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Film NZ: last year was, well, last year

The problem with annual reports is that no bugger wants to read them. But if you suck on the public tit, they come with the territory. You have to do one. This is particularly so in Film New Zealand’s case (that it has to do a report – not that it sucks).

But it’s hard to be interested. The last three months – the quarter that happened after the 08-09 year covered by the report – have seen plenty of activity and interesting stories and last year is so, well, last year.

Over successive weeks NZ Herald correspondent John Drinnan saw fit to comment on relationships between Film New Zealand (Film NZ) and Film Auckland using words such as “friction” and “tensions remain”.

Julian Grimmond, recently elected chair of Film NZ, was quoted by Drinnan as being “unaware of disgruntlement in Auckland,” and stressing, “Film New Zealand trustees were representing sector groups – such as film, television, TV commercials and online games – not geographic areas.”

However, under the Annual Report’s Highlights of the Year Grimmond’s appointment is noted as the “first Chair from the South Island”, a fact repeated twice more in the document. Hang about; didn’t he say that trustees didn’t represent geographic areas?

There is certainly no sense of any conflict in the 2009 Film New Zealand Annual Report. Not that you would expect there to be. Annual reports are not laundries. They’re for celebrating achievements, or dressing up things to make them look like achievements or, if that’s not possible, at least not like disasters.

TVNZ’s AR was a good example, with a press release positively headlined “TVNZ makes small profit”, rather than the more brutally honest ‘the arse fell out of the advertising market and we were royally screwed’.

The arse also fell out of the international production game in 08-09, but Film NZ wasn’t screwed. It increased lots of numbers over the previous year (07-08), a period when international production was, like the rest of the world, oblivious to the coming storm. In the circumstances, there was plenty of good news.

Numbers are generally up – searches of Film New Zealand’s online locations gallery up from 48,442 to 53,691; website visits up from 71,977 to 72,604; project enquiries up from 85 to 91 and generic enquiries up from 1,177 to 1,249.

And of course the annual Statistics New Zealand Screen Industry Survey, released earlier this year, showed an increase in the total New Zealand production sector and offshore investment – although how this demonstrates “the importance of our work” is a moot point.

It’s a time of change for Film NZ. It has recently appointed new board members, presently has an acting-CEO and is taking on new responsibilities. Established in 1994, Film NZ has buffeted by all the political and policy winds that blow, housed and funded through multiple channels.

For some years it was been apparent that Film NZ and Investment New Zealand (INZ) have been operating in much the same space of attracting off-shore productions to New Zealand.

Despite a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two organisations as to which should do what, some confusion and overlap remained. It gets even more confusing when the NZ Film Commission (NZFC) and the regional film offices are brought into the fold.

It is thus good to see that INZ is being removed from the mix, handing over resources and the mandate to Film NZ as of 1 July 2009 to undertake both offshore marketing and location’s office functions. Or at least it will have when the contract finally gets signed.

Just how Film NZ will be able to undertake its new role with the $200,000 it has gained remains to be seen.

Back in August, when we first reported on the coming changes at Film NZ, INZ’s ‘parent’, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), told us that INZ had spent $364,000 on film-related activity in the year to end June ’09.

Total funding for Film NZ in 2008/09 was consistent with the previous year at $790,000, comprising $750,000 from Ministry of Economic Development and $40,000 from the NZFC.

NZ Trade and Enterprise contributed project funding for trade shows and the like so that total funding was just over $890,000. This was used on a range of activities – servicing enquiries and inbound recces, international markets and events, promotional and marketing materials, liaison with regional film offices, interfacing with government such as the Department of Conservation and local government and so on.

There is a tendency towards “agency creep” in many government departments and agencies, a leaning towards taking on extra projects or responsibilities not directly aligned within the original mandate. So it is with Film NZ.

Examples include Film NZ’s adoption of Greening the Screen, its handling of an increasing number of enquiries from domestic (as distinct from offshore) producers and becoming more involved in government/policy issues. It’s not that these things aren’t important and worthwhile, but should they be where Film NZ can best use its scarce resources?

Specifying some targets in the annual report, or a separate statement of intent, would help clarify how well Film NZ is achieving its aims. It would be useful to start integrating performance measurement into its annual planning and reporting now to help all of us along the way.

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