New Zealand’s leading director and David Court, director of AFTRS Centre for Screen Business, lay out a blueprint for the future of the country’s film industry.

Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson and David Court, director of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) Centre for Screen Business, have set out a blueprint for developing the New Zealand film industry as part of a Government-commissioned report.

The critical report calls for a shake up of the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) to create a talent-driven model. It adds that the government agency should focus on developing a successful industry rather than on individual funding decisions within a rule driven system. This should include acting as a talent scout for people with a passion, obsession and talent for storytelling and providing the support that best suits their feature aspirations.

It also recommends bringing more development skills in-house and, believing scripts to be the weak link, ensuring film-makers know about structure. Creativity and risk-taking should rule, not commercial considerations: “It’s an approach that can lead to mundane, forgettable, boring movies”.

It adds that producers should not be central unless they are storytellers.

The 87-page report argues for funding decisions to be made by staff rather than the board with less attention paid to the opinions of distributors. It also calls for the introduction of a distribution fund, which would match the contributions of local and international distributors, and a scheme to reward film-makers for success, including a box office incentive similar to the scheme in France.

It also recommends that the NZFC helps develop new financial instruments, whilst becoming more transparent about the films it funds and distributes, and reduce its role as a sales agent.

Jackson and Court’s report is heartfelt rather than orientated and is underpinned by the notion that few people have the ability to engage and entertain an audience for 90 minutes. It states: “There might be no more than 25 or 30 truly talented screen writers and directors working in a country the size of New Zealand”.

This small pool of writing and directing talent can create large-scale work opportunities and generate significant economic benefits and cannot be allowed to slip through the tracks, it adds.

“These few individuals need to form the spine of our film industry. We don’t have enough of them right now, and our film industry is weakened because of it.”

New Zealand ought to be able to produce six to eight commercial films annually but, to achieve this, must continue to attract offshore activity. The NZFC function could help experienced players make films outside its funding capacity with script development and other strategic support.

The report acknowledges that its strong emphasis on helping the most talented means concentrating resources on the few: “We realise this goes against the grain for those who view film as a democratic medium, made accessible by new technologies … we argue that making films is like playing sport. There is an amateur level and a professional level. Making feature films is the professional level.”

Fifty-eight submissions fed into the report, which represents a year of consultations and consideration. Equivalent agencies examined were Screen Australia, the UK Film Council, the Danish Film Institute, France’s Centre Nationale de la Cinematographie, the Israeli Film Fund, the Irish Film Board and Telefilm Canada. It also looked at the UK’s Film4, part of broadcaster Channel 4.  

The NZFC has existed for 30 years. Data for 1993 to 2006 shows it typically invested at least 50% of the budget (39 films out of 58) and recouped just under 20 per cent of its investment – in dollar terms, $12.9 million against $66.2 million invested.

Graeme Mason is the NZFC’s chief executive. He replaced Ruth Harley who left in 2008 to head Screen Australia.