FUTURE LIFE BELOW THE LINE - NZ TECHO WINTER 2017 ISSUE 72

In a May 2015 New York Times article intriguingly entitled “What Hollywood can teach Us About the Future of Work” writer Adam Davidson marveled at the efficiencies of a film crew on the first day of principal photography: “The team had never worked before, and the scenes they were shooting that day required many different complex tasks to happen in harmony: lighting, makeup, hair, costumes, sets, props, acting. And yet there was no transition time; everybody worked together seamlessly, instantly.” This was seemingly due to what is sometimes called the “Hollywood model” where ad hoc teams comprised of specialists with complementary skills take on short term but complex projects. The US economy was shifting to this business model, and the future would see working lives “structured around short-term, project-based teams rather than long-term, open-ended jobs.”


Two years later, Vanity Fair (Hollywood 2017 edition) reporter Nick Bilton was on set discussing the perceived inefficiencies of the film/tv business: “Before us, after all, stood some 200 members of the crew, who were milling about in various capacities, checking on lighting or setting up tents, but mainly futzing with their smartphones, passing time, or nibbling on snacks from the craft-service tents.” He noted that the “Hollywood Model”, with its apparent unused labour and excessive production costs (and speculative nature) would not have impressed a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. The article : “That’s All Folks” outlines the disruptive effect technology is having on the traditional film and television industries, and what it means for those who work there.


Most of us here in New Zealand would like to believe that we have taken the Hollywood model, and refined it further with small specialised crews operating within smaller budgets and quicker productions. We have streamlined labour relations, direct government funding, diverse locations and a pragmatic way of dealing with logistic problems that should keep us afloat in the murky swamp that is international film and television production. All well and good. But what will a film set of the future be like, and what will the crew be doing?


You will all know much more than I do about the future of film production. My biggest opportunity on set was a cameo role in an early series of Xena Warrior Princess. The role was for the village idiot, and I reluctantly turned it down, despite the fact that many thought I was well suited. But even to an outsider, there are issues that will clearly affect New Zealand film crew in the future:-


  • The capacity of digital technology to effect or disrupt both hardwear and distribution models is already plain to see. The Vanity Fair article points to advancements in artificial intelligence and computer generated imagery as further changes to the playing field. Editors and scriptwriters could be replaced by algorithms, actors by CGI, and movies streamed from social media sites.

  • Although we are fortunate in the diversity of locations here, and have crews specialised at filming in many kinds of different places; productions will still be subject to the variables of weather, cast and other personnel factors, funding and force majeure. This, plus advances in digital technologies could result in increased demand for studio shoots.

  • A commercial platform comprised of skilled personnel, stable government, sound legal and accounting systems and pleasant surrounds has enhanced places like London and New York as financial centres. Similarly, a solid base of political stability and assistance, experienced personnel, and a safe working environment is essential for any local Film industry. The recent funding initiatives and increases announced by the Film Commission, the Kumeu studio deal, and things like the ScreenSafe programme are all to be welcomed individually, and also collectively as means of keeping New Zealand competitive in the international arena.

  • The concept of a small dynamic group of specialists banding together to carry out projects is obviously a favorite storyline in the entertainment industries, but it also seems to resonate in the New Zealand mindset. We see ourselves as well educated, adaptable, multi-skilled and capable of being team players. If this is so, then in a competitive market, everyone in the New Zealand film industry needs to be continually upskilling – producers have to be across new distribution platforms, funders across new sources of money, and of course technicians across new digital equipment.

Crew members are facing an era where technology will force change in the workplace faster than any Government regulation or Guild support. Cinematographers will be threatened by robot cameras and drones, editors will face competition from computer programmes that poll consumers before compiling a story line, and some actors made redundant because of CGI filmmaking. Apparently even lawyers are going to be replaced by artificial intelligence, if that is some consolation….


So what are we to do facing a future where some crew members will lose their jobs, and I might be replaced by a Judge Judy robot? The answer according to Vanity Fair is to become indispensible:-

“In all of these instances of technological disruption –A.I.,C.G.I. actors, algorithmic editors etc. – there will be the exceptions. Like everything involving money and creativity, there will be indeed a top category - those who have great, new, innovative ideas, and who stand above everyone else – that is truly irreplaceable.”