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SPADA 2011: NZFC shuffles the deck

The final session of the 2011 SPADA conference was another exercise in our Film Commission’s “meet and talk with the film-makers” campaign, a strategy that’s certainly finding favour within the industry. Naomi Wallwork, the FC’s Head of Business Affairs, and Development Executive Katherine Fry led a discussion outlining how the Commission’s updating of their guidelines for funding applications was aimed at fitting more closely with their Statement of Intent, and at making the process both more rigorous in the face of increasing demand and more transparent.

The detail in the discussion is contained in the 3 booklets handed out to all attendees – the Statement of Intent, the Feature Film Development Funding Guidelines (Oct 2011) and the Feature Film Production and Post-Production Funding Guidelines (Sept 2011). These clearly written and precisely-worded booklets are easily downloadable from the FC’s website.

To begin with, the elementary basics of the need for “significant NZ content” as defined by Section 18 of the government’s Film Commission Act and the distinction between development and production funding were outlined.

Katherine Fry then described the Commission’s key values as being summarised by “the 4 C’s: cultural, connection, creative and career”.

Appropriateness was identified as a major factor – the size of the budget in relation to the potential audience size, for example. There is scope outside the Escalator scheme for production funding of low-budget projects of up to $1 million; and there is still 2/3 of the annual $912,000 development budget available this financial year, from now till June 2012.

Fry went on to delineate the various funding avenues, or stages:

  • Seed Development, formerly the Writers Loan, no longer requiring a producer to be attached, but recommending the involvement of a script editor.
  • Early Development has had its cap reduced from $70,000 to $40,000, and now goes through a two-tier process – first a five-page outline is to be submitted, then later a full script is requested. It’s worth noting that in the year before last there were 83 applications for this fund, and last year 190 – and they can fund only 12 per year. The FC is aiming to get their funding into line with the international standard ratio of ten projects in development for each one given production funding.
  • Advanced Development funding does not require one to have been through stages 1 or 2. It’s also possible to apply for further funding even if the FC’s development spend is done – the CEO’s “Delegation Fund” can give up to $20,000 to a project in very specific circumstances.

There’s also new documentary funding available now, with a maximum of $15,000 – in chunks of $5,000. (It was not mentioned that this funding requires an applicant to have a considerable history in doco-making in order to be considered.)

The development team are trying to be rigorous without being prescriptive. It was pointed out that all the present development team have been filmmakers, and thus find it hard to say No! But also, rejection now doesn’t mean rejection forever; it’s quite possible to significantly rework one’s application and return.

Another of the FC’s development executives, Kath Akuhata-Brown, outlined the alternative development and funding route for Maori-themed projects, Te Paepae Ataata – the pathway developed late last decade by Nga Aho Whakaari and driven by people like Tainui Stephens, Merata Mita and Barry Barclay. Current Paepae members are Ainsley Gardner, Rawiri Paratene, Larry Parr, Tainui Stephens and Kath herself; they are currently working with six projects. Funding comes from the NZFC and, while it’s ringfenced, so are applications: filmmakers cannot access funding from both the paepae and other NZFC pots.

Naomi Wallwork discussed the finer detail of production funding; particularly clarifying the new emphasis on the need for a clearly thought-out and appropriate distribution strategy, including details of its planned implementation. Along with this the NZFC now requires a budget for deliverables (screening and preservation), and for publicity and advertising.

Brief mention was made of the Finishing Grant Guidelines, basically for projects that have been self-funded by the film-makers and need a small amount to finish to cinema projection level, noting that this is a grant with no recoupment mechanism in place, unlike all other NZFC funding.

Along with advice to get one’s application in early in one’s production schedule, and to allow reasonable time for processing, Wallwork advised: “Don’t say ‘My film will appeal to all New Zealanders’ – that’s nonsense!”

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