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BSS 2012: looking forward

Script to Screen’s monthly Writers Room picked up on themes from its recent Big Screen Symposium, holding a discussion evening around ideas for ways forward for the local industry.

Kathryn Burnett moderated, panellists pitched suggestions, discussion groups chewed them over and everybody shared – sharing being an ongoing theme through the evening.

The Symposium itself created a good buzz, certainly in Auckland and hopefully beyond, so it was positive to see that energy being directed into something beyond the usual end-of-conference mutterings about ‘we should do something about that’.

The panellists were director Rob Sarkies, producer Leanne Saunders, and Script to Screen’s Matt Horrocks and Esther Cahill-Chiaroni. The suggestions around which discussion groups formed were some form of hub for professionals, some form of aggregated content and project hub, the never-ending hunt for money, and some form of incubation scheme.

The nature of the evening was one of brainstorming, so few filters were in place when it came to tipping out thoughts and ideas.

Sarkies introduced the incubation idea, its underlying premise being that we want to change things (“things” being everything from trying to get a film made to trying to get a film to market here or overseas, to trying not to go broke in the process).

Sarkies argued that change needed to start at script level, and suggested some NZFC funding (the equivalent of an Escalator project, c$250,000), be earmarked for six scripts whose sole aim was “to tell a great story” without the constraints of audience or market justification.

Referencing Keith Thompson’s description at BSS of his process as a script editor, Sarkies said – with his writer hat on – it sounded appealing. Later on, reference was also made to Rolf de Heer’s work and recent NZIFF film Beasts of the Southern Wild, both offered as examples of films that are conceived as ideas, then made for what funders believe the market will bear – rather than the approach of “it costs $X to make this film, regardless of its market potential.”

When it came to the prospects for a film, there was a natural spillover into the territory Saunders was covering. Also referencing a BSS speaker, this time Ted Hope, she opened by suggesting everybody (but especially producers) should “start to look outwards rather than compete inwards.”

She offered a number of bullet-point suggestions including … make more effort to get films into project markets; to aim for 20% of project funding to be non-NZFC or NZFC-administered money; to present projects to at least 10 international sales agents and not automatically choose NZFilm as the sales agency; and that our ideas and IP are our most valuable asset.

Horrocks put forward the “hub” idea, in whatever form it might take, as a place for exchange of ideas and information between professionals working in the industry, which might extend its activities into contributing to policy.

Cahill-Chiaroni also proposed a hub, one more focused on building audiences for NZ films from idea to completion, “a bit like NZ On Screen but looking forward not back,” the idea behind it being to help filmmakers avoid reinventing the wheel for each film and perhaps offer support services for projects from initial building of communities in the early stages of films’ development – basically from whatever point filmmakers want to start engaging with the potential audience – right through to distribution.

Following the discussion groups, suggestions to refine and implement the ideas were presented. A quick show of hands to rank the ideas in order of preference gave top priority (perhaps unsurprisingly) to finding more money, although implementing strategies to support that might be one of the more resource-intensive ways to go.

In the meantime, Script to Screen’s next board meeting will consider the idea of an online presence that’s audience-focused, how it might be developed and whether Script to Screen could or should do it.

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