Saturday, August 23, 2014

Film Commission frowns on Kiwi Ingenuity? The sky is falling!

 On 24 Apr 2014, Dave Gibson, new head of the NZ Film Commission, was interviewed by Simon Morris on the RadioNZ programme "At The Movies".

Summary of some discussion starting at 06:43
"The things that concern me .." ... "the democratisation of film-making" is "a bit scary". Can be a good thing and a bad thing. People with no skills and no abilities will be able to make (feature) films. (Morris: "no gatekeeper?").  With bad poetry you can put the book down quickly.  With bad films you have "paid $20 and get stuck in a cinema for an hour and a half with a terrible film".

Regardless of material costs, it is a major social organisation challenge to get people together make a 90 min movie.  And those people are all quality control gatekeepers. The project leaders need ideas, passion, credibility to win them over. On completion, distributors and film festival selectors are severe quality control gatekeepers.  The situation Dave dreads could only happen where the film-makers hire a venue as a rare one-off.  Also the democratisation of film-making is not a future event. It started with Super-8mm about 1980.  I first trapped a paying audience in the dark for 90 min in Dec 1982 with "Breaking Out Of Pattern".  The sky did not fall. OK it did get a bad review in the "Auckland Star" newspaper... gatekeeper!

I am concerned that we are heading for a downturn rather than a no-budget explosion. Dave's "equipment revolution" is up against a world of more work-pressure and time-pressure making co-op and community projects more difficult.

This reminds me of Robert Greene.  Who?  Robert was a playwright complaining about the democratisation of live theatre.  He was especially upset about writers without university degrees.  They should not be allowed!  And the worst offender was - ta da! - that awful "upstart crow" William Shakespeare! The year was 1592.  We have survived democratisation since then.  So do we have a Film Commission ready to discourage the next emerging William Shakespeare?

Which brings us to the latest Film Commission initiative and their call for comments.

NZFC proposes ramping up their "Escalator" scheme of $250000 low budget movies. But they insist on full professionalism, so that means as my writer friend Colin Rock says: "2 actors and a puppet in the back of a garage".  This follows the success of Escalator film "Housebound", a horror movie with a small cast and a house.  Huge congratulations to everyone involved in "Housebound" for making a great little movie.  I wonder if this is in spite of "Escalator" rather than because of it?  Can anyone else see that small scope horror movies are the only kind of success we can have out of this?

In my opinion projects need to be "EITHER-OR". As in either co-op no-budget ($5000 to $50000 production) or fully professional with a good scope of film visual language ($2 million plus). Anywhere in-between is awkward and a bad idea.  Hey Film Commission you got lucky with "Housebound" but you are now drawing the wrong conclusion from that.
Quoting NZFC:  "..genuinely lower-budget in scope and methodology to be candidates for funding. This wouldn’t be about making a bigger budget film for less money or cutting corners at the expense of cast, crew and industry partners."
Is this a ban on Kiwi Ingenuity? Does this mean a ban on the use of number-8 wire?!  Does this mean a ban on deals like deferrals or part-payments mixed with percentage shares?
Yet elsewhere on their website, NZFC does write about doing shares.  Ref:
"..repay any deferrals key creatives have made..",  "..percentage each individual cast or crew member allocated points will get..".
Anyone else see a contradiction here?
Aside: This NZFC "Guide For New Filmmakers" needs a lot of improvement. Film-makers who do not get grants are still supporting NZFC as taxpayers through their day jobs. The NZFC could fulfil its purpose with respect to them by giving more and better quality advice. Useful details would help eg supplying example forms such as releases and agreements.

Let us now consider the example of no-budget feature "Bad Taste"(1987) by the emerging Peter Jackson. Article with Trailer at:
This does everything "wrong"!  This is totally about the forbidden love of " making a bigger budget film for less money ..".  In 1987 the NZ Film Commission came on board and funded post-production and marketing.  I wonder if today's Film Commission is capable of that kind of vision?

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