End of an era as NZFC quits sales role

The New Zealand Film Commission is getting out of the business of selling feature films and shorts internationally as part of a wide revamp of the agency’s structure and mission.

The NZFC will seek to place the new and recent films it represents with sales agents and is hiring a consultant with sales experience to manage the transition. That process will start on April 1.

The organisation, which has 129 films under its care, will continue to handle sales of at least some of the older titles. The Commission has sold the films it produced or invested in for more than 40 years, including An Angel at My Table, Bad Taste, Vigil, Once Were Warriors, Sleeping Dogs, Smash Palace, The Navigator, The World's Fastest Indian and, more recently, Black Sheep, Eagle vs Shark, Two Little Boys and Fresh Meat.

Lindsay Shelton, who served as marketing director from its inception in 1979 until 2001, was a highly effective and respected executive who pitched Kiwi films around the world.

Veteran producer Dave Gibson, who was appointed CEO in January, has told producers that while he used to be an advocate of the sales function, “I have come to the conclusion that time has moved on and it is no longer appropriate. We do not have enough marketing expertise in our industry in areas like financing, sales and distribution.”

The move has been widely welcomed by the Kiwi industry. "Long, long, long overdue; films are bought by genre, not geography," South Pacific Pictures chairman John Barnett told IF. "This is a great opportunity for the NZFC to move forward in assisting producers to locate sales agents who are best suited to the individual titles."

No films will be placed or contracted out without the approval of the producers, Gibson stressed. The Commission will introduce producers to sales agents, oversee the relationship between producer and sales agent, negotiate contracts alongside the producer and act as a party to those contracts.

The consultant will work with NZFC staff to conclude negotiations, documentation and contracting and develop and write new policies and processes for the NZFC’s ongoing role on future productions and the titles that remain in the NZFC’s catalogue.

The Commission has moved to a new structure built on three business units: development and production headed by Lisa Chatfield; talent development and relationships led by Chris Payne; and marketing run by Jasmin McSweeney.

Marketing’s aim will be to get more people watching New Zealand feature films and shorts at home and overseas.

Payne’s unit will focus on facilitating connections for local and expat producers, directors, writers and actors plus relationships with industry guilds and organisations and administering support for short films as a stepping stone to feature films.

In a series of meetings with producers around the country, Gibson flagged the agency will more closely align the funding of short films to the development of feature films. Applicants for the Early Development Fund will no longer have to provide a 25-page spec treatment.

Gibson also signalled the NZFC will take a more active role in the local distribution of Kiwi films, with plans to introduce a simple, standardised testing system around picture lock off. “We hope that this testing system along with normal focus groups will contribute to robust discussion and decisions at final edit time,” he said.

He intends to change the P&A fund so it becomes more of reward fund, based on the quality of the finished film and the revised marketing plan at fine cut.