The New Zealand Government has dropped the expenditure threshold by $760,000 (NZ$1m) to $3m (NZ$4m) for New Zealand films and New Zealand co-productions wanting to claim back 40% of this expenditure under the new Screen Production Incentive Fund (SPIF).

The initiative was announced in May and, since then, the government has also revised how much can be paid out via the offset: it will be $52.1m (NZ$68.5m) over five years, made up of new money and existing New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) funding. While $7.6m (NZ$10m) can be co-investment with NZFC funds, no more than one-fifth of that amount can go towards any one film.

Although it is a grant not a tax rebate, the NZ scheme is similar to the one implemented a year ago in Australia, although Australia's is uncapped.

'The government did not want an open-ended scheme because the budget does not allow for that,' NZFC chair, David Cullwick, told screendaily.com. If the estimate on demand falls short, he imagines that the industry and the NZFC would mount a case for more but a review of overall progress will be conducted in two years.

The NZ initiative took effect from July 1, and the government today issued full details of the points-based test used to determine adequate New Zealand content and participation, and also information about eligibility criteria, application procedures and what constitutes qualifying expenditure.

The SPIF grant appears to be better thought through than Australia's tax offset, partly because the Australian industry's support structures are in disarray because Film Finance Corporation Australia, Film Australia and the Australian Film Commission have just been folded into a new agency, Screen Australia.

Cullwick said it was essential for NZ to introduce SPIF to stay competitive with Australia.

'There is anecdotal evidence that New Zealand production units were looking at moving to Australia and basing themselves there,' he said. 'It is no different from what happened in the wider business community with research and development. How many would have done it I don't know but if you try to close the door afterwards it is generally too late.'

Global players were always looking for soft money, he added, and both countries were under the spotlight: 'If they can help NZ grow its production capability but meet the NZ content criteria: great.'

He said SPIF is a natural evolution of NZ's Film Fund, which is generally regarded as having been successful. Whale Rider, Perfect Strangers, River Queen, World's Fastest Indian, Perfect Creature and The Ferryman were the six films supported by the first fund and The Vintner's Luck and Dean Spanley are being supported by the Film Fund II, which also has offers out on director Jonathan King's Under The Mountain and Paul Middleditch's Separation City.

'Filmmakers will now get producer equity and, if they can get the other 60 per cent of the budget, they can just get on with it (without having to deal with selection processes)... It (SPIF) provides the opportunity to be entrepreneurial within a more commercial framework, although it would be wrong to say that there were no commercial disciplines around the Film Fund.'