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BSS 2013: NZFC waves $3 million carrot

On the first day of the Big Screen Symposium, Graeme Mason announced a new NZFC business development initiative, which will deliver three-year infrastructure and development support for companies working to develop a slate of material, be it for cinema, TV and/or other screens.

The NZFC money supporting the scheme ($1 million a year for three years) will be offered to, probably, three or more companies. It’s something of an evolution of the previous Super PODs and Devolved Development Funds and draws upon similar successful schemes run elsewhere, including older schemes in the UK, and Australia’s much more recent Enterprise scheme.

Mason stressed that none of the money earmarked for the scheme will come from the NZFC production finance budgets, for either shorts or features. The money has come from reserves and other non-production budgets meaning business as usual for production funding alongside investments in the business side of telling stories.

Enterprise recipient Matchbox Pictures, which numbers Kiwi producers Helen Bowden and Helen Panckhurst among its principals, would be a prime example of the scheme’s success. The company has several TV and film projects in development, production and completed, including The Slap which aired on TV3 here. Matchbox is currently keeping Sam Neill busy on its upcoming ABC drama Old School.

The NZFC scheme’s aim is less about creating success for individual companies than helping to achieve greater sustainability in the industry – by raising the overall amount of work happening here. Government funding is a finite (and diminishing) resource; increasing the amount of private (especially international) investment in NZ-originated projects will be an important goal for the scheme’s successful applicants.

That goal sits well with the newly-formalised requirement for film projects accessing SPIF to secure a minimum of 10% of budget from non-government sources.

The scheme is as yet unnamed. Suggestions (preferably polite!) are welcome. Mason said at the BSS that the NZFC aims to publish information and invite applications in four weeks. He hopes successful applicants will be supported “by February next year, if not before”.

Mason was pleased to have got the scheme up before his departure to Australia, saying it was one of the things he was strongly committed to seeing happen as he believes the local industry is in need of a few game changers.

In reality, this won’t be a scheme for everybody, as there’ll be a limited number of people and groupings equipped to demonstrate an ability to deliver. Mason was clear that the scheme’s beneficiaries would not be put on life-support with further assistance at the end of three years. Either they deliver or they go away.

One group very ready to swing into action was the group that several months ago pitched a proposal that ran alongside NZFC’s early thinking for developing the scheme.

Libertine (formed by producers Richard Fletcher and Paul Davis with writer Neil Cross) was announced as the scheme’s first recipient.

Mason praised Fletcher, Davis and Cross for the amount of effort they’d put into the proposal for the scheme, saying that it was clear that Libertine was well down the road towards setting up an organisation that could build scale and ensure new screen projects. He also said that given this scheme could be a game-changer he wanted Libertine to be able to get underway now with up to two more strong proposals to be green lit within the next six months..

Fletcher and Davis also spoke at the announcement, offering a broad strokes overview of the company’s three-pronged plan. Libertine will generate NZ-originated projects, co-produce and offer production services for inbound productions.

The company already has in place first-look deals with a number of directors and producers, including Taika Waititi and KHF Media’s Emmy-winning team of David Stubbs and Thomas Robins. Producer partnerships announced are with Ainsley Gardiner, Chelsea Winstanley, Trevor Haysom and (actor and producer) Cliff Curtis.

Libertine also has in place non-exclusive arrangements with Rialto as an Australasian distributor and Tim Haslam’s Embankment Films as sales agent/distributor.

Libertine may also act as a production vehicle for some of Cross’ work. Fletcher and Cross have been developing an adaptation of Cross’ 2004 novel Always The Sun (with Cliff Curtis attached to direct) and an original low-budget horror, The Kill.

Libertine will open its doors on 1 September, although it intends to start small and build, rather than spring into being with a full slate of projects.

Fletcher and Davis both stressed that, while they weren’t looking for any specific genre of project, they would only be saying yes to projects with clear market potential. That potential would need to be international as well as domestic.

Coming together
For those contemplating making applications to the scheme, Mason stressed that a cornerstone criterion would be collaboration. No individual will have the necessary skill-set to fly solo, so a grouping of personnel and skills would be necessary. He also noted that, while presenting a solid business case would be part of the application, nobody need try to replicate Libertine’s model.

The BSS announcement certainly stirred up plenty of interest and activity, becoming the subject of many conversations over the remainder of the weekend. Initially, some frustration was expressed that the scheme had been announced without all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

That frustration didn’t stop people exploring alliances in preparation for making applications. Did those conversations founder because the scheme doesn’t yet have a name? Like hell they did.

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