why getting noticed doesn’t mean selling ourselves short
“We are keen on high-concept genre shorts because they are a solid stepping stone into commercial features…NZ is a small place and we need to be making films that have an eye on the world market.”
— Paul Swadel, Media Design School senior 3D lecturer
In early August, three ‘industry professionals’—Media Design School lecturer Paul Swadel, ex-NZ Film Commission Distribution Manager Daniel Story, and ‘Hollywood veteran’ Steve Barr—announced the formation of Blue Harvest Shorts, a producer pod funded by the Film Commission’s Premiere Shorts fund. In a video that wantonly abused the word ‘kick-ass’, the trio laid out their plans for the $180,000 at their disposal.They also distances themselves from the commercial poison that is the “dark drama” (“If you’ve got a film about a solo mum in a wheelchair living in South Auckland, it’s probably not the right script to bring to us,” Story gravely intoned).
I’m not going to tell them how to spend their money, though it would be within my rights to given their government funding. They want to sink their money into ‘kick-ass’ zombie apocalypses, more power to them. But it’s revealing that they think, to “have an eye on the world market”, New Zealand filmmakers must make genre films and only be identifiable as New Zealand films through an NZFC title card.To Blue Harvest, it seems we are the reason our films aren’t viable commercial products—it’s the fault of our hang-ups, our lives, our culture.They’re here to save us from ourselves.
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That’s absolute horseshit.
First, it’s patently false. Of the seven films the NZFC lists on their ‘Latest Feature Films’ page, five are genre works – horror (The Devil’s Rock), rom-com (My Wedding and Other Secrets; Love Birds), action (Tracker), and dark comedy (Predicament).We’ve also seen national and international success with dark dramas (Whale Rider, In My Father’s Den, Out of the Blue) and socially-conscious comedies (Boy). It’s not like the films Blue Harvest wants to make aren’t being made—and it’s not like the films they disparage aren’t being noticed.
But that’s a distraction.The point is not that we already make Blue Harvest’s coveted ‘world market’ films (a lot of them awful—for every How to Meet Girls from a Distance, there’s a Ferryman or an Under the Mountain).The major problem is Blue Harvest’s insinuations that our own stories aren’t interesting to anyone but ourselves.
The idea that a filmmaker shouldn’t tell the stories they want if they want to be noticed is ridiculous. Blue Harvest would have us play a perpetual game of cultural catch-up, trying to mimic what’s popular in a lame attempt to get Hollywood’s attention. If the film industry were a playground and the Hollywood studios were the popular kids, Blue Harvest would be the kids dressing like them in a desperate attempt to be ‘accepted’. Nobody likes those kids.
Our stories are important, need to be supported, and will be supported – if we tell them.We don’t ‘get noticed’ by being
pale imitations of things that already exist, and we, as a creative community and a film industry, don’t benefit from those imitations, those Ferrymans and Love Birdses…ses.When we start being honest with ourselves, when we take ownership of our stories and stop acting like they’re something to be ashamed of, we benefit – we make films that look good, are good, and get attention. If we don’t care about what we have to say, if we only want to say what other people are saying, why even say it?
Besides, we tell good stories anyway.