Chris Finlayson should ask if the Wot Wots and their kin really need to suckle on state handouts

We can expect to hear much bleating from the film industry, in light of a proposal to tighten access to one of their troughs.

The plan will require movie makers to stump up a bit more of their dosh (or the dosh of a private investor) before they can expect to slurp into public money.

The NZ Herald brings news of what’s afoot this morning –

Government officials are expected to recommend keeping a film fund which helped pay for local movies such as Boy and Under the Mountain, but make it more business-focused and require film makers to raise at least 10 per cent of the funding.

Papers obtained by the Herald show that the officials’ draft recommendations for the Government’s screen sector review include requiring films funded through the Screen Production Incentive Fund to get at least 10 per cent of budgets from private investors, despite the drop off in private investment in film since the global financial crisis hit in 2008.

To the contrary, Alf reckons if private investors aren’t putting in the money, there is probably a bloody good reason, and if there is a bloody good reason, then the public should not be putting money in.

Indeed, Alf would pull the plug on all handouts to film-makers and TV producers.

If their projects can’t hack it in a commercial world, too bad.

The paper referred to by the Herald, it seems, was presented to sector groups in Wellington this week.

But officials are reluctant to push it as a helluva good idea.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage said it was a draft and the recommendations did not represent Government policy.

The Screen Production Incentive Fund was a Clark Government initiative in 2008.

Helen Clark’s speech notes for an address “to celebrate the introduction of the New Screen Production Incentive Fund” can be found here.

As Minister for Arts, Culture, and Heritage, she gurgled about her government recognising the value of New Zealand’s cultural industries and its view that the screen industry as a fast-growing sector worthy of government support.

But the money is running out. It will need topping up next year.

Officials would do taxpayers a favour by recommending we turn off the supply tap, and if they don’t, then Chris Finlayson should turn it off, although Chris is a bit soft and pappy on this sort of thing.

Anyway, the officials recommend the fund continue and be reviewed again in three years – even though it has not achieved its economic objectives including higher levels of private investment.

The buggers came up with that hoary old rationale about it being too soon to judge the success of the fund.

They also say its creation has coincided with the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008.

Only two of the eight feature films had made a net return and the proportion of Government funding of films had increased on average from about 50 per cent to 70 per cent since 2008.

So what purpose is being served?

Ah, the paper says the fund has met its cultural objective of bringing more New Zealand content to the screen.

It might help if Alf had a better grip on what is meant by cultural objectives, but for the purposes of this post, let the record show our cultural well-being must have been hugely enhanced, because –

Ten feature films were made, compared with just four of a similar budget size over a similar period before 2008.

Oh, and if these buggers don’t get enough money from this taxpayer-provided trough, they can go to another one.

Producers can top up the funding from other Government bodies such as the Film Commission, NZ on Air, Te Mangai Paho and Creative NZ.

The officials’ paper went on to say there was growth in the New Zealand screen industry, partly because of Government incentives but in large part because of the reputations of people such as Sir Peter Jackson, Andrew Adamson and Sir Richard Taylor.

But future growth prospects are described as “relatively fragile” and the industry is said to be “heavily dependent on ongoing Government support, investor and audience perceptions, and the reputation of key individuals”.

It said financial incentives had to be maintained that were similar to other countries if it wanted to continue to attract productions.

It recommended keeping the Large Budget Fund, saying that without such incentives there would be a significant drop in major movies coming to New Zealand and some local capabilities would go overseas.

That fund has provided incentives such as rebates for international productions including the Hobbit, Avatar and Lord of the Rings.

State welfare for movie moguls, presumably.

The Herald report lists the productions funded by the Screen Production Incentive Fund since 2008.

The biggest sum was $4 million for “Under the Mountain”, the smallest was $787,146 for a series of the WotWots.

So who are the bloody WotWots?

Research was required and Mrs Grumble established (here) that “The WotWots” is a New Zealand children’s television show which debuted in 2009.

The show features two alien siblings, named SpottyWot and DottyWot, who spend their days exploring the environment where their steam-powered spaceship has landed. Episodes are set in the zoo, at the farm, or on the beach.

It is produced by Pukeko Pictures, an outfit which should not have to go to the Government for money – you would think – because it is the production company founded by filmmaker Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger, and children’s author Martin Baynton.

And the puppet-like WotWots characters are computer-animated over live-action footage by Weta Workshop, the visual effects company founded by the aforementioned Taylor and Rodger.

Alf supposes they have done nicely, thank you, from their work on “The Lord of the Rings” and all the other movies that made them famous.

Maybe not.

Anyway, if there’s public money available, film-makers would be daft not to try to get some of it, which is why Alf says we should look hard at these troughs.

The Boss thinks so, too, according to this speech in November 2010.

The government will start a review of the Large Budget Screen Production Grant next year, along with the Screen Production Incentive Fund – to make sure the supports and incentives they provide to film and television projects are appropriate and working well.

We have certainly seen some real successes – Boy received funding from the Screen Production Incentive Fund, and projects as diverse as Avatar, District 9, The Lovely Bones, The Wot Wots and Spartacus benefiting from Large Budget Screen Production Grants.

Except for the Herald reference this morning, by the way, Alf has yet to find affirmation of The Wot Wots being nurtured by the Screen Production Incentive Fund.

At first glimpse, he wonders how the wee creatures would be eligible in terms of their cultural contribution or significant Kiwi content.

According to Wikipedia (here)

…episodes are filmed on location at Auckland Zoo, Wellington Zoo and Melbourne Zoo, as well as undisclosed beach and farm regions. [1]

Zoos – in Alf’s book – are the stamping ground of lions, giraffes, elephants and other foreign beasts.

So what about the Kiwi job opportunities?

Co-creator Martin Baynton also narrates the series, interacting with the WotWots by asking them questions and translating their speech for the viewer. In the UK, the narration is performed by Nicholas Parsons, and in Poland it is done by Vladimir Press. Baynton also provides the voice for SpottyWot, while South African actress Nathalie Boltt voices DottyWot. Janet Roddick voices the WotWot’s computer, but her voice is replaced by that of Fiona Lewis in the UK version.

But Alf has examined some of the synopses and is bubbling with ideas to ensure their Kiwi content is more obvious.

There’s an episode called “Wot a Ploppy” in which SpottyWot learns to track animals by recognising their droppings.

He sets out to track down the animal that has made an impressively big pile of droppings and eventually finds a moose.

Alf is not sure about the Kiwi cultural claims that can be made by a moose or the significant Kiwi content of this episode.

If the big pile of droppings had led Spottywot to any one of the Labour or Green Party offices at Parliament Buildings, he would be more approving.

Another episode was headed “Shiver Me WotWots”. In this one –

SpottyWot draws a pirate’s treasure map and goes out digging on the beach in search of his treasure. He doesn’t have much luck until DottyWot helps by making a small addition to the map.

There is nothing obviously Kiwi about this. Alf would have required the map to lead Dottywot to discover an oil prospect on the beach, at which point iwi would kick up a fuss about ownership rights and a lack of consultation on the search.

“Ready to Rumble” is beyond redemption. In this one –

The Wotwots learn how Dingoes make their own den and Spottywot decides to make himself a den.

The best we can suggest here is that the Labour caucus go camping in the Aussie outback and that they wake up one morning to find the Screen Production Incentive Fund has been taken by a dingo.

It’s one of their babies, after all.

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