What the film industry is missing
I read an insightful piece written by producing legend John Barnett – the man behind South Pacific Pictures, Outrageous Fortune, Go Girls, Shortland St and more importantly Whale Rider, Footrot Flats and a host of other quintessential kiwi classics. This man knows production and especially local production. He’s in charge of big business and, like the other producers he mentions in the article, a man who sees the big picture. Not only can he and other producing greats see it, but they can wield it. Peter Jackson commands a crew and cast of over 1,000 people on the Tolkien movies.
I think John Barnett’s comments about more creative producers are spot on. But I think our industry is missing a massive opportunity. A rising tide lifts all boats. But are we channeling that tide into the right canal? We need more than one or two new visionary producers with millions of dollars at their command. We need hundreds with thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of dollars and small agile crews. Just look at the music industry. How much money did it take to produce Lorde’s first single. I may be over simplifying it, but some studio foam, a pop-filter and a macbook isn’t a “Hobbit-like” investment. Lorde’s a great case in point because she wrote a song about how we (as Kiwis) identify with terms that are so prevalent in our vernacular, but come from a country 1,000s of kilometres away. In so doing she made the US fall in love with her in a way that is absolutely kiwi. And she’s not the only one. There’s Ruby Frost, David Dallas and a host of others making their mark on the international stage without compromising their kiwiness.
Yes we could incentivise international film companies into NZ to employ our highly skilled technicians and we probably should. And yes we can grant funds to three or four promising producers in the hope that they’ll create some gold, but that system simply isn’t enough and it hasn’t been for some time.
The point is, while thought leaders and government are arguing the merits of mechanisms and systems that have helped our industry grow to its current adulthood, the audience has moved on. They aren’t waiting for us in cinemas, they aren’t hanging out to see what new epic whale-rider-like movie’s coming up next, they’re on the internet and they’re not leaving. But they’re still watching TV and they’re still going to the cinema you say. And of course you’re right, but they’re showing up less and they’re more and more distracted. Go have a talk to the newspaper or the music industries. Things have changed. Dramatically. And film and television needs to adapt with that change.
On Wednesday last week the game changed forever. Kickstarter launched. It was so popular with creators that, despite their RSVP’d invitations, many were turned away at the opening launch / Q & A session in New Zealand’s main centres. We’ve had Indegogo, PledgeMe and Boosted for a while now and some argue that Indegogo is better for film and creative projects, but Kickstarter has numbers. Our project Tina, the web comedy series, launched with it and will (if things continue as they are, along with some sponsorship) release a new kiwi web series to the world. No networks, no NZ on Air funding, scenes in cars or imperatives to reflect kiwi culture. Just a bunch of awesome backers, sponsors and talented crew determined to make it happen.
The future of our film and television industry has nothing to do with film or television and everything to do with digital video. It’s not about a handful of producers and actors recycled around the industry. It’s about amazing, talented, individuals collaborating and demonstrating the kind of nous required to make things happen in a fast-paced, consumer driven industry. Piracy didn’t kill DVD sales – archaic licensing deals and distribution techniques killed them. Massive conglomerate corporate deals killed them. But the thing that put the boot in while they were writhing on the floor was the gigantic disconnect from the audience. The people we create this stuff for. The people who simply want to watch what we create. The ones who don’t want to wait for some random zoning restriction to be lifted before they can see the stuff their mates are raving about from other countries around the world.
The internet, as a distribution channel, allows us to build content for niche audiences anywhere. We don’t need millions of dollars to do it either. Isn’t it a smarter strategy to back 100 entrepreneurial producers, each of whom might reach more than 100,000 viewers and expose the depth of kiwi talent we have on our doorstep to the wider world than three or four? Our budgets, just as music labels, newspapers and magazines have found, will never be the same. But that shouldn’t stop us keeping kiwi crew gainfully employed.
Last year NZ On Air funded two of the four web series listed below for $644,819* and 95 television shows at $85,469,356.**
It doesn’t have to be like this. We can produce more content in less time with smaller budgets than before. That’s not to say crew shouldn’t be paid rates that highly skilled technicians deserve, but it does mean we can rework the economics of being in an industry that often only employs for 8-months of the year. If we have more production at faster speeds we can build our industry to be more consistent. This means crew can work on a greater variety of drama than they have in the past and stay gainfully employed for longer periods through the year. Technology is cheaper than ever before and we can be so much smarter with the way we shoot things. Woodville and The Factory were funded as a part of the above digital fund allocation, while Flat3 and Highroad (as far as I can tell) were funded off their own bat. Why aren’t we investing in more great shows like these that can be watched anytime, anywhere by anyone? Why aren’t we exploring mixed-model funding using the technology freely available to us? And why aren’t we thinking beyond advertising and DVD sales as our only source of post distribution income?
* NZ On Air 2012 Ignite and Kickstart fund information excluding animation, events apps or websites