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Screen Edge gets the view from the tops

NZFC and NZ On Air CEOs Dave Gibson and Jane Wrightson presented on (mostly) doco-related funding at Thursday’s Screen Edge Forum in Wellington.

The Day That Changed My Life

Christopher Dudman’s The Day That Changed My Life

With only ten minutes each to speak, neither Gibson nor Wrightson were able to go into any great depth on the subject of documentary-making, but focused on outlining the achievements, present efforts and pathways into funding by their respective bodies.

Gibson began by explaining the increasing amount of money going into documentary from the NZFC – with the focus being on potential eyeball numbers, and the pressure on filmmakers to bring more money to the table. He happily reported that they were having some success with the latter, the primary point being that this enables the commission to contribute to more films with the same amount of money.

Noting 12 feature documentaries presently in production and supported by the MFC, Gibson pointed out the variety of subject matter these 12 address.

He then discussed the various doors through which funding for documentary can be obtained from the Film Commission. The Development fund, Doc Connect and Loading Docs (both in conjunction with NZ on Air), Premiere Pathways (through which money can be obtained to make sizzle reels to help in raising further finance for bigger budget projects), the China co-production fund, and the Feature Film Finishing Grant fund.

At this point Gibson made mention of a new person in the commission staff, Strategy and Insights Advisor Selina Joe. Her responsibilities include audience research and analysis of cinema and media trends. Recently she instigated an exit survey, in which it was revealed that Toa Fraser’s The Dead Lands had an audience in the first week that was 50% Maori – compared with a proportion of c.13% of the general population.

It was also noted that 99% of Maori had seen Boy, although most hadn’t seen it in a cinema.

Gibson also mentioned the increasing inclusion of a “pause clause” in NZFC contracts. This involves a mandated break, or “pause”, in post-production during which test screenings are held – with viewers consisting of 50% the film’s intended target audience and the other 50% drawn from a more generalised sample of the population.

He concluded by re-emphasising the demand from applicants for a strong audience engagement plan, which has justifiably become something of a mantra in today’s world of increased accountability towards the money supply, the government. But Gibson did point out that such a plan need not necessarily include a theatrical release – it may involve video on demand, DVD production and so forth.

Wrightson followed a similar formula, including the “focus on eyeballs”, supplementary funding plans and the variety of content supported; but with an additional emphasis on free-to-air “public broadcasting” material.

The key element for NZOA is New Zealand identity and culture – though that’s no longer interpreted in such strict terms as it was 25 years ago when NZOA was born. Annie Goldson’s Punitive Damage broke the mould in that respect – a story set overseas, but with a strong New Zealand angle.

As examples of work supported by NZOA, Wrightson listed Christopher Dudman’s The Day That Changed My Life, which she described as a novel way of looking at the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake and “a stunning piece of work”; Briar March’s A Place To Call Home; and Yvonne Mackay’s The Berry Boys. All feature in the Documentary Edge Festival presently showing in Wellington.

But NZOA funds mostly series rather than one-offs, and special mention was made here of Anna Cottrell’s Great War Stories series of mini-docs for TV3, and Songs From The Inside, which plays on Maori Television.

Wrightson urged the audience to help promote each other’s work through our social media networks. If we were not prepared to support each other as film and programme makers, what right did we have to expect the taxpayer to support us?

Doc Connect, the funding stream run in conjunction with the Film Commission, has received some extremely interesting and quite innovative proposals, resulting in tough arguments over which to support. But it is very hard to score money this way, with the need to satisfy both NZFC and NZOA requirements at once.

Referring back to the Doc Connect requirement for an audience plan, Wrightson was quite critical of the 75% of applications which appeared not to have noticed the “Connect” aspect of the funding stream. Applicants who had written something along the lines of “When I have finished making the film I will start to think about the audience” should know that their proposals were probably quickly thrown aside.

Gibson concluded by pointing out the importance of diversity of content. The Commission is extremely conscious of its mandate to deliver to people – and not just to larger numbers, but to all kinds of people. In that regard, he is at present really keen to find a quality submission for a family-oriented film, as it’s been a few years now since Tony Simpson’s The Kiwi Flyer.

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