Looking into slice of the action

Part of Bond St, Dunedin, was transformed into a 1950s Manhattan traffic jam for the filming of a...
Part of Bond St, Dunedin, was transformed into a 1950s Manhattan traffic jam for the filming of a Japanese television drama, <i>Wastelands</i>, last year. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Charging film-makers $500 a day to work around Dunedin could penalise small productions and undermine a local industry that runs on the smell of an oily rag, city councillors say.

They have knocked back a plan requiring commercial productions to get a permit to film on council-owned land, and have asked officials to see how things are done in Wellington.

Mayor Dave Cull told the finance, strategy and development committee that film-makers should be charged where they used council services, or when they caused disruption or closed streets.

However, a $500 a day fee, or $250 half-day fee, would be too much in a city where many small, "barely commercial" productions "quite literally run on the smell of an oily rag", Mr Cull said.

Council economic development unit manager Peter Harris on Monday told the committee that applications to film on council land were considered on an ad hoc basis and that only standard reserves and facilities fees were charged.

The council missed out on valuable information about film activity in the city, and there was no system in place to recoup the $20,000 it gave each year to film promotion and facilitation co-operative Film Otago Southland.

The fee would not apply to non-commercial or volunteer-run enterprises, but there was a reasonable expectation - many films had permit fees built into their budgets - that businesses should pay, Mr Harris said.

The new permit would redress the information imbalance, recoup about $10,000 in its first few years, and bring the city in line with similar charges levied in the Queenstown Lakes and Waitaki districts. Those districts had "got it in the ear" from companies annoyed they were charged to film there when they were not charged in Dunedin, Mr Harris said.

The interjurisdictional anomaly "cut no mustard" with Mr Cull, while Cr Richard Thomson urged caution on what would effectively set a pan-region "price" on filming.

Cr Thomson wondered whether the disputes as to what constituted commercial filming were worth the $10,000 revenue, and noted film crews spent a lot of money in the city even without a per-day fee.

Cr Jinty MacTavish said even "commercial" local film-makers would struggle to pay the fee in a city where their customers' budgets were tight, before Cr Lee Vandervis successfully asked officials to report on the Wellington City Council's permit system.

Cr Vandervis, who has worked on large film productions, said Wellington charged location fees instead, and its myriad locations helped promote the city across the world.

Dunedin film producer Zoe Hobson, a member of the Film Otago Southland board, yesterday welcomed news the council was looking for a way to track the value of film to the economy.

But low budget, usually less-than-commercial local film-makers should not be treated the same as big-budget producers who often already expected to pay permit fees.

"Fees on the scale of $500 a day would be huge for most small productions, so I would hope that whatever the council comes up with has some discretion built in," Ms Hobson said.

"The council has been very supportive of local film, and I'd hope a new system would make it even easier for that support to grow."


WHAT'S IT WORTH?

• Film industry GDP value to Otago (2008-09): $23 million.

• Full-time jobs created (2008-09): 168.

• New businesses created (2008-09): 45.

• Economic benefit to Dunedin (2009-10): $1.058 million.

• Proposed DCC permit charge: $500 a day, $250 half day.

• Charge's estimated value in first year: $10,000.

• Dunedin City Council's annual contribution to Film Otago Southland: $20,000.

Source: DCC policy report


- stu.oldham@odt.co.nz

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