INTERVIEW with BAILEY MACKEY (Ngāti Porou, Tuhoe, Rongowhakaata), who became the first person to receive the University of Auckland’s Māori Entrepreneurial Leader Award which he was presented with on Friday night.
Congratulations Bailey. How did you hear the news that you had won?
I received an email about a month ago (from Auckland University) congratulating me and letting me know that I had won. It was a bit weird because it was the same university that I had been kicked out of 20 years ago, and now, I finally have a certificate. Actually, it was in a gift bag that I think I may have left under the table.
What does winning this award mean for you personally?
Personally, it’s more a validation of the creative sector. We’re not often seen as a “business.”
How did the evening pan out?
On every table is a booklet with all the winner’s names printed, so everyone knows at the beginning of the night who has won.
It was incredibly emotional.
I took the opportunity to thank a lot of people and I used the story of when I was a kid at Kaiti school, I entered a colouring-in competition and thought I’d done a great job. When I handed it in the teacher told me that I had drawn outside the lines. That sums me up. And so, I thanked the people who had helped me as this person who colours outside the lines. Society doesn’t have the means to handle people to who colour outside the lines, but the creative industry does.
But, you also have to run a business and that is the problem for Maori productions because running a business is tough. We become so entrenched in a project that we’re not worrying about the next one. A lot of our budgets are too small to help us to do that.
Who was there to tautoko you?
Mostly my family and some of the ones from home like Selwyn Parata and his wife Amohaere as well as Matanuku Mahuika. There were some broadcasting people like Larry Parr and Kath Graham as well as other people who had supported me over the years but they were there on their own accord. Yeah – mostly my family.
How have you made your business sustainable?
I had a good mentor in Julie Christie who taught me about the sustainability of business. She always said it’s called show business for a reason.
And once you understand the mechanics as well as the creative – because a lot of what we do has blurred lines creatively speaking, but what isn’t blurred are contracts and finances. They are black and white. I think a lot of producers are left brain thinkers – I have just enough of the right brain.
But it’s also about getting the right team.
Like Who exactly?
I have incredibly experienced people with me. For example, the fundamental part of any production is post production – it’s always the longest part of the process, unless you’re live to air. And, I had someone really experienced looking after that side and that was John Ulrich. John has left to go to Ireland and he has been replaced by Mark Taylor. I also have Kiriana Burke as our financial controller. We keep on top of things – those key appointments have been crucial and are very important.
What else has helped you to grow your business?
Timing – and going to Markets are crucial. In order to run a sustainable production company, you have to put every cent back into development.
I spend a lot of time at Markets MIPTV, MIPCOM building relationships. When I travel to LA, I am on the road knocking on doors, the old- fashioned way. Actually, trying to kick them down is more like it. Once I have been given the opportunity then the delivery is the next part. It’s all done because of time spent at the Markets, because you meet someone who knows someone looking for something you might be offering.
But, you must have the body of work as well.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve had failures, so you need perseverance. What we do is tough cos if we have a bad day at the office the whole country can see. If you have a show that’s not working, then the whole country can see. You just have to have more shows that work than don’t.
Are the ideas for your programmes all your own?
Most of the ideas are my own. That’s why I tell people not to pitch me their ideas cos I have enough shit ones of my own.
Are you still going to live in LA?
I am not going away anymore. We are in final talks for an American gig to be announced shortly and that requires me to remain in New Zealand. It will bring about an opportunity to build capacity for a lot of MĀori who will be in key roles. But then you never know with the Americans – I can’t tell you about it until everything is signed.
(We were then interrupted and I was put on hold while Bailey took a call. He is quickly on the line again and told me that it was an unsolicited call from LA. Apparently they always schedule their calls. He said he was on an important call and they were to call back).
You have to understand your value – they schedule calls in LA. So, you can’t just ring someone unsolicited. Because we have a mentality of accepting crumbs for budgets we often don’t recognise our true value. So I just said I was on an important call.
What else does winning the Māori Entrepreneurial Leader Award mean for you, professionally?
Again, it’s a validation of what we do. I accept this award on behalf of all Maori producers and Creators because we don’t often get recognition. It’s a celebration of an industry that’s maturing. We have more strong Māori production companies but it’s still very challenging times and with more platforms it doesn’t mean more money. It usually means the same amount of money, just sliced up in a lot of different ways. You have got to start thinking differently about how projects could get financed.
What do you make of the television scene in Aotearoa in terms of making Māori programmes?
It is Hard! It’s a really challenging environment right now. Everybody is being squeezed. You have got to be creative and look internationally. Try to come to MIP TV and MIPCOM and get on the International radar. You’ll get your money back and then some if you go. Initially, the experience is quite overwhelming and you’re thinking they’re all so amazing and I’m so crap. Then the next time you go, you think, they’re still amazing and I’m not so bad. Then the third time you go back and think I’m doing ok and they’re crap! It just takes time and perseverance.
In your opinion, what does the future look like for television?
I don’t know what it looks like for television but I do know what it looks like for content. Content is king and technology is its Queen. You really need to understand what is happening and the different means of publishing. Like OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon. (Internet television is Over the Top Technology OTT). Cable will be an interesting model for the future because we don’t have a buyer seller relationship on this side of the world as we take channels like the history channel for example from the US and there might only be one NZ commissioned show on there. Again, there’s a number of channels open to Producers. It’s an interesting space.
Any advice for your fellow Māori programme makers
Understand that there is no golden pot at the end of the rainbow. Some people get into this business because they think it will make them rich. It’s the intellectual property and back catalogue of work and the ability to re-licence things again where the success lies. We’ve had success with formats and the ability to come up with a show and a format you can sell is where it’s at. We made Sidewalk Karaoke on a small budget, but it’s as much about the protection of the intellectual property than making a dollar out of it.
And finally, there’s a job going at Whakaata Māori – are you interested?
I think there are better, more qualified people out there. I wish for stability for Maori TV at this time and I think they need a steady hand for a bit. For me, right now my career pathway is focused on the USA which is where my focus will stay for the next couple of years. I have a lot of learning to do and I am trying to be the best that I can be and to fulfil my potential.