Friday, July 02, 2010

Hobbits on Film

Speaking of Withnail & I, Peter Jackson and David Court have finally handed in their homework on the Film Commission to Chris Finlayson. Stuff's headline of Jackson review criticises Film Commission is a bit like saying Roger Ebert criticises Peter Jackson films. That's the point, isn't it?

Yes, the Film Commission Board does get singled out as some kind of Star Chamber. No-one's denying that, not even the Board. But the faults go further than that, into the clash between the grey cardies of bureaucracy and the highly-strung and out-of-the-box theatrics of the creative sector.

There are strange parallels in this Hobbit Declaration to the review of Crown Research Institutes not so long ago. Piddly funding, a constant dribble of checklists and tick-boxes for accountability, lots of day after tomorrow promises that never lead anywhere.

It's notable that the core of the market Jackson and Court are talking about is a very low number, something south a 100 talented people nationwide. Even given the TV and advertising sector, it gives a good clue as to just how much training the government should be throwing into the relevant tertiary training arena. No point getting twenty thousand teens with qualifications in film for a pool of 100 jobs.

Yes, incentivise writers by linking their income to box office returns. Writers are treated like shit at present.

Yes, have some limited funding for lo-fi trailers for prospective movie ideas. Links to NZ on Air's funding of music videos comes to mind, albeit with slightly different targets. A trailer can act as a visual business card for writers/directors to sell their vision, while also getting the pool of talent refreshed through no-name trailer stars. Trailer trash, if you will. Everyone wins. That's how Sin City sold itself.

The Film Archive should be split off and assigned to the Librarians' Guild with the National Archives. That's their function, not the Film Commission's. That way, they might be in time to save all that VHS archive from the 1980s before it gets electronic Alzheimer's. That's worth a dollar or two in public goods.

However, I'm with Treasury on the proposal of extending the Large Budget Screen Production Grants scheme. NZ is transparent in its support structures and we do not favour subsidies. Fuck Sony, screw Warner. We have cheap labour as a competitive advantage if they film here. I'm also wary of Australia's mistake with the Docklands Studio:
A schedule of every movie and television program shot at the studios, released for the first time, reveals they have been used for feature films only 50 per cent of the time.

There have been four months when the studio's five stages have been empty. It is vacant at present.

Withnail & I would never have made it into reality without the backing of former Beatle George Harrison of HandMade Films. This production company began life in order to fund Monty Python's Life of Brian because no major studio wanted to go near it. Neither the Film Commission Board nor the offshore studios should pick our winners.

A good film is an interesting story told well. Sleeping Dogs taught us a lot, and it would never have happened without the support and belief of Don Brash (for finance) and even Rob Muldoon (helicopters and rockets). Vigil, Smash Palace, Goodbye Pork Pie, Boy, Once Were Warriors, Christmas; these are our stories, not King Kong or Avatar. If our homegrown talent can add to the panthenon on a regular basis, that'll be good enough.