Home > Regular Columns > Talking Heads: DEGNZ, 12 October 2015

Talking Heads: DEGNZ, 12 October 2015


With a year gone since I became Executive Director at the Directors & Editors Guild of NZ, it’s an opportune time to reflect on the past, present and future.

The year before I joined, turmoil had ensued when former New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) CEO Graeme Mason decided to pull professional development funding to all the guilds and to create a contestable pool. This would have significantly weakened if not destroyed some of the guilds. After considerable lobbying, Mason did an about turn and everyone was funded to one degree or another for a three year term. Two of the three years have now past.

Unlike the United States where the guilds have collective bargaining power and thus membership is strong and financial resources plentiful, guilds in New Zealand are dependent on voluntary membership at low (in comparison to U.S.) fees. NZFC financial support for both operational and professional development funding has been critical. The salient points below from Section 17 of the Film Commission Act outlining the functions of NZFC provide the background as to why this support is forthcoming:

(1) The Commission shall have the following functions:

  • (b) to encourage and promote cohesion within the New Zealand film industry, and in particular—
  • (i) to encourage and promote the exchange of information among persons engaged in the film industry; and
  • (ii) to encourage and promote the efficient use of available resources within the New Zealand film industry; and
  • (iii) to co-operate with other interested or affected bodies and organisations in order to encourage and promote employment in the New Zealand film industry, and the productivity of that industry.

This, together with a supportive attitude at NZFC for which we are grateful has meant we have been able to pursue with confidence our goal of ensuring the creative, cultural and financial wellbeing of New Zealand directors and editors—the very purpose of our existence.

Professional development is an integral and fundamental service to guilds. Amongst other things it allows guilds to utilize their membership base and networks of experienced practitioners to give back to those content creators coming through in a manner that helps reinforce the value of each of the distinctive collectives.

With the backing of NZFC, DEGNZ has been able to provide a comprehensive professional development programme to directors and editors that according to our feedback surveys is useful and valued, while at the same time advocating on their behalves on bigger picture issues with government, funding bodies and other relevant organisations.

Although without similar requirement in the Broadcasting Act, NZ On Air has gotten behind the financially small but significant DEGNZ TV Drama Director Attachment Initiative. This has so far seen Matthew Saville attached to Screentime’s Bombshell, and Aidee Walker to SPP’s Westside 2. It follows closely those five director attachments on the Ash vs. Evil Dead series, backed by NZFC and Rob Tapert. We expect that fulltime employment for at least one if not more of the attachments will eventuate as a direct result of these initiatives. Our efforts here have been strategic because digital disruption continues uninterrupted, changing the nature of the cinema, TV and online viewing experiences irrevocably. At the guild we have targeted TV drama as an area of employment growth for directors and editors, particularly as it offers long term sustainable career options.

The golden age of TV is not all rosy, though. Film directors have moved into the realm of the TV showrunner, and there is an interesting dynamic occurring with the showrunner’s now unrivalled power being pushed by the cinematic approach auteur directors are bringing with them. But as auteur directors are brought in to direct whole series to make them more cinematic, episodic block TV directors are getting pushed out to make way. This development provides both challenges and opportunities for those writers and directors long immersed in TV drama land, and is an issue for us as our members will and are being affected.

While we are a little ways off from creating and producing the high end drama so many of us are streaming now, coproductions in TV are growing NZ’s small screen drama opportunities. SPP and Channel 7’s well-reviewed 800 Words and the Goalpost Pictures/Pukeko Pictures series Cleverman are two such developments.

On the film side, the weekend box office report has Tammy Davis’s film Born to Dance at over $800,000 after its second week. This is encouraging, but doesn’t reflect the tough environment New Zealand film finds itself in as Hollywood tentpoles dominate and digital distribution does not yet deliver the panacea everyone hopes for to save film. Still, Kiwi films are finding Kiwi audiences as The Dark Horse, What We Do In The Shadows and Born to Dance can attest.

It was encouraging last week to see the numbers from the PWC Employment and National GDP impacts of music, publishing and film and television in New Zealand. The creative industries add $3.848 billion to the New Zealand economy, with Film & TV making up a $2,829 million impact on GDP and providing a total of 31,416 Full Time Equivalent jobs. However, even if the incentives remain attractive, Auckland, by far the biggest revenue generator, will still suffer by not having purpose built studios that can cater to more than one international production at a time. Turn this around and there will be more employment for directors, editors and everyone else, and that $2,829 million impact on GDP will grow faster.

The New Zealand film and TV industry is buoyant today. As I look to the year ahead I do so with excitement. We’ve got some big issues to tackle at the guild on all fronts and that makes it interesting. And there are existing and hopefully new initiatives to roll out. Government support for our industry at the incentive level is crucial as has been proved. It’s equally as important for the guilds so that we can aid the development and growth of sustainable careers for our members and thus contribute to that GDP impact. Let’s hope we don’t have to put up another fight to get this point understood.

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