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BSS2017: Dave Gibson on change

Dave Gibson’s final address to the BSS, at least as CEO of the NZFC, was reflective and hopeful.

Gibson looked back on events within and without the NZFC during his time at the helm of the Commission. Overall, apart from some specific and ongoing initiatives, he claimed some successes for the Commission and the filmmaking community in recent years, but urged the community to continue to make efforts to improve.

Arriving in the job after the painful year for the industry that was 2013, Gibson was in post when the government eventually made changes to the incentive scheme which have generated plenty of inbound work in the last few years. That was not a part of his speech, but the benefits the industry derived from that change were.

Auckland’s industry infrastructure is improving with the ongoing development of facilities in Kumeu, little of it being paid for by taxpayers. More people in the industry are working more regularly. Gibson revisited a theme he’s touched on previously: that the industry might speak with many voices (and in the days of diversity that’s pretty much a requirement not a preference), but those voices should be telling one story about the industry and the benefits a healthy industry delivers.

This country might now have internationally competitive incentives – even if the Canary Islands did announce a 40% headline rate shortly before Gibson took to the BSS stage. The incentives here have contributed significantly to the successes the industry has enjoyed in recent years.

But NZ might not have those rates forever – especially under any government where Winston (I don’t care where, as long as I’m Deputy PM) Peters has influence.

Parts of the NZ industry have enjoyed other successes as well as increased volume in recent years. In recent years the NZFC has focused on creating more and better opportunities for women, raising participation rates as writer, producer and director on funded projects to 50% or better.

While Gibson didn’t revisit those numbers specifically, he did note an expansion of the Commission’s intention to see female filmmakers better supported.

Going forward, the NZFC will encourage recipients of devolved funding to fund half of their projects with women writers and directors. Internally, the NZFC has set goals of 50% of Early Development Fund money going to female filmmakers by 2020, and 50% of feature film production funding offers going to films with a female director, also by 2020.

Gibson has noted previously that rolling averages, not single year numbers, provide a better indication of what’s happening with a small sample size such as NZ’s.

Currently, Gibson is focused on developing the Commission’s Maori strategy (about which he’ll speak more at the coming weekend’s Nga Aho Whakaari hui) and a newer strategy to create more and better opportunities for Asian participation in the industry.

There’s now a significant number of Asian creators in the entertainment industry, although there are more successes to point to in the live performing arts than the screen arts. That’s especially true when it comes to features, where Roseanne Liang’s My Wedding remains (I think) one of one features directed by an Asian New Zealander since its release six years ago.

Under Gibson, the NZFC has been looking to build better relationships in Asia, and that’s now being reflected in the domestic policy, with staff specifically tasked with building the relationships that will facilitate the development and production of more content by Asian or Asia-focused New Zealanders.

Of other specific initiatives in train, the Commission is looking back as well as forward. One of the early moves of Gibson’s tenure was to disband the sales agency. Some of the titles the Commission “gave up” at that time went back to producers, some into a catalogue deal with UK distributor HanWay.

Now, there are new initiatives to take a more holistic approach to older titles.

Te Ahi Kā (“the home fire”) will be a cross between a library and a rights manager. It will manage not own and, for example, enable the NZFC to promote and place films into foreign festivals without a lot of additional paperwork.

Although such festival events are not much reported here, NZ is not much different to other countries. There’s a large number of national film festivals play in NZ every year, and NZ film festivals play several countries around the globe. The NZ Film Festivals in [insert country of choice] are usually about exposure not profit, but they do make films available to audiences of significant size. A recent NZ festival playing Chinese cities had a potential audience of well over 100 million people – quite a jump from the cap of 4.5 million that is the domestic market.

Te Ahi Kā won’t do all the heavy lifting on this. What’s left of the NZ Film Fund will rebrand as The New Zealand Film Heritage Trust – Te Puna Ataata and work alongside Te Ahi Kā to act as a trust for films whose creators no longer want or are able to manage them. The intention is to clean up messy rights situations that have existed for a long time, and to preserve some NZ film heritage.

The Trust and Te Ahi Kā will work alongside the Commission and Nga Taonga Sound & Vision, which will continue the work of digitising films and storing the original materials.

“We didn’t make many films in the old days,” Gibson noted, “but the situation surrounding many of those films in terms of rights, ownership and physical care has not been ideal. We need to sort it out.”

Gibson also noted that the system being put in place wasn’t only to address historical material. When those in the BSS audience no longer wanted or were able to care for their own titles (in hopefully many years’ time), the intention is that Te Ahi Kā and Te Puna Ataata will be there to look after those titles too.

Bridging past and future, Gibson also announced a new cinema in the NZFC building, created in partnership with NZ On Air, which will create a better environment for filmmakers and staff to watch works in progress.

Gibson didn’t explore the future too much, as that will be the remit of his successor, but did note the new platforms available in NZ, the ones yet to be invented, the continuing disruption to long-established models of film and TV that will affect, for better or worse, how people create and experience content in NZ as elsewhere.

He did urge the audience to be part of those discussions, those moves, and the industry as a whole.

“Contribute to this industry,” he said. “I urge you to belong to a Guild, and I urge the Guilds to work together on two main areas – the shape of the industry as it confronts opportunities and issues around platforms and monetisation; and telling its cultural and economic story to Government and taxpayers as part of keeping and growing their support… Step up.”

Closing his final BSS presentation, Gibson gave thanks, to the NZFC’s staff and board, and to the “95% of you for your support”.

He also acknowledged the other 5% “for energising me”.

The full text of Gibson’s speech to the Big Screen Symposium is here.

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