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BSS 2014: Shorts trimmed into new shape

NZFC CEO Dave Gibson’s address to this year’s BSS introduced some firm decisions, backed with varying amount of detail. All centred around one line in his speech, “You will have noticed this year our increasing emphasis on eyeballs on films”.

Dave Gibson

Dave Gibson presents at the 2014 BSS

It’s now clear how the NZFC will address short films going forward. The same is also true of low(er) budget features and a stronger emphasis on routes towards features. At the 2013 BSS Graeme Mason introduced what’s now known as the Business Development Scheme (BDS) and announced Libertine Pictures as the scheme’s first recipient. A little over a year on, three more companies were confirmed as joining that scheme.

This article addresses the changes announced around short films. Articles addressing low(er) budget features/pathways and the BDS will follow.

The headline decision was “there will be no more Premiere Shorts.”

It was hardly out of the blue, having been flagged as an idea under consideration soon after Gibson’s appointment. The decision saves the NZFC over $500,000 (six films at $90,000 a pop), not that the money is going to be taken away from production.

When the change was mooted earlier in the year, there was opposition to it. Some, not unexpectedly, came from those committed to promoting short film as an end in itself, rather than as a step or steps on the way to a feature: the Show Me Shorts festival, for example. The day following Gibson’s BSS presentation, Show Me Shorts said it “now largely support” the changes being implemented.

Some opposition was more nostalgic, centring around NZ’s international reputation for its short films (NZ being second only to the French in the number selected for Cannes, for example).

However, the rationale has long been that shorts were a pathway to features, even if that didn’t necessarily marry with the facts. There might be a lot of shorts accepted for Cannes, but how many of those filmmakers’ features followed in the shorts’ footsteps? How many have been accepted into any A list festival?

There were also other complaints around the ‘old’ system, not least that the NZFC wouldn’t support comedic or genre shorts because the agency itself wanted its funded shorts to receive that A list festival recognition. Cannes just doesn’t really have a sense of humour – at least not an intentional one – when it comes to its programming choices.

So, like it or not, Premiere Shorts is gone. Fresh 10 and Fresh 30 will continue and, indeed, the day before the BSS opened, the announcement of the Fresh Shorts 2014 funding was made.

Even at those lower budget levels, there are changes. 10 and 30 are no longer fixed numbers, although they will the numbers on offer most of the time. Going forward the NZFC will “occasionally grant an increased amount to a film when we believe it is warranted and will benefit the project”.

That $500,000 saved from Premiere Shorts will now be spent on Premiere Pathways, which is very definitely feature focused. Short films, proof of concept reels, scenes from a feature script, teaser trailers qualify for consideration, but the core of the application is a feature script the NZFC considers “substantially developed” – at second draft or more advanced.

There won’t be any requirement around that development having gone through the NZFC. There will be a requirement that Premiere Pathways money will bring the feature closer to production.

The exception will be for “highly-ranked and talented teams coming out of the 48HOURS competition”, who will have a fund they can apply to for early stage feature projects.

One thing to bear in mind: the commercial focus applies to where the NZFC money is coming from as well as where it’s going to. “Expect some movement,” Gibson counselled generally about where the NZFC is committing money. “Our plan is to push and pull.”

Approaches that prove successful will see their budgets grow, the money being taken away from approaches which aren’t delivering as hoped.”

Dave Gibson’s full speech to the BSS, give or take a few ad libs, is now posted on the NZFC website.

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