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Is three a crowd?

Thursday saw the release of an MOU signed by the heads of Film NZ, the NZFC and NZ On Air establishing a virtual agency, Screen NZ. It identifies 10 initiatives to be worked on jointly.

Establishing a new agency, albeit not actually a real one, seems an odd thing to do. Maybe it could have a virtual Minister, rather as Broadcasting has for the last six years. Whether the “virtual agency” is intended as a softening up ahead of putting two or more of the agencies into a blender is not known, probably including by those who dreamed up Screen NZ.

The idea of a merger of the NZFC and Film NZ reared its head during the Screen Sector Review, as did the idea of combining – as per the Screen Australia model – film and TV funding under one roof. Naturally enough, none of the agencies were desperately keen; NZ On Air already has a considerably wider remit than “screen”.

However, the “under one roof” bit has been taken to heart with both NZ On Air and Film NZ scooting across town to become close neighbours of the NZFC on Ghuznee Street.

The Ghuznee Street Players don't always share the same agenda.

The Ghuznee Street Players don’t always share the same agenda.

Whether, to quote tunefully, “neighbours become good friends” might be part of the reason for the document.

The MOU spells out who’ll do what with whom and when, if not who has to bring the baby oil. It smacks of an arranged marriage between estranged tribes, where nothing is going to happen without a decree that it should.

Of the 10 initiatives identified for the first year, only one involves a threesome. That initiative, “to explore opportunities for screen sector businesses to diversify their service offerings”, risks getting out of hand with party invites also to be issued to local authorities and NZTE.

One suspects that the MOU (which is dated late April) isn’t going to change much in reality.

There’ll be “joint marketing initiatives around the new incentives” and an “ongoing research project into domestic film and television consumption”, which are in the agencies’ and industry’s interests as tools for lobbying.

Some of what’s in the MOU should be common sense – and there has been evidence of such behaviour breaking out previously. The NZFC and NZ On Air both fund productions, sometimes the same ones when there’s good reason to do so. They operate initiatives together, such as the Joint Documentary Fund. Generally the result is a win-win, but given the range of material each supports it’s hardly an argument they should become one.

The NZFC and Film NZ also work together on occasions, such as on the promotion of NZ Inc at the recent Cannes Film Festival. More regularly, Film NZ sends the NZFC’s way those international productions attracted. The NZFC administers the new NZSPG and its predecessors SPIF and the LBSPG. There might be some sense in the NZFC becoming the one-stop shop to handle that process from attraction to administration. The NZFC is a more frequent flier and could also spin off some additional opportunities to market NZ alongside the procession of films it supports to international festivals.

Government had the chance to combine agencies when it carried out the Screen Sector Review. It chose not to, so one assumes it decided against that course of action – just as it decided against making changes to incentive schemes.

Despite the claim of a “virtual agency” nobody seems to have established it in a really virtual way, like with a website or Facebook account. (screeNZ is merrily awaiting an increase in random arrivals at its own virtual door as interested parties seek out Screen NZ.)

The MOU is available for download on the sites of Film NZ, the NZFC and NZ On Air – or from here at screeNZ if you don’t want to play favourites.

Welcoming Screen NZ in this media release, Minister for Culture & Heritage Christopher Finlayson said, “New Zealand is recognised for its world-class expertise in producing quality film and television,” which matches his “New Zealand is recognised internationally for our world-class expertise in making quality film and television” in December last year when announcing the changes to incentive schemes.

As for the MOU, like all puddings the proof will be in the eating. The signatories are committed to get together twice a year to chew over their progress.

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