Film funding levels just about right

Jason Krupp
Insights Newsletter
11 July, 2014

I am probably inviting a storm of controversy, but I think the perfect motif for the movie industry profession should not be film reel, but a figure with their hand wedged deeply in the taxpayer’s pocket.

Sir Peter Jackson recently bemoaned that funding levels for film production in New Zealand have remained at about $12 million per annum since the late 1980s even as the cost of production has risen. This, he claimed, is holding back the development of up-and-coming talent.

Strictly looking at the numbers, he is absolutely correct. Had the funding been adjusted for inflation it would be worth about double that amount today.

But here is the thing: a lot has changed since the 1980s when the New Zealand film industry was still in its fledgling stages. Back then, when the Film Commission funded Jackson’s first three films, the country didn’t even have a film school. According to Wikipedia, there are now eight.

What’s more, filmmakers now have other private funding avenues open to them today that weren’t available in the 1980s. Taika Waititi’s film, Boy, raised US$110,000 through the crowd funding website Kickstarter, which was used to distribute the film in the US.

Nor was there much of a local film industry in the 1980s. Yet almost 30 years later, New Zealand is now at the forefront of movie technology (due in large part to Jackson’s Weta studios), and is a major destination for pre- and post-production. Indeed, it has earned Jackson a fortune estimated to be in the region of $400 million.

All of this would suggest that the funding settings are just about right, and the lack of inflation adjustment a recognition that at some point the industry should gain the ability to fund its own talent development and stand on its own two feet.

In fact this is how it works in government, where most departments receive no additional inflation-linked funding over a given period unless there is a specific policy decision to spend more money in a particular area. These fixed nominal baselines have been credited by some as the single biggest contributor to the reduction in public expenditure since the early 1990s.

The question that needs answering from a taxpayer’s perspective should not be ‘what is the right level of funding to encourage and develop young filmmakers in New Zealand?’, but rather ‘at what point is the industry mature enough to do it for itself?’

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