Small Business: NZ film-maker Briar March

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Film maker Briar March. Photo / supplied
Film maker Briar March. Photo / supplied

Briar March, who has an MFA in Documentary Film and Video from Stanford University, has made and directed a number of films including "There Once Was An Island," which screened at the New Zealand International Film Festival in 2010, and has received over 20 international awards.

Her latest documentary film, Smoke Songs, about the Navajo punk rock band Blackfire, was a national finalist for the Student Academy Awards in the US. It is playing this week at the current New Zealand International Film Festival alongside Neil Young Journeys.

March is making a new narrative short film at the moment.

March and her business partner, Lyn Collie, Digital Media Producer at the University of Auckland Business School, are joint directors of On the Level Productions. Back in the country for just a few weeks, March is now at a crossroads for how she will make a living as a film maker in New Zealand and continue growing her business.

Briar March: At this point it looks like there are several routes I could take my filmmaking career. I could work as a freelance director/editor, build up our production company and find more work through that, or teach. I think that each direction has its pros and cons, but it is pretty difficult to make a living entirely off one's creative projects alone, unless they are completely funded, and or guaranteed to make money in back-end sales.

In most cases, it's about finding the right balance, between making work and filling in the gaps when your work isn't always making you money!

During my degree I completed four short films. This was a very useful process to go through as with the short medium you have to be very concise about what you want to say and this ultimately refines your story telling ability. However in the long run I am most interested in creating feature length films, both fiction and documentary. I really enjoy the way a long form project can sit with you for a while, and grow and develop over time.

The US experience

Over the three years I spent in the States I gained some very useful perspectives on how filmmakers there are navigating the complex task of balancing their creative work with the need to earn a living. I was fortunate to become a member of a New Day Films. This is a filmmaker-run distribution company that markets documentaries to the educational sector in the States. It has been running for over 40 years and has over 100 filmmaker members.

After joining the co-op I was surprised to see that some films that were produced as long as 15 years ago are still bringing in sales. I had never thought of my films having this kind of life span, and I realised that there are still markets that I haven't completely explored with my work that could actually bring in money and make my work a little more sustainable.

Not only this, the experience of being part of a collective that is democratically run with other like-minded individuals, has been extremely educational and inspiring. I have been tossing around the idea with some friends as to whether a similar collective model could be developed here.


The NZ scene

On the Level Productions could offer a variety of services, from freelance editing and directing, doing web promotions for companies, to our own film making. I am just conscious that I don't want to be sucked into a comfortable 9-5 job so my film making goes on the back burner. I want to keep making films, that is what drives me.

At the moment I am editing the trailer for the Alyx Duncan's film, The Red House which is screening at the New Zealand International Film Festival.

In terms of New Zealand as a place to make films, I think that it's worth looking further afield than just what New Zealand can offer us in terms of funding. I think Doc NZ has made a conscious effort of bringing together international funders and organisations from overseas to help kiwi filmmakers be more connected with other markets which is great.

Small businesses are often at the end of the queue when it comes to payment for services and products.

We talk to some of the expert advisors about how to limit the risk of slow paying customers and want to hear your stories about how you cope with powerful customers who put you under pressure in the way they pay their bills.

Email me, Gill South at the link below:

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