New Film Making Powerhouse: New Zealand

I ran across an interesting article in WSJ [sub. needed] about film making in New Zealand. I should disclose that I have a soft spot for New Zealand. In 2000, my wife and I quit our jobs and traveled for a year. We spent 4.5 months in Australia and 2.5 month in New Zealand.

NZ is a wonderful country that has everything – mountains, glaciers, rain forests, fjords, dormant volcanoes. It is all that stuff that is making it a great space to make movies. Having Peter Jackson as a citizen doesn’t hurt either.

I have copied a large portion of the article below. The copy was created from speech given by Ruth Harley, CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission. She talks about the seven things that have led to success with the film industry in New Zealand.

The Seven Keys to Kiwi Power by Ruth Harley
WSJ March 2nd, 2004 pg. D4

We are a remote country of four million people and modest financial resources. Three decades ago we had nothing that could be called a film industry. Then, in 1978, the government established the New Zealand Film Commission. Today, we are taking home 11 Oscar statuettes out of 13 nominations, and “Lord of the Rings” is set to become the highest-grossing film of all time.

How did this happen? I believe there are seven success factors that created the New Zealand film industry.

First, patience. Film is a gamble. The international market is over-supplied, highly competitive and unforgiving. Only about 10% of the hundreds of writers and directors we support get features into production. And only about 10% of these achieve success. The only way to find outstanding talent is by having the courage to accept a high level of commercial and critical failure in the belief that success will eventually flower.

Second, money. The Film Commission started in 1978 with an annual budget of less than $250,000. Today it is about $9 million. Next year it will increase to $14 million. Of this total, 50% comes from the government, 40% from State Lottery profits, and the remainder from earnings on the films we have supported.

Third, creative freedom. The film industry is rife with tales of financial backers, not the director, having final say about what appears on screen. The Film Commission doesn’t dictate rules and regulations for creating films. We work with filmmakers to try to ensure the best results. We aren’t shy about expressing our point of view, but in the end, it’s the filmmaker’s vision that ends up on screen.

Fourth, national identity. It’s no accident that many of our strongest films are based on our literature, for example “Once Were Warriors,” “An Angel at My Table” and “Whale Rider.” Our culture is the well from which filmmakers draw their inspiration to create unique cinematic images that are also internationally accessible — universal stories told against a culturally specific background.

Fifth, entrepreneurial spirit. The commission’s support is provided as investment, not grants. And to get the investment for any film that is not wholly financed from New Zealand, producers and directors have to construct deals and relationships with parties from different countries. “In My Father’s Den,” a film currently in production about a photojournalist who is implicated in the mysterious disappearance of a teenager, is a small feature with a complex deal structure: eight partners in three countries, each with their own set of laws and tax regulations. All this requires filmmakers to have the confidence, contacts, determination, experience and patience to go after such deals if they want their films to get made.

Sixth, thinking globally. We know we have to play on an international stage; there is no other choice. So our fledgling filmmakers are like athletes whose only opportunity to compete in their first major race is the Olympics. Yet I firmly believe this is one of the key reasons for the success of New Zealand filmmakers — they either succeed or fail early in their careers. They have to be very talented, very ambitious and very resilient.

Seventh, backing from the top. Since 1999, when she took office, our secret weapon has been Prime Minister Helen Clark, who has taken the additional portfolio of Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. Her commitment has meant that all the arts, not just film, have received more money and become the responsibility of the economic ministries, putting them at the center of the government’s attention.

The article reveals New Zealand has been involved in the next sure-to-be fantasy film franchise: Chronicles of Narnia. They are filming The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe now and its scheduled to be in theaters around Christmas.