Archive for July, 2009

Ticking Clock

Those avid followers of the episodic serial ‘The Interminable Moon’ will know that things have hotted up as tension builds with a countdown. The plot thus far has the production funding application to NZFC ruled out on a technicality. In an act of heroic stupidity, our protagonist producer (moi) manages to negotiate an extension until 5.00pm Monday 3rd August, by which time a signed-up distribution deal needs to be produced.

Emails and papers are flying in all directions. The deadline looms. Our heroes dig deep as they face the challenge. In a meeting in a secret cafe yesterday, deals are talked, figures debated, but no money changes hands. The gallant distributor offers us terms. But he is off to southern pastures over the weekend. Can he get his ducks lined up, and the deal documentation produced in time for the deadline? Will the application make it to the Board? Will the Board be convinced enough to make an offer? Will this blog and its author self-destruct in ten seconds? Stay tuned, folks, for the thrilling outcome.
The clock is ticking…

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Well a week may be a long time in politics, but it’s an aeon in filmmaking. Without going into the details of how it happened, a conference call with the New Zealand Film Commission yesterday has resulted in us being given a partial reprieve. We now have until 5.00pm Monday to come up with a distribution deal. If we can produce that, then our application will be allowed to go forward to the Board.

Negotiations are well advanced on that front, and we’re hopeful of being able to make the deadline – but it’ll be something of a scramble. Even then, of course, there’s no guarantees that we’ll receive funding. But at least we’ll have a chance to present our case.
If you want certainty, become a tax collector or an undertaker – but don’t even think about producing a movie. We have so many balls in the air at the moment that we’re in danger of being knocked out by a stray one!
As Shakespeare put it in the mouth of Henry V:
“Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height.”

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Making It Happen

Interesting article about Tom Scott (NZ satirist and cartoonist) in the Sunday papers, in which he talks about his 25 year journey to getting his script made into the feature film Separation City. The film will finally open on August 6th. That’s endurance.

Scott talks about some of the difficulties he’s faced getting his creative work into production in the article.
‘There was the battle to get Separation City made: “they blocked it and blocked it and blocked it and blocked it.” And there was the play he wrote earlier this decade about his childhood, The Daylight Atheist, which was rudely rejected by Circa Theatre. Scott went ahead and organised a production himself and it opened to ecstatic reviews in Wellington, and again in Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.’
So there we have it – Scott’s long shadow (see previous post). And the gutsy determination to push back against all the obstacles which people put in the way. Tom is a funny guy with an original voice, and I look forward to seeing the movie. Meanwhile, we’ve got one of our own which needs making…

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The Long Shadow

We have a world obsessed with fame and success. The most telling thing about this global disease is that when asked what they want to be famous for, most people haven’t got a clue – they just want to be famous. I translate this as a need to be noticed – to have one’s life recognised as being significant and of value. It’s a particular malady of the highly individualised and materialistic West.

There may have been a time when it was sufficient to have a place within one’s own family or small community. Without getting soppy and idealistic about it, earlier tribal systems at least provided a place of belonging and valuing. It seems to me that the collapse of this and the rise of the media means that we are all seeking recognition in a realm where by definition only a very few will achieve it.
Those who do find a place in the public eye, particularly in the artistic realm, often cast a long shadow. By this I mean that their 15 minutes of Warholism is built on years and years of struggle, pain, endurance and rejection. No one is interested in this period because it doesn’t make good copy. It’s not the path to instant success that so many are seeking. It’s the dark elephant in the room of achievement.
Another feature film I’m co-writing on explores the issues of fame, and their destructive effect on people who are ‘lucky’ enough to find it. When I hear people interviewed on the back of their artistic success, the thing I listen for these days is evidence of that long shadow.

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Man on the Moon

“Well we all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun…” (John Lennon)

40 years since the shining moon was troubled by human footprints, demystifying it somewhat but not completely. I’ve always been fascinated by the pull of the moon – the way it affects tides of the sea as well as tides of the psyche. For those who only experience it as a hunk of orbiting rock, you have my sincere sympathy.

Ironic that we should be celebrating the anniversary of the moon landing at the same time that the NZ Film Commission has demonstrated its determined resistance to supporting The Insatiable Moon. Aspiration meets obfuscation.
But the moon shines on…

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Pressing On

“Well I’m pressing on,” sang Bob Dylan in his gospel phase. I often find that phrase running through my head as we readjust to the news that the NZFC won’t allow our funding application to go to the board.

It’s not like I haven’t been here before. In 2003 I was producing the play Jerusalem, Jerusalem that had a wildly successful tour of NZ theatres. We were accompanied by superb reviews and full houses. I applied to Creative NZ for a grant to help us take the play to the Edinburgh festival, and was astonished to be turned down. But we decided to press on, and within the space of a week an art auction took us by surprise and made up the funding shortfall. We took the play to Edinburgh (where it was shortlisted for a Fringe First), Ireland and England.
I learned two things from that experience. The first was to be very cynical about the staff and agendas of funding bureaucracies. But the second and more important lesson was that it never pays to depend on them. The success of an artistic project lies in its inherent merits and ability to find an audience, rather than in the approval of people who are paid large salaries and generally have never taken a significant risk in their lives.
So it’s onwards and upwards. We’re rejigging the finance plan, adjusting the budget, scheduling our preproduction tasks and moving forward. Watch this space.

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You might think that a film project which was an adaptation of a NZ novel, entirely set in NZ, starring one of NZ’s leading film actors, supported by an international cast which includes Timothy Spall, James Nesbitt and John Rhys Davies – not to mention award winning director Gillies Mackinnon – might be of interest to NZ’s primary film funding body. A film which has been 7 years in development, which has attracted a conditional offer of $1m from Screen West Midlands in the UK and another $1m in private equity – that sounds like it might be worth a second look.

But no. Not according to the NZ Film Commission, who yesterday informed us that they would not allow our funding application to go to the board for consideration. It’s not that we have been tried and found wanting – we’re not even to be given the chance to present our case. Why, you might ask? The explanation provided is that they have changed the rules – something notified to us 2 days before the application cutoff date, and when a month’s work in preparing the application had been completed.
The requirements of a funding application include having a NZ distribution deal in place and a sales agent attached. We have been in negotiations for both, and assured NZFC that we would provide the documentation within the framework of 10 days before the board meeting – which the application guidelines say is the deadline for extra documents. But now the rules have changed, and there is no room for flexibility. Our application will not be heard. This is what we have come to expect from a box-ticking bureacracy which has forgotten what its statutory mandate is, let alone its reason for existence.
So, we who believe in this story and this film will press on. We will make it without assistance from NZFC, even though it is a NZ film. As they say in this industry, success is the best revenge. We will make a film which will shame the NZFC. And it will shoot in November, as we have always said.

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