2nd Unit DOP and B Camera Operator - Nina Wells
One day this will be unremarkable, but right now it looks like milestone. The South Pacific Pictures production in conjunction with Shaftesbury in Canada, drama series The Sounds recently completed shooting in Auckland with a 50/50 female and male camera crew.
There were no special favours. The camera crew was hired on talent, capability, work ethic, suitability and experience. When you do that, the only thing stopping a gender balanced crew is availability.
Director of Photography David Paul NZCS and 1st AC A Camera Daniela 'Nani' Conforte
Thanks, in part, to the efforts of NZCS and the Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity program, there were people like cinematographer Nina Wells ready to pick up the work. She will be credited as the 2nd Unit DOP and B Cam Operator – so far a rarity for Kiwi women, and was applauded for executing the job without missing a beat. What’s more congratulations are in order because Nina happens to be pregnant.
2nd Unit DOP and B Cam Operator Nina Wells with 1st AC B Camera Neal Wagstaff
Still, as an industry and a cinematography organisation we can’t sit back – even if day players occasionally pushed the female proportion on The Sounds crew to over half and half.
As an industry we need more female camera crew coming through, and camera crew mothers like Nina will need to know they will be welcomed back into the workforce where they left off.
1st AC B Camera Operator Neal Wagstaff
NZCS is working on that and with help and given time, a gender balanced camera crew will no longer be a milestone, it will be just another day on set.
Director of Photography David Paul NZCS and 1st AC A Camera Daniela "Nani" Conforte
THE SOUNDS - CAMERA CREW
Director of Photography - David Paul
2nd Unit DOP and B Camera Operator - Nina Wells
1st AC A Camera - Daniela "Nani" Conforte
1st AC B Camera - Neal Wagstaff
2nd AC A Camera - Jack Vincent
Camera Assistant - Laura Tait
Camera Assistant Laura Tait
2nd AC A Camera Jack Vincent
NZCS Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity Program Update
The NZCS is pleased to announce that another placement has been confirmed for the Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity Program.
In January, NZCS associate member Bailey Mitchinson will join the camera crew on the Jane Campion directed film “The Power of the Dog”, for a shoot in Auckland and the South Island.
The NZCS will subsidise five weeks remuneration on the shoot, and the production will cover another five weeks and out-of-town costs, to ensure continuity over the 10-week schedule.
Bailey will be mentored as camera trainee by the camera crew under 1st AC (B Cam), Ben Rowsell. Cinematographer Ari Wegner, ACS, has long been a campaigner to increase the numbers of women working in camera, lighting and grip departments. She is fully supportive of Bailey’s mentorship and anticipates a very diverse range of circumstances on the shoot.
This placement will almost exhaust the current funding for the program which has been supported by a grant from the NZ Film Commission. The feedback has all been very positive and we await news of future funding possibilities when 2020 budgets are finalised.
We are actively seeking other funding partners for this project as we wish to maintain the momentum and pursue our objective of opening up more opportunities for woman in the camera dept at all levels – to help increase their skill levels and move towards redressing the current gender imbalance.
Please contact me if you are a producer with an upcoming production that could support a mentorship. We are specifically looking at encouraging upcoming female cinematographers who are at the level of operating camera and/or shooting second unit.
NZCS Professional Development Manager
2019 has been a cracking year for the NZCS, and it’s been very satisfying to see many of our strategic ambitions up and running.
This was the year that the NZCS rebranded, building on the original design by Dale McCready that served us so well for the first 10 years, and with the help of designer Robin Charles from Lotech, designed a fresh look that will lead us into and through the next decade.
This was the year that the NZCS implemented the Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity Program that saw six female placements on significant productions throughout the country, including top end Productions The Luminaries, Sweet Tooth, Black Christmas and the upcoming Power of the Dog. It has been an important step for the NZCS to recognise the need to redress the gender balance within the Camera Department, and I am delighted that the Gender Diversity program has helped towards achieving that goal, resulting incidentally in a more than 200 percent increase in female members of the Society.
This achievement has been tempered by the unexpected loss of committee member and Gender Diversity instigator Cushla Lewis, who sadly passed away earlier in the year.
This was the year that the NZCS Awards shifted up a gear and into its new home at the Cordis Hotel. The standard of NZ Cinematographers keeps growing, and the Awards have grown with them. Big thanks to Amber Wakefield and Kelly Lucas for their sterling organisational work to get the awards up and running again with a minimum of fuss.
This was the year that the NZCS implemented its Professional Development program, after it was agreed that the focus of the NZCS should be firmly on our members and providing value for membership. Donny Duncan won the role of Professional Development Manager, and after some months of research and development, the year finished with our very first NZCS masterclass, a one day HDR workshop led by Ben Allan CSI ACS which proved very popular and most successful. We look forward to bringing you more masterclasses in the new year.
In addition to all those achievements the NZCS also hosted 16 evening events for our members, from underwater drone demonstrations to talks with legendary cinematographers like Russell Carpenter ASC, all with the aim of fostering knowledge and community within the NZ cinematographic scene and the wider industry.
Big thanks from me to our management committee who do a huge amount of voluntary work, our Executive Officer Amber Wakefield, a powerhouse of organisational skills and efficiency, and to our most excellent sponsors, without whose generosity and support we would not be in a position to provide this level of excellence to you.
I wish you all a loving and safe holiday season, and I hope that 2020 bestows us all with creative and financial prosperity.
Viewing test results in theatre at Dept of Post. Photo credit: Jess Charlton
After many months planning a strategy for our Masterclass program, the NZCS was pleased to facilitate an inaugural one-day session on HDR (High Dynamic Range) Grading, with guest cinematographer Ben Allan, ACS, CSI and colourist James Gardner from the Department of Post.
Despite a relatively short run-up time and a busy time of year, the attendance was robust at 20 – about the perfect size for the venues, and attendees comprised an interesting mix of cinematographers, colourists, post-production/editors, equipment suppliers, associate members and students.
It was a very inter-active morning session beginning with capturing Raw test footage on an ARRI Alexa in the Unitec film studio. Rather than shoot the standard test charts and static model, Ben devised a short drama scene where our model interacted in an existing set. Lighting suggestions were invited from our DP’s on the floor, so anyone had a chance to include an element that they wanted to see tested – ranging from over and underexposure areas, to the inclusion of various practical lighting sources like mobile phone and desk lamp, and a variety of colour hues. A Rosco Softdrop loaned by PLS was used outside the set window to simulate the Auckland cityscape.
Ben Allan ACS CSI lectures on HDR. Photo credit: Jess Charlton
The afternoon session began at The Department of Post with a slideshow and introduction to the HDR process by Ben and James. This resulted in a very lively debate with many questions from the floor.
Viewing the mornings’ footage in the grading theatre on an SDR and HDR monitor side-by-side, with James Gardner at the helm was a very instructive and entertaining session, and Ben Allan got to explain in detail, how a much greater range of brightness and shadow detail was possible in the HDR version displayed on the HDR monitor.
Ben Allan ACS CSI taking light readings in studio with model Jade Tannen
Maile Dougherty’s input as a post-production producer, recently working on the Netflix film “The King” in Sydney, also lent a most valuable perspective, and she had first-hand experience with some of the challenges of this relatively new technology.
The day concluded with socialising over refreshments, and the chance for participants to swap notes with old and new acquaintances.
Maile Dougherty shares experience on "The King" . Photo credit: Jess Charlton
A summary of some of the basic lessons learned over the day:
HDR (High Dynamic Range Video) is a new post-production standard that accommodates an extended brightness range offered by a new generation of HDR-capable domestic TV’s and professional monitors.
HDR video should not be confused with digital stills HDR (which refers to layered multiple images with different exposures) If you are shooting with a high end professional movie camera, you are probably already capturing HDR capable images.
Major international networks are now specifying delivery to HDR specs but there are at least four different standards in use, including Dolby Vision, HDR10, Technicolor HDR and HLG (for live broadcast applications)
The vast majority of viewers will still see your show in SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) so its very important to convince producers to budget in extra grading time for a “Trim Pass” to manually correct what will be automatically generated from the HDR master (and will not always be true to the original creative intentions)
James Gardner at Dept of Post. Photo credit: Jess Charlton
Feedback from some of the Masterclass participants:
“For me the biggest benefit was in being able to follow the whole process from lens to screen, and the input from the instructors as well as from the experienced professionals in the class was very valuable.”
“I’d been curious about the HDR process, and nits, amongst other aspects of the evolving technology involved with colour grading. Being able to sit in with a bunch of other curious members of our profession and get the low down with a variety of experts was very enlightening. I’m looking forward to the next masterclass. Pretty good value for money I reckon.”
“Great course, very well run - I walked away with a much better understanding of HDR . The price felt right too - very manageable, and everyone there was taking it seriously as only happens when you pay!“
“The one day format was excellent. It covered all the essentials a DP needs to be fluent in an HDR discussion with a producer and explained the tech very well”.
“I found it super interesting, was nice to have a course that was helpful in professional development & practical and not just a quick hands on look at new equipment”
“Interesting to see that HDR is not just "more" of what we already have, but a whole new can of worms”
“I finally got an understanding of what HDR is all about and where things are heading”
Camera crew shooting in Unitec studio. Photo credit: Jess Charlton
This Masterclass would not have been possible, without the generous help from the following sponsors in supplying equipment and resources:
- Metro Film for ARRI Alexa camera kit and Zeiss FF Supreme Prime lens set.
- ARRI Australia for contributing to travel and accomodation for Ben Allan ACS
- The Rebel Fleet for supplying DIT station and monitors
- Unitec Creative Industries for use of the studio
- Department of Post for supplying staff and facilities for the afternoon session
The NZCS plans to run a series of four masterclasses in 2020 and looks forward to collaborating with a variety of local sponsors. We will reboot another survey early next year to determine areas of majority interest for subsequent classes.
Thanks to the crew in the morning: 1st AC Ben Rowsell, 2nd AC Teresa Bradley, DIT Michael Urban, gaffer Adrian Greshoff, and model Jade Tannen.
Thanks to the following for helping publicise the event: Showtools, Film Crews, Crewlist, Directors and Editors Guild, Screen Guild and WIFT
~ Donny Duncan NZCS, Professional Development Manager
Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity Program:
These placements are an important part of our strategic plan to increase the numbers of women within the world of cinematography. They would not be possible without funding from NZ Film Commission, and the hard work and backing from the productions who agree to take on the placements. Productions not only meet the NZCS halfway in funding, but there is also a large amount of behind-the-scenes work to ensure these placements run smoothly. In this particular instance, we would like to thank Line Producer Sarah Cook and Executive Producer Emma Slade for making this opportunity possible.
Report from Mara Yambao:
"I was given the role of Video Intern/Camera Trainee on The Justice of Bunny King. My main responsibilities were to ensure that video village was set up during shoot days and assisting the camera department. I reported directly to Ben Rowsell (1 st AC), Rayne Mokaraka (2 nd AC) and Danny Burnett (DIT). Prior to this shoot, I’ve had no experience working with the DIT department, in specific, setting up monitors/ video village on set and so I found this pretty exciting to jump into. This role allowed me to gain new skills and help me gain personal professional development.
The main lessons I took away from this role:
Exponential Growth: This was my first foray into the video splitting world and I did not know how to operate the equipment (FSI, Apollo, Teradeks). During my prep week, Danny gave me a quick theoretical introduction and run down of the equipment. However the learning did not start until the first day. I learnt more about the FSI monitor, the Apollo, cabling and the Teradeks through hands on approach, I was pushed to explore the different functions of the equipment by using. Being on set forced me to apply myself, and be observant at all times, I needed to make sure that not only was I performing my tasks correctly but I also had to be attentive to the needs of the team, for example, if they needed help moving equipment, help with lens changes or slating. I enjoyed finding that balance and learning through practical applications.
Communication is key: If I was having issues with the equipment, and my attempt in resolving them were unsuccessful, I needed to communicate this immediately to Danny so that he could help with resolving the issue. Furthermore, this role allowed me to liaise with different departments. For example, from liaising with the 1 st AD where to put the video village to requesting a 4x4 floppy from the Gaffer to set up for the video village.
Making decisions and being pro-active: Ben and I have worked on a previous film shoot, so it was great to have Ben as my 1 st AC, as he was able to give me feedback on my work. Prior to the shoot he gave me a short brief of my role and responsibilities, aside from learning the equipment and being able to problem solve issues he wanted me to be more pro-active on set and think outside the box and make my own decisions with my role. This was one of the most valuable lessons for me, as it gave me the confidence to “own” my work and also pushed me to take initiative, as opposed to waiting for orders.
Overall my experience working on the set of ‘The Justice of Bunny King,’ was amazing and it was an absolute privilege to work with Ginny, Ben, Rayne and Danny. I am very grateful to have been given this valuable opportunity.
Report from Ginny Loane NZCS Director of Photography:
Mara Yambao was our Gender Diversity trainee on “The Justice of Bunny King” and was a super-woman extraordinaire. She was always calm and collected with the tornado-like energy of the film set swirling around her.
It was a pleasure to see her really taking command of the job and owning it.
Mara has a focus I noticed immediately when we first worked together. She is the first person watching and reacting when anyone might need assistance, and does what is required quietly with no fuss, and does it well.
Mara has come ahead in leaps and bounds with gear and got her head around cameras and vid split systems straight away.
I am really confident that Mara is ready to take on a second AC position and easily fulfil the requirements of the job.
Report from Ben Rowsell 1st AC:
On the recent production “The Justice of Bunny King”, Mara was assigned to the camera department via the NZCS Gender Diversity Program. I had previously worked with Mara on Disney’s “Mulan” where she was camera intern and PA to Mandy Walker ASC ACS, so I was interested to see how she would go on a smaller independent movie.
From the start Mara was given responsibility of running the onset video monitoring and playback as well as general camera department support, where she showed great initiative and focus in both areas. The setup was 2 cameras for approximately 50 percent of the shoot and after some initial support from our DIT operator Danny Burnett, Mara was keen to do as much as possible on her own.
Mara worked closely with Director Gaysorn Thavat, DOP Ginny Loane NZCS & Script Supervisor Kath Thomas, making sure picture was up and always standing by to record and playback.
Throughout the shoot 2nd AC Rayne Mokaraka assigned more responsibility to Mara and she was soon confident with slating, paperwork, lens changes & general assisting work.
Mara was a pleasure to have as part of the team and I was very happy with her work ethic - it’s not often you find someone who is so quiet and attentive on set. Mara made good progress with her ability and confidence during the job, and hopefully we’ll see more of her on set in the future.
The Screen Industry - Sexual Harassment Prevention Project
At the global The Power of Inclusion (POI) summit on Friday 4 October 2019, ScreenSafe/SWAG announced a pivotal new initiative supported by NZ On Air (NZOA), New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) and SPADA.
SWAG was set up in Aotearoa New Zealand, in response to the global #MeToo movement, that shook the entertainment industry and demanded a higher standard of workplace care. They partnered with ScreenSafe, the screen industries Health and Safety initiative with the aim to contribute significantly toward ensuring safe, creative, respectful, and happy workplaces are the norm in the screen industry nationwide.
Co-founding member of SWAG, Emma Slade partook in the panel at The Power of Inclusion summit, #MeToo – Where Too?, alongside global leaders Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Nasreen Alkhateeb and Kirsten Schaffer.
In response to feedback from successful pilot training courses, there will be a one-day Professional Respect Training Course primarily for Heads of Departments but open to anyone from the screen sector. Offered from early 2020, the course will address prevention, definitions, disclosures and respectful behaviours in the workplace.
NZOA and NZFC will be contributing funding and alongside the industry guilds are supportive of these courses as essential to Health and Safety in the screen industry.
ScreenSafe/SWAG will also be rolling out a Respect Online Module from early 2020 that will address Sexual Harassment, Harassment and Bullying for all practitioners in the Screen Sector. This course can be undertaken at any time.
ScreenSafe/SWAG is looking for support from all the guilds and industry organisations to encourage their members to undertake this enhanced training.
Here are the resources currently available on ScreenSafe and SWAG’s
- website: www.screensafe.co.nz or swag.org.nz
- Screen Sector Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy and Reporting Form
- Bystander Intervention Poster and Guidelines
- Onset Daily Verbal Briefing
- Sexual Harassment Definition Poster (‘What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like?’)
- ‘Receiving Disclosures’ pamphlet
- Intimacy Coordinators and Crew Briefing for Sex Scenes
- Sexual harassment reporting form
- Professional Respect HOD Training – upcoming dates in early 2020
These placements are an important part of our strategic plan to increase the numbers of women within the world of cinematography. They would not be possible without the hard work and backing from the Productions who agree to take on the placements. Productions not only meet the NZCS halfway in funding, but there is also a large amount of behind-the-scenes work to ensure these placements run smoothly. In this particular instance, we would like to thank Chloe Smith. Without your help, placements such as this would not have been possible.
Report from Zyanya Jackson
This winter I was lucky enough to be the camera trainee for the 6 week shoot of “Black Christmas”, an American feature film from Blumhouse Productions, filming in the South Island.
I joined the crew in Dunedin for the first day of production and spent the first week getting to grips with the camera equipment, processes and observing how the crew in the camera department worked as a team and as part of the production as a whole.
It was important to me to make the most of my time on this placement and get as much hands-on experience with the camera gear as possible. Fortunately for me my 1st AC’s Pete Cunningham, Kirsten Green and Roger Feenstra, and 2nd AC’s Declan Cooke, Jake Stanton and Nani Conforte , were always more than happy to answer any question I had and gave me every opportunity to be involved with builds and to spend time getting to know everything we had to work with.
As this was my first time working on this level of production, there was something new to learn every day, from start to finish, and my second week was definitely a steep learning curve performing 2ndAC duties for the C camera when it came into play. It was a great opportunity to really get involved and get used to working on set - knowing where to be and when, set etiquette and how to work efficiently as a camera assistant alongside the rest of the crew.
The second half of the shoot was spent in Alexandra and the Waitaki Valley. Dealing with the logistics of filming on location vs in the studio, and the way this affects how we functioned as a department was a good lesson in on-the-spot trouble-shooting and adapting quickly in different environments. Night shoots on location really gave a sense of how well prepared you need to be for working out in the elements, whether the conditions were real or created by SFX.
Something I really enjoyed was working alongside all the other departments on set. Being a horror movie it was really interesting to see how our director Sophia Takal and DP Mark Schwartzbard worked together to set the tone for each scene, and from Art Dept and Lighting to Sound and Continuity, it was pretty amazing to watch how each different faction comes together once a take is called. I was very lucky to have such supportive crew around me as I got more and more involved in the production.
My placement on “Black Christmas” has been invaluable. I was definitely expecting to spend more time observing from the side-lines as a trainee, so I’m really grateful to everyone I worked with in the camera department for the generosity they showed me with their knowledge and patience and for taking the time to train me and get me involved in the job. I feel like I’ve gained so much from working with such experienced crew that I can hopefully take with me into future projects.
A huge thank you to the NZCS and the NZ Film Commission for creating these opportunities, and to Line Producer Chloe Smith and Unit Production Manager Annie Weston for such a great contribution to the ongoing success of the Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity Program.
For the first time ever, New Zealand has officially played host to a President of the American Society of Cinematographers, courtesy of a Masterclass in Auckland, facilitated by ARRI Australia.
Simon Raby NZCS President and Kees van Oostrum ASC President
A group of local cinematographers and camera rental managers gathered for a day and half to learn more from Kees van Oostrum, ASC, about the ARRI Large Format camera system, the brand new Alexa Mini LF camera and the ARRI Signature Prime lenses. Also on hand to collaborate in the session was Thorsten Meywald, Product Manager, Optical Systems, ARRI, Germany, with first-hand knowledge of the development of these lenses, designed specifically for Large Format and digital capture, and Sean Dooley, ARRI Sales Manager from Sydney.
Alexa Mini LF with Masterclass participants
After an overview from Sean, demonstrating the new features of the just-released Alexa Mini LF, Thorsten lead a presentation covering the objectives of the design process for creating the new lenses – specifically: lower contrast than traditional film lenses, a smooth natural fall-off in out of focus areas, the ability to cover the larger sensor area of the LF format, and a new stronger and larger LPL lens mount to replace the 37 year old PL mount system. All 16 lens in the Signature range were together in Auckland for the first time anywhere. Most interesting was the new 12mm (angle of view comparable to 8mm in Super35 format) which has some remarkable design features, including internal rotation of the image to allow for smaller front diameter, shorter protrusion of the back element and a stop of T1.8.
Kees van Oostrum ASC, sets up multi-camera format comparison
The session with Kees began with a practical exercise, comparing a standard Super35 format Alexa Mini, an Alexa Mini LF and several sets of traditional lenses up against the Signature Primes. Some of the objectives of the side by side testing were as follows:
1/ To demonstrate the visual appeal of shooting in Large Format, with reduced depth of field for a given angle of view, and increased resolution, and compare this with Super 35 spherical and anamorphic formats.
2/ To analyse the “clean, natural” look of the Signature primes but then detune the lenses to match the look of various vintage lenses, including Master Primes, Cookes, and Superspeeds. This detuning was specifically achieved with rear element filtering on the Signature lenses with the new magnetic filter holder and a wide variety of nets and standard eyeglass diopters especially cut to fit.
3/ To test the extended usable ISO range of the LF format. More photo-sites in a larger sensor means the noise floor is less apparent when the sensor is pushed to the limits of light capture, and it certainly appears the LF system is faster and can push to 3200 ISO if needed.
One of the highlights of the day was provided when Kees produced his 1919 Taylor-Hobson 110mm, 4x5 stills camera lens (with LPL adapter mount) which produced a surprisingly sharp, if flared out, image. The challenge was to find a rear lens filter pack to emulate that vintage 100 year old look on the brand new Signature lenses – mission achieved very successfully with a #1 Soft rear filter.
100 year-old Taylor-Hobson lens on Alexa Mini LF
The day ended with a demonstration of the Trinity hybrid camera stabiliser that combines classic mechanical stabilisation with advanced active electronic stabilisation – essentially a Steadicam-type system, mated with a gimbal rig.
The second day was a viewing and grading session at the Department of Post, where the true 4K DCI Christie Lazer Projector was used to split screen images for comparison, in the optimum viewing environment, and conclusions were debated and reached on the merits of each test.
Crighton Bone NZCS, Aaron Morton NZCS, Simon Temple, and Simon Raby NZCS check out the Trinity camera stabiliser rig
The NZCS intends to embark on a series of Masterclasses and workshops in our Professional Development Program, in the near future, and it was great to observe how this class ran and take lessons from the experience. It was a real pleasure to have Kees van Oostrum ASC, and the team from ARRI in town and thanks must go to Brett Smith, ARRI Australia’s General Manager, for having the vision to bring the ASC President to Australia and NZ to share his insights into the craft of advanced image capture.
~ Donny Duncan NZCS
These placements are an important part of our strategic plan to increase the numbers of women within the world of cinematography. They would not be possible without the hard work and backing from the Productions who agree to take on the placements. Productions not only meet the NZCS halfway in funding, but there is also a large amount of behind-the-scenes work to ensure these placements run smoothly. In this particular instance, we would like to thank the Line Producer Mel Turner and her team. Without your help, this placement would not have been possible. Thanks Mel and team!
Report from Tammy Williams
I was fortunate enough to shadow Aaron Morton NZCS on the five week shoot of Sweet Tooth, an American Network TV pilot filmed in Auckland in June 2019.
I spent a small amount of time in pre-production with Aaron, attending a camera test and a couple of location recce’s and production meetings. It was a good way for us to chat in a less busy environment and a chance for me to get my head around the script and the visual language that Aaron and Jim Mickle, the director, wanted to pursue.
From there it was on to a five week shoot for the pilot. The production was based at Auckland Film Studios in Henderson and we filmed between there, Bethells, Muriwai and Woodhill Forest. One of the greatest parts of the shoot for me was that we were changing the location of where we shot often so I got to watch how Aaron and Jim chose to shoot in different situations, ranging from studio set builds to on location sets.
The first two weeks were a bit overwhelming but obviously great. Seeing a production of that scale and the talent of all of the people involved really blew my mind. It was pretty incredible to see the detail and concentration that each team put into their department, from Art Dept to Wardrobe and Make-Up / Prosthetics to VFX and SFX.
One of things I most enjoyed watching was how Aaron chose to light each scene and how he thoroughly thought through all the camera moves. The location lighting was much as I expected but on a bigger scale than anything I’ve had a chance to work with. The studio lighting was complex and layered and it gave me an appreciation for how much prep and thought has to go into designing the look of the film before turning up on set.
In terms of gripping, there were cranes, dollies and many many sliders, as well as easirig’s and steadicam set-ups.
I loved observing how each move was designed and stylish, but the emphasis was always on furthering the story. This understanding of storytelling and what was important in each scene began each day with the Director’s block and the conversations between Aaron and Jim about character movement and the camera movement related to that.
At any one time we had two to three cameras running, covering different action or shot sizes of each scene. I was lucky enough to have a chance to operate a few set-up’s on the third camera as well as run a couple of little mini splinter shoots throughout the job.
I spent a lot of my time listening in to Aaron’s conversations, talking to the gaffer Tony Blackwood, operator and steadicam operator Todd Bilton and talking to the Grips about their equipment and the decisions they made in regards to gear etc. They were all extremely generous with their knowledge.
Aaron was also hugely giving in terms of sharing his insights and thoughts about what was going on. He didn’t mind me arriving early and listening to his and Jim’s conversations before crew call and put up with my constant questions with good humour.
Overall I’d say it was an extremely valuable experience for me and I feel like the information is still filtering through my mind. I’m looking forward to a project where I can really sink my teeth into some drama and hopefully draw on some the learnings from Sweet Tooth.
I’d like to thank the production and the NZCS for the wonderful opportunity.
Report from Aaron Morton NZCS
I recently had an opportunity to have Tammy Williams shadow me as Cinematographer on Sweet Tooth, a pilot for the Hulu streaming service.
I think the diversity initiative by the NZCS and Film Commission is long overdue and anything we can do to increase the numbers of female cinematographers in NZ and around the world is a good thing.
Tammy was able to join me for some of the prep, which informed the time she spent on set once we started shooting. It was fantastic to be able to pass on what I was doing and why.
Hopefully being there as the various problems and issues were identified and solved will serve her well on her own projects. We were working at a reasonably large scale but the fundamentals and strategy involved in keeping the shooting process moving forward can be transferred to any sized project.
We got Tammy involved with operating on many set-ups and she became a trusted part of Jim our Directors approach to achieving his photographic goals. It really was a huge help having someone as skilled as Tammy with us.
I look forward to being involved with the program again in the future.
Aaron Morton NZCS
Peter Parnham examines the issues around Film Industry Working Group’s recommendations.
As a freelancer in the screen industry, you probably yawn when you see media stories about the expanding gig economy. But like it or not, the screen industry is caught up in attempts to make this type of work fairer. On the horizon is a quite different basis for engaging crew and it may not be entirely what we expect, want, or need.
The gig economy has long been a way of life in the screen industry where almost everyone is an independent contractor – a freelancer – who enjoys the independence and freedom of operating as a small business and being able to make tax deductions for a home office no ordinary waged employee can make.
For others the label ‘contractor’ can easily become an excuse to avoid employer obligations like the minimum wage, as many cleaners, courier drivers, telecom technicians, and plenty of others can attest.
It might sound somewhat old fashioned to talk about erosion of workers’ rights, but in jobs traditionally done by employees and now done by individual contractors what else is the loss of annual leave, sick leave, public holidays, employer contributions to KiwiSaver, ACC payments, protection from unjustifiable dismissal, pay equality and the rest? Many contractors in other industries can only eye enviously the options for flexible work, short term and projected-orientated employment agreements offered by the Employment Relations Act that seem so similar to contracts they work under except for the missing entitlements and protections.
They are not trivial amounts. For example, $37,981 is the median screen industry annual income and an employee doing the same work would cost at least $7,300 more. This might be a moot point in the screen industry where all the crew are happy enough as all contractors. Still, it does give a clue as to why this issue might be important enough for the Labour Party to make promises in their election manifesto to make it fairer for the casualised workforce.
This is not a new issue. Occasionally the Employment Relations Authority or the courts step in and tell the employer to cough up the extra dosh to cover entitlements, because the independent contract was a sham and the person was really an employee. A film industry case like this in 2010 led to the so-called Hobbit law.
Old hands will remember the pressure and the panic that saw the government ignore normal parliamentary processes and ram through an amendment to the Employment Relations Act. This law made sure film production workers are contractors, unless the parties agree otherwise beforehand – an occurrence that must be rarer than a roll of film.
Actors Equity, the actor’s union (now Equity New Zealand), saw the upcoming Hobbit shoot as a chance to bargain on behalf of members, while most film industry freelancers, used to being on contracts, were happy enough that the law confirmed usual practice if it helped bring in shows like The Hobbit.
The reason was simple: all the entitlements and rights mean nothing when you’ve priced yourself out of a job like those unionised film workers in North America that are touted as one of the main reasons productions run away to New Zealand in the first place.
The producers additional concern about uncertainty for incoming productions was that accepted practice was to engage freelance contractors, but if the courts subsequently reclassified a pissed off contractor as an employee, this would result in significant surprise costs long after the shoot had finished.
As they sailed into the storm, Actors Equity had to be careful, they are a union and that gives them rights to negotiate a binding collective agreement only between employers and employees. Bargaining collectively on behalf of contractors is generally not allowed. Independent contractors are businesses, and have to comply with the Commerce Act, which offers protection against uncompetitive business practices or cartel-like behaviour.
A guild not a union
This is why we are the Screen Industry Guild and not the Screen Industry Union. Unions are for employees, and collectively bargain under the umbrella of the Employment Relations Act. There is little point in being a union if your members are contractors. Consequently, our guild is an incorporated society that does pretty much everything a union does, except negotiate collective employment agreements.
Having said that, the Blue Book is the result of negotiation between the guild and the producers. A huge amount of work has gone into it from both sides, it is widely accepted, and it would be chaos without it. The guild can do this because, unlike an employee-based collective agreement, the Blue Book is not binding and does not set any minimum pay. Nor can you pressure the production by agreeing with your mates not to sign on unless they use the Blue Book. Agreeing a daily rate among yourselves is also anti-competitive behaviour.
In this light, you can see why big employers might want to put courier drivers, cleaners and the rest on contracts. Firing a contractor is easier too; there is no need to go through the careful process or pay out entitlements required under employment law.
The story would end there had we not elected the Labour-led government who saw the wider gig economy eroding worker’s rights and driving down incomes. They perhaps imagined the first step would be obvious and easy.
At the time, Workplace Relations Minister, Iain Lees-Galloway promised to get on to repealing the controversial Hobbit law within new government’s first 100 days in office.
Yikes! They might force us to be employees when we don’t want to be. Screen industry leaders flew to Wellington and had urgent meetings with the Minister, urgent letters were exchanged, cabinet papers were urgently written. Finally, to calm the storm the government agreed to hold off and instead form a working group.
On the Film Industry Working Group was the Screen Industry Guild, along with other industry guilds, producers, actors, Council of Trade Unions, regional film offices, WETA Digital, and BusinessNZ.
The objective, set by the government, was to recommend a legal framework to enable workers in the screen industry to collectively bargain while still being contractors, without scaring off productions, or setting up cartels or anti-competitive behaviour by crew or supplier companies.
It is obvious that if this group could work out what to do in the screen industry, it could set a handy template for gig economy workers in other industries.
However, when the working group’s recommendations were published last October, they squashed that idea immediately, insisting that the screen industry is unique, so much so, it needs its own distinct labour laws.
One risk with this approach is that the government puts the whole pot on the back burner simply because there are so many other competing priorities before the next election.
The second, bigger risk, is that for all the emphasis on providing certainty for overseas investors and producers, New Zealand legislation normally takes years to work through the parliamentary processes with various opportunities for submissions and amendments, and debates in parliament, with a hungry opposition looking for sensationalist sound bites. All this could create the very uncertainty which, as an industry, we were keen to avoid. Unless that is, the government chooses to flirt with controversy by rushing legislation through anyway – hopefully, an unlikely prospect.
Meanwhile as the Film Industry Working Group was working away, in June 2018 the government set up the heavyweight Fair Pay Agreements Working Group, chaired by former Prime Minister Jim Bolger. Their brief was to look at the wider issues of how to set up binding fair pay agreements to cover workers who were on the raw end of the new economy.
Their detailed solution includes a system of negotiating binding fair pay agreements that would be triggered by factors like jobs with a high level of fragmentation and contracting. An independent body would be set up to oversee the whole process.
Back in the screen industry, and in contrast to the Hobbit Law crisis in 2010, the Film Working Group unanimously recommend that sector-by-sector collective bargaining be allowed for contract workers in the screen industry. The resulting agreement would be a mandatory minimum for everybody in that sector.
The difficult bit has always been trying to define the difference between an independent contractor person, and an actual business. Nobody wants to provide an accidental legal loophole for anti-competitive behaviour by big companies. On the other hand, you don’t want to find that the plumber unblocking the drain in the production kitchen is somehow caught up in screen industry collective agreements.
The film working group have handed the government’s law drafters a good starting point if and when they look at the screen industry, or for that matter, when they look at who exactly would be covered by a Fair Pay Agreement.
The film working group recommends guilds and producers would have to prove they are the most representative group for that section of the industry. They would then be registered. We can only hope that this would not lead to unseemly territory disputes. Once a collective contract was negotiated, the ratification process would allow the workers it covers – including non-guild members – to have input and they would all be eligible to vote on it.
The report glosses over how this would happen. To vote democratically and include non-guild members, you would need to register all legitimate workers in that industry sector on some sort of roll. You too could become a card-carrying member of the screen industry.
On the other hand, the Fair Pay Agreement Working Group report devotes pages to this very issue, and suggests a much simpler solution of setting up an independent body as a referee.
Oh, and the Film Industry Working Group had one other very important recommendation. Theirs would be quite a system and solely for the screen industry so the government should hand out the money to pay for it.
There is a lot of good stuff in the film working party’s recommendations, and it is now deep in the machinery of government who are probably wondering how something simple as repealing one law clause turned into something so complicated.
If they accept the film working party’s request that we need our own unique legislation and systems, it could take years to see it make it to parliament. Meanwhile, if they go with the Fair Pay Agreement Working Group’s recommendations they could slide the screen industry in there somewhere, without too much drama, special legislation, wild sound bites, and uncertainty.
But the film working group unanimously says we should go it alone with our own carved-out pieces of legislation. Or is it time to reconsider? It would not be a back down by the screen industry; after all, the Fair Pay Agreement Working Group published their recommendations some three months after the Film Industry Working Group published theirs, so they were probably in the dark.
Another meeting or two of our working group to take a closer look at the comprehensive Fair Pay Agreement proposals could pay big dividends.
After all, fair’s fair, whether you are a courier driver, a props buyer, a taxi driver, a cleaner, an assistant director, or for that matter a producer.
Peter Parnham is an independent commentator and this story does not represent the New Zealand Cinematographers position. The working parties reports can be found at www.MBIE.govt.nz.
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