Media release from Pukeko Pictures
The global TV industry is in a golden age and New Zealand should be part of the international action. That’s the view of Andrew Smith, chief executive of Miramar-based Pukeko Pictures, an experienced TV production company created in 2008 by some of the heavyweights of the New Zealand screen industry including five-time Oscar winner Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger, Martin Baynton and Mr Smith himself.
“We do a lot of film work in New Zealand – on big projects and on some smaller projects – but we don’t do a lot of international TV productions,” he says.
“In New Zealand, we’ve had films like The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar and so on, and on the TV side, we’ve had series like Spartacus and Top of the Lake. Film far outweighs TV in terms of dollars spent on international productions, and that’s the reverse of what happens in many other countries.
“Many people are not aware of it, but worldwide TV is actually a bigger industry than the film industry. If we compare ourselves with Australia and Canada in terms of the mix of film versus TV, then TV in those two countries outweighs film.”
Mr Smith says part of the reason for this has been New Zealand’s focus on making television productions for domestic consumption, while the film industry has been more export orientated.
He wants that to change because he says New Zealand is missing out on a golden export opportunity that could benefit those working in the screen industry, bring rewards to Kiwi investors and earn revenue for the whole country – without burning up carbon miles.
Pukeko Pictures is aiming to become a major producer of television products for the international market, and it already has some successes to its credit.
Two of its products, The Wotwots and Jane and The Dragon – both children’s shows – are already international success stories, with WotWots screening in more than 100 countries. In addition, Pukeko is in the process of production on a 21st century version of the cult sixties TV show Thunderbirds are Go! through its association with ITV Studios, one of the UK’s biggest broadcasters.
Pukeko is now moving ahead with plans to produce prime time adult drama aimed at the top end of the market. It has entered into a first look deal with FreemantleMedia, which is part of RTL Group, Europe’s largest radio and television company. A “first look” deal is an agreement under which a distributor or TV network pays a development fee for the first right of refusal for a new production.
“The TV industry is very much a business with huge export potential, and there’ve been some success such as Hercules, Xena, Power Rangers and others, but it could be much greater,” he says. “To put this into context – TV shows such as The Sopranos have probably been seen in every developed country in the world. More people have probably seen Thomas the Tank Engine than have seen Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Mr Smith says making a successful TV series is a long-term game, whereas films tend to more short term, and that means television could potentially stabilize employment for those involved.
A common mantra in the film industry is that a big-budget movie has two weeks in which to make its mark, and its money.
“TV with its enormous reach into the public, is about gradually building an audience,” Mr Smith says. “The Walking Dead is a good example: it came out in 2010 as a relatively small show not reaching the broad audience, because zombies aren’t to everybody’s taste.
“But come forward to today, and there’d be few people in the western English-speaking world who wouldn’t have watched some of it, or at least been exposed to it.
“The Holy Grail is something like Dr Who, which is right now celebrating its 50th year. And there are plenty of other examples such as The Sopranos, Game of Thrones and Downton Abby.”
While the industry is currently geared towards producing for the domestic market, Mr Smith says there are creative people and independent producers in New Zealand who do want to do things internationally.
“I don’t begrudge anyone who is doing stuff locally for New Zealanders – but simply put, if you’re doing things for a domestic audience, you’re doing it for four million people. If you’re doing things for an international audience, you’re doing it for potentially four billion people. There’s a vast difference between those two numbers.”
Mr Smith says if Pukeko can realise its international plans, there will some significant benefits to New Zealand.
“Some people say this is a golden age – or even a platinum age – for TV,” he says. “Globally, the TV industry is worth billions of dollars a year and our view is that there’s a lot of scope for New Zealand in particular to do more in this space. This is an industry where New Zealand already has vast skills and expertise, and our other advantage is that we have some very unique locations.”