The Advantages of being a Playwright in New Zealand – over a Film Maker

Movie Russian Snark by Stephen SinclairWhat a heart-breaker the art of film-making is! It’s an incredibly difficult task which requires a mastery of so many disparate skills – but that’s not the worst of it. The most depressing thing is how seldom you get to practice your craft, and the compromises you have to make before, during and after the camera rolls. Whereas a playwright, within certain parameters, gets to do as he pleases.

I’ve followed the fortunes of numerous film directors over the years. It’s almost impossible to have a fulfilling career as an artist in film in New Zealand. The reason is simple: money.  There are a lot of contenders for a very small “putea,” and even relatively successful filmmakers don’t get to practice their craft very often.

A playwright, if his work fails to find favour with the theatres, can always put on the work himself. Admittedly this involves some financial exposure – but the figures are tiny compared to those one risks self-funding a movie.

Then there’s a issue of intellectual and artistic freedom. In other words: placating the suits. In New Zealand the man or woman in the suit works for the New Zealand Film Commission or New Zealand On Air. If you are lucky enough to receive their patronage they will expect to have an active influence on the content of your film. With Creative New Zealand a playwright’s fortunes may be down to the roll of the dice, but the odds being a lot better, and if they receive a grant, they can put on the play that they wrote – exactly how they want it.

Young New Zealand playwrights are consequently much more adventurous and imaginative in their careers. It’s sad to observe how readily young film-makers will compromise their natural instincts and enthusiasms in their effort to second-guess what the “market” wants; or to be more exact, what the Commish wants. They’re barely out of nappies professionally, and already they’re going down the road to hack-dom.

My advice to young New Zealand film-makers: sure, pursue your dream, fight the fights; but why not consider being a playwright as well? An adventurous stage show is a far superior beast to a play-it-safe film. And your odds of having a rewarding career in the arts will have increased dramatically.

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