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To whom it may concern,
I'm writing with suggestions toward the NZFC review being currently conducted by Peter Jackson and others.
Below is a statement from the latest NZFC Newsletter.
"We have recently received applications to Staff Committee for development finance in which the producer has submitted a treatment rather than a script. Please note that, as outlined in the Development and Financing Guidelines on the NZFC website, we only accept applications on this basis in exceptional cases where the writer has a feature film track record behind them. In all other cases the submission must include a draft screenplay."
I therefore write to you in regards to the above statement. While I appreciate the need for evidence of a writer’s ability, I find it crude to expect a writer to develop first drafts until he or she has had a couple of films produced. Considering barely a handful of films are produced in New Zealand each year, the chances of developing a track record can be slim to none. If a writer can provide a sample of their writing and are backed by a reputable director or producer, then why can’t a writer be paid for their craft? Developing the first draft of any script is a major undertaking lasting months. To be expected to do this without any remuneration is disrespectful to the writer. How is one expected to make a living whilst doing this? If a writer provides a strong treatment that displays a great story, then why shouldn’t they be paid to develop it? Either that, or if the writer develops a first draft to the development committee’s satisfaction choose to develop a second draft, then the writer should be reimbursed for that first draft. It’s been my experience that while the writer will be paid to develop future drafts, they are not reimbursed for the considerable time and effort they’ve already invested.
My intention is not to address the larger issues of funding and distribution contained in the Review, but to address several specific issues related to the current role of the Film Commission.
Nevertheless, I wish to make a general comment about the Commission’s role in the cultural and creative life of New Zealand, and in the film culture of our nation. I see the Commission as occupying a middle ground in this culture: not attempting to fund nor promote large-budget, off-shore/runaway productions being shot in New Zealand (such as The Chronicles of Narnia, 30 Days of Night), nor yet actively engaged with the emerging culture of independent or experimental production (the informal sector of student film-making, for example).
Its proper role is in funding and promoting middle-range film productions—most specifically New Zealand sourced and New Zealand productions, akin to Second-Hand Wedding or Apron Strings. Even though these types of films tend to be more popular with older film-goers, there are opportunities for similar contemporary stories aimed at younger audiences.
Smaller films which reach and enrich New Zealand audiences, short films (as ‘calling cards’ for emerging film-makers) and digital features should remain the primary concern of the Commission. It cannot, nor should not, attempt to emulate global film-makers.
It might be appropriate to quote British film-maker/writer Chris Petit,
Most American films come now in one size only: XXL. Dragged down by their own size, they’re monster productions, buried under the weight of cast and crew, who end credits last longer than a short story. (‘Interiors’ Film Comment, May/June 2009 )
In terms of its role in the cultural and creative life of New Zealand, the New Zealand Film Commission fills as important a role as other state-funded institutions as New Zealand Ballet and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. It is possible, however, to argue that it fulfills an even more important role, in that New Zealand films are potentially to reach larger and more diverse audiences, rather than cultural elite. As a consequence, the primary role of the New Zealand Film Commission is pursuing and fulfilling its cultural agenda, rather than moving to a more commercial and utilitarian agenda.
Specific Comments and Recommendations:
1. Training issues
NZFC Act (1978), 17 1 (b)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.
The Commission does currently sponsor and provide a series of workshops and seminars for the industry. On the whole, these events are designed primarily for those already employed in the industry; there are far fewer opportunities for those training towards such an objective, or on the verge of entering the industry. The Commission should become actively engaged with and be more knowledgeable about the education sector generally, and should delegate someone to take on this specific role.
The Commission should initiate a film maker or scriptwriter in schools scheme—to encompass both the secondary and tertiary education sectors.
2. Education issues
NZFC Act (1978) 17 I (d) To encourage and promote, for the benefit of the New Zealand film industry, the study and appreciation of films and of film making
As suggested above, the Commission should be able to make better connections with the education sector. In 2008, for example, an estimated 10,000 secondary students were enrolled in NCEA Media Studies, with an estimated 4000-5000 students in Media Studies or media-related tertiary courses.1 Obviously, not all this cohort is likely to end working in the screen industries (even though a considerable number do). What is important is that these students comprise a significant slice of the future audiences for New Zealand film. Media Studies is the primary site in the schooling system where students encounter New Zealand films, and often generate real enthusiasm for local films.
The Commission does provide Study Guides for particular films on its website but these are often difficult to find, and not widely promoted. In 2008, for example, together with an experienced media teacher Sandra Chesterman (St. Cuthbert’s College), I wrote The New Zealand Film Course: A Teacher’s Guide but this useful resource has not been widely publicized or distributed by the Commission. I think this is due to the lack of a dedicated specialist on staff, rather than neglect.
GL 10 July 2009
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