Film Industry, Nothing’s in the middle.

The screen industry survey which states that 79 percent of television production is in Auckland, and 81 percent of film production is in Wellington (hardly surprising figures) describes New Zealand’s film industry as ‘lumpy’. It tends to swing from one big budget production to the next with steep drop-offs in between. 

This is because if you are Peter Jackson or a low budget producer, you are okay. The government is behind lifting NZ’s meagre rate of tax breaks to make the market more attractive to overseas producers, who tend to be extremely willing to invest in a safe film maker lie Jackson. The low budget film maker is also catered for by the NZ film commission, which has continued to funda wide range of productions. But its funding level is capped at a maximum of $2 million for feature films and $1 million for documentaries. The film industry is therefore essentially bipolar, and the mid range productions which cost around $15-$20 million and have a much greater chance of making a return than low budget films – don’t get made. It is too much of a risk for the government to put up most of the finds, and Hollywood studios are generally blind to all but the heavyweights like Sir Peter Jackson.

What are we to do? My theory insane as it may seem (and of course un-costed) would be to create a scheme which offers between five and ten mid range productions that have significant New Zealand content to be given tax breaks of up to 50 percent, therefore allowing the industry to continue to grow in the downtime between the big budget umbrella productions like the Hobbit and Avatar. a dramatically higher level of tax incentives would attract overseas studios to fund the projects and give writers, producers, and directors who have proven themselves on the low budget stage to make the leap to bigger productions here rather than going offshore (which even Peter Jackson almost had to do in the late 90s).

Last year Labour’s spokesperson for Arts, Culture and Heritage Jacinda Adern said, “We have the opportunity to build a regime that is not focused on one big budget movie at a time, but that works for the whole industry, and across the whole country.” She has the right sentiment but so far no one has made a policy move to achieve it. 

Perhaps my idea is completely unrealistic, but I see that the Government’s fiscal strategy is to sell more and buy less. This maybe the right course when it comes to agriculture but it is wrong for film. Nowhere is the economic rule ‘you’ve got to spend money to make money’ more true than in the film industry. It is a high stakes game where success is unpredictable, but to succeed you have to be ready to bet higher or you can’t stay in the game. Conservatism is anathema to film.

The big fish creates the illusion that NZ film is booming. But we need a garden of poppies not just a single big one.

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