On the 18th of February, on a balmy evening in New Plymouth, a large audience gathered in a grassy outdoor amphitheater to enjoy sixteen short films from a new generation of New Zealand filmmakers. All were excited to be sharing their stories and talent through the hugely influential platform Tropfest.
Their focus that night, and no doubt throughout busy preceding months, was most likely concentrated on the “show” of show business – making the best possible films. During the lead-up they were bound to be thinking about how their films would be received by an audience. Indeed, how well their film fared in front of expert judges and a receptive crowd would likely serve as an indicator that their creative vision resonated, that their talent was evident. Success at Tropfest might signal their capacity to chisel out a career in one of the toughest industries going – film and television.
It was less likely that their attention was on copyright.
Granted, it’s not the sexiest of subjects. And yet, the management of intellectual property (IP) is at the core of the business known as “show business”. Yes, the successful monetization of your IP is the very thing that could enable you to build and sustain a career. Simply put, it pays to know this stuff. You needn’t be an expert, but even new and emerging filmmakers can benefit from understanding the basic business principles that underpin their industry.
As a filmmaker I’ve found myself pondering issues of IP as they relate to my projects and plans for the future. Not so long ago I was standing in the shoes of those nervous Tropfest filmmakers, hoping for the kind of recognition that would boost my career as a writer-director. The art of filmmaking is the thing that excites me most but I do recognise that filmmaking is a costly, industrial activity. It is empowering for artists to know how financing is put together and how revenues are distributed. Such knowledge helps you understand what producers are up against in a challenging, dynamic field. It helps you understand what you should seek and what you should surrender in the legal agreements into which you may enter.
The first thing to point out is that copyright cannot reside in an idea. Indeed, an unexpressed idea is worthless. What can be copyrighted is the tangible expression of an idea. The moment you write something down – or film or record it – you have created a property in which copyright can reside.
Sometimes producers hire writers to create screenplays, sometimes they acquire the rights to existing screenplays. Either way, they will need to establish or secure what’s known as “chain of title”. This means that if your write a screenplay your authorial copyright will most likely be transferred to a “special purpose vehicle” (SPV). This is simply a company established for the specific purpose of producing the film. It is likely that the SPV will be majority owned by the producer, but that’s okay. Ownership brings a number of responsibilities to financiers, insurers and assorted agencies. It’s probable you’re not going to want to deal with all of that ongoing administration and compliance. Besides, you can enjoy all kinds of entitlements (to fees, credits, a share of profits, etc.) without needing to retain ownership. Producers leverage their ownership of copyright to pull financing together.
The world of film financing is not static. Business models are evolving, fast. For decades countless films have been financed in part by pre-sales (or post-sales, as the case may be). Quite literally, this means that the rights holders (the producers) sell-off the rights to screen a film. Global rights are broken down into territories and platforms (theatrical, home video, pay television, free to air television, etc). In recent years the home video market has diminished, significantly. Meanwhile, the rise and rise of subscription video on demand (SVoD) has added considerable dynamism to this field. Major players such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are paying substantial sums to acquire films and make them available across multiple territories. In addition, they are pouring enormous resources into making their own content.
Another relatively recent development has been the advent of “day and date” releasing. It used to be the case that films were released gradually across the globe, but the advent of digital piracy demanded a new approach. These days most large so-called “tent pole” films tend to be released in cinemas in multiple territories on the same day and date. In New Zealand, perhaps coming as a surprise to many of you, a majority of major film titles are released as early as (or even earlier than) the U.S.
Piracy has been a significant challenge for the screen industry and combating it is one of the very important functions performed by the creative industries, working closely with governments and the technology sector. This is largely about protecting the integrity and value of your intellectual property.
Another trend to note. In recent years some enormous multi-nationals have grown fat on business models that have, to put it politely, failed to give copyright holders their due. (Yes, I’m looking at you, YouTube and Google.) These corporations tend to push for the erosion of copyright protection. They lobby governments, arguing that copyright stifles innovation. However, considerable evidence suggests that the contrary is true. Robust, modern copyright encourages innovation – indeed, it is the lifeblood of innovation.
There are many ways to keep abreast of industry debates and trends. You might subscribe to periodicals such as Screen International, Variety or The Hollywood Reporter, or check out industry blogs such as the Content Café – which offers up-to-date commentary on creative rights for filmmakers and other topics. At the very least, try to develop the habit of visiting the websites of these major industry periodicals, along with others such as imdb.com and deadline.com. Dedicate at least some of your time to following what’s occurring at the business end of the industry. I’d encourage you to seek out interviews with producers. Plenty are available online thanks to such bodies as the Producers Guild of America (PGA). Listen to producers talk about what attracted them to projects and how they put those projects together, the challenges they faced, etc. I recommend the Producers Roundtable series hosted online by The Hollywood Reporter. You might also seek out books by producers. Ted Hope’s Hope For Film is one of my favourites. All of this will help you gain insight into what drives the decisions made by producers and financiers. And, of course, this kind of perspective is bound to be helpful as you set about formulating and developing your own ideas.
Moving from global to personal considerations, what are your rights as a New Zealand filmmaker? Your rights in a film or television show may differ depending on your role – as a screenwriter, director, producer, actor or other crew member. These rights have been negotiated over many years. In some territories, writers and directors have negotiated what is called “authorship”. In some territories, opportunities exist to share automatically in residual payments via the sale or rental of the film or show in question. There is certainly a strong case that New Zealand writers and directors could improve their copyright and remuneration position in creative works. In this country directors are represented by the Directors and Editors Guild (DEGNZ), of which I am Vice President. This body is committed to the creative and financial well-being of directors and editors. We favour revision of our copyright laws and improved terms for directors – but law change can be a long, slow process.
Typically a director will be paid for their services during pre-production, production and post-production – and they’ll be required to participate in publicising the project. In addition, they may receive a percentage of the film’s net profits. Their contract with a producer will specify the type of credit they are to receive, who has final cut of the film, and so on. In some instances a director will be, in essence, a gun for hire, brought aboard a production that a producer has developed and financed. This is especially common in television production. In other instances, and this is fairly common in New Zealand, the director will also be a/the writer on a film project – in which case they’ll be compensated for performing both roles.
NZ screenwriters have copyright but NZ directors do not. Our screenwriters automatically enjoy a number of benefits and economic entitlements. It’s important to keep in mind that agreements with collaborators need to be managed, carefully. If you are working in partnership with another writer it is likely that person deserves a credit, a fee, profit participation, etc. Advice on such matters can be sought from the NZ Writers Guild (NZWG).
In addition to the NZWG and DEGNZ, other local bodies and guilds work on behalf of industry practitioners. These include the Screen Production and Development Agency (SPADA). It represents producers and hosts an annual conference. Fine work is done by Women in Film and Television (WIFT), Nga Aho Whakaari, the Screen Composers Guild of NZ, the NZ Cinematographers Society (NZCS), Actors Equity NZ, the Film and Video Technicians Guild, and Script to Screen, which runs an annual conference known as the Big Screen Symposium. Get along to the Symposium if you can. It’s always a terrific event with amazing networking opportunities and wonderfully accomplished speakers.
By all means, join one of the aforementioned bodies or guilds. There is strength in numbers and this is a terrific way to keep abreast of what’s happening within the local industry and within your particular discipline. Most of these organisations have student and associate membership rates, so it’s not necessarily expensive to join. Several have template contracts and agreements. They also administer professional development opportunities and may be able to provide you with advice from time to time. Some are unions (e.g. NZWG and Equity), others are not (e.g. DEGNZ). Even so, all are working to advance the interests of Kiwi filmmakers and to grow the local screen industry.
Hopefully these words have made you more inclined to investigate how astute IP management can benefit you. As you stride forward, generating stellar intellectual property, making and sharing your films with audiences, I wish you all the best for a long and rewarding career.
Back in New Plymouth, the judges’ announcement delighted two emerging filmmakers from Hamilton, Mary Rinaldi and Sasha Nixon. Their short film Anniversary – about an emotionally wounded couple using children’s games to deal with the loss of their daughter – won Best Film and Nga Aho Whakaari/Te Puni Kokiri Maori Creativity Award. The Motion Picture Association (MPA) and New Zealand Screen Association (NZSA) provide a five-day trip to Los Angeles for a film immersion course and meetings with agents, producers, entertainment lawyers and unions/guilds. This is bound to be a time when their attention will turn, for a moment at least, to the serious “business” of show business. Having participated in this immersion course in 2015, I know that they are in for an amazingly stimulating and edifying experience.
About the author: Gabriel Reid has held a range of roles in film, television and theatre production and promotion. He has held staff positions at Opera New Zealand and Television New Zealand. His M.A. thesis examined Shakespeare on film and his Ph.D. thesis examined the impact of digital technologies on film production. His work as a director has garnered Tropfest, Writers Guild and ProMax Australia awards along with NZ Film Awards nominations. He is Vice President of the Directors and Editors Guild of New Zealand.read more
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(22 February 2017)
THE ANNIVERSARY TAKES OUT THREE AWARDS AT TROPFEST NZ
Hamilton couple and filmmaking duo Mary Rinaldi and Sasha Nixon took home three awards at Tropfest NZ 2017 on the weekend, including Best Film.
Their film, The Anniversary, captured two grieving parents celebrating an anniversary after the passing of their child and proved to be an emotional win with the crowd, with many moved to tears.
The couple also took home the Te Tohu Ahuatanga Māori Award , a Nga Aho Whakaari and Te Puni Kokori sponsored award, recognizing outstanding Maori creativity in film with a $2,500 cash prize attached, and the Best actress award, which has a $1000 cash prize.
The New Zealand Screen Association and Motion Picture Association sponsors the winning film prize which is a return flight to Los Angeles to meet with film and TV executives and five nights’ accommodation.
Matthew Cheetham, Managing Director of the NZ Screen Association said they were thrilled to support Tropfest for a fifth year and promote the talent of NZ filmmakers. “Tropfest NZ pulled off a terrific event in 2017 – screening 16 diverse, high quality films to an appreciative crowd. The NZSA and MPA is pleased to partner with Tropfest to support a new generation of talented filmmakers as they look to share their vision with an audience, and we hope to see some of these promising careers receive a boost from this event. Congratulations to all on a highly successful festival.”
First prize also takes possession of a $10,000 cash prize, sponsored by the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust.
Hineani Melbourne, Executive Director of Nga Aho Whakaari commended the films in this year’s line-up ‘What inspiring short films. I am thrilled with the talent coming through in these films. Each film was unique and of a high standard. It was a hard choice between the films, but I decided after much thought that The Anniversary, with nominee Sasha Nixon – writer/co-director, and lead Actor, was the deserving winner of the Ngā Aho Whakaari/Te Puni Kōkiri Māori Creativity Award. His overall contribution across this film was very impressive.”
Pearl, directed and produced by Simon Schueller and Steven Johnston took out the Avalon Film and TV Studio Award which includes a $10,000 studio package at their studios. Gary Watkins of Avalon film & TV Studios said the number of quality short films was excellent. “Tropfest really highlights the creativity and imagination young filmmakers of NZ have on offer, however, Pearl jumped out, literally, as the winner of our studio award on the night!”
The Tropfest winner and finalist films can be viewed on Tropfest NZ’s YouTube Channel at www.youtube.comn/TropfestNZ
The judging panel for 2017 festival included James Griffin (The Brokenwood Mysteries, Westside, Outrageous Fortune), Geraldine Brophy (Home Movie, King Kong, In My Father’s Den, Goodbye Pork Pie), Karlos Drinkwater (Shortland Street, Spartacus: Blood and Sand) and Angela Littlejohn (Show of Hands, Apron Strings and Separation City).
Best Film: The Anniversary, directed & produced by Mary Rinaldi and Sasha Nixon
2nd place: My Little Brother, directed and produced by Anthony Bennett
3rd place: High Waisted, directed and produced by Brad Davidson
Best actress: Mary Rinaldi (The Anniversary)
Best Actor: Jamaine Ross (High Waisted)
Studio Award: Pearl, directed and produced by Simon Schueller and Steven Johnston
ACG Yoobee Best animated film: Encroached, directed by Robert Stannard and produced by Kennedy Faimanifo
ACG Yoobee Best use of VFX: The Classified, directed and produced by Kirk and Luke Bremner
Pic’s Peoples Choice Award: Smoko, directed by Ghazaleh Golbakhsh and produced by Ghazaleh Golbakhsh & Samuel Christopher
Tropfest began in Sydney 25 years ago when director John Polson showed a six-minute film he made for under $100 at his local café (‘The Tropicana’) in Sydney for 200 friends and family. Today, the free Australian event is attended annually by a live audience of around 150,000 film-lovers and hundreds of thousands more watching via its live national TV broadcast and other platforms.
In the past two decades, Tropfest has become recognised as one of the world’s most exciting launch pads for emerging filmmakers. Tropfest is also known for securing the support of some of the biggest names in the international film community including Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Geoffrey Rush, Liev Schreiber and Tobey Maguire. Tropfest is hosted all around the world including South East Asia, USA and Arabia.
All finalist films can be viewed at Tropfest New Zealand’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/tropfestnz. The channel has had over 115,958 views.read more
Author: Hannah Taylor
In December 2015, in a slightly harried, last-minute fashion, I submitted a film to Tropfest New Zealand. I got a couple of hours sleep, woke up and caught a plane to another city for a conference for my day job. I almost didn’t bother submitting the film. For me, it was simply a labor of love, a hobby, and the Tropfest deadline was effectively what motivated me to get my first film wrapped.
The film, called “Back o’ the Bus”, is a seven-minute documentary about my family members sharing their experiences growing up black in Texas in the thick of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s. It was filmed at the last minute while visiting my family in September 2015 because my grandfather was sick and was not likely going to be around for much longer.
I didn’t think much more of my entry, as I expected the final films for selection would be made by more experienced and qualified people than me, and the calibre to be very high. But then came that highly unexpected email: “Back o’ the Bus has been shortlisted…” What?!
Fast forward to mid January and again: “Congratulations, your film ‘Back o’ the bus’ has been selected as a finalist!” I’ve never been so surprised or nervous about anything in my life! I’d had this project brewing in my mind ever since my dad started telling me about his experiences with civil rights throughout his life. It meant a lot to me, sure, but it had somehow had an impact on a wider audience. In a few short weeks, lots of people were going to watch it and I was in the running for some pretty serious prizes.
Well, February rolled around and I was lucky enough to see my film take out the Best Film prize. This earned me a place, sponsored by the Motion Picture Association (MPA), at the LATC Film and Television Industry Program held in Los Angeles, California.
I arrived in Los Angeles not quite knowing what to expect. I work in computer science education during the day, and film is a hobby on the side that I really enjoy and that gives me some creative outlet. I never expected my film to get anywhere, much less get me to Los Angeles. So, I was a bit apprehensive as I attended the first session and met the other participants in the course.
Our group was made up of filmmakers from Brazil, Korea, China, Taiwan/France, The Philippines, Australia, Ghana, and of course, little old New Zealand. Some people had quite extensive film and TV experience, and projects they were working on with large budgets. Others of us were film students or complete amateurs who had somehow acquired a camera and successfully pointed it at something, trying hard to blend in!
Fortunately, I was reassured after the first session that the goal was for us to get as much out of the experience as we could. The organisers recognised that we were all in different places, but the range of experiences lined up should mean that we’d all be well equipped to take whatever our next steps were. We’d also have a lot of opportunities to network and pick other people’s brains about how things work here in Hollywood, as well as sharing our experiences from our home countries.
Over the next five days we learned all sorts of interesting and valuable things about topics such as intellectual property, how the studio system works, what the industry is like for independent filmmakers, content protection, distribution, and so much more. We learned about pitching from the legendary Pilar Alessandra. At the CDAS law firm in Beverly Hills, we got an entertainment law overview, a look into agencies and agents, as well as a case study on the production of 500 Days of Summer (I love that film!).
We went on to visit the Producers’ Guild of America in Beverly Hills. One highlight for me was the pitch panel here, where we were given an opportunity to pitch to Butch Kaplan, Chris Torres, and Leland Price, some heavyweights in the industry, and receive feedback on how we went. Given that I am a hobbyist filmmaker, I didn’t really have a project to pitch, but decided to pitch the project that got me there in the first place to take advantage of the opportunity. Realistically, when was I next going to get a chance to pitch to a panel at the Producers’ Guild of America? Not for a while! They encouraged me to look into where else I could take the story, what the next step would be, because the seven minute cap of the Tropfest festival means that my film so far is just the tip of the iceberg, a mere taste.
On the Friday we spent the day at the American Film Market out in Santa Monica. Walking into the Loews Hotel, it seemed the entire film industry had descended upon it overnight – each level was bursting with production companies, film commissions and people with interesting looking projects to sell. It was fascinating talking to so many different filmmakers and people working in other roles, seeing upcoming films, as well as just finding out more about what is going on all over the world. Funnily enough, the first people I talked to in the lobby were some fellow New Zealanders – it’s a small world even when you’re on the other side of it!
The time flew. But the final day was the main highlight for me. We had some workshops on writing strong characters and good drama with Peter Russell, Script Doctor. This guy was amazing. He really knew his stuff, was extremely animated, and just blew my mind with his in-depth analysis of all of the ingredients needed to really draw viewers into a story. He did an excellent job of rekindling my desire to write, and I can’t wait to figure out how to develop my storytelling and character crafting abilities!
Overall I came away feeling inspired and motivated to discover and take steps towards what is next for me in filmmaking. I learned a lot about how the industry works, networked with some great people, and was reassured by having people with industry experience be intrigued by my film. But perhaps most importantly, I came home with some amazing memories of my first trip to Los Angeles, which was made possible by my first foray into filmmaking. This program is fantastic for filmmakers at all points in their careers, and I’d like to thank the LATC and Motion Picture Association (MPA), as well as the New Zealand Screen Association (NZSA) and Taranaki Arts Festival Trust (TAFT) for making it all possible. Last but not least, I’d also like to thank my family because without their stories I would not have had a film.
About Hannah Taylor
Hannah Taylor was born in New Plymouth, New Zealand in 1985. She is an amateur and hobbyist filmmaker with a keen interest in film as a tool for social commentary and giving a voice to those who often go unheard. Her film Back o’ the Bus won Best Film at the NZ Tropfest film festival in February of 2016. Outside of filmmaking, Hannah works in computer science and digital technology education, practices capoeira, solves Rubik’s cubes, plays the drums and ukulele, and is learning to play the piano.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BackotheBusNZ/
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iwpgR1p-6gread more