Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Sustainability in the film industry: External and internal dynamics shaping the Wellington film district

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posted on 2021-11-15, 10:23 authored by Muñoz Larroa, Argelia Erandi

Official statistics show that the revenue from film production in Wellington has increased in the last decade. However, unofficial debates identify that the Wellington film industry lacks financial capacity and has only intermittent levels of production. I argue that the absence of sustainability, defined here as long-term endogenous viability, underlies the difficulties faced by the film industry in Wellington. However, cultural industries studies have overlooked the issue of sustainability in the film industry, or dealt with it only indirectly.  This study draws on theoretical approaches from the political economy of culture and geographical industrialisation theory, suggesting that integrated relations among the value chain phases, and synergistic interactions among the film industry organisations, are crucial to film industry development. Accordingly, this thesis derives from the hypothesis that such relations are key to sustainable outcomes. The main question that this research addresses is, What interrelations in the film industry enable its sustainability? The thesis uses the empirical example of the film industry in Wellington as an industrial district that sheds light on similar film industrial districts that depend on transnational outsourcing and government funding, yet struggle to achieve a sustainable endogenous industry. Although the district in Wellington has unique characteristics, it cannot be understood without referring to the determinant influence of policies and economic flows that occur at the national and international levels. Therefore, a large part of the thesis is dedicated to examining such external dynamics.  I gathered data through 30 qualitative interviews with key practitioners as well as boundary spanners in the film industry. Boundary spanners are people who are responsible for establishing relations with other film-related organisations and the industrial district environment. The research also drew on secondary data from various sources, mainly official documents and statistics, media reports, public information of film industry organisations and previous academic studies.  As part of my analysis, I identified localised ‘vertical’ blockages in the value chain, such as the disarticulation of production from distribution and commercialisation of films, and ‘horizontal’ blockages in a vast array of interlinked organisations and policy environments. I have argued that these constraints obstruct synergistic interrelations towards achieving sustainability as they underwrite outcomes in five main areas: financial capacity, ability to maintain labour pools, ability to feed from creative sources, ability to develop productivity and infrastructure, as well as the opportunity to reach audiences. The Wellington example showed structural blockages in all those areas and the thesis suggests general paths to canalise relationships in the industry to create sustainability.  My analysis contributes to the international field of cultural industries studies, in which there is very little clarity about how to give an account of sustainability in the film industry. The thesis has identified a gap between the theoretical accounts explaining how the film industries work, and international organisations’ advocacy for sustainable development in the cultural industries. By proposing a definition of sustainability in the film industry as well as suggesting systematic accounts of sustainability as an analytical and normative framework, the thesis contributes by establishing a bridge between the theory and its application to achieve normative (or desirable) sustainable outcomes.  In addition, the research findings provide an increased understanding of the industry for both film industry practitioners and film policy advisors. When contrasting the findings with the conditions for a sustainable industry, I have noted that the film industry in Wellington presents several challenging areas. I suggest that policy-makers should pay special attention to them. These are audience development; professionalisation in scriptwriting and original creative content; intermediary expertise (not at the individual but at the organisational level so that knowledge around marketing and copyright management can be accrued and transferred in the long-term); alternative channels of distribution and dissemination (whose contracts guarantee with minimum standards a fair and quick redistribution of the revenue stream for the producer). Likewise, I consider it essential to increase the collaboration of local companies with independent (as opposed to major) international players in order to maintain the balancing power in negotiation without compromising control over revenue.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Cultural Industries Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Victoria Management School


Jones, Deborah; Stahl, Geoff