21 Nov 2014

Chinese visit pays off for TV makers

6:56 am on 21 November 2014

China's top-level visit here has paid dividends for New Zealand television makers who will now have world-beating access to its more than one billion viewers.

State welcome for Chinese President Xi Jinping at Government House Wellington.

State welcome for Chinese President Xi Jinping at Government House Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski / Pool

The co-production agreement - the first of its kind for China - will let producers apply for funding in each others' countries to share costs, and shift staff between them more easily.

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Wellington-based production house Gibson Group was no stranger to the opportunities presented by Chinese viewers.

It made Dragons in a Distant Land, a two-part series following Chinese students in New Zealand who were here for education and which was then screened back in their home country.

China had never signed a television co-production agreement with any other country, although New Zealand has deals with Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and many others.

Gibson Group chief executive Victoria Spackman said the agreement with China should give both countries a better framework.

"There is obviously a lot of barriers between us - there are language barriers, and different structural barriers in the way television works in both countries," she said.

"But I think it just provides the opportunity to start talking within a framework.

"Hopefully it will open some doors in both countries, better government support, maybe, and access to the right decision makers."

The four-page agreement stipulated productions must be approved by the New Zealand Film Commission and China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

The copyright of any co-productions was to be shared between the co-producers.

Prime Minister, John Key said co-productions between the two countries would be the first in the world to hold official status for broadcast on Chinese television.

"As you can imagine, the potential viewing audiences are significant," Mr Key told a joint news conference with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

More funding available

The deal meant programmes made with the help of Chinese companies stand to be given a bigger cash grant in New Zealand than would otherwise be available.

International productions which qualify are usually eligible for a grant covering 20 percent of expenditure from the New Zealand Screen Production Grant.

Under the co-production arrangement, projects will be treated as a domestic production and given access to twice that amount.

Productions generally must use goods and services provided in New Zealand, and make use of land here to qualify.

The deal also lets people and equipment move between countries with more ease.

Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage, Maggie Barry, said it was tremendously exciting and opened up doors which were formally closed until now.

"It is a 1.3 billion people market., a fantastic opportunity for New Zealand production companies to now be part of that official co-production status.

"It is going to provide wonderful opportunities not just for access to the larger market, but also to be able to leverage foreign investment and little details that might bog down a production."

'Mind-boggling' viewer potential

The deal was initially aimed at catering for documentary makers and animation producers.

The cartoon maker Mukpuddy has only recently been given funding from NZ On Air and is expanding its staff from three to 14.

It has made animations for Australia, Canada and the United States on top of New Zealand.

Its director, Ryan Cooper, had contemplated making programmes for China before but it proved difficult.

"We did look into it and it did seem incredibly complex to get something going in China. They are after a lot of English-speaking content, they have entire channels for kids that just play English-speaking cartoons.

"We've made something that 114,000 people watched last year in New Zealand and that kind of blew our minds, so to think of the numbers is just kind of mind-boggling," Mr Cooper said.

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