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BSS 2016: NZFC casts the net wide

NZFC CEO Dave Gibson has recently returned from Toronto, where NZ and Canada signed an updated co-production treaty. Coincidentally, as Gibson was prepping for his Big Screen Symposium address, Auckland’s Kiwa Digital announced a co-pro with a Canadian company.

Part of Gibson’s address noted the success that the NZ Screen Production Grant is having attracting international productions to the country. Minutes before he was due to present, Gibson got clearance from LA to announce another feature that will make its way here.

Ava du Vernay’s Disney fantasy feature A Wrinkle in Time, starring Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey, will shoot here in early 2017. du Vernay cast Winfrey in her Martin Luther King biopic Selma, and has recently directed episodes of TV drama Queen Sugar for Winfrey’s OWN.

A Wrinkle in Time is the first US$100 million feature to be directed by a black woman, so its announcement was timely in a session that included some positive stats on industry diversity here in NZ.

The NZFC’s gender stats were surprising – not least to the NZFC when they came to put them together for the presentation. Gibson noted that over the last two years women have been receiving 50% of talent and professional development grants. “But,” he acknowledged, “we were expecting narrative features to be a tougher goal.”

Of projects approved for production funding in the year to July 2016, 70% had women as producers (up from 50% in the previous year), 50% had female writers (up from 17%) and 60% had female directors (up from 13%).

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“We have worked hard for these numbers,” Gibson said, “and made a number of conscious decisions. But even we are a bit stunned by these results.”

Gibson wasn’t complacent about the achievement, noting that the figures related to one year only. He also didn’t stop there, explaining other initiatives the NZFC was introducing to try to encourage more engagement with Pacific and Asian filmmakers, and with millennials – all of which demographics the NZFC reckons are under-represented in the industry.

Nodding to the BSS theme for this year, Playing With Risk, Gibson talked about the sort of projects the NZFC was encouraging and looking for – not specifically in terms of genre (although it’s no secret that miserable arthouse dramas are much less likely to get funded than they were five years ago), but in terms of approach.

“We know things go in cycles,” Leanne Saunders said in response to a question about what the NZFC was keen to support. “We’ve had a lot of good docos recently so the bar is high.”

“We’d be keen to see more family features,” Gibson said. Also looking for specific sorts of work are SPP and Vendetta, who recently opened a call for features targeting the older demographic. But rather than the what, Gibson was interested in the ideas.

Sharing some of the critics’ responses to Wilderpeople and Tickled, Gibson highlighted the terminology used… controversial, freakish, idiosyncratic, oddball, offbeat, quirky, unexpected, weird.

With risk comes reward. Both films, wildly different in genre, material, budget, are now in profit. Gibson noted Tickled’s return on investment “is one the highest we’ve seen”.

“Be more adventurous,” he urged. “Take more risks. Make something different. Obviously we can’t fund everything, but we’re not afraid of distinctive voices.”

While NZ On Air announced before and at BSS that it would be undertaking a total revamp of its own funding strategy, the NZFC is taking a more one-bite-at-a-time approach. Gibson announced a review of the Early Development Fund (EDF), and also introduced a forward-looking initiative, GPS 2026, to imagine what the industry might look like and should be doing a decade from now.

“We’re not coming at this with a predetermined outcome,” he said. “Over the next six months or so we want to try and expose you to three or four provocative speakers and presentations about the future.”

Gibson hoped the GPS 2026 conversation would address audience, reach, borderless consumption, platforms, diversity, innovation and technology, rainmakers and storytellers to name a few topics. He expected the guilds to play a significant role in the discussions, and hoped to be able to present the first GPS 2026 session as part of November’s SPADA Conference.

The NZFC team at this year's Big Screen Symposium

The NZFC team at this year’s Big Screen Symposium

Producer and production exec Defrim Isai, who’s doing the EDF review, will also help set up a new $200,000 development fund for VR, AR and gaming, which Gibson noted would be for developing stories and IP that could then seek finance. For the foreseeable future at least, the NZFC wouldn’t be getting into funding production in those areas.

For the unforeseeable future, the NZFC’s door is open to suggestions.

Gibson’s presentation is available in full here.

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