Q & A with Stephen Stehlin | Pift Pacific Islanders in Film & TV

Taualeo’o Stehpehn Stehlin (MNZM) has been at the helm of TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika almost as long as the show has been running (first air date, 1987). Today, the show has been out-sourced from TVNZ and is produced by Sunpix, where Stephen is the Managing Director. We heard that there was an intern programme running at the production and wanted to find out more. Here’s what we found out:

Can you just tell us a little bit about the intern programme, …you were saying it’s not an intern programme.

0.30s SS – yes, so you might have seen something through social media, we are very fortunate to some come thru TP but they visited many organisations including Maori TV and I’m sure that Lisa [Taouma] would have had them at Tikilounge Productions as well. These are the guys from the Pacific Cooperation Foundation – 3 very talented young people who you know fought to get here, a Samoan, a young lady from Papua New Guinea and a guy from Fiji. So, they got a broad taste of NZ media – we called them interns but in fact they were only here for maybe 2-3days all up. But they got a good idea of how television works, they spent time with Barbara [Dreaver], spent time with Lisa, with us and probably the Herald.

1.33s SS – So always felt sorry for the interns coming from the Pacific. We show them our fancy toys, we have a budget that’s probably enough to run their whole channel.

1.48s SS – Certainly in Samoa that is the case and I often think that we could learn from them cos they are actually doing bush television or bush media and its kind of real and they were super excited and great to see what we were doing. So we had those people first and the second lot were some very talented students from Otara – from the High Tech Youth Network. The old name for it was the The Old Computer Clubhouse.

2.27s SS So Filimoni Timoteo runs that in conjuntion with a whole bunch of other people and it’s sort of like a worldwide network and I’m really impressed that its out there in Otara itself, right in South Auckland. And again these guys were in for 2 weeks. I would not call it an intern, its more of a “taste” they really got super excited by it. Maybe that will help them go on.

3.00 SS But we were having a discussion about how do you get diversity into broadcasting. If it doesn’t exist… you should make it exist. If we are recruiting from Polytechs and offering internships from big organizations like TVNZ do and we don’t see our own people coming through there then we have to ask ourselves there should be a diversity programme. I know it’s easy to say from afar but in fact we do it ourselves. Lisa has done it and Sunpix have longer term interns, we don’t call them interns they are reporters. So we reflect on the past also how any little initiative helps in the long term.

4.08 SS If you think back to the Tala Pasifika films (1995), nobody had ever done them before. It was a front, a gamble…were they successful? I think so, I think they were great. Could you schedule them on TV? With difficulty…but what did it create, it created you (reference Aaron Taouma interviewer), it created a plethora of people who said “I can do that, I can write” and when there was a programme for the funding and production of these and it was a requirement for Pacific people to be mentored then that created opportunities then people might have started their career as a runner, making coffee – whatever, it doesn’t matter. This happens over and over again. We have to invest in that way by creating opportunities.

5.12 SS – I always remember the early 90’s and that was created because TVNZ at the time was the only player in town and realized apart from Derek Wooster that they had very few Maori – Ray Waru, very few people working on Koha & Te Karere. Very few apart from that.

5.42 – SS – People that fell over went across all the endeavour of TV and that was a very limited programme. Kath Graham was coming out as a student….Chris Sydney,…Michelle Romain…

7.10 – SS – As an industry that’s what PIFT is an office endevaour – it will create, it has the networks. If I was funding a great big film I would ask are we creating opportunities.

8.06 – How has the landscaped changed for you, are you optimistic or worried?

8.18 – SS – No, not worried. Just curious about how we are going to do it. It’s almost a democratisation of the media and will it succeed financially. Everything is going to change something wild but it’s great.

9.00 SS – Hows that’s monetized and how people are going to get paid is another thing but I think it’s great. The traditional way is nothing new…..

9.30 SS – no end of creativity, no end of the ways of people participating. The doors have opened up. You don’t need $100,000 to make a movie. Just to buy the equipment, one camera….you can make it on very little.

10.05 – Do you think all these arguments because of social media are in a way a cop out for funders?

10.43 – well yes, I would say so. Online is going to rule, we know that. If I was a national broadcaster I would fully expect to be diverse.

11.32 – Are the broadcasters trying enough?

11.48 – SS – I think they are trying to adopt the new technology. I think the major broadcasters have major problems, teaming up with global partners. Diversity is on the back on their heads, just trying to survive. Other online global giants – where do TVNZ, MTS sit in that.

13.10 – Does Diversity mean on-screen or behind the screen, in the infrastructure and staffing? What does it really mean?

13.18 – SS – Absolutely, there’s no question. Even if it was just on screen, then it would be taken as the next extreme. It would be all the way through. It would be shocking if that was the case, we want it everywhere. It might not be achievable. Think about how the tertiary institutions do it, they try to match what there students are….they don’t always get there but at least they are trying and you see that also with gender equity.

14.55 – So, diversity should follow the line of gender equality? 

15.09 – SS – well that kind of activism is good. We need the same kind of challenges for our organisations.

15.25 – Do you think they have been challenged enough?

16.17 – SS – you can imagine it was traumatic just personally [in reference to TVNZ outsourcing]. That was pretty much my first question to the CEO – “Do you have a diversity programme?”

17.00 – SS – some of our biggest stars are pacific people. But we are not just show ponies, front people. We bring a different perspective.

17.32 – What about relationships with Maori and the idea of PI TV?

17.45 – SS – maybe you should ask pacific people that. I think that forever and forever it’s been our wish to have our own channel. Not sure in this age that would be a great way of spending money as you will get more bang for your buck online. And that’s where the young audience are going.

18.10 SS – So I think Pasifika people are mature enough and we given opportunities we can manage our own affairs. We can learn from Maori Television.

18.29 – SS – We do have a channel – Pasifika Television [the Pacific satellite service] but basically it’s stuff going into the pacific and there is no conversation. There is no conversation back and that’s what needs to be worked on.

19.31 – Do you see that there has been enough resource in that?

19.44 – SS – just to explain Pasifika Television that grew out of the TVNZ managed service. That was Minister McCullys desire to give back to the Pacific – something more than what they were getting which was a bout 11-12hrs of raw material. So the aim was to get 8 hours a day and rotate it 3 times – 24hrs per day. It’s not a real channel though – they are just popping stuff out.

20.22 SS – They are getting more, independent production houses have surrendered their rights. Not surrendered but not pursing money for distribution into the pacific.

20.40 SS – Amazing, well done on Pasifika Television which is part of the Pacific Cooperation Foundation. Good on them getting those deals through.

21.05 – So what would you like to see?

21.50 – The only people who were best at were Tonga Broadcasting. They diligently every week put something out. But with a bit of money, we could add a bit of prestige – a flash channel and a gallery of viewership would be quite exciting.

22.17 – It seems we are always on the fringe of getting there.

22.30 – SS – Lisa [Tikilounge Productions] is doing a marvelous job, a fantastic phenomenon. In fact she’s the only one in New Zealand that is successful.

22.55 – A good investment from NZ On Air and shows where audiences are. NZOA is clearly showing younger generation is online.

24.00 – SS – I think the future is great, there’s shitloads of talent. But we need to find out ways to pay people. I don’t despair though the big broadcasters know their limitations.

24.58 – SS – Asian numbers are growing and that’s something. Not just Raybon Kahn.

25.20 – Sunpix – where are you guys at and what’s the future for TP?

25.35 – SS – yes, 30 years makes it an extraordinarily  old show. Not too sure about that. We could ask same questions about Fair Go, Country Calendar, Marae, Waka Huia – old shows but they’re almost part of the fabric of NZ.

25.55 – SS – as far as personnel goes, we’ve had massive changes since 2014. John [Utanga] & Ngaire [Fuata] decide content and manage the show and I do health and safety and we’ve got a whole bunch of kids under 30.

27.22 – On a personal note….how about you?

27.30 – SS – I’m more a ceremonial guy, I have a lot of other interests, Pacific Radio Trust, Pacific Dance NZ, AUT, and who knows TVNZ are looking for new directors…

29.08 – Just going back to the Pacific intern programme what is it called?

29.29 – SS – I don’t think its got a name. It’s a program they run every year, and they have a competition. They spend a few days here, TVNZ, Tikilounge and elsewhere. They loved it but for their sake it would be good if they had something to do…we gave them a PTC to do, rehears, talked about opportunities but kids could quite easily do stuff

31.30 – Just going back to training issues, long term interns.…….what needs to happen?

31.49 – SS – Funding and will, I’m not sure how much interns get paid. Not much, $200 pw needs to change. So a real intern has a placement for about a year and then they are out. Ours are a little bit different, they stay. We find a way to make them stay. The pool is shallow, put a lot of effort and money into them and then you don’t want to lose them.

32.45 – Last word on the future?

32.50 – The future is full of possibility, I think our people are well poised for it. So many do well in the arts and sports, and we’ve got a handle on the technology – they just need to match it all together and it will be the changing face of NZ. “NZ will be defined by its Pacific people.”