Former PolyGram, Universal Pictures and Channel 4 executive Graeme Mason has been appointed chief executive of the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC), replacing Ruth Harley who moved to head new Australian super agency Screen Australia last year.

The appointment was announced early this morning (March 11)by NZFC chair David Cullwick. Australian-born Mason will move from London, where he currently heads Scarlet Pictures, to be in the new job by early April.

One of Mason's first major tasks will be to use his considerable international film and commercial experience to have input into a review of the government agency.

A new government came to power in New Zealand in November, and it was part of the policy platform of Prime Minister John Key's National Party that a review be conducted by government. The Minister is finalising the terms of reference.

Cullwick told Screendaily that the board 'quite deliberately' delayed the appointment because of the shifting political landscape.

'There are different views on whether that was a good or a bad decision but it is what we did,' he said. The NZFC has been leaderless since November when Harley, who had been in the role for a decade, took up her new post as inaugural chief executive of Screen Australia.

'We wanted someone who was passionate about filmmaking, passionate about New Zealand cultural filmmaking, who would show strong leadership, take a fresh approach, and use that to energise the Commission,' said Cullwick. 'The New Zealand Film Commission needs to reinvent itself to suit the new world, but that's not to say what we have been doing is wrong.'

Cullwick said changes were already occurring within the local film financing environment because of the May 2008 introduction of the Screen Production Incentive Fund (SPIF), a 40% grant for New Zealand films spending US$2m (NZ$4m) or more locally, and greater recognition of the equity rights of the producer.

'We want the review to be conducted within a strong commercial framework,' he said.

The NZFC aims to invest in at least four features annually but in the financial year ending on June 30, 2008, it invested in 12. It has supported 140 of the 200 films made in the country in the 30 years since it was established.

Mason spent seven years at PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, including three as senior vice president, at a time when The Usual Suspects, Trainspotting and Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels were going through the system. For the next three years he was president of acquisitions at Universal Pictures, working out of London and LA.

He joined Channel 4 in 2003 and, while there, re-launched the film library, supervised the completion of production, sales and distribution on titles including The Motorcycle Diaries and Touching The Void, and helped establish a new film division. He was subsequently appointed managing director of rights.

Mason's partner has family in New Zealand.