Written By: - Date published: 9:51 am, October 24th, 2013 - 116 comments
Categories: broadcasting, film, infrastructure, jobs, john key, overseas investment, telecommunications, tourism, trade, tv - Tags: film industry, jacinda arden, Weta
So three years on from the Hobbit dispute, and the NZ screen industry is in a precarious state. The outcome of that dispute, engineered by John Key, was to pander to the demands of the US film corporates at the expense of New Zealand workers and tax payer funding. The industry has benefited in recent years from the off-shoring of film and TV production from the dominant production centres in the US and, to a lesser extent, Europe. As such, it lacks a strong basis to enable the local industry to withstand the shocks from global competition and changing international economic circumstances.
What would it take to make a solid independent screen production industry in New Zealand? This industry includes all the digital production that is linked to film and TV production. So it incorporates gaming and other work done by the likes of Weta Digital, and productions that can be viewed online. (The VFX industry in NZ is also dependent on the more powerful centres elsewhere.)
Jacinda Ardern raised the issue of the current precarious state of the NZ film industry in the House this week, and via this press release:
“The high Kiwi dollar has put huge pressure on the screen production industry. Add to this the fact that other countries are being increasingly savvy with their rebate regimes, and the result is a screen industry that is experiencing the worst downturn in at least a decade.
“Auckland is home to roughly 70 per cent of screen production in New Zealand, and a host of small businesses who prop it up.
A lot of the hoohah around Weta, Peter Jackson and films like the Hobbit and Avatar, make it seem like Wellington is the mainstay of NZ’s screen industry. But it is long running TV series filmed in Auckland, like Xena, Hercules and more recently, Spartacus, that provide some stability in the industry. This enables the relevant businesses to develop locally that service production, from catering through transport to the specialist services like lighting and Visual effects.
While this network developed around overseas TV productions, they also provided an infrastructure available to local productions, albeit that the local companies can’t afford the costs overseas companies are willing to pay.
Unfortunately Ardern doesn’t offer any suggestions of a way out of this dependency on overseas corporates. She nods in the direction of further government subsidies or incentives, and towards the state of NZ’s economy.
Hilariously, Steven Joyce blamed the Auckland industry slump on the increased use of the railway near the West Auckland studios. This is not providing any suggestions about the way the NZ industry could be self sufficient. One possibility might be in the development of public service broadcasting via Freeview, linked with online streaming of screen productions. NZ’s democracy needs more fact and fiction produced by and for New Zealanders. Instead of the continuing importation of US, largely “neoliberal” values via our TV news, current events and entertainment, home grown productions could incorporate more values relevant to 21st century New Zealanders into local conversations.
Kiwis are capable of this, but we see it all too rarely these days: see for instance, TV 3’s Blue Rose, which was exciting, funny and socially and politically relevant. We need more of this.
One News has also picked up on the issue this week, and uses it to highlight the neeD for more taxpayer funding for Cameron’s latest Avatar movie.
There are new calls for the Government to review tax incentives for foreign productions as the industry faces losing a billion dollar blockbuster.
The industry is suffering its worst downturn ever, with thousands already out of work.
Avatar is one of the most expensive films ever made and its three sequels are expected to cost close to $1 billion.
That is money that could be coming to New Zealand if director James Cameron still films here.
The evidence of the direct contribution to NZ’s economy from such productions is weak, with the government usually pointing to how it boosts the countries economy via tourism. However, the One News article paints a dire picture of NZ’s inability to compete with other countries for Hollywood crums.
Time for a re-think, by encouraging more innovative proposals to develop a strong, resilient and independent NZ screen industry: one suited to the digital era, and that would work in conjunction with a rejuvenated public broadcasting system and online capabilities.
[Update]: Maori TV & Barry Barclay’s legacy
marty mars makes an excellent point below:
personally I’d like to see more stories from our deep heritage. The stories of the land, of the people on the land – the heroes, the sacrifices, the naming of everything – I really can’t see why people wouldn’t be into it. But I’m not thinking doco’s I’m thinking ‘crouching tiger’ – action. Forget the America’s Cup and put the money into scriptwriting with tangata whenua.
This reminds me of the work and approach of filmmaker Barry Barclay, and his legacy in the Maori TV channel. See for instance Brannavan Gnanalingam’s article on Barclay, one of NZ’s most significant film makers who coined the term “fourth cinema” in relation to indigenous film-making. While Gnanalingam is critical of the application of Barclay’s philosophy, he acknowledges Barclay’s influence on later developments, such as Maori TV.
Programmes such as Waka Huia, Marae, and the more recent developments in Māori Television owe a large debt to the impact of Barclay’s work.