry.’

People described an organization out of sync with the industry it serves. Several film makers said they were made to feel ‘as though we were in the way’, or even ‘as though in some way we were trying to cheat the Commission’. The toughness they encountered was beyond what they expected in their business dealings:

‘Hollywood can be very tough but they don’t treat you with the level of contempt that the Film Commission does.’

There is a feeling that increased creative interference results in less successful films. During the last few years, as many NZ films have lost their way at the box office:
Creative interference has expanded until now it resembles micro management.’

A number of people described the Commission as operating like a Hollywood studio but without the accountability of a studio – ‘without anyone having their job on the line’, as one producer put it.

The tone of these comments clearly indicates that a very real problem exists between the Commission and its client base. There is a not only a lack of trust; it would appear that both sides have lost respect for the other…”

It’s the most important thing in the business to create momentum. They shouldn’t resent that but they did – they tried to stop our momentum dead. It felt petty and vindictive but came out of a lack of understanding of how hard it is to generate momentum.’

‘There’s a streak of vindictiveness in the culture. They are so mired in the don’t-get-too-big-for-your-boots kiwi thing.’

Staff also need to understand that some of the people they’re dealing with are more experienced.’ ‘There’s often unclear decision-making. They don’t want to say no so they impose impossible conditions, then get caught out when the producer meets them. They have to be braver.’ ‘The Commission tends to use drafts as a way of avoiding decisions – if in doubt write another draft. It’s a momentum killer.’ ‘Their process has been about protecting jobs and the organisation and over time that has become their preoccupation…’

Sounds very much like a typical New Zealand workplace to us. This isn’t unique to the NZ Film Commission.

But are big bucks really necessary “to showcase New Zealand to the world”, does New Zealand want to be seen as nothing other than  a mythical Narina? It’s been done to death. Is the combination of the NZ landscape and CGI desirable these days and whose idea was it to include such scenes anyway? (I’m sure we all remember the tacky limbo sequences from The Lovely Bones)

Evidence that massive state funding isn’t always necessary is presented in the form of the low budget film noir, working title Toby Brennan, shot in Christchurch and The Insatiable Moon (see below)

Yes, Christchurch. Why? because the

“people are kinda quirky…It’s not a happy faces Disney story – that’s why we’re shooting it in winter when the weather’s a little volatile, the lightings a little darker and there’s a lot of clouds,” said the director Jay Mathews. “we’re not shooting here for it to be some mythical Narnia. This isn’t Idaho or Sweden or Czechoslovakia, we’re shooting Rangiora for Rangiora, Kaiapoi for Kaiapoi and Hagley Park for Hagley Park.”

We predict that Tourism NZ won’t be making too much about this film’s association with either NZ or Christchurch:

“Jay Mathews knew he was going to be in for an interesting time when he put out a casting call seeking people who considered themselves ‘freaks’ for the crime thriller he will soon be filming in North Canterbury.

“We had tattoos, piercings, people in wigs, lots and lots of ‘emos’ and a couple of transvestites I think, though I’m not sure about that,” said the US-based film maker…
New Zealand, he said, was selected because its winter provided volatile weather.  “We get a gloomy picture in winter, and that reflects what’s happening to the characters,” Mr Mathews said. “We picked this area because it is beautiful but also rugged. Kind of like the people here – they’re friendly, but there’s a hardness there.”

For an example of how frustrating it is dealing with the NZFC whilst trying to make a film in NZ read Mike Riddell’s blog The Insatiable Moon

“You might think that a film project which was an adaptation of a NZ novel, entirely set in NZ, starring one of NZ’s leading film actors, supported by an international cast which includes Timothy Spall, James Nesbitt and John Rhys Davies – not to mention award winning director Gillies Mackinnon – might be of interest to NZ’s primary film funding body. A film which has been 7 years in development, which has attracted a conditional offer of $1m from Screen West Midlands in the UK and another $1m in private equity – that sounds like it might be worth a second look.

But no. Not according to the NZ Film Commission, who yesterday informed us that they would not allow our funding application to go to the board for consideration It’s not that we have been tried and found wanting – we’re not even to be given the chance to present our case. Why, you might ask? The explanation provided is that they have changed the rules – something notified to us 2 days before the application cutoff date, and when a month’s work in preparing the application had been completed.

The requirements of a funding application include having a NZ distribution deal in place and a sales agent attached. We have been in negotiations for both, and assured NZFC that we would provide the documentation within the framework of 10 days before the board meeting – which the application guidelines say is the deadline for extra documents. But now the rules have changed, and there is no room for flexibility. Our application will not be heard. This is what we have come to expect from a box-ticking bureacracy which has forgotten what its statutory mandate is, let alone its reason for existence.

So, we who believe in this story and this film will press on. We will make it without assistance from NZFC, even though it is a NZ film. As they say in this industry, success is the best revenge. We will make a film which will shame the NZFC. And it will shoot in November, as we have always said.”

The film went on to be made with funds from private investors. It will premier at the NZ International Film Festival in Auckland on 17 July 2010 and be shown at the Toronto Film Festival before going on general release.