Yesterday’s Screen Industry Forum passed three resolutions designed to establish a pan-industry body and call on government to consult, then respond quickly to the issues facing the industry. The meeting was attended by over 400 people, according to organisers.
Media were excluded from the Forum. Given the industry’s willingness to conduct much of the campaign for solutions to current woes through the media – and Forum organisers’ stated desire to engage the wider public in support of the industry – it seemed a less than transparent approach, reminiscent of the meetings Equity conducted during The Hobbit dispute, although people present confirmed that there was no attempt to stifle views contrary to those of Forum organisers from being expressed.
According to today’s media release, “The vocal and passionate attendees came together from all parts of New Zealand voiced their concerns that the screen rebates were too low to be competitive, that the government’s call for more IP creation must be not be exclusive and to the detriment of attracting international screen productions.”
One panel member at the Auckland meeting offered an analysis of the government’s recent claim that incentives were not cost-effective, a claim at odds with independent research overseas (as Screen Hub noted last week).
The overall reaction by attendees was described as positive, with Auckland Actors’ Graham Dunster saying that people left the meeting “feeling that they had been listened to”.
Film Auckland’s Alex Lee echoed the view, saying that seeking “a facilitative, more embracing way for industry to communicate” was a worthy goal in an industry where many people work on their own or in very small groups much of the time.
Aside from delivering any social or warm and fuzzy benefits, the meeting was called to do some business: to pass resolutions calling for more actions.
The three resolutions passed by the meeting covered off the way forward that organisers wish to follow.
Following open discussion, the meeting made some amendments to the original wording proposed, with Moderator Rod Oram being praised by a number of attendees for his ability to quickly identify positive suggestions. With 400 people present, discussion around the wording of resolutions put the meeting at risk of fulfilling the old saw “the camel is an animal designed by committee”.
The spirit of the resolutions proposed was, however, preserved in the final wording.
A pan-screen industry structure will be formed that provides a unified voice on issues that strongly affect the industry (“the Pan Screen Group”). The aim of this group is to actively support a healthy and vibrant industry that contributes positively to the New Zealand economy.
Film Auckland Inc. will co-ordinate the first meeting of this group
There was some opposition expressed, both before and during the meeting, to it claiming a mandate to speak “on behalf of the industry”.
The decision to hold a single meeting, in Auckland, during the normal working day, was an issue for some. Yesterday, there were more people at work in Miramar than attended the Auckland meeting.
Representatives of another pan-industry grouping, SINZ – formed by a number of industry guilds – opposed the concept of the Pan Screen Group, although there was acknowledgement that SINZ represents guild members, by no means either a majority or representative cross-section of those who work in, or in support of, the screen sector.
That the Pan Screen Group shall seek an urgent meeting with government.
The group will advise the government that it is a pan industry group and therefore should be consulted, on all key matters regarding the New Zealand screen industry – domestic or international.
Any meeting of substance is unlikely to happen that urgently, since the group has to be established first. Having the Prime Minister jet off to Sri Lanka, for a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, as the Forum was taking place also wasn’t ideal, except possibly for John Key.
The LBSPG and PDV Grant should be increased to a level which will restore New Zealand’s international competitiveness with immediate effect.
The increased rate should apply for at least three years while a new strategy supporting “IP creation” including its funding, investment and infrastructure model is developed.
With no criticism intended of those who develop and hold IP locally, it is held by a small number of people.
In employment terms (or, if you prefer, “independent contracting terms”), the largest benefit often comes in the production associated with that IP, which needn’t – and often doesn’t – take place here. Pukeko Pictures, for example, does some of its production work on some of its shows in Asia; Lion Rock (Buzzy Bee) does the same. Beyond the screen industry, Fisher & Paykel is a shining example of how holding IP in NZ doesn’t retain manufacturing/production jobs.
With or without any NZ stake in the IP around a production made here, it does contribute to local production. At a recent Writers Room in Auckland, Leanne Pooley praised DOP Richard Bluck and his team for their work on Beyond the Edge – a team and kit that had just come off The Hobbit.
Bluck reiterated the point at yesterday’s meeting, noting that – without those large-scale inbound productions – both skills and the equipment used on them wouldn’t be available to local productions.
In simple terms, the more we practise, the better we get. However much IP is created and/or held here, the local industry is never going to provide the amount of work on a regular basis to make people that much better.
Government’s immediate response, courtesy of Minister Stephen Joyce on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, was not encouraging.
Saying that government had a number of options on the table to address the current issues, he warned, “A long-term very sizeable increase in incentives, which I think is what these groups will be seeking, is not the answer”.
There would be, he claimed, “a more intelligent way in which we can proceed”.
The statement won’t inspire great confidence since the industry would argue that (over four years and two reviews) there have been plenty of opportunities for government to find “intelligent” solutions.
What the industry got from the Screen Sector Review (SSR) was mostly ideologically-driven outcomes – which should have come as no surprise given that the criteria for the Jackson-Court review of the NZFC stated there’d be no new money made available to implement any recommendations it might put forward.
One attendee at yesterday’s Forum described government’s approach to the SSR as working in “an echo chamber”, unable or unwilling to absorb advice from outside the walls.
Government is currently engaging with Film NZ and the NZFC in its attempts to find solutions and, presumably, save some face if it does implement any changes. Ministers also met with Peter Jackson on Monday, who had dinner with the Prime Minister that evening, to discuss the situation.
We reached out to Wingnut for comment, but hasn’t received a response at time of publication.
While Jackson’s work and contribution to the industry have mostly found favour with government, and the Miramar cluster of companies is often praised for its successes, currently all is not well.
We understand that Stone Street Studios and Park Road Post both have very blank calendars for the next twelve months, beyond the remaining work on Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.
The problem is not only a lack of work from inbound productions accessing the Large Budget scheme. Pukeko Pictures could, apparently, have 100 people in work right now on TV production Thunderbirds – had the production not been turned down for SPIF after failing to satisfy local content criteria.
One of the options under consideration by government at present is a sliding scale of incentive rates, the higher of which would be available only to productions for which IP is held in NZ. That, presumably, wouldn’t help Pukeko achieve support for carrying out more production work here for Thunderbirds.
Jeff Szusterman’s speech to yesterday’s Forum (in full here) also noted the threat to industry of changes to immigration law and the high dollar.
Speaking from the floor, Labour MP Jacinda Arden confirmed that (if elected) a Labour government would raise incentive rates and lower the exchange rate. Those familiar with international finance markets would note that the mere election of a left-wing government commonly sees a country’s foreign exchange rate fall.
Earlier this week Ardern was giving Minister Finlayson a hard time about the state of the industry during Question Time. One of Finlayson’s responses, “We are concerned to see that there is a strong and vital screen production sector … and that it is protected from trade union thugs” led to a number of speakers from the floor light-heartedly identifying themselves as “thugs” at yesterday’s Forum.
At least, while the industry might have lost a considerable amount of work and income in the last year, its members have yet to lose their sense of humour.