Issue date: 
Tuesday, 27 November 2018

The following is a transcript of Annabelle Sheehan's speech given on Saturday, 27 October 2018 at the Big Screen Symposium, Auckland, New Zealand.

A mihi for Big Screen Symposium

Tēnā koutou katoa

Ka nui te mihi / ki a koutou katoa /mo tēnei/ te Huinga Tangata/ o te Ārai Whakaata nui.

Ko te kaupapa o te rā, me areare mai/ te rongo/ ki te hā, ki te wairua hoki /hei oranga māu /, arā /hei oranga mā tatou.

Kua tae mai /te Tumu Whakaata taonga/ hei kaitautoko/ i te kaupapa nei,

Na reira/, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

(Translation: Greetings all.  Greetings to you all for this the gathering of those involved in the Big Screen.  To the purpose of the day to be aware of the influences for us individually and collectively.  The NZFC is here to support the gathering, thank you.)

"This is my first Big Screen Symposium. Thank you for your welcome at this conference and to New Zealand this year. I have had 9 months in the role and in the country and its been inspiring to see the richness and complexity of this industry. I have met and worked with filmmakers, production companies, service providers, guilds and associations as well as the regional film offices and government agencies and departments. It’s been great to experience how the industry works together and to explore how we can take this industry to the next level.

The New Zealand Film Commission’s core business is to activate local/national production and to attract international production. In this way the commission seeks to support New Zealand filmmakers and companies to build careers, tell great stories, reach audiences and create sustainable businesses. We need a dynamic, robust and growth-oriented screen sector. It’s an ecosystem that requires all of us to collaborate and respect the integrated dynamics, the many people and companies that make every film, every career possible.

Our industry has a well-deserved reputation.  Our films have a unique cinematic voice, dry humour with a big heart.  Our crews and service companies are internationally recognised for their excellence. 

It is the custom of the NZFC to run a trailer celebrating the work of the past year and today is no exception. I have a short reel to run for you that includes the many (15) films that have been in release since last year's BSS. The films were funded directly by the NZFC production investment program or supported by SPG for local and international productions and hence shot by New Zealand crews in New Zealand or drew on New Zealand post and VFX crews. It is amazing to see the wealth of talent. And to perhaps be surprised by the films we were part of.

Here are the topics I am going to cover today:

  • The Film Commission Turns 40
  • Talent Department Programs
  • Big Screen Symposium 2018 theme – Tuning into the Zeitgeist
  1. Zeitgeist 1 – Women, Waitangi and Inclusion
  2. Zeitgeist 2 - National identity in a globalised, digitally disrupted screen economy.

Following on from comments yesterday about the various binaries that underpin our industry and our discussions are the set of binaries:  business versus creative, head versus heart and facts versus the spiritual.  My talk is going to lean towards the head/business and facts end of the spectrum.

I am also conscious that the industry is beginning the dialogue about what a 10 year strategy should look like and I hope to contribute to that with a strategic scan of the industry.

In the midst of that I may say something prosaic. I will have two other speakers from NZFC join me, Dale Corlett from the Talent Development department and Karen Waaka-Tibble, our Pou Whakahaere – our Māori screen executive.

This year the Film Commission turns 40 and so I looked back at the very first Annual Report tabled by the then fledgling organisation.

In 1978 the Film Commission considered 66 applications for funding and awarded 23 some form of support.  Five films received production funding.

In the 2017-18 financial year, the number of applications has grown from 66 to 454 applications for funding to production and to talent - plus 61 SPG applications (A total of 515 applications)

  • 212 projects/people awarded funding.
  • 12 feature films received production funding

Let’s look further at film in 2018 – currently there are:

  • 42 local films in advanced development, contracting or pre-production
  • 14 films in production or post-production
  • 11 international projects in pre or production, including 8 international drama series and 3 major studio feature films
  • 8 New Zealand films in, or about to be in, theatrical release
  • 16 New Zealand films released since October 2017

And here is a data snapshot of New Zealand screen industry in 2018 - earlier this year Stats NZ released its figures:

  • Film production revenue up 15% to $1.1 billion in 2017.
  • Total revenue for production and post is $1.9 billion.
  • 13,900 people working 26,600 industry jobs or contracts.

The Screen Production Grant in 2018 was no exception in triggering creative opportunities and economic value.

  • International SPG has triggered a total spend of $693 million, 75% to 80% of that spend being foreign investment. New dollars into New Zealand)
  • New Zealand SPG has triggered $42.5M spend.
  • Box office for The Breaker Upperers reaches $1.7M in New Zealand and exceeds $2M in Australia. Major sale to Netflix for Rest-of-world.


The industry has certainly grown over the last 40 years and some youthful pioneers named in that first report have now become significant international producers or filmmakers; named for funding back in 1978 were John Barnett, Roger Donaldson, Timothy White and Vincent Ward. Great to see the work they went on to make and are still making.

1978 – 1998 – 2018. These are significant years of the New Zealand film industry. 20 years in and 20 years ago the production of Lord Of The Rings was underway and New Zealand was transformed. The infrastructure initially built to support Weta’s visionary filmmaking has developed into an industry all its own, with world-class digital and physical effects, post-production facilities and an increasingly large number of highly skilled practitioners now available to local and international productions thanks to the training and expertise they gained through working on Jackson and Walsh’s films. The growth of our feature films sector became turbo charged and high-end excellence in filmmaking, VFX and post production became synonymous with New Zealand in the same way that Middle Earth and quirky comedies are a feature of our screen brand. Wellington is indelibly on the global radar with Weta’s ambitious and inventive filmmaking, and dedication to keeping the work here, in New Zealand.

The same evolution occurred in Auckland with the international work of Rob Tapert (Xena, Spartacus, The Shannara Chronicles) and with John Barnett setting up a nationally oriented power house for both feature films such as the enduring Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale and Whale Rider, and high rating New Zealand television via South Pacific Pictures.

Senior filmmakers such as Jackson, Walsh, Tapert, Barnett and others championed the creation of the Screen Production Incentive Fund (SPIF) and then the Screen Production Grant (SPG) which have been essential to the growth nationally of creative expertise, jobs, infrastructure and the screen.

The NZSPG which we now operate under is critical to the health of the New Zealand industry and our Incentives team works closely with ministry partners at MBIE and MCH to ensure New Zealand retains a competitive grant, which provides cultural, economic and industry development benefits to New Zealand.

Since start of SPG, from August 2014 to the end of June 2018, the NZSPG International triggered $1.39B spend of which 75% to 80% is new money coming in to New Zealand

In June MCH and MBIE released an evaluation of the NZSPG which was commissioned from Sapere Research Group to better understand the economic, industry development and cultural impacts of the grant to New Zealand.  Key findings in the evaluation report include:

  • The NZSPG generates additional screen activity and creates net economic benefits for New Zealand in a return of $2.04 for every $1 spent by Government.
  • Between August 2014 to end of June 2018 the NZSPG International attracted QNZPE totalling $1,395,672,103 resulting in total grant payments of NZ$291,044,535.
  • The screen sector generates spill over benefits in other sectors e.g. the impact on tourism - 19% of holiday visitors to New Zealand select The Hobbit trilogy as a key reason for visiting New Zealand (Source: International Visitor Survey YE March 2018).
  • The screen sector is growing but is not sustainable without the grant.
  • Existence value and public support value for New Zealand screen content is significant.

The NZIER survey released this year and calculated that the economic benefits derived from the International NZSPG – creates net economic benefits for New Zealand in a return of 2.35 for every $1 of Government spending.

To illustrate the impact of the SPG lets look at a map of New Zealand and the productions both local and international and postproduction activity that has occurred across the nation in this past 4 years under the SPG.

That is a lot of work for New Zealanders. And above all career paths have been built by the consistency of work and the scale of the work - from lower budget projects to billion dollar blockbusters, crew members have gained significant experience, and in some cases become filmmakers, directors, writers and producers. Their paths evolving through support from the New Zealand Government incentives system, and the professional and production funding programmes.

Backing Talent

It’s all about backing talent. SPG, SPIFF and other major government support systems have built some great national filmmakers who have gone on to significant international careers all well known to us, such as directors Taika Waititi, Lee Tamahori, Niki Caro, Jane Campion and Roger Donaldson, as well as a host of actors, producers and writers.

The primary goal is to support talented New Zealanders to build sustainable careers in the industry.   To assist with this in the year ahead, the Talent Development department have developed a new, more bespoke approach for their support which will be needs-related and tailored to the skills and experience of applicants."

Dale Corlett

"I’m going briefly talk to you about Talent Development at the NZFC – specifically 3 areas that we have developed recently.  They are:

  • Short films
  • On the job training and development through internships, apprenticeships, mentorships and professional placements
  • And a clearer definition of eligibility criteria for talent development support


- Fresh 10s

  • Fresh 10 is increasing to Fresh 15
  • Five films per year instead of seven
  • One round per year instead of two - the next round will be early in the new year
  • Working with an industry partner organisation to run Fresh Shorts programme
  • All Fresh Shorts applicants must have a producer attached
  • Continue with the developmental approach, including the residential development lab and industry mentoring of the short list
  • Continue to be focused on new and emerging talent

 - Fresh 30s

  • Replace Fresh 30 and Premiere Pathways with our new Catalyst Shorts
  • Catalyst shorts - $100,000 short film grants (90K will go towards the short film – and an $10k will be used for the development of the feature film by the team)
  • We will fund six films per year
  • Two or three rounds per year – the first we are hoping will open before Xmas
  • Potentially attach an industry executive producer that would work with the NZFC to support the teams helping them to deliver the films
  • Open to filmmaking teams (writers, directors, producers) where majority of team are emerging or mid-career level.

Through Catalyst we aim to support New Zealand filmmakers to make exceptional, high end short films that will be the catalyst for change in their career.  Catalyst is about:

  • creative excellence
  • talent progression into features
  • creating international recognition for exceptional New Zealand filmmaking talent

Although this is a stand alone short film fund, to help talent progress we know that your short films need to speak to their ambitions in the feature film space. So that's why all short films will be linked thematically or tonally to feature films that the attached talent is committed to making to help maximise the potential for progression. Details of how developed these features need to be will be in our new guidelines.

So that is our SHORT FILM updates.

As for on the job training and development, the NZFC recognise this is a key way for talent to develop new skills, build their networks of contacts and progress their careers. That is why this year we are increasing the amount of funding we have available for this support.

So, the way it works is:

  • We will have a call twice a year for talent that want to be added to the talent pool we draw from for these types of opportunities. So, you register yourself through our website saying what you want to do. 
  • All of the opportunities (Internships, Attachments, Mentorships or Placements) are led by the NZFC, working in partnership with our industry partners, companies and productions.
  • We agree the type of engagement it will be – we then provide a list of people for each opportunity and then the production or the mentor decides who would be the right fit – this is often through an interview- based process.

Internships/ Attachments

Conditional for all discretional funding on films over $500,000 is that there are two internships/ attachments per production. Internships are for emerging talent and attachments are for mid-career talent. There would be up to 24 per year, between 4 - 10 weeks duration. These are paid for by us – so they don’t affect the budget of the film – and the intern or attachee is not out of pocket. These roles are not a crew role – they should be additional roles that have a dedicated person looking out for them - and with support from the NZFC to the production.


They will be non-production based mentorships which are individually tailored to meet the needs of the mentee. As they are all bespoke they will each be different, however all will be with senior industry mentors with the aim supporting career development of the mentee. 

They could be a series of meetings through the year, or over a period of 6 months, it will depend on the needs of the mentee and the availability of the mentor.

Mentorships will be open to emerging and mid-career talent.  Up to 6 mentorships supported per year.

Professional Placements

Non-production specific with flexible timeline and commitment. Professional placements in New Zealand production companies will be open to both emerging or mid-career talent and international placements open to mid-career talent and established talent. There will be up to 8 professional placements per year.

NZFC Talent criteria

For clarity of eligibility criteria for funding and support through NZFC talent development, we will use the following 5 areas:

  • Significant International Profile/ Career
  • Established
  • Mid-career
  • Emerging
  • New

By using this structure, we hope its clearer for you what support is available and for who, and what the focus is for the different types of support we have available.

This definition will be on our website and available when you are applying for funding to help guide you to what is relevant to you."

Annabelle Sheehan

Big Screen Symposium 2018 theme - Tuning into the Zeitgeist

"The theme of this year’s Big Screen Symposium is ‘Tuning into the Zeitgeist’.

Zeit – time, Geist - spirit = Zeitgeist was a term coined in the 1800’s to embody the spirit of uncertainty and social change in the Victorian era.  Matthew Arnold who coined the term was a poet (and a school inspector). I mention him because one of his passionately held theories was that poetry would take the place of religion. And perhaps this has been the case, with the new poetics being cinema and screen storytelling. And while the gods and priests of this religion have been celebrities and studio heads, we are seeing that world go through its own evolution. What is today's cinematic zeitgeist? Surely it is the ‘me too’ and ‘times up’ movement, along with the push to diversify the voices that control and appear on the screen.  With films like Wonder Woman, Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians being highly successful.

Even if nothing else Hollywood takes note of the numbers and diversity is good for business.

Zeitgeist 1: Women, Waitangi and Inclusion

So, talking women and film, the NZFC is committed to reaching gender equality in the New Zealand screen industry. In 2015 the organisation introduced its gender policy with five key planks, including setting a target of 50/50 gender balance for its professional development programs. In 2017, a further three goals were added, including 50% female funded projects for the Early Development Fund and a 2022 target of 50% for women directors on feature film projects with NZFC investment. To build on the policy work already done, a small internal working group of NZFC staff has been formed this year to conduct further research to develop an even more dedicated and effective gender equality policy. The working group will benchmark with international screen agencies and activate discussion within industry to further develop the debate and policies to better understand how we can effectively correct the gender imbalances in front of and behind the camera.  So, here’s how we are doing:

  • 48% of successful applicants to the Early and Documentary Development funding. (EDF) were women.
  • Of the 12 feature films that were financed, five (42%) of the director roles were women.
  • Fresh Shorts: 56% women, 44% men
  • Talent Development Grants: 56% women, 44% men
  • Interactive Development: 46% women, 54% men.

In April 2018, the NZFC launched the ‘125 Fund’ as part of our ongoing commitment to increasing the number of women filmmakers gaining access to production funds to tell their stories. The fund will award 2 x $1.25M to films to be directed by women. I think it is important to tie this initiative to the celebration of the 125 years since women were granted the vote because it comes at a time when people hotly debate the notion of 50/50 targets and the meaning of the term ‘merit’.

Thinking about the granting of the right to vote to women reminds us of the important structural and legislative arrangements that 100% excluded women from leading or even prticipating in so many aspects of public and private life. It took years of protest here and all over the world to have just that 50% of territory ceded to women. (Note: USA 1920, Switzerland 1971). For many hundreds of years women were also excluded from certain employment, education and financial opportunities.

Not really a merit-based system when it’s 100% for one gender? And yet our very polite request for a 50/50 arrangement is viewed as something to be feared. It’s considered impolite to remind ourselves that our male counterparts have been much more aggressive in their pursuit of affirmative action for their group, using much harsher tools than targets or quotas – instead creating and maintaining legislation to exclude women. Such as laws prohibiting women from working if married or pregnant, and the blocking of anti-discrimination laws. 

The notion of merit being able to operate, even as this kind of legislation excluding women was finally repealed, does not account for the fact that sexism remains as strong as ever in society, even as those legal structures dissolved. Sexism is endemic in our culture and from it, sexual harassment breeds. We need to open the doors and shine a light on our best selves. We need champions. Women are seeking to recover or find their voices despite the suffocation of sexism. And many men are now seeking their part in that fair and equal culture. A strong reporting culture, a culture of awareness and discussion brings change.

The NZFC is committed to a healthy culture, free of sexism and sexual harassment or bullying. As some will be aware, the NZFC Terms of Trade require, as a condition of financial support, compliance with Screensafe developed guidelines and this will soon include those being drawn up with Screen Women’s Action Group (SWAG). Our code of conduct in the new Terms of Trade will also underline the importance of mutual respect between staff and stakeholders. Bullying or misuse of power has underpinned much of the poor leadership in the global screen industry. In seeking to ensure a healthy workplace for NZFC staff I also commit to respect to stakeholders. We require the same in return and I am sure our relationships, and hence our productivity, will be much more dynamic as a result.

The Treaty of Waitangi. Te Rautaki Maori – Maori Screen Strategy

This year we also launched Te Rautaki Māori, and to support it, we announced new funding programmes to ensure Māori filmmakers have significant access to financing and developing their stories and careers.  We also hired our first Pou Whakahare, Karen Waaka-Tibble, to lead on implementing Te Rautaki and to develop strong and enduring partnerships with the Māori screen industry.  The NZFC is committed to enabling the Treaty.

Karen Waaka-Tibble

"Ko Te Arawa te waka,

Mai I Maketu ki Tongariro

Nō Ngāti Whakaue, Tuhourangi – Ngāti Wahiao, Ngāti Tūwharetoa ahau

Ko Te O Kahurangi tōku ingoa tupuna

Arā, Ko Karen Te O Kahurangi Waaka-Tibble ahau

He pouwhakahaere o te Rautaki Māori mō Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga taku mahi

He aha tēnei mea te Zeitgeist?

Ki ahau, He wā whakaoho mauri pēnei

(He pātere whakaoho I te hononga a oku tupuna ki tēnei wahi o Tamaki herenga waka, herenga tangata nā maua ko taku hoa a Kōtuku tēnei I titio)

How many understood/ felt what was said in the waiata?


So, the expression of the patere I shared was to excite the spirit, in Māori first and it was great that around 40% were able to feel and understand what I said.  That is, in essence, what the goal of Te Rautaki is. To grow the 40% of our industry, to more like a 100% of our audience understanding te reo Māori expression on screen.

Mission: To champion Māori film and filmmakers in partnership with the Māori film industry, to Aotearoa and the world

Aim: To work in partnership to achieve mutually agreed aspirations. This strategy and its execution will be informed by the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and Te Ao Māori.

We acknowledge there is more than one Māori world view. our aim is to be respectful of tikanga and kawa, with advice and support from the Māori film industry.

These are expressed in the objectives:

  • Representation / Protocols / Capacity & Capability
  • Identity of Māori, Voice, Language, Thought, Expression
  • Authority and ability to make our own films

The Rautaki has also tagged some funding specifically for the Rautaki outcomes. Te Rautaki Māori Feature Film Fund Initiative will be launched at the end of November, and the He Pounamu Te Reo early in the New Year.

Watch out on our NZFC website for these guidelines and opportunities.

Zeitgeist to celebration of Aotearoa - He tauira Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga ; the Film Commission and its staff are committed to this and I want to acknowledge them all here who are here to help you in your aspirations.

Tēnā koutou  katoa."

Annabelle Sheehan

Zeitgeist 2: National Identity in a globalised and digitally disrupted screen economy.

“Screen media distribution has undergone a veritable revolution in the 21st Century overthrowing institutional relationships, cultural hierarchies and conventional business models."

Curtin, Holt and Sanson, 2014 P. 2

“All the traditional models for doing things are collapsing; from music to publishing to film, and it's a wide open door for people who are creative to do what they need to do without having institutions block their art… The consumer is deciding what they want to see and when and how… Now it's really about the story. It's a gift that I became a storyteller at this time...” 

Ava DuVernay, BET Interview, 2011

"The rise of the global online distribution majors (Google, iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and Facebook) and consequent changes in consumer behaviour have substantially impacted on established global screen content development, financing, distribution and exhibition strategies. Streaming services have disrupted the tight hold on consumer habits once held by theatrical, broadcast and more recently cable institutions. Time based television, and the scarcity mode of theatrical, or ancillary windowing is under intense pressure. Consumers are watching what they want, when they want to.

We are faced with a complex and multi-valent question: in the context of a digitally disrupted screen industry what are the business models, content creation methodologies, and career paths that will best support and enable New Zealand filmmakers to tell their stories and reach audiences while sustaining a business?

One outcome of disruption is that audiences are choosing cinemas for big tent pole movies and the smaller screens for drama. And while we can have success at the cinema for local projects it's important to take account of this trend and consider the path to audiences on all platforms. 

The key question is: are New Zealand audiences choosing New Zealand content? And if there is a trend away from that we need to truly theorise how to connect and reconnect with those audiences and record the results.

This landscape creates a significant challenge and opportunity for the screen sector in New Zealand in regard to the cultural expression of the New Zealand national identity and our capacity to have impact in both our own market and in the international marketplace.

An examination of typical New Zealand cultural policy shows us both the strengths and weaknesses of our approach.  We need to explore more thoroughly the definition of a New Zealand film or of a culturally significant New Zealand film.  Will the old definitions of a ‘culturally significant New Zealand film’ cut through to our audiences in this world?

Even faced with this challenge, this is a call to leverage our voice more effectively with a clear understanding of the market forces that are in play and the niches that we can better exploit. There is a hunger for local content that can also speak to a global audience.  It’s also about owning our local voice alongside our international voice.  If a New Zealand filmmaker wants to tell a story set in space or adapt a famous British novel, is it not still an example of New Zealand cultural expression? 

Streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon each have reportedly a content fund of $8B. So New Zealand needs to be at that table with both our voices. 

I want to talk briefly about packaging film and TV.  The crucial phase of development or, “packaging” is particularly affected by question marks around monetising content globally and locally.

The very nature of financing is essentially fraught.

“The process of assembling a film resource bundle is constantly threatened by breakdown due to the fact that film projects require simultaneous interconnected bargaining with a range of individuals and firms.”

Lampel and Shamsie 2011 p.2197

As financing a film or any independent screen content has become more challenging, understanding the audience, your audience, at the early development stage has never been more important.  While we seek to solve the question of national identity and global disruption, it will be through partnerships and collaboration that we can better strategize our way forward.

Last updated: 
Tuesday, 27 November 2018