by Lindsay Shelton
It’s 24 years since Peter Jackson’s film-making career was kick-started, by one small cheque. He received it from the Film Commission in Wellington in November 1986. His life, as they say in summaries of movie plots, was never the same again. On the same day that he received the cheque, he resigned from his job on the Evening Post and became a full-time filmmaker. Eighteen months later, he’d completed Bad Taste, his first feature.
Last night at the Film Commission’s Ghuznee Street offices, four young film-makers also received financial support for their first features. The money isn’t a lot – $250,000 for each project – but it will launch their careers and could change their lives. Depending on the success of what they make.
In the judgmental film world, first features can be the means by which emerging talent is identified. When I sent Bad Taste to the Edinburgh Film Festival, the official programme declared presciently that the director showed “more than a hint of inspiration and fearsome dedication.” But nobody was predicting that in less than 15 years he would have created three of the most successful films ever made.
The budget of Bad Taste was $295,000, of which $205,000 came from the Commission. And the remainder? Perhaps from family and friends. Twenty-four years later, the Commission is expecting four young filmmakers to be as creative as Jackson with more or less the same amount of money. They’re no doubt aware that production of Bad Taste included much unpaid work – three years of it before investment was committed.
Shooting had begun at Makara in October 1983, when the project was intended to be a short film titled Roast of the Day. Two years later the Film Commission turned down Jackson’s first request for investment. He tried again a year later, saying: “All I want to do is make movies.” This time the Commission was ready to back his talent with production finance.
Last night’s announcement came at the end of an eight-month selection process – also seeking new talent – for a low-budget financing scheme which the Commission has labelled Escalator. Launched in February, it attracted an extraordinary total of 753 feature ideas.
Of the four successful projects, there’s one Wellington production. It plans to shoot at Makara. They’ve chosen the place from where Peter Jackson launched his brilliant career.
Lindsay Shelton handled international sales of Bad Taste when he was marketing director of the Film Commission. He wrote about the experience in The Selling of New Zealand Movies, published in Wellington by Awa Press in 2005.