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I am a New Zealand Director of Photography who has been freelancing in the film business for the last twenty nine years. In that time I have only had two jobs that have lasted as long as 6 months. The rest of my income has been on short term work lasting no more than 3 months at a time. This is not unusual as consistent work in New Zealand for DOP's is rare. NZ Film Commission features are fairly limited in number and usually use the same old names. Local TV drama is also limited and usually underfunded. Big off shore features inevitably bring in there own DOP's and the best a Kiwi can hope for on those shows is 2nd Unit DOP. Local commercial work is sporadic and producers often use Australian DOP's, especially if they have a reasonable budget. Off shore commercial productions usually bring in their own DOP's.
The number of New Zealand DOP's is steadily growing as more and more crew work their way up through the ranks. I have been lucky enough to make a living from my work but I have been frustrated that New Zealand does not attract more lower budget US features and more US TV series as these are the shows that will use NZ DOP's and directors and provide continuity of work.
Two years ago, I gave up on trying to survive in the NZ film industry and moved to Vancouver BC because of the brighter work prospects here.
Canada attracts a lot of US work because of it tax subsides and these are geared to encourage producers to use local talent and crew by giving tax rebates for every BC resident employed. Long running TV series are the bread and butter work that allow crews to develop their skills as well as giving them some stability in a highly competitive market. I don't think Lord of the Rings would have been possible if it were not for the experience and confidence gained by so many people after the 'Hercules' and Xena' series.
Lack of long term work is hampering growth. If you were considering investing a million dollars to set up a lighting truck, two months work on a feature with nothing concrete lined up after that would make the banks nervous. Most NZ TV series don't go more than two seasons but US series often shoot for six years or more and each season lasts at least six months. These shows not only bring in millions of dollars but use mostly local talent, provide continuity of work and typically pay better. This one of the reasons some local producers argue against attracting these shows as they fear that crew rates will go up. That is a myth as crew rates are set for commercials and are always scaled down for longer term work and crew don't expect to get the top dollar on New Zealand dramas.
I would like to see the Film Commission actively promoting New Zealand to US TV producers and have people based in LA that can chase up every new show that has the potential to be shot in New Zealand and encourage them to consider New Zealand as an option. This would mean attracting them down to New Zealand with tax incentives for their pilot shows and creating a tax environment that will encourage these smaller US productions especially the ones that have the potential to turn into long term work.
I believe that this area of our industry has been largely overlooked by the Government and to much emphasis is placed on cultural content.
International TV work has the potential to be a major revenue earner for New Zealand and will provide much need continuity of employment.
With this review coming up, it is time to look at how New Zealand can do more to attract US Pilots, MOW's and TV series just as the do here in Canada.
In February this year I completed a Master of Arts in NZ Literature from Victoria University. My topic was the adaptation of NZ literature into film. The content of my studies could bear some relation to no.2 of the terms of reference for the forthcoming review of the NZ Film Commission.
Although not explicitly stated in my thesis, one avenue for contemplation that arose from my research was this:
* Could the Film Commission establish a new funding bracket for adaptations of NZ literature as the adaptations would easily meet NZ cultural content objectives?
I have attached the final of my thesis (which has been accepted) for the use of Peter Jackson and his team of reviewers in case there is some interest in that question.
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