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BSS 2014: the NZFC’s BizDev Scheme

Launched at the BSS last year, the Business Development Scheme now has four companies contracted, with the intention underpinning the scheme being to grow the volume of work for the NZ industry.

Libertine were first out of the blocks last year, appropriately since they had in large part designed the scheme and proposed it to the NZFC. This year, NZFC CEO Dave Gibson announced that Libertine would be joined on the scheme by Matthew Metcalfe’s GFC Fighter Town; Gibson Group in association with Catherine Fitzgerald’s Blueskin and Steve Barr; and Field Theory, a new company that includes principals Philippa Campbell, Fiona Copland and Tim Sanders.

It’s fair to say that Libertine hasn’t been able to move as quickly as it originally hoped. A year ago its intentions included having a project into production by the end of the first of the three years which the scheme covers.

That hasn’t happened, although there has been progress. A few days before this year’s BSS, Libertine announced it had put scripts from Kristi Barnett and Nic Gorman into development as a result of its Big Break, the company’s “search for the writer of New Zealand’s next great movie” .

In May, separate from the Big Break, Libertine put its first feature, Urban Mermaids, into development with Pip Hall commissioned to write the screenplay.

Libertine also offers production services for inbound productions, and has entered into a joint venture with Australian company Prospero Pictures to produce TV shows here. The deal takes advantage of the increased incentive rates introduced in April under the NZ Screen Production Grant. Libertine also offers consultancy services around the NZSPG to inbound productions to assist those productions access the maximum rates of the incentive.

So, while not quite following Plan A, there’s been a good amount of activity.

Announcing the latest recipients of support under the scheme at the BSS, Gibson noted that it had originally been the intention to introduce a second round of BDS support during 2014 but that “is now highly unlikely, as we first want to see how successful the current groups are”.

The three new companies are all fairly quiet about their plans at present.

As he made clear in his BSS presentation on financing, Matthew Metcalfe’s preferred modus operandi is to keep his cards very close to his chest, not taking projects out of house until most of the development and packaging has been done and he’s ready to seek financial partners.

Field Theory’s Tim Sanders explained that the principals have been working together for the last six months and that their approach was very much about the total being more than the sum of its parts. He shared that the three principals all have fairly large slates (“possibly too large”) and that there would be two very direct benefits of combining forces.

One would be to introduce some rigour into their respective processes and provide a stiffer examination of ideas at an earlier stage of development. The other was to use the greater volume of projects to help even out reduce the feast and famine nature of spending years developing something that – even if it went into production – came and went fairly quickly.

The slate includes some “prestige features” but also a range of other material. Field theory would explore taking on some more bread and butter work in television, Sanders said. He noted that Field Theory expected to announce one or more projects heading to production within a year.

The Australian system of TV quotas guaranteed a volume of production not possible here, and much of the success claimed for the Australian scheme was based on TV productions rather than feature films.

For Gibson Group, CEO Victoria Spackman explained that the BDS allowed Gibson to formalise arrangements it had been developing with both Fitzgerald and Barr. Prior to Graeme Mason announcing his intention to leave the NZFC, Dave Gibson had announced that Gibson Group would apply for the BDS and had begun discussions with other parties including Fitzgerald about being part of that.

Spackman said the main benefits she expected to see from the BDS would be to grow ideas and the company more quickly, and to develop more overseas relationships and business. Combining the parties’ slates meant they already had some co-production projects in development with partners in the UK, Australia and Korea. Fitzgerald has Pokareare Ana, written by Michael Bennett, in Busan’s project market this week. Barr is busy honing the script for Tammy Davis’ debut feature Born to Dance.

Gibson Group will continue its interest, developed over some years, in getting up projects with Chinese partners, although Spackman acknowledged that genuine co-production opportunities with China were still few and far between.

They were “always looking for good ideas”, although probably nothing more with UK partners at present unless it was something very special. “We talk about wanting a ‘drop dead gorgeous’ film”, Spackman said. One feature on the slate is expected to close financing in the first half of next year and move into production in the second year of the BDS.

Gibson Group currently has three-part documentary Bullies in production for Prime, and a museum project on the go in El Paso, Texas. The project is a major interactive video wall display, based on the TouchCity™ tech behind the company’s award-winning Vaeggen exhibit for Copenhagen.

The NZ-deigned and built software and NZ-designed hardware underpins the display, to which the El Paso commissioners add content.

The scheme had a budget of $1 million, of which Libertine was awarded $1 million. Two of the newly-announced companies are contracted at $800,000, one at $600,000.

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