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Shorts pathways lead to many roads

The long and winding road through short film funding comes with potholes, which submissions in response to the NZFC’s plans try to fill in. What’s clear is that there are as many ways to skin a cat as there are people who write submissions.

The Commission has published the feedback to its proposals around short films. It now proposes some further consultation, then announcements which will come before the new financial year begins on 1 July.

Changes to be implemented this year will focus on Premiere Shorts (including the rebrand as Premiere Pathways) and possibly the Short Film Post-Production Fund, which will become Short Film Post Plus.

Cold Snap

Leo Woodhead’s Premiere Short Cold Snap, which recently won a jury at the Hong Kong IFF

Of the feedback published by the NZFC, the authors of a small number of submissions are named. The remainder are presented anonymously – although in some cases it’s fairly easy to make guesses about the authors.

As Dave Gibson noted in his recent Radio NZ interview, the opinions put forth are split fairly evenly for and against. In many cases, submissions favour some of the proposed changes but not others. In short, there isn’t a consensus but there’s no shortage of self-interest.

One bone of contention is where the funding for some of the changes should come from. In particular, the proposal to open up Premiere Shorts to not only short films but also teasers, trailers, sizzle reels, taste tapes for feature projects has stirred up plenty of debate.

The arguments in support of the change come largely from people who want to, and feel ready to, step up to making a feature.

The arguments against are far more varied: emotional, practical and financial. The emotional argument is that short film is an art form that can be pursued in its own right.

It seems that argument has already been lost – at least as far as the NZFC is concerned. “Pathways to Features” lays out the NZFC stall succinctly: shorts are a place to be journeyed through, not somewehre to put down roots.

The practical argument is that to benefit from a trailer or sizzle reel, a feature would be in advanced development, ready for packaging for investment. If a project has reached such a stage, it’s likely it will already have some form of relationship with the NZFC beyond the short film staff.

The financial argument, that the dollars to support material other than short films should not come from short film budgets, has some merit. Since the overall government support for the NZFC is of a set size – and an unchanging size in recent years – robbing Peter to pay Paula would be as good as it gets.

If the NZFC supports a half dozen trailers from the feature funding pot, there’ll be one or two fewer low-budget features receiving production support.

A broader concern, expressed succinctly in the SDGNZ submission, is that filmmakers who’ve made shorts, perhaps at Fresh Shorts’ $10,000 or $30,000 levels, might be being asked to run before they can walk.

What wasn’t immediately obvious looking through the feedback was much consideration of the proposed structures, beyond how those changes might affect the writer of the submission.

There was little consideration of how the changes on the table might affect the development of writers, producers, talent. If the pathways are to lead to sustainable careers, those are skills the industry needs to develop and retain – at least as much and arguably more than directors’.

The proposals perpetuate a situation which doesn’t serve the industry well: the system’s inbuilt preference for writer-directors. This preference ignores the fact that the vast majority of writer-directors who move beyond the NZFC as their major funder become directors, not writers or writer-directors.

Next
In the meantime, Short Film Manager Whetu Fala will be heading up the Fresh Shorts Roadshow later this month. As the NZFC proposes to make no changes to Fresh Shorts during the coming year (ie until after end June 2015), Fala won’t be hamstrung as to what she can and can’t say, so any information she provides should come without a bunch of caveats.

Roadshow info is here. Submissions for this year’s Fresh Shorts open on Monday and close on Friday 27 June.

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