Dealing with Covid-19: Forward thinking from New Zealand

Martin Baynton

TBI’s coverage exploring the impact of Covid-19 on the TV industry takes us to New Zealand, where Pukeko Pictures co-founder Martin Baynton explains how his company planned ahead for lockdown, made the most of an opportunity, and is now  expecting to alter its operations as a result of the pandemic

As I wrote this at the start of May, New Zealand was in the first days of downgrading its isolation protocols from level four to level three. The differences were slight, enabling some companies to reopen while still firmly restricting social or business activities that lead to physical contact.

My company, Pukeko Pictures, chose to continue to work from home under the stricter guidelines of level four. That we were able to do this was due to a mix of good fortune and good planning.

Forward thinking

Our geography is part of that good fortune. Our physical isolation has meant that our standard business process is an online one. Our productions are co-productions with other countries, so almost every aspect of our work – from script meetings, to design briefings right through to asset management of every aspect of production – takes place on line across continents and across time zones.

We will be reassessing which industry markets we need to attend physically and supporting any players who take their markets online

In late January we started reading the tea leaves and planned for what a 100% dispersed, working-from-home situation would look like. Fortunately, we had just finished two productions – the Kiddets and the Book Hungry Bears – and we already focusing heavily on development across a slate of new properties. All that has moved seamlessly into a 100% work-from-home model.

Another piece of good fortune is that we have been blessed with smart, articulate leadership from our government. We knew immediately what the constraints would be, the levels of government support on offer and the rules for accessing that support.

So we haven’t skipped a beat, in fact like many companies, families and countries we are learning a great deal from this unexpected spell of intense introspection.

In the first week we made sure we had plenty of virtual meetings with the whole team. I’m sure other companies have found this – that there is some accelerated learning around protocols and efficiencies for how to do this, such as switching off your mic when not talking, discovering that everything in the background is building layers of discreet narrative around you. It has created dynamic of family intimacy that has been very positive for the team and I don’t want to lose that when this is over, but find ways to build on it.


Providing context

For me, this event also led to an immediate project. My background is as a writer and illustrator of kids’ books. I’m also a grandfather, and one thing that became immediately clear was how confusing all this was for young kids. So I wrote a kids book to try and give some context for this discussion.

Through Pukeko Pictures I sent it out into the ether as a free resource, a book for parents to read online or to print at home and read. The response has been incredible. So many wonderful people have seen it and gifted their time and talent to translating it into other languages, and thanks to their generosity the book, Stay Clear; Stay Clean; Stay Kind, is being used by parents, teachers and schools all around the world.

But where to from here? Like everyone in our industry, I hope we come out of this time of change and challenge with a renewed vision for what we want our world to be, and a commitment to bring that vision to life. Many commentators have said how this crises is bringing out the best and the worst in people.

For many individuals and companies this is a moment of enforced pause and reassessment, and it would be disappointing if everyone returns to business as usual, when so many aspects of that ‘usual’ have resulted in the problems we face today.

For us, one key change is to facilitate a work-from-home option for staff who chose it, to remove any barriers to this, and thereby reduce the carbon footprint of the company with less commuting. We will be extending this to flights too, reassessing which industry markets we need to attend physically, and supporting any players who take their markets online.

I’m excited by change and by challenge, and I will be reviewing every decision I make through the lens of, ‘what will my grandkids think of this decision?’ What other metric really matters in this values based industry of children and family entertainment?

Pukeko Pictures is an independent IP development and production company based in New Zealand that focuses on the creation of values-based children and family entertainment. Martin Baynton is an award-winning writer and illustrator of kids’ books, and with Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, is a founding partner of Pukeko Pictures.

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