Media firm Attitude Pictures is helping to kick the disability stigma. Managing director Dan Buckingham, 36, talks about competing at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and the importance of New Zealand on Air funding.

A brief description of the business

We're a media production company called Attitude Pictures. One of the things we do is produce a TV series called Attitude, which is about people with disabilities which begun 13 years ago. We produce 40 episodes of television every year.

As we've evolved we realised the opportunity to do more so in 2013 we launched an online channel called AttitudeLive.com - that's the new part of the business.

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Why was the business created?

Attitude was started by Robyn Scott-Vincent who has 30-odd years of experience as a news journalist and documentary maker. She had a child who was born with an intellectual disability and she experienced a lot of negative perceptions and lower expectations for her son Harrison, even to the point where she tells the heartbreaking story of when she turned up to a school with him as a five year old, [and] a backpack bigger than he was, and getting turned away at the door because the school didn't want what it deemed to be another problem.

At that stage she couldn't do much, she was juggling three kids and a job, but she always said she wanted to do something for Harrison and other people who are facing these challenges, and that was the big drive behind producing this series with Attitude. Robyn started Attitude in 2005.

How big is the team?

We have a staff count of 20 and a stable of freelance directors, editors, camera operators and sound operators we can call on when we need them. A big part of the business is making sure we have a high amount of staff who live with disability so that we are really living and breathing our disability mantra.

Tell me your story; when and why did you join Attitude?

My big foray into the world of disability started when I broke my neck playing rugby. I was 18 at the time and this year is a milestone year for me as I'll surpass having lived my life longer in a wheelchair than not.

Initially [after the accident] I really didn't know what to do but decided to retrain and get into media. I went back to university and was also doing a lot of travelling and playing a lot of wheelchair rugby, and that's when I first came across Attitude - they were filming wheelchair rugby and following us to tournaments around the world. Finishing my degree was quickly followed by travelling.

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When I got back to New Zealand I was contemplating doing post grad, but during a chance encounter with Scott-Vincent, she advised it was best to just get into the industry. She offered me a chance to get my foot in the door in broadcasting, and I soon ended up working fulltime on the TV show, Attitude.

Dan Buckingham competing at the 2004 Paralympics held in Athens, Greece.
Dan Buckingham competing at the 2004 Paralympics held in Athens, Greece.

What's Attitude's relationship with TVNZ and NZ on Air?

Both are strong, vital partners for our success. TVNZ broadcast the Attitude series and they are partners in delivering the Paralympics and New Zealand on Air have been our principal funder. They have supported us to fund the series every year since 2005 which is a huge investment. It's great that they support not only local content, but this specific content which enables us to tells stories that otherwise might not get told. They're really shifting with the times, this year we got funding split between producing television and producing content directly for online.

How much competition are you facing?

Even in the short time I've been in the game, it has changed significantly.

Competition for attention is constantly increasing. Our strategy is to provide a variety of content for different audiences on different platforms. It's not just about putting out adverts, building an audience, and paying for likes, it's about creating engagement. We spend a lot of time making sure we communicate with our audience, create conversations, and reply to comments. We've found that it has been really beneficial for getting people to watch our content and care about it. Our Facebook audience has grown to 230,000 followers over the last year and our viewership has grown from 5,000 views to 1,000,000 per week.

What's Attitude TV's biggest achievement?

For me it was when we got to co-produce the Rio Paralympics on TVNZ, we were part of the team that was over there that produced the highlights, all the coverage on Duke and the stories coming back on One News.

We went on such a small budget and such a small team - just 15 of us - compared to one of the UK broadcasters; they had 130. But with that we had to think about how we were going to do it differently, we really had to curate content and make it interesting to people who may have not known about Paralympics.

We made the split of live with Duke, highlights packages on TVNZ and One and really went hard with social media, digital content and pieces people could get their heads around. A lot of that was pre-produced content of character profiles, and of course having a news reporter embedded within the team.

Inside Attitude TV's Auckland-based office.
Inside Attitude TV's Auckland-based office.

Tell me about your Paralympic journey, you won a gold medal?

I fell into wheelchair rugby while I was still in the spinal unit after I broke my back in 1999. I got sad and resisted a little bit - I wanted to get back to normal life - but my interest peaked, being just as young as I was, when I saw these other guys who were young and thriving on life - really athletic, playing a sport they loved, travelling the world, all had really hot girlfriends, and I thought 'these guys are doing really well in life', and once I got into it I really fell in love with the sport.

I was part of the team that went to Athens in 2004 and we won a gold medal.

Four years later we went to Beijing with high hopes but unfortunately it didn't go too well, we lost our first two games by one point each and since then the team has really struggled. I stayed with the team until we entered the Paralympics last year, but finally retired this year after playing for 16 years.

What advice do you give to others thinking of starting their own business?

It's an exciting time in the media industry. You can't stay static, you've got to be ready to pivot and that's definitely the phase we're in right now. If this is what you're excited about, go for it, but it'll take a lot of energy and passion.