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Thirty years ago, New Zealand had nothing that could be called a film industry. Today, the country took home 11 Oscars out of 13 nominations and The Lord Of The Rings is set to become the highest-grossing film of all time. In comparison, $ingapore plowed $1.3 billion into a building called the Esplanade that requires $30-$50 million [?] a year to maintain. How did this happen? Ruth Harley spells out the seven success factors that created the New Zealand film industry.

"Creative freedom... We aren't shy about expressing our point of view, but in the end, it's the filmmaker's vision that ends up on screen."

We are a remote country of four million people and modest financial resources. Three decades ago we had nothing that could be called a film industry. Then, in 1978, the government established the New Zealand Film Commission. Today, we are taking home 11 Oscar statuettes out of 13 nominations, and The Lord Of The Rings is set to become the highest-grossing film of all time.


The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

How did this happen? I believe there are seven success factors that created the New Zealand film industry.

First, patience. Film is a gamble. The international market is over-supplied, highly competitive and unforgiving. Only about 10 per cent of the hundreds of writers and directors we support get features into production. And only about 10 per cent of these achieve success. The only way to find outstanding talent is by having the courage to accept a high level of commercial and critical failure in the belief that success will eventually flower.

Second, money. The Film Commission started in 1978 with an annual budget of less than $250,000. Today it is about $9 million. Next year it will increase to $14 million. Of this total, 50 per cent comes from the government, 40 per cent from State Lottery profits, and the remainder from earnings on the films we have supported.

Third, creative freedom. The film industry is rife with tales of financial backers, not the director, having final say about what appears on screen. The Film Commission doesn't dictate rules and regulations for creating films. We work with filmmakers to try to ensure the best results. We aren't shy about expressing our point of view, but in the end, it's the filmmaker's vision that ends up on screen.

"Our fledgling filmmakers are like athletes whose only opportunity to compete in their first major race is the Olympics... they either succeed or fail early in their careers."


Whale Rider

Fourth, national identity. It's no accident that many of our strongest films are based on our literature, for example Once Were Warriors, An Angel At My Table and Whale Rider. Our culture is the well from which filmmakers draw their inspiration to create unique cinematic images that are also internationally accessible — universal stories told against a culturally specific background.

Fifth, entrepreneurial spirit. The commission's support is provided as investment, not grants. And to get the investment for any film that is not wholly financed from New Zealand, producers and directors have to construct deals and relationships with parties from different countries. In My Father's Den, a film currently in production about a photojournalist who is implicated in the mysterious disappearance of a teenager, is a small feature with a complex deal structure: eight partners in three countries, each with their own set of laws and tax regulations. All this requires filmmakers to have the confidence, contacts, determination, experience and patience to go after such deals if they want their films to get made.

Sixth, thinking globally. We know we have to play on an international stage; there is no other choice. So our fledgling filmmakers are like athletes whose only opportunity to compete in their first major race is the Olympics. Yet I firmly believe this is one of the key reasons for the success of New Zealand filmmakers — they either succeed or fail early in their careers. They have to be very talented, very ambitious and very resilient.

Seventh, backing from the top. Since 1999, when she took office, our secret weapon has been Prime Minister Helen Clark, who has taken the additional portfolio of Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. Her commitment has meant that all the arts, not just film, have received more money and become the responsibility of the economic ministries, putting them at the centre of the government's attention.

Though we have come far, we must continue to move ahead. Our three-part growth strategy involves leveraging large, high-profile local productions, positioning ourselves to attract foreign productions into the country, and expanding support for domestic films. Each of our Oscar-nominated movies this year exemplifies one of those parts.

With The Lord Of the Rings — the biggest film project in New Zealand up to that time — both the government and the commission recognised even before the first movie was made the opportunity that its success would have both for the film industry and for the economy generally. So the government put in place a range of leveraging activities and even gave Pete Hodgson, Minister of Research, Science and Technology, the additional portfolio of Minister for Lord Of The Rings. This was a very bold call when all it had to go on was one very determined filmmaker in Peter Jackson, a great book, and, in New Line, a brave mini-studio.

Yet this commitment paid off in increased tourism and business creation. It also brought into existence a substantial filmmaking infrastructure: Mr. Jackson has built his own film processing lab and post-production facility and is about to build a sound stage to service his next production, a remake of King Kong, currently scheduled to shoot in Wellington in August.

Other companies have followed suit or moved to take advantage of the burgeoning film industry in other ways. For example, some of the digital effects for Master And Commander were done in New Zealand.

"This commitment paid off in increased tourism and business creation. It also brought into existence a substantial filmmaking infrastructure: Mr. Jackson has built his own film processing lab and post-production facility."


The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai came to New Zealand because Rings had shown the studio, Warner Bros, that we could service such a complex project. Also, the government created the Large Budget Grant Scheme to encourage overseas film projects like The Last Samurai to shoot and do their post-production work in our country.

This is the second part of our growth strategy: To attract overseas productions to come to use our scenery, our talent base and infrastructure and, in return, to provide work and showcase our country. Next up: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe.

Finally, Whale Rider was produced thanks to the commission's new Film Fund, which is designed to enable experienced New Zealand filmmakers to make big-budget films. To date, Whale Rider has grossed over $40 million world-wide and has been seen by over a million New Zealanders. Millions more will see it on DVD, video and television. This is the third part of our growth strategy: producing seriously successful domestic films. The Film Commission is extremely proud of 25 years' work that has contributed to the industry that today is recognised internationally with 13 Oscar nominations and 11 wins. Let's see if we can't do even better next year.

Note: Ruth Harley is the CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission. This is adapted from a talk she gave at New Zealand's Creative Economy, a conference held at the Asia Society in New York.



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