Crowd funding, micro payments change face of films

SCREEN DREAMS: Spada chief executive Penelope Borland says the lack of local content TV quota limits how far Kiwi productions can go.
SCREEN DREAMS: Spada chief executive Penelope Borland says the lack of local content TV quota limits how far Kiwi productions can go.

When New Zealand's Screen Production And Development Association (Spada) was created in 1992, medical soap Shortland Street had just hit television screens, Jane Campion's film The Piano was in production and Sir Peter Jackson was still in his splatter period.

During the last two decades, the screen production industry here has evolved to make New Zealand a film hub on the world stage, with The Hobbit's highly anticipated release just days away and Hollywood director James Cameron making his Avatar sequel in the capital.

Screen production revenue was $1.4 billion in the year to March 2011, up from around $151 million in 1994.

Spada is holding its annual conference in Wellington this week, with hundreds of professionals gathering to discuss the business of making screen entertainment.

Chief executive Penelope Borland said the industry was undergoing a revolution. The global financial crisis had changed the way projects were funded.

"It used to be that you would get a big sales advance, but now the way people bring money together to finance projects is quite different.

"You have to have gap investors who might be banks or private individuals, and crowd funding now is a completely different way of going out and getting money from people with an interest in helping something get made," Borland said.

Film-maker Taika Waititi raised more than $100,000 through crowd funding to distribute his movie Boy in the United States, and there are dozens of film projects listed on crowd-funding platform website Pledge Me seeking donations.

Another huge change for the industry has been the way screen productions are distributed.

"In terms of the internet, a way has not been found of monetising content online because of the whole issue of people expecting things for free," Borland said.

"One of the big challenges is coming up with a model, whether it is micro payments or whatever, to get money."

Kiwi companies eager to get screen projects off the ground often need to get involved in co- production arrangements with larger or overseas businesses, which can mean more legal documents.

Borland said it could be incredibly complex.

"To close a film and bring parties providing financing together for a production, it might have 150 legal documents, which is three times as many as even five years ago."

Although the local screen industry had grown immensely in recent years it remained limited by a lack of funding for television projects because there was no government quota for local content to be shown on television.

"The New Zealand industry has very different conditions from other countries.

"We have NZ On Air but we have no quota for our own local content in television, and television is always the base of the screen industry. No quota means people in our industry have to live by their wits coming up with the best ideas," Borland said.

Last year, Spada urged that pay television network Sky TV be required to fund production of local content. New Zealand is the only country in the OECD apart from Mexico that does not require pay-per-view to contribute to local production.

"Government doesn't seem to be inclined to move on it."

Contact Jazial Crossley
Business reporter
Twitter: @msbananapeel

The Dominion Post