I'm the standing joke in my family in that movies are, for me, a great opportunity to catch up on sleep.
In my global travels, I'm often asked about New Zealand's Hobbit and Lord of
The Rings film franchises. I tend to deflect the conversation by yarning about my mate Kev who, being somewhat on the short end of the height spectrum, and sporting a fair amount of both facial and foot hair himself, is our very own hobbit. Indeed, my running mates and I have taken to calling him Krodo to celebrate his hobbit-ness.
But I digress. The reason that I have to deflect away from a discussion of our cinematographic exports from this country is that I've never actually watched the films. I'm pretty sure I started watching one of them once, and dutifully fell asleep and disturbed the family with my snoring.
So films aren't really my thing and, other than proudly supplying the film industry with a heap of workwear (shameless plug for Cactus Outdoor, outfitting gaffers and other film crew everywhere since way back) my movie industry knowledge is pretty much nonexistent.
But you don't need to be any kind of movie buff to realise that Covid must have had a huge impact on the industry. Making a full-length feature film requires lots of people all working together in often cramped locations. It generally requires bringing people from various locations together to work together for a period of time, before upping sticks and moving to the next location. Movie-making is basically one of the best ways to spread Covid.
But what happens if we find new ways of making movies? Given the massive investment in content that the streaming wars have created, there is no end of demand for moving images.
What there is a lack of, however, is a scalable ability to capture that content. Or maybe there is ...
Some creative souls in Wellington are trying to help New Zealand scale its studio capacity through doing things differently. The Granary is a film-tech startup based in Wellington that is focused on democratising the film industry. The Granary's goal is to enable creatives to see their ideas come to life but within a constrained sector.
What the founders, Amber Marie Naveira and Victor Naveira, are looking to do is to leverage virtual production technologies - in particular, LED wall technology that was used by Disney on The Mandalorian (a TV show that I can proudly say I have not seen). The LED walls allow the building of virtual sets quickly and the screens remove the need for greenscreen and the army of technicians required to fix footage in post-production.
Basically, the idea is that the actors are the only physical thing on the set - everything else is virtual and can be updated, edited and changed at will. At a loose end because of Covid-related impacts on their industry, the Naveiras borrowed some large LED screens and, in inimitable Kiwi style, quickly shot a mock Hollywood trailer to demonstrate how the approach can increase speed and decrease costs. With only two weeks of preparation, and two days' shooting time, they created a complete trailer.
Virtual production is, it seems, the key to unlocking financial success in the movie industry these days. The box office shows that high levels of special effects are key to success for modern films, and virtual approaches towards creating those effects mean that creators can achieve more, in less time, and with less budget.
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The Granary is currently working on a collection of original IP and scripts to be produced and, like all good startups looking for funding, are seeking backers and collaborators to join them on the journey.
It's a theme I heard expressed recently by Chelsea Winstanley, producer of such well-known films as What We Do in the Shadows and JoJo Rabbit.
Winstanley was making full use of the fact that she was speaking in front of a room filled with many of New Zealand's highest-profile technology industry investors and was at pains to point out that investment in film projects is analogous (and can be as lucrative) as an investment in tech startups.
Maybe with the approaches being explored by The Granary, some of the barriers to the execution of those creative ideas will be removed and we'll see a more-vibrant local film sector that doesn't rely on the big budgets of the Hollywood studios.
• Ben Kepes is a Christchurch-based investor and entrepreneur