Ministers Steven Joyce and Maggie Barry have announced the results of the first review of the New Zealand Screen Production Grant (NZSPG), which replaced the Large Budget Screen Production Grant (LBSPG) and Screen Production Incentive Fund (SPIF) in April last year.
The full review is available here.
Steven Joyce said lots of nice things about the improvements the new incentives have delivered, completing a volte-face from his previous opposition to increases in incentive schemes.
Despite its reluctance to address the issue of incentives properly over five years that spanned the Jackson-Court review of the NZFC, the broader Screen Industry review, and a certain amount of fiddling while Rome – or, at least, Auckland – watched its industry burn, the screen industry is certainly back in favour with government.
Introducing the results of the review, the Minister noted increased confidence in the local industry, a strong increase in inbound production and the benefits that flowed from both, including marketing opportunities and increased visibility as a screen production location.
Among the changes announced were two bits of particularly good news, a lowering of the threshold for the Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) grant, and allowing children’s drama productions to access both the NZSPG and funding from other screen agencies.
Prior to the changes introduced last April, industry had argued for a lower threshold to access the PDV grant. Australia’s equivalent scheme, the PDV Offset, has a threshold of AU$500,000. While much of the inbound PDV work that passes through Weta Digital represents a spend a long way north of the thresholds, the $1 million threshold keeps a number of smaller local companies from competing for smaller international projects.
“We feel this will strengthen the sector,” said Dave Gibson. “We really need to build capability with the smaller companies so that we are not seen from abroad as just a one stop Weta Digital shop.”
There’s been considerable growth in post facilities around Asia in recent years, not least to service the region’s burgeoning number of TV channels, many of which commission content. A $500,000 threshold should make it possible for NZ companies to pitch for some of those series.
The review notes children’s TV drama “cannot currently be adequately funded by other government agencies” because it is “a high cost genre of strong cultural value, but low commercial value”.
The new “double-dipping” option brings kids TV in line with film, which has been able to access cultural funding (NZFC) support and government incentive money since SPIF was introduced.
NZ On Air’s Glenn Usmar noted that NZ On Air has recently been able to support only one kids drama series at c$1 million, saying, “Animation and children’s drama have always been more difficult genres to get up.”
Acknowledging the changes, NZ On Air will work to provide new guidelines around applications for kids drama productions in the near future.
The changes may open the door for NZ On Air and NZSPG to deliver more high quality local drama series like Kaitangata Twitch, although that’s still going to rely on the increasingly commercially-focused TVNZ and MediaWorks getting behind it.
NZ Childrens Screen Trust chair Janette Howe said, “It is pleasing to finally see recognition that children deserve to see their stories on screen and an acknowledgement that there are barriers to producing quality children’s drama.
“Together with NZ on Air’s policy review of children’s content this feels like the start of a shift in the industry towards valuing children as an audience. I hope that this shift becomes a groundswell with kids of all ages and backgrounds able to see themselves reflected in Kiwi films and dramas.”
Potentially offsetting some of the increase in children’s TV drama funding acess to NZSPG will deliver are two other changes announced in the review.
One increases the qualifying points threshold for Significant New Zealand Content for (all) television and other non-feature film productions wanting to access NZSPG. The new threshold matches the existing threshold for feature films. What difference it will actually make remains unclear. The change may make it more difficult to get co-productions up, but kids TV co-production has hardly been a booming business for NZ companies anyway.
A second change requires TV and other non-feature productions wanting to access NZSPG to source 10% of budget from non-government sources. The NZFC has been requiring feature projects seeking production finance to do this for some time. However, a major reason cultural funding agencies exist is because the projects they support are considered not commercially viable. The change seems designed to limit the extent to which a project is not commercially viable by preventing producers and broadcasters seeking NZSPG for the range of special interest productions that NZ On Air fully funds.
Changes will be active from 1 August. The changes are addressed in greater detail on pages 8 – 12 of the review.