Saturday, December 03, 2005

Guest DJ: Top three break-up songs

A few blogs ago I asked how and why to establish a relationship. Now, watching someone close to me go through a painful dumping after 18 months of happiness makes me remember that, even at the best of times, intimacy is a dicey propostion. It's moments like this that the "how" of the question takes a back seat to the "why". They were really good together. But not anymore.

Before bitterness takes a backseat, and for your listening pleasure, my friend would like to share her top three songs to get through a break-up to:

It's Over
Bic Runga, Birds

The Scientist

Coldplay, Rush of blood to the Head

Lover, you should have come over

Jeff Buckley, Grace

None of the fun of the fair

Here, for your edification is a piece I wrote last quarter for Take, the New Zealand Screen Director's Guild Magazine. For subscription details you can visit their site http://www.sdgnz.co.nz/take.asp. If you've got any tales of work done for free in New Zealand's film and television industry please email me. I'm writing an update to the article below after hearing reports of work being done for free on advertisements, which usually pay extremely well.


Emerging director Briar March’s office is neon-lit and carpeted in a tired shade of brown. At 3am and after an early start, she’s heading into the final stretch of preparation for the music video she’ll be directing the following day. Like a lot of directors Briar is a perfectionist, sensitive to the smallest detail in her films. Even working with a dedicated crew and producer, she won’t rest until every element in the video she’s planning is ready to be realised on screen. And, like many of the crew and production staff who make music videos, she won’t get paid for any of the time she spends, or the ideas that end up in the finished product.

It’s no breaking news that New Zealand film and television have small budgets. The current funding structure for shorts and music videos is taken for granted by the executive producer, production co-ordinator, director of photography, independent producer, two established directors and two emerging directors that Take spoke to for this article. They’re more interested in making moving images than in arguing with the status quo. Nevertheless, an inspection of free work in New Zealand’s film and television industry highlights some interesting contradictions.

Music videos and short films are common genres where directing is undertaken without payment, or for very little. According to Linda Halle, Adviser for the Screen Innovation Production Fund, short film funding is designed to cover production costs but not commercial wages for those who work on the film. The intention is to realise shorts that would otherwise never make it to the screen, either because of their experimental nature or the inexperience of the director. Arguably, short films tend to be formally innovative and artistically driven. They certainly exist independently of a broadcaster’s commission - distribution and finding an audience come later down the track.

Music videos, in contrast, are promotional as well as creative enterprises. Designed to showcase a song and the artist that performs it, they’re advertising an independent artist or a record company to a particular group of people. For some bands, New Zealand on Air provides $5000 of funding intended to be topped up by the artist’s label. Of course if the artist isn’t signed to a label, the video might be made for only that $5000, unless money comes from somewhere else, sometimes the artist and often the director. Bands who don’t qualify for government money sometimes self-fund their music videos which is good for their image. And directors know that the more money they invest in a video, the better it will look and the better their chances of getting work from it later.

Briar March, director of the digital documentary Allie Eagle and Me, has twice preferred to make a music video on film rather than being paid for her creative input. Amit Tripuraneni, director of the digital feature Memories of Tomorrow, has also made two music videos. When making the second he chose to take a minimal day rate and work on digital video, a medium he’s interested in exploring. Greg Page, Fish n clips directing veteran, has directed many music videos and he estimates about 90% were without pay. Both emerging directors are happy to get directing experience while Julian Boshier Knows that his free work on early Shihad and Head like a Hole music videos is what propelled him into directing videos with budgets supplemented by record company money.

Likewise Director of Photography Richard Harling believes that new directors working without pay on music videos are being served because music videos can become excellent "calling cards" and are a great experimental forum. Julian attempts to always pay his crew because he knows that he as director will get all the kudos if the video does well. Richard also points out that it’s very important for a musical artist to trust the vision of an credible director with a strong concept when that director works for free. Despite the promotional aspects of music video production, Julian, Greg, Amit and Briar have both exercised considerable artistic control over their music video directing. Briar believes this might be because they are working independently of a production company or large record label who therefore don’t exert control over the content of the music video. And the music artists working with all four directors have secured government funding or given their own money but been content to leave visual realisation with the director.

So music artists and emerging directors can benefit from the current system, getting to make and be seen in edgy, innovative material that can further the careers of both parties. Arguably the film and television industry also benefits because government funding and some money from the music industry is being made available to pay for goods and services in film and TV, particularly equipment hire and technical expertise.

However music videos are made on a wing and a prayer. Favours are called in, cheap deals are sought and as Kristian Eek, independent producer, points out, everyone on a crew, not just directors, puts their time and skills into projects for nothing or reduced rates. Even established music video production company Fish ‘n’ Clips must stretch their available budgets to get things on screen. According to Executive Producer James Moore, their policy is to try to get directors 10% of a total budget. However when the total budget is only $5000, this represents $500 for days of work. And, because it’s extremely difficult to get a music video on-screen for that amount of money, it’s not always possible to get a director the full 10%. While there are compensations for working like this, there are also drawbacks, and not just for emerging directors.

Music videos made for $5000 mean the music industry, including some of the world’s largest multi-national companies, gets edgy, original moving-image work for free. That work is paid for by the New Zealand government, obviously, but also indirectly by film and television and other industries. When independent directors make a video they often borrow equipment from schools or friends to off-set production costs. Money that would be used to pay for cameras, peripherals and editing is channelled into other areas of production, which takes it away from equipment hire companies. And Greg Page and Julian Boshier note that often when these companies are used to provide equipment for a shoot, they offer enormous reductions in hire costs just to support a creative enterprise and to garner goodwill from directors and producers who may one day go on to make more highly funded projects. However, more of an issue from a director’s perspective is the fact that emerging directors who work for free draw subsidies into music video production from a variety of other industries, including Film and Television.

No one that Take spoke to knew of anyone making a full living from music videos and anecdotal evidence indicates that many directors don’t stay working in the genre once they start to get work in television commercials. James Moore thinks this is because the money from TVCs is simply too good in comparison. Directors, with some exceptions, tend move on to greener financial pastures after cutting their creative teeth. This begs the question of how young directors support themselves while getting crucial early experience and how directors keep themselves in shoes if they continue with the genre. Briar March has worked short contracts as a director’s assistant at commercial production companies and is also on the PACE scheme provided by WINZ. Amit Tripuraneni is teaching at South Seas. Greg Page directs TVCs and Julian Boshier runs a camera hire business, while James Moore lived at home for the first year that he directed – having his rent and food provided subsidised his film and television work. All five have drawn or continue to draw money in wages or benefits from sectors outside the music industry to support themselves while making music videos. Because music video funding doesn’t pay what it costs to get a director on-set each day, fed, clothed and rested, the net effect is that directors subsidise the music industry by getting money to do this from other sectors.

All the directors that Take spoke to trained at educational institutions to get some of the skill-set they use when directing. When they choose to work for free in film and television they’re effectively paying twice to learn how to direct. Once in fees at film-school, and again by giving up their director’s fee for the productions they first work on. This is a far cry from the days when directors like Max Quinn at Natural History New Zealand were paid to train, and reflects the deregulated and unregulated state of film and television in New Zealand since the 1980s. Film-schools are the only parties consistently making money from this arrangement and in our small film and TV industry, the number of graduates produced each year means fierce competition with no guarantee for directors of anything except a sizeable student loan. This is not a job for the faint-hearted.

Julian Boshier feels that people emerging from film-school now have an extremely good attitude to the business, being willing to compete to get experience on-set and work their way into the roles they want. Every job is a chance to meet people and establish a working relationship that might generate a good deal or a paid job. However Julian is also quick to point out that this enthusiasm for unpaid work can wear very thin after someone gets established in the industry. For this reason, most established directors work commercially some of the time and creatively, for very little, some of the time. In some senses it could be argued that television commercials pay for music videos and shorts by subsidising directors’ incomes. Arguably the entire moving image industry in New Zealand is supported by the willingness of professionals in it, including emerging directors, to take a pay-cut in order to do something they believe in, supplemented by the only part of the film and TV industry that can afford to consistently pay commercial rates.

Emerging directors need to think about the knock-on outcomes of working for free in the context of an on-going involvement in the film and television industry. While directors don’t tend to stay making music videos because it’s so hard financially, music videos continue to get made because emerging directors want to get a foot in the door and will make what compromises the structure of the industry demands. By doing this they continue to indirectly subsidise music video production, including the government funding available, and a financially unsustainable production environment is able to stagger on. In addition, the large number of people paying to train and then working for free to make a “calling card” coupled with a tiny, government-subsidised industry means that even good moving-image work may not result in regular paid directing gigs, in spite of a sizeable student loan. However while it’s convenient and obvious to say that film-schools should be more regulated and that the film and television needs more funding, there are no easy answers. Film-schools themselves sustain a certain proportion of directors because they employ them as teachers. And in a situation where the market is too small to sustain an independent film industry or high-end music videos, increased funding must come from central government and this might impinge on the creative freedoms music video directors currently enjoy.

In a situation where every bit of the pie is pretty damn tiny, directors who want to keep working in New Zealand carry the burden of deciding what compromises they’re willing to make to get established and what consequences they’ll bear further down the track as a result. A solid standard of living that involves owning property isn’t on the cards. At this moment in New Zealand’s film and TV industry, you gotta feel the fear, ditch the mortgage and do it anyway.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Location location

In new and other news, a location scout came to the door today wanting to take some piccies. He was enamoured of our close spatial relationship with the (hot, male, possibly gay and loud muscle-car owning) neighbours since the drama series he’s scouting for requires two villas in close proximity. Suddenly my flatmate (for the purposes of this blog) Jock’s intimate view of next door's bedroom is real estate gold. For $500/day we would get our fence knocked down and a carport built. The neighbours, for their pain, would have astro-turf laid over their backyard carpark. At the very least. I wonder what the landlord, well, property managers will say?

In all truth they probably won’t care – last week the (family of Samoan) neighbours on the other side laid a ladder up against the fence the Grey Lynn Singles Club and gaily started constructing a tree-house at eye-level *in our tree*. Our tree. After ringing the propety manager I was assured that as the occupants of the Grey Lynn Singles Club we’re the ones who get to say yea or nay to any extra activity on the property. Armed with this knowledge I slunk next door with (lets call him) Hank to complain and inquire why they hadn’t asked our permission before extending their boundary rights over the fence. It transpired that the man of the house had, in fact, asked our old flatmate “Anna” just before she vacated the premises 6 months ago. How gaily she must have replied in the affirmative before galloping into the sunset. I was mollified by this piece of information however. When the neighbour told us he remembered when the tree in question was planted, 38 years ago, I decided he had some customary rights owing. So now we have a tree-house. And lovely neighbours. Tonight they came over with a huge yummy plate of barbecue food. I'm planning on making a christmas cake to return the hospitality. Most excellent.

Four reasons to be a groupie

All’s quiet on the romance-research front. I’ve just started one of two new jobs and both are excessively populated by women. In one I find myself ghettoised into a corner, surrounded by girls who shop. They seem nice and certainly efficient, but sadly foreign. And certainly very female. However, there are alternative solutions to the man-drought than screwing the crew…. I hasten to add that this blog is unrelated to any *recent* activity on my part…..

I never used to “get” groupies – why enter into a completely lop-sided and exclusively physical arrangement with someone just because of what they do? But as time has passed I’ve had to acknowledge that lots of women, and frankly, men as well, are irresistibly drawn to a public expression of skill. Indeed I’ve been guilty of this myself on a number of occasions. So rather than get into a moralising or feminist argument against, I’ve started thinking about why.

I strongly suspect the cult of personality in which that elusive 15 minutes of fame are tantalisingly within almost-reach have contributed. You can’t have the fame but you can have the famous. Bonking someone with skills and talents that you will never possess is a way of owning those skills and talents, if only for a moment. And in a the context of a hyper-real universe (read “the internet”), stimulation seeking and flexible and self-invented identities are normal. When you’re a groupie you can try on someone else’s success and skill by proxy, just like you can be anyone you want to be in a chatroom.

In defence of casual sex with famous people it must be said that Paris Hilton is hardly a girl who deserves a discerning groupie. Back in the 70s when they were mostly female and orally or otherwise attached to the dicks of bands like Led Zep, groupies were drawn to skill at something new, exciting and avant garde. Simply being famous was not enough. So while being a groupie is a little like letting the whole world’s selfish gene vote on who’s got the best genetic material, it’s also a more discerning process involving taste for a particular (musical or other) aesthetic. And in a cyber-world, suddenly poets, journalists, and geeky film-makers who get on the next big wave can add their imprints to those of the girly- and not-so- musicians who never used to attract a smile either.

And yes, yes being a groupie is hardly a recommended activity for getting a long-term gig with a significant other. But this is all about the alternatives, isn’t it? Given that most people’s object of choice is unlikely to share their interests or perspectives it I say they’d be wise to take what they can get and leave the rest. Or just lie back and think of Cynthia (http://www.cynthiaplastercaster.com/flash/home.html - be aware this site features flying penises…. Or try http://sobs.org/chilocal/plastercaster/plastermain.html).

But for those with more refined or eclectic taste in achievement:

Richard Reeve

Kelly Pendergrast

John White

Renee-Louise Carafice

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Oh I've got a plan

Well the two of you who read this blog may be relieved or disappointed to know that there was no retaliative pranking after my last post. I certainly was. This post brings contemplations on the state of being single in Grey Lynn that have nothing to do with living with three men. But who knows what the future will bring??

According to recent reports in scar-mongering publications like TVNZ’s recent article on the man-drought in the 30-34 demographic thanks to able-bodied blokes fleeing a recessional New Zealand after finishing university in the mid-90s. The implication is that single 30-something women in urban areas are now in a disadvantageous position when looking for love (or whatever). However the man-drought is hardly news. At my late stage in single life (a creaking, disgruntled 30), anyone my own age without a partner usually has qualities that make them somewhat undesirable as an intimate companion. (Sadly I suppose that theoretically includes me as well - certainly those looking for a sugar-mummy should try elsewhere.) I’m not sure having a smaller pool of strange, hairy or impoverished men to choose from really makes much difference to the average single 30-something woman. There are a variety of work-arounds of course – go younger, older, foreign - mail-order perhaps – but the age-old problem remains. Why and how would you attach yourself permanently to someone who isn’t a total knob-end?

Now that everyone takes women’s independence for granted, why to attach oneself to a man has become a vexed question and open for much heated debate. While I’ve made some ghastly errors in judgement when it comes to (alcoholic, workaholic, mentally ill, irritatingly jealous) partners, I must say I’ve never really had the urge to marry them. In spite of the life-stage-retarded implications of living in the Grey Lynn Singles Club I rather like my whimsical life-style of random parties, chats on the deck and the ogling of hot-bodied men bought into the house by various flatmates. What compensations could possibly draw me towards a more mundane domestic existence with someone strange and hairy? Desire for children – check. Desire for stability and emotional connection – check. Late-onset maturity and wanting to be a “real woman” – not as yet. Financial security – I wish. Ditto regular sex of course but after reflecting on the ghastly errors in judgement detailed above, I’ve decided to live without in the meantime. There are a myriad of social, psychological and biological reasons for getting attached to a man - the zen of it really comes when contemplating the “how” which is where Carrie Bradshaw made her money and why the demographers are getting all excited about a reduced pool of 30-something men.

Obviously I’m not really in a position to offer advice on getting a guy, given my ghastly errors list. I don’t really get the dating scene in Auckland, having moved here (as all two of you know) from Southland via Dunedin. I’m taking this opportunity to announce, however, a series (we’ll see how long this goes) of VERY SERIOUS blogs on how to get some in Auckland. The research will be EXHAUSTIVE. If there’s a way I’ll find it. And you shall know all about it.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Standby evils

Yep it's official. I'm officially disillusioned with my own abilities. Tonight I watched two of the three male members of the Grey Lynn Singles Club inscribe a "cock 'n' balls" and the word "dork" onto the defenceless, jo-ed out face of the third male member. I did nothing to stop this process. I am to the inscribers what the nazis were to Hitler. And now a blinding, puking hangover for Mr Penis Face and a week of retributive pranking amongst all the boys are both in the mail. I'm gunna tell all. And keep my bedroom door locked.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

It’s more than a week since my last post, which was a cheat anyway, designed to get some content up without further thought on my part. I suppose, therefore, this is the inaugural post proper. A week has given me some time to think about what this blog is really all about, and sadly I’m as uncommitted to any one approach or topic as I’ve ever been. There’s far too much to think about, in far too many different ways, and that’s just how it’s going to be. If I was reading this, I’d expect to get some gender politics, although no one does it quite like Zoe and Cleo, some current affairs commentary a la Public Address and Fighting Talk, and a very little bit on culture and difference but ,Tze Ming Mok has that all stitched up really. There might be an element of self revelation and Hubris, but I’m trying to restrain myself since this is supposed to be a public forum. There might be some meta-narrative posts on what this blog is all about, but I’m hoping not too many. And none of this will come to pass if I don’t figure out how to do hyper-links. My level of technological literacy is rather embarrassing so why am I even making the attempt?

It seems to me that blogging is generally a way that people respond to the world while simultaneously constructing themselves. This recursive process of looking at the “the outside” and having an opinion about it and how it relates to who you think you are, is probably something that everyone does (depending very much on your philosophical point of view). Bloggers do it in writing and on line, and their reference points are often online as well. I’m not sure where my reference points are really, so I expect that starting a blog is a way of discovering that, and making myself up at the same time.

This notion of self-construction popped up in a vaguely related way when I read ,Tze Ming Mok’s post about the British bombings and how they were done by second generation British Muslims. Without, of course, having any significant knowledge about the situations of the men who chose to blow themselves up, it did strike me that people seek to fit in and give themselves meaning in any way they can. If you’re feeling alienated from the culture in which you live, it seems reasonable to look for an alternative position that validates who you conceive yourself to be. Granted, not everyone is going to choose what mainstream media like to call an “extremist” position, but in clubs, pubs, paddocks and halls across the west people are creating little like-minded communities of dancers, talkers, runners, drinkers, card-players and whatever-elsers. And there are lots of ex-patriot community groups too. We wouldn’t want or need to do this if we all still lived in teeny groups (villages, walled cities, hunter-gatherer and wandering pastoralist communities – pick a time, pick a country) in which everyone knows each other and there is less movement of people and information. But here we are – global village, plus a big history of colonisation and all of its (justifiably) malcontented. At this point in history, we’re moving around and being exposed to difference and differences inside complex societies in ways that never happened before. Creating and holding onto an identity that has meaning and appears stable over time is kind of crucial to coping with this. Maybe for the bombers, being able to give their lives validation in the company of like-minded people, to finally fit in somewhere, was too good to miss. A particularly sensitive rendition of this appeared in Britain's Sunday Times.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

For my first post I thought I'd cheat, because why not get more mileage than you deserve? This appeared in the male objectification issue of Craccum (Issue 3 14 March 2005).

The Crux of It
I launched into tertiary study in the skody days of grunge. It was all Sub Pop, drooping Goths and holey jerseys. I therefore remember orientation before it became a seething mass of commercialism; before multi-nationals started competing relentlessly for brand-recognition in first-years’ minds as well as the biggest possible slice of their course-related costs. I’m so old I almost remember what it was like before blokes became print-ad sex-objects and my friends started buying farcical posters of semi-naked men grasping babies. Almost – but sadly not quite.

Sociologists have identified that men are becoming more sexualized and objectified in advertising. Traditionally it was women who were constructed in ads as something a reader could have if they (he) bought a particular product. This construction became more complex when the second wave of feminism struck and women had significant disposable income. Advertisers found they could attract female consumers by commodifying the message of feminism. In other words advertising tried to suggest to women that they could experience freedom not through activism but by purchasing products like cigarettes or beauty products to “please” themselves. Ads implied readers could be like the woman in the picture if they just forked out for the product.

In 1969, the Stonewall Riots in New York, a sustained melee between cops busting in a gay bar and the queens inside who were none too happy, caused a liberation in attitudes towards homosexuality. This caused a spill-over into the world of advertising. Product managers recognized increasingly liberated gay men as a significant consumer group for the first time. Suddenly the male body became something that could be offered as part of a product package. Print ads featured gorgeous men and created myths, suggesting to gay readers that if they bought a particular product they could get the body, the life-style or even a man like the one in the ad. Think Calvin Klein’s “Obsession” series. Never before had so many abs been seen in one place at one time.

Of course ads targeting only gay men are rare outside of the gay press because the heterosexual majority of readers tend to find a gay narrative a bit, well, alienating. So typically the male body is objectified in advertising so it can be interpreted as either heterosexual or homosexual by both male and female readers. He’s there, he’s cut and he’s looking at you. You can either imagine “having” him or “being” him depending on your gender and orientation. I’ve asked a non-representative sample of female friends about the whole male sex-object phenomenon. They agreed that if an attractive image of man is presented to them they’re going to enjoy it. “Why not?” said one “Everyone looks at each other all the time anyway”.

Unsurprisingly then, two studies have shown that gay and straight men are becoming more concerned about body-image. Researchers are speculating that greater numbers of perfect-looking male bodies in the media are linked to increased eating disorders and body dysmorphia in both groups. It’s tempting to see this as a sort of nasty tit-for-tat. Women have been objectified for ages and now boys it’s your turn for over-exercise, neurosis about butt-fat and endless spending on appearance and grooming products and/or surgery. Plus women now get to ogle and judge your appearance just as we have been ogled and judged. However I’m electing to restrain my natural urges to revenge and voyeurism and would like to suggest two arguments against the celebration of male objectification.

First up I’m against male objectification because I’m tired of female objectification, and it’s just not nice to be a hypocrite. My most hated example, one that gets me ranting with little invitation, is the latest TV ad from Tui, the one with the gorgeous women in various sates of undress running the brewery. Sexist and unfunny - best of both worlds. Yeah right. I’ve got a litany of unfavourite female advertising “objects” ranging from vodafone’s black cartoon character “Booty”(!?) used in a txt promotion several years ago, to the Jim Beam Girls and their calendar signing escapades at Shadows. In this there are elements of women’s choice of course and I’m absolutely not criticizing the calendar girls personally. However there’s always a certain amount of painful irony in hearing ugly spotty guys bag the crap out of physically perfect promotions girls whilst simultaneously calling them sluts.

And finally, anything that creates cash for large companies by increasing pressure to buy products that are patently unnecessary isn’t high on my list of must-haves. I’d just occasionally like to be addressed by the mass-media, or even ranting student-card hawkers, as a citizen instead of a consumption unit that can be potentially manipulated into a purchase. Grunge is dead. Long live the Goths.