Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Commission, and creative risk

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  • Andre,

    It seems that many think that the NZFC should focus on helping young talent emerge when in reality they are tasked by the government to foster a profitable export industry. This is their brief: "Parliament gave the new agency broad, permissive functions, charging it ‘to encourage and also to participate and assist in the making, promotion, distribution and exhibition of films’. The Commission was also charged with promoting cohesion within the New Zealand film industry’, ‘the proper maintenance of films in archives’, and ‘the study and appreciation of films and film making’. They need to pick winners as well as potential winners but in an industry this small this is always going to be a political minefield abounding with critics. Maybe the government should just widen their brief to specifically include fostering young talent. Either way the organisation seems to have done a very good job creating a profitable industry that employs many kiwis (almost based on the success of The Lord of the Rings alone). The problem is that "‘We need to encourage the younger crowd coming though. They’re not talking to the Film Commission. They feel they can’t.’ The Film Commission's brief doesn't require them to encourage young filmmakers, just to fund them if they can potentially turn a profit.

    New Zealand • Since May 2009 • 266 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    NZFC CEO Graeme Mason & Ant Timpson & Robert Sarkies respond to the Review (The Arts on Sunday, NatRad).

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    It's a pretty hard brief. Even private studios that run solely for profit can't reliably pick winners. Nor can a country of this size reliably hold onto whatever winners it creates.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8015 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    It's a pretty hard brief. Even private studios that run solely for profit can't reliably pick winners.

    Of course you can't, and Peter Jackson should know that better than anyone. I don't think there's any way you could spin The Frighteners as the commercial or critical highlight of his career. But it did build relationships in Hollywood for Jackson and Weta that paid off spectacularly down the line.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

  • Cecelia,

    I think there have been many successes over the years of Ruth Harley's governance. OWW, Whalerider, In My Father's Den etc have all been powerful and successful in the NZ context. Florian Habicht's films have been great. I don't necessarily trust Peter Jackson's judgement - he is a commercial filmmaker.

    Hibiscus Coast • Since Apr 2008 • 505 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I don't necessarily trust Peter Jackson's judgement - he is a commercial filmmaker.

    Excuse me? I'd be very much surprised if Vincent Ward, Jane Campion or anyone else consider themselves anything less than "commercial" film-makers, in the sense that no serious artist is going to dedicate years of their lives to a film (or book or music) nobody is ever going to see. The nobility of garret-bound obscurity and dying in poverty is grotesquely over-rated.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

  • Cecelia,

    I'm being provocative but I always saw the Commission's role as being cultural not commercial. I've gone off hobbits and apes and cheesy heavens.

    Didn't the Germans see our film industry as a 'miracle' during the Harley years?

    Hibiscus Coast • Since Apr 2008 • 505 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews,

    Actually, the Sir PJ report generally proposes a less commercial model than the present one, eg:

    We recommend that the NZFC relax its commercial imperative in the development process, especially for first features. While this may go against the grain, we feel that the increasing pressure on projects to be ‘commercial’ has been counter-productive. It’s an approach that can lead to mundane, forgettable, boring movies – unfunny comedies, undramatic drama and material better suited to television than international cinema. Some critics would say that comes close to describing the country’s movie output during the past few years.

    Quotes like the above, and the lack of any costings (as Gordon pointed out), make me suspect the report is something of a pipe dream. In the current environment, will a funding organisation like the NZFC really be able to get away with taking more risks and being less commercial?

    There are some good ideas in it: empowering the writers and disempowering the producers. Making sure short films are limited to test runs for features (why I am thinking of Neill Blomkamp?). Easing the rule on having a NZ distributor signed up -- there's a boldly uncommercial move. Much of what they say about the Escalator "bootcamp" scheme seems reasonable.

    But it's a pity that the report depends so heavily on the complaints of anonymous sources. Much of the press coverage since has been the recycling of those quotes -- the more critical, the better. As we know at PAS, every funding bureaucracy is an easy target.

    And as much as I admire Ant Timpson, I'm not sure that 48 Hours can be a very reliable guide to future feature talent. Surely there's a vast gulf between short sketches that send up established genres and creating original, 90-minute stories. In its eight years, has 48 Hours produced a new generation desperate to write and shoot their own features? Ant said this on http://gordoncampbell.scoop.co.nz/2010/02/26/gordon-campbell-on-the-phil-heatley-saga/ a little while back:

    I do acknowledge that my dreams of an explosion of low fi feature gems being produced post V48 hasn’t really eventuated. Maybe there’s not enough anger out there at the moment. Maybe the drip-fed nature of development here has conditioned a nation that wait to suckle the nipple. Or maybe someone right now is creating the new BAD TASTE/ SMALL TIME /POP SKULL /CLERKS /SHES GOTTA HAVE IT / THE HORSEMAN/ PARANORMAL ACTIVITY as we speak.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 638 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Seems to me that like most govt funding bodies the NZFC suffers from failure of imagination, hence the bias towards safe commercial rather than new novel and innovative. And combines that with fear of failure, which again pushes funding towards safe and commercial. And worse when failure occurs, as it will, then then funding body over-reacts.

    I'm not sure whether those two things (failure of imagination and fear of failure) are a result of being government bureaucrats with government restrictions or whether that a general kiwi trait, part of our culture.

    I doubt it's really the fault of the individual people in the NZFC who almost certainly are doing that job because they love the industry. But it's more likely a result of performance indicators and a kind of business mentality that is common to anything that the accountants in treasury fund.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3108 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Eade,

    While this may go against the grain, we feel that the increasing pressure on projects to be ‘commercial’ has been counter-productive. It’s an approach that can lead to mundane, forgettable, boring movies – unfunny comedies, undramatic drama and material better suited to television than international cinema

    Sounds like the artistic / commercial problems we have with our local music radio programming scene.

    Jackson is basically saying that a filmmaker of his ilk should be easy to spot by Danny Fields types. I kind of believe him, film direction is an art that few have. He wants a kind of Artist / A and R relationship. It's not all together crazy.

    Commercial imperatives put you in a very oversubscribed marketplace while innovation and exploration open up huge uncontested blue ocean markets.

    auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 1112 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Didn't the Germans see our film industry as a 'miracle' during the Harley years?

    Most of the Germans I've spoken to recently have remembered NZ for LOTR, and thought it was fantastic, mein Schatz. But yes, they also like other genre.

    I'm not sure whether those two things (failure of imagination and fear of failure) are a result of being government bureaucrats with government restrictions or whether that a general kiwi trait, part of our culture.

    I don't think it's a general "kiwi" trait. It's the natural risk aversion you get when you haven't really got that much money to play with. Making good money from a movie requires enormous capital outlay. If you've got billions to play with, you can take punts on many risky shots, because you've got the unimaginative steady sellers too (which are also high budget in many cases). When you've only got millions it's not so easy. Like I said, tough brief. Hell if MGM can get itself into financial strife....

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8015 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    But it's more likely a result of performance indicators and a kind of business mentality that is common to anything that the accountants in treasury fund.

    Yes, if I took my accountant's advice on how to run my business, I wouldn't have a business. I'd have investments. Which would probably have halved in value over the last 3 years.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8015 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I doubt it's really the fault of the individual people in the NZFC who almost certainly are doing that job because they love the industry. But it's more likely a result of performance indicators and a kind of business mentality that is common to anything that the accountants in treasury fund.

    And it's not generally a bad thing. Without the kind of accountability, transparency and contestibility we take for granted in the public sector there would be a lot more bad spending. That's why some of us got so steamed when PEDA was handed four million bucks in the Budget.

    But it's not necessarily a good model for creative funding. Jackson basically wants a handful of people empowered to spend public money on their hunches. He's living proof of how magnificently that can work out -- but it's a bloody tough sell to Treasury. And, if anything goes wrong, to a news media only too happy to make an issue of it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17938 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Hip Hop Tour: The Movie

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7315 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    But it's not necessarily a good model for creative funding. Jackson basically wants a handful of people empowered to spend public money on their hunches. He's living proof of how magnificently that can work out -- but it's a bloody tough sell to Treasury. And, if anything goes wrong, to a news media only too happy to make an issue of it.

    Well, it should be a bloody tough sell to everyone. I'm sorry if this makes me the in-house philistine, but no matter how you cut it, film and television production is enormously speculative and I'm not inclined to sneer at anyone who finds that a much harder sell that putting money into a new surgical suite at their local hospital.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    But you can always argue that. People are dying! Maybe we should close all libraries and galleries, concrete our parks over and spend the money on healthcare.

    Then again, most of our ills are self-inflicted and kids in the developing world are starving. Maybe we should close the hospitals and pend it all on foreign aid?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4209 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Knightly,

    "No mention of the Internet...", or digital or trans-media or even games - an industry already larger than Hollywood commercially and with a solid talent base locally.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 23 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Rich of Observationz - a *lot* of our ills are self-inflicted - but not *most.* And 'kids in the developing world are starving' -etc. = a non sequitur surely? For me, first obligation is look after my own whanau, and the equivalent national obligation is look after our own. Artists included...I'm with Cecelia: I dont think much effort has gone into telling our own stories lately: There certainly is "Boy" - and everything directed by Gaylene Preston - but otherwise? And, therebye saying, I am not denying the huge input - in telling our own stories - that especially Jane Campion & Vincent Ward have made...

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • R James G Gates,

    I dont think much effort has gone into telling our own stories lately: There certainly is "Boy" - and everything directed by Gaylene Preston - but otherwise? And, therebye saying, I am not denying the huge input - in telling our own stories - that especially Jane Campion & Vincent Ward have made...

    Fair enough but I do think that telling our own stories often becomes a meaningless mantra, and a genre in itself. As Craig said, most of it is still commercial cinema. And what is our own? 'Our own' very quickly becomes a way of editing or a kind of score. Abstractions. That's why I think Florian Habicht's films are so cool. They definitely reflect something about New Zealand but they also reflect a filmmaker who just likes to be with the people he's filming.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2008 • 8 posts Report Reply

  • AlvinChipmunk,

    I've created this account for the purposes of this thread specifically - just getting that out there...

    My problem with the commission is the futility with which it spends it's money.

    For the most part I think short films (which is how most development is carried out) are a waste of time. While they provide some practical experience in the physical act of filmmaking they are a very different beast from a feature film. The scripts are different, the methods of story telling are different. It's not like you can just take a ten minute film and scale it up by a factor of 10 to make a feature. It's far more complex than that.

    And then there's the issue of audience. Who sees short films? They barely get screened anywhere. They may get a dozen festival plays to a couple of thousand people, but that's it. Like it or not TV is where the eyeballs are, but there's not many opportunities to see NZ shorts on telly, especially recent ones.

    Look at Timpson's 48HOURS however. It churned out something like 1,000 short films this year - many crap, but a least a few dozen that were genuinely excellent. All those filmmakers were competing for a prize package with a value of in the region of $100,000 (mostly in services). And dozens of those films were played on C4 at 10:30pm for tens of thousands to see, as well as packing out theatres around for nights on end at the screenings and regional finals.

    At the same time NZFC is having three independent executive producers oversee their short film development programme this year, to hand out $100,000 grants to eight film makers to create shorts of up to 15 minutes. And in at least some of those cases the applying filmmakers have had to bring on 'trusted' directors and core crew to be considered and acceptable candidate. So now the 'development' films are in the hands of experienced people who, frankly, don't need the practice, while the original filmmaker finds themself relegated to the back seat.

    As Jackson suggests the NZFC could get better results by giving less money to more people and not being so concerned about failure. $20,000 to make a 10 minute film would send many aspiring directors into delight and still turn out some great stuff.

    Maybe also they should look at some of the really sucessful names in 48HOURS around the country - because there are some consistantly excellent performers who, with a little support, could probably turn out some fantastic features - perhaps create a new NZ film niche like we remember from the 80s. Help us find our voice again.

    Since Jul 2010 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    But you can always argue that. People are dying! Maybe we should close all libraries and galleries, concrete our parks over and spend the money on healthcare.

    Perhaps we should -- but my point is that the argument for state funding of the arts is no more self-evident than that for pot loads of public money (and anti-competitive "clean venue" legislation being passed with indecent haste) being poured into the Rugby World Cup.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    O Craig - dont get me started on the total waste of money as far as actual advancement of ANZ culture is concerned when we start looking at the stupid commercial fuckwittery that is sports-funding-

    if we, as a country, were really serious about enhancing our artists, our writers, our sculptors , our musicians - o, even our film-makers -we'd be putting the $$$$ in.

    We put the $$$$ in, to ephemeral crap that makes more $$$$ = sports.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    Mr. Chipmunk,
    I quite agree with almost every word of your comment. Good luck with your own exploits!

    ---

    Craig,
    Congratulations on being the only voice questioning whether we should spend less on our own culture.

    ---

    "No mention of the Internet...", or digital

    Yeah, what a bloody tragic failure of vision. Here we are in the middle of really the first technical revolution in filmmaking since the invention of the movie camera, and neither the Commission nor Jackson & Court seem to have recognised the once-in-a-lifetime chance to democratise filmmaking, and thus cast a much wider net over the possible talent.

    I find it inexplicable.

    Well, not really. I chalk it up to an obsession with professionalism. Teams of kids running around with digi-cams and $20k budgets? It's all a bit uncouth, isn't it?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    But it's not necessarily a good model for creative funding. Jackson basically wants a handful of people empowered to spend public money on their hunches. He's living proof of how magnificently that can work out -- but it's a bloody tough sell to Treasury. And, if anything goes wrong, to a news media only too happy to make an issue of it.

    I doubt very much, rightly or wrongly, whether NZ is an environment where that can happen at present. Every movie that doesn't fly is going to be pulled to shreds.

    Here we are in the middle of really the first technical revolution in filmmaking since the invention of the movie camera

    I'm going to stab at some other things that have been somewhat revolutionary - colour, digital manipulation/CGI, the addition of sound tracks to movies.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6145 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Congratulations on being the only voice questioning whether we should spend less on our own culture.

    Who "we", kemosabe? Oh, be in no doubt that I'm all for arts patronage. Don't know if anyone else has been watching Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour, but it's hard to look at this and this without concluding that the Medici may have been downright reptilian but their contribution to Italian culutre -- and the legacy of Renaissance art and architecture -- is hard to over-state.

    Still, I'd like to think that state patronage in a 21st century democracy is a little more open than that practised by the lords temporal and ecclesiastical of Renaissance Europe.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

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