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Minister Of Broadcasting Speech On Film & TV


SPEECH NOTES: Hon Marian Hobbs, Minister of Broadcasting
Capital Development Agency Forum On Film And Television
Wellington March 16

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I applaud your objective to develop a national strategy to promote New Zealand as a location for the production of film and television and to encourage investment in the industry.

That is a subject very dear to me. As the local Member of Parliament and also as Minister of Broadcasting I am well aware of the talented people all round us who are desperate for the opportunity to use their skills.

I've met some of them in the block of flats where I live.

And of course Wellington is the centre for Peter Jackson's epic undertaking, The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Since it was in pre-production, there has been much publicity about the venture. This represents a substantial coup for Mr Jackson, and more generally, the New Zealand film industry. It is the largest film production undertaken ever – anywhere. The winning of the contract for this production reflects not only on the talent and reputation of Mr Jackson and his creative team, but also the reputation of New Zealand as an attractive location. It shows we have a favourable economic and regulatory environment. And it speaks to the world of the resources we have here, including locations, industry talent, and production facilities.

Mr Jackson’s present success, with all it means for the New Zealand industry, owes a great deal, as he has himself acknowledged, to the early support of the New Zealand Film Commission. The Commission provided funding to a total of $5.3 million towards his first four feature films. Mr Jackson has publicly commented on the need for similar support for other New Zealand film-makers, early in their careers, to enable their progression to bigger budget, commercially successful productions. Mr Jackson’s career exemplifies the benefits of carefully targeted government subsidy and investment in this most complex and costly of art forms. For a relatively small investment of public funds in Mr Jackson’s early films, New Zealand is now reaping the benefit of a $360 million film production in this country.

The benefits of Government investment, via the Film Commission, in film production are referred to specifically in the Labour Party’s manifesto. Reference is made to the increasing foreign investment in New Zealand co-productions and the export earning potential of the New Zealand film industry. In Labour's election manifesto we undertook to: “work with the New Zealand Film Commission and other relevant parties to investigate the establishment of a Film Development Fund to attract more capital into the New Zealand film industry”. The Prime Minister referred to this last month at the function marking Peter Jackson's purchase of the former National Film Unit.

The Film Commission is very keen to pursue this proposal and has been actively investigating options for its development. In 1994 the film and television industry set up Project Blue Sky, which, among other initiatives, aimed to raise private investment for local films. In 1997 the Commission endorsed the Film Fund concept, and in the last two years has worked on two films using the Film Fund structure. The first of these, Wild Blue, is completed and will be released shortly; the second, Crooked Earth, is currently awaiting a binding ruling from the IRD on its finance structure.

The Film Commission hopes to develop a much larger Film Fund, aiming for total funds of $50 million. It currently has $5 million available for investment in the Fund and is seeking an additional $10 million from Government over the next three years. The balance will be raised through private equity investment and bank debt.

The objective of the Film Fund is to allow New Zealand film-makers to produce second and subsequent films with larger budgets and higher production values. Such funding would provide a bridge between fully subsidised, low budget first films and fully commercial productions. Films on this scale would allow film-makers to develop and display their talent to the point that commercial investors would be willing to finance future productions.

A larger investment fund also allows the development of the domestic market and encourages New Zealand support for New Zealand films. Currently, most New Zealand films are on budgets that, despite the talent and commitment of the film-makers, limit the quality and screen value that productions can achieve. New Zealand audiences want, and deserve to have, New Zealand films of high quality and popular appeal. While first time, low budget films will continue to play an important role in industry and talent development, we don’t want all our movies to be at the lowest end of the market.

Both the Commission and the industry are agreed that for the New Zealand film industry to develop, further investment is required. Currently film production is erratic and small-scale. The industry is hampered by a lack of industry training, as well as funding. A viable, sustainable and profitable industry requires continuity of production, which in turn needs the financial, regulatory and training infrastructures in place to allow this. This comes down to the level of investment, both private and Government, in the industry.

Foreign produced and funded productions provide an important base for the film infrastructure. As well as the Lord of the Rings, a further US financed film The Vertical Limit has been shooting in Queenstown and several other overseas funded productions are taking place, or starting soon in New Zealand. Such productions develop and support the necessary infrastructure, encourage and develop industry skills and training and bring foreign investment into the country. Here I must acknowledge the efforts of Film New Zealand, represented here today, which markets New Zealand as a preferred location.

However, New Zealand needs a strong domestic environment to develop a successful international film industry. New Zealand could be undercut as a preferred location at any time by other countries. More importantly, foreign productions do not meet the cultural objectives of New Zealand film making. As well as significant export earning potential, a vibrant and thriving New Zealand film industry contributes to the recognition, development and reflection of our cultural identity. It is a very powerful medium with the potential to influence the way we see our country and ourselves. Films can encourage reflection on our way of life, our beliefs and attitudes, or those of others. They can surprise, challenge and sometimes shock us. They encourage comparisons and debate. The range of issues films can raise, the views they can present, are as broad as the intellect and imagination of the writers, directors and producers who make them.

If New Zealand is to contest cultural globalisation, and retain and enhance its own unique culture, it must be able to challenge that globalisation in the cinemas; to present popular, quality, successful New Zealand alternatives to the dominant Hollywood productions. In its film-makers, New Zealand clearly has the talent, creativity, enthusiasm and commitment to achieve this. What is now required is an equal commitment from investors to allow the talent and drive of New Zealand film-makers to reach its fullest potential, both in terms of New Zealand’s domestic productions and markets, and international opportunities for individual film-makers, the wider industry and the New Zealand economy.


Television

As in many countries, film and television production in New Zealand are interdependent. Government policy for each will assist the development of the other, helping to build up New Zealand’s stock of acting, directing and writing talent and its technical skills. Like film, television can be a vital medium for our own images and narratives. It is an extraordinarily pervasive presence in our lives, conditioning for better or worse the way we see our country, and the opinions and values we hold. Even more than film, it has the capacity to provide a shared experience, and to make minority voices heard.

This Government considers that television’s potential as a vehicle for New Zealand content and New Zealand talent has not been realised. The record of the last ten years, since the passing of the current Broadcasting Act, is one of under-performance. The genres that have the greatest cultural impact and require the greatest creative input – drama, comedy, documentary, children’s programmes– are under-represented in our programme schedules. As NZ On Air has noted, no drama series has “bedded in” since the advent of Shortland Street. That such a staple of mainstream programming – a means by which other countries present their stories to the world - is not being successfully produced here suggests that the model for television production we have chosen needs re-examination.

That model is of course to have largely commercial television companies – one owned by the state –showing some programmes funded by two independent Crown agencies, NZ On Air and Te Mangai Paho. The public broadcasting fee that in turn funded those agencies (with Vote money supplementing Te Mangai Paho’s income) was allowed to decline in real value year after year until its abandonment at the end of this financial year. I have announced that this Government is to review the way NZ On Air is funded in the future. Officials led by a senior official from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet are already on the job

There is no doubt that increased funding channelled through NZ On Air would result in more television production in some of those vital genres that are now barely present on our screens. But it’s not as simple as that. The present broadcasting model allows broadcasters to act as “gatekeepers”. This means that, even if NZ On Air offers to fully fund a programme, a television company may decline to show it, if to do so would conflict with its own commercial imperatives. The broadcaster needs to consider the opportunity costs of featuring a particular programme. It is also under pressure from advertisers who are much more interested in some segments of the total potential audience than others.

The NZ On Air model has its virtues. It provides for contestability, it’s flexible, its administrative costs are relatively low. But it needs to be supported by other measures if we are to have the level of television production activity that any developed country would expect to enjoy. One of these measures, as many at the meeting will know, is to equip TVNZ with a charter to give it a clearer and stronger role as a broadcaster of a diverse range of local content. Another is to introduce local content quotas. As participants will know, quotas are a common means internationally of ensuring high minimum levels of local content. The Australian experience in particular deserves close study. Our neighbour’s decision to adopt quotas for television, setting targets for those key genres, has served to build up the Australian industry as an exporter of programmes, and Australia’s attractiveness as a provider of skills and resources for foreign productions.

There are other television matters that there is not time to mention, such as the transition from analogue to digital transmission, which involves a range of issues to do with public access and spectrum allocation. In seeking to realise the potential of New Zealand television as a cultural resource, this Government will advance in a co-ordinated way, to ensure that the policies we introduce are mutually supporting. We intend neither merely to tinker with the model that has been in place since 1989, nor to replace it, but rather to supplement it with measures that will allow a greater quantity and quality of programme making. This in turn will strengthen New Zealand’s ability to take on the world in television production, and to welcome overseas producers to tap into our own skills and resources.

A paper is currently in preparation setting out a proposed sequence of work to carry out the Government’s broadcasting policies. Relevant departments are working together to co-ordinate policies, and the timing and the kinds of consultation to be undertaken are currently being considered.

With the new Chairperson of TVNZ, Dr Ross Armstrong, I am in the process of finalising appointments to the Board.

We will also be negotiating the Statement of Corporate Intent which will set out the company's direction. No longer will the commercial return be the prime motivator. TVNZ's public service obligations will also share centre stage.

We are also looking at the infrastructure - the relationship between BCL and TVNZ and the regulatory framework governing transmission.

Charter
I have had a really good discussion with the chairman of the board trying to tease out this issue. I think we will put up a number of issues for public consultation starting with the draft Charter outline on page five of the New Zealand Labour Party's broadcasting policy. We will invite people to about five or six centres throughout the country to comment and contribute on what's planned. We will also take out advertisements inviting people to write to us. I don't what the process to be dragged out nor will it be an expensive exercise. I would hope to have the Charter legislated by Parliament within the next 12 months.

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