Bill Bennett and his co-producer Anupam Sharma are exploring private investment options for their Indian-set thriller Defiant after Screen Australia announced yesterday that its $42 million drama investment budget for the year ending next June has been fully committed.
Bennett was irate at the news, telling SBS Film, “For all of those filmmakers who have deals pending but not yet nailed, it effectively means that you can't hope for funding for a further 8-10 months".
Screen Australia attributed the funding hiatus to the unprecedented number of quality feature film and television projects that sought support at the board's December meeting. The board approved investments of more than $11.4 million in five features, five adult TV drama series and one children's series, with combined budgets of more than $64 million.
Among the greenlit projects were Kriv Stenders' Kill Me Three Times, a black comedic thriller set in an Australian coastal town, starring Abbie Cornish, Alice Braga and Sullivan Stapleton; Warwick Thornton's The Darkside, a collection of ghost tales related by actors including The Sapphires' Deborah Mailman and Sheri Sebbens, Bryan Brown, Leah Purcell, Brendan Cowell and Sacha Horler, which will give an indigenous perspective on the afterlife; Wayne Hope's Now Add Honey, a comedy about a suburban family whose life implodes when their pop star cousin comes to stay; and Tony Ayres' Cut Snake, which will star Sullivan Stapleton and Ryan Kwanten as ex-cons who set fire to a nightclub, killing 15 people.
Screen Australia said it would only issue letters of interest at its April board meeting and that the money available for films and TV series at the June meeting will be limited to funds that were committed to projects that have lapsed.
Bennett blasts this situation as “completely outrageous,” asking, “Can't these people manage a budget? How can we maintain a sustainable industry when where is a deficit of funds for – realistically – more than 8 months, given contracting delays etc.? This is not a way to run an industry.
“What this whole stuff-up with Screen Australia means – and it is an administrative stuff-up – is that independent producers have to take themselves off the Government teat and find other ways of financing. “
Screen Australia's statement acknowledged “this news will be disruptive for some producers. It is very unfortunate that we are in this position.”
Bennett intends to write and direct Defiant, a saga based on a true story about a young man and his girlfriend whose vengeful parents are determined to stop the couple from marrying—by killing them.
Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel was due to play the lead but has since moved on to the TV series The Newsroom. Toni Collette is provisionally attached to play a journalist who covers the story of the lovers and is drawn into its dangers.
On another front, Bennett will soon launch a website to help emerging filmmakers finance their projects, primarily short films. “It is a whole new concept of funding films which is not crowdsourced,” he says, promising full details shortly.