Screen Australia's senior management team is currently on the road talking to Australian independent screen practitioners about their funding policies. The agency's aim is to hear what their 'stakeholders' have to say before a review is submitted to the federal Government. So, what did the industry have to say? The answer is plenty.
Screen Australia started their presentation with the six points they that see as having a major relevance to their stakeholders.
1) Equity and sustainability of businesses (ongoing slates not one-offs).
2) Attract foreign finance (their examples were Daybreakers, Lionsgate).
3) Bring back Australian key creatives (their examples were screenwriter Stuart Beattie and directors Peter Weir, Phillip Noyce and Stephan Elliott).
4) Increase size of industry (to reach critical mass).
5) More audience engagement (market door).
6) Generate new productions.
One of the major points of consideration within these points is the 'producer offset', which was a measure introduced three years ago as part of the Government's 'film package'. While Screen Australia asserts that from the Government's point of view the offset has “delivered as planned”, the agency's data on the offset reveals a gap in effectiveness for 'midrange' feature films in the 15-30 million dollar bracket. While this is an area that the agency wants to address, with independent producers also questioning the role of private investment in this range, the industry's most pressing concerns on the day were low budget features and distribution.
Currently, the offset doesn't kick in until a feature hits the $1 million mark. This means, at this budget, the producer is potentially eligible for a 40% rebate. What the industry wants to know is whether the agency is prepared to lower this to 500K.
For Screen Australia this appears to contradict a key factor in their ability to deliver Government policy. Their concern is that at this budget, features are “unlikely” to gain theatrical distribution, a fundamental criteria in their decision making process.
While the agency requires “evidence” of a future theatrical release, numerous independent producers argued the case for a redefinition of distribution. One argued that the agency needs to be motivated by “innovation” in their definitions asking why there needs to be certainty of distribution in the form of a theatrical release? (In practical terms, the support of a theatrical distributor at development stage.) The industry pressed for more interrogation of how films can be distributed in multiple platforms. In effect, the industry wants the agency to adapt to the changing terrain of this area. Another question that was raised by the industry concerned the definition of SAC (Significant Australian Content) another key criteria for the agency. The industry asked for examples of this to be made public, to which the agency agreed.
The Screen Australia roadshow continues with sessions in Hobart and Sydney this week. Representatives from the agency are set to visit Perth, the Northern Territory and the ACT in coming months. It's not too late to have your say in this debate. Contact Screen Australia directly or the various guilds operating to service the industry, such as the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA), the Australia Directors Guild (ADG) or the Australian Writers Guild (AWG). And do it quickly.