The Government has launched a review into funding for the screen production industry, as international investment grew to nearly $170 million in the last year.
Screen production grants offer a 40 per cent rebate on local spending to domestic productions, capped at $6 million unless extra criteria are met.
International screen production grants are usually for a 20 per cent cash back on qualifying costs with no financial limit, with further cash incentives on offer for larger spending above $25 million.
“We just need to make sure the settings are right, we need to make sure we're delivering for New Zealanders, for New Zealand actors, New Zealand producers and all the other small and large New Zealand companies who are part of this fantastic sector,” Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash said.
Government investment in international productions has increased from $109 million in 2014/2015 to $169 million in 2021/2022, a spokesperson for Nash said.
“When we're investing this much taxpayer money, we need to ensure that it has a degree of integrity and I believe it does.”
The latest available revenue figure is from the industry survey in 2018, with the sector earning $3.3 billion.
Statistics New Zealand announced in 2019 it would stop running the industry survey.
The review process will start in January, with mid-2023 stated as when the earliest changes to grants would come into effect.
The terms of reference for the investigation includes answering two questions: whether the Government’s investment in the screen sector may be inhibiting its development and resilience over time; and if the Government’s investment in the sector could better support its sustainability to maximise economic and cultural benefits the country.
Objectives include supporting the growth of a stronger local screen sector, with more diversity in business set-ups; supporting improved pay; opportunities and conditions for those in the sector; increasing the creation of content that reflects Aotearoa and reaches a wider audience; and getting the most benefit possible for the economy from the international and local industry.
“This includes a cohort of Aotearoa New Zealand businesses at scale operating at the global frontier and creating a diverse range of content including high quality Aotearoa New Zealand stories for global audiences,” the terms of reference in the document states.
“Australia got rid of its subsidies at one point and 97 per cent of international studios left the country,” Nash said.
“If we want to be part of this game, we've got to play the subsidy game.
“How do we ensure that we are still really attractive to the major US or global studios but also developing a local production capacity and capability that, when a large US movie packs up and heads home, there is still work for those people who have worked on that but in the domestic sector?”
The Justice of Bunny King filmmaker Gaysorn Thavat said the main issue for the sector trying to grow is that creative workers are struggling to financially support themselves between working on international projects.
“The New Zealand screen industry at the moment – apart from our own very small local industry – is pretty much a service industry for Hollywood,” she said.
Thavat said the international screen production grant needs to have additional criteria added for New Zealand worker collaboration.
“If you're going to take all this money from New Zealand with this SPG incentive, how about you factor in some really good roles for our actors?”
She also suggested New Zealand writers needed to be involved in productions, as well as Kiwi directors being required to direct a certain number of episodes in a series, for example.
Thavat said this would allow New Zealand creative workers to more regularly have the income and increased skills to work on telling New Zealand stories through their own projects afterwards, not just telling other people’s stories through working in a “service industry”.
She did not think this would deter international productions and said it reflected the kaupapa that working with New Zealand should be a partnership approach.
Screen Industry Guild president Brendon Durey also supported the suggestion of added criteria to boost the domestic industry.
“Speaking on behalf of the Screen Industry Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand – which in many ways is the guild that represents the workforce of the industry, the below the line crew – we see various incentive schemes around the world which have a larger incentive for streaming services and offshore productions to invest more heavily in the training and development of crew than we do here,” he said.
Durey said he believes the review will be “a great opportunity to look at what works successfully overseas and what of those initiatives we can import down here” to channel the “enormous amount of direct foreign investment that the incentive facilitates into better development of our local sector”.
He added that improved data collection into the effects of policies going forward would be a necessity as without it, “it can be very hard to track anything in a very meaningful real-world sense”.
Durey said he hoped the review doesn’t increase uncertainty for the local and international industry, as it recovers from Covid-19 restrictions.
“It will make people – if they feel the goalposts are going to change materially any time soon – there is going to be a real reluctance to engage with New Zealand as a film destination.”