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Keeping NZ on the movie map

Film and TV makes us more than $3 billion a year, pumping $2.78 billion into our GDP. Blockbuster franchises like Lord of the Rings mean even America has heard of us. So does new Film Commission boss Dave Gibson have the formula for holding onto our magic touch?

You recently said Kiwi films have more of a chance of being made than they do elsewhere, and that only a small percentage are very good. How can our film makers pull their socks up?

It might be a trite answer, but it helps if the films are unique in some way, so they stand out. In terms of the standard, I think it’s important to really keep working on the scripts and edits and not accept the bar at a low level.

What entrepreneurial nous should a film maker have?

An understanding of their audience, on top of their story telling skills. They should also constantly talk to people in the market. That means exhibitors and distributors and people in the new media areas of video on demand. And go to films all the time. I believe if we talk about audience in the same sentence as we talk about market, then film makers will be happy. No film maker really wants to make a film without an audience. But in the middle of trying to make that film it can be helpful for them to have colleagues with audience and marketing experience to talk to. One of the things we are really concentrating on in the film industry now is connecting the exhibitors, distributors and sales people with the projects earlier on.

Is digital a death knell or a blessing?

It’s an evolving situation. Last year the Film Commission (NZFC) began a two year initiative to digitise films in its library that were only available to view on 35mm print. As this work progresses these films, as well as the more recent and current films the NZFC invests in, will eventually be added to our new initiative – the Films on Demand platform.

This platform will continue to evolve with a purchase and download ability to be added alongside the existing rental function. Currently films can only be viewed within New Zealand but other countries will be added. Apps are being developed for iOS, Android, Desktop and Smart TV’s with the aim of allowing customers to watch their purchases on multiple devices. And with our new films we are encouraging new strategies.

You’ve had leadership roles in film and TV but with so many years as a producer with Gibson Group, do you still see yourself as more of a do-er than a delegator?

I started a production company at the same time as I was working as a producer so I had to learn about running a business, although it’s taken me most of the last 40 years to refine my delegation skills.

What kind of boss are you?

It’s always difficult to talk about yourself but I suspect I am reasonably inclusive, good at encouraging teams and delegating.

Some leaders hate managing people, do you enjoy it?

We have a core staff of 25 at the moment. I’m loving it, mainly because I feel we are starting to provide real value to the industry. You can start to feel the energy levels rising.

What’s the toughest call you’ve had to make?

I had a big budget film about 12 years ago where one of the main investors failed to front up with some contracted money late in pre-production and we had to pull the plug and send the cast and crew home. It was a tough day. And we never got to make the film in the end.

Looking more on the bright side, which creative project are you most proud of and why?

The Insider’s Guide to Happiness. It was a TV series I think was a good example of creating an environment where a bunch of creative people made something very different and very successful.

Amanda Sachtleben is an Auckland writer and social media type, who's also Idealog's former tech editor and business journalist.

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