The Evening Post
September 1, 2000

Wannabe Film Makers Get Capital Chance to Learn
Staff Reporter

The Capital's reputation as a thriving centre of film making in New Zealand goes up a notch or two this week.

The New Zealand Film and Television School, based in Newtown, officially opened its doors to its first batch of wannabe Wellywood film makers on Thursday.

Set up by a trust of film industry representatives, it was to have opened in March, but this was delayed pending course certification by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

Director Ruth Jeffery, the New Zealand Film Commission's film development director for 12 years till taking the post, said ten students, ranging in age from 19 to 42, were to start on Thursday. They've paid $12,500 for the first 40-week course. There will be two further intakes, each of about 20 students, next February and July.

Students will have to master the main areas that come together to make a film - production principles, differences between film and TV, story-telling, lighting, script development and writing, sound recording, directing, business administration, finance, marketing and distribution, production management and design.

"It's an entire preparation from every aspect of being in a film crew," Jeffery says. "From the beginning of story-telling where the story idea comes, right through to how you market and distribute a film. They will learn how to do practical things like set up lighting for shots and operate cameras, all the relevant jobs. By the end of it, it should guarantee them a place in the industry."

Several tutors and guest speakers are film industry representatives and members of the trust board which set up the school. It includes film producer Robin Laing, cinematographer Alun Bollinger - an assistant director on The Lord Of The Rings - and director John Reid. Other tutors include well known directors Gaylene Preston and Ian Mune.

Jeffery says the students will be assessed along the way, but their biggest test will be the requirement as individuals and as a group to make their own films.

"At the end of it they will be able to come out with a product they've created themselves, either individually or (as) part of a group. A lot of students go into a school like this knowing what they really want to be in the end is directors. But, realistically, within the industry that's not going to happen. But what they do understand is what they need to know is every cog in the wheel of a (film's) production. That's actually going to help them be better directors," she says.

But with plenty of low-budget films being made in Wellington and around the country, why do we need to train more people?

Jeffery says the private school, a non-profit organisation, was set up because the industry needs better trained people. She worked extensively with the industry while with the Film Commission and could see where there were gaps, including a recent shortage of assistant directors. People were having to be brought in from overseas.

Also, there are plenty of successful film makers, such as Hamish Rothwell, director of the Wellington feature Stickmen, who had to train overseas.

"There's now an opportunity, given that there's more money around, that there are going to be more films made in this country and it's going to be more beneficial to have more specifically trained people," she says.

While there are some training programmes in television, there's no equivalent for film.

However the film school isn't a new idea. A New Zealand Film and Television School operated in Christchurch for about 13 years till the end of 1998. Graduates include Gillian Ashurst, who recently completed her first feature film, Snakeskin.

The Christchurch school closed after a dispute over rent arrears, saying it was too expensive to run in the city. It was also involved in a dispute with several students.

Jeffery says the Wellington school is essentially a new one. All it acquired from the Christchurch school was its courses. A survey this year found that 70 per cent of the Christchurch school's graduates in the past 10 years were working in the film and TV industry.

Jeffery says Wellington was chosen for the new school because it is the centre of film making for the country. Wellington City Council also helped, with a $300,000 set-up loan.

The school is based in Oxford Tce, Newtown, a short distance south of the Basin Reserve. Facilities include four editing suites.

What will be important for the students is realising that film making is hard work, says Jeffery.

"Film work is not glamorous. It's being there at 5 o'clock in the morning and working for 12 hours in mud. You don't get to drive a Porsche and marry starlets.

"But the common core link for everybody is an absolute passion for film. That's what we'll always be looking for."

Lights, camera, action. . . .