Australian films may be experiencing a revival due to the pandemic’s disruption of other markets but every business within the industry remains “on notice” thanks to the new regulatory overhaul set to come into effect this year, according to producer Sue Maslin.
Announced last September, the Federal Government plans to scrap the fixed quotas for local drama, children’s programming, and documentary, while also harmonising the film and TV Producer Offsets at 30 per cent.
Maslin tells IF the upcoming shift meant the industry found itself in a “deeply ironic” scenario at the start of the year.
“We’re going to see Australian audiences falling back in love with Australian cinema because of the opportunity created by COVID-19, whereby we don’t have the the usual glut of Hollywood films in our cinemas,” she says.
“The expanded capacity of Australian films to be shown right around the country is happening at the same time the government is introducing legislation intended to drive down the number of Australian feature films that can be made.”
She added it was “unrealistic” to think all the features in development could be financed with the 10 per cent reduction, given filmmakers had to already navigate the Gallipoli clause and overheads being pulled back.
“Nearly everybody I know who has been producing feature films is having to pivot and look at the kind of feature projects we have been developing over a number of years and decide whether to continue these as features, or try to position them as series ideas for streamers, or cut your losses and get out,” she says.
“As for documentary features, they are facing the greatest hurdles of all with the Producer Offset threshold being raised to $1 million.”
Yet Maslin is optimistic that the industry will be able to continue work together to connect stories with local audiences.
“What gives me hope is that in this time of rapid transition and change, we are talking to each other about new models and ways of working.”
While many production companies delayed the release of features during last year, Maslin went on the front foot, committing to a three month marketing and P&A campaign for feature documentary Brazen Hussies.
Her Film Art Media team conducted Q&A sessions via Zoom with director Catherine Dwyer and ran Facebook ads across exhibitors as part of a targeted strategy to promote the film.
She says the pandemic has opened the doors within the production process as well.
“For too long, we were hemmed in with the idea that we had to travel overseas to markets and spend vast sums travelling around the country in order to get our films financed, when in fact, we’ve realised we can do most of that business from our kitchen table or our home offices,” she says.
“This will open up further opportunities for filmmakers to find their collaborators anywhere in the world and find the right people to work with outside of their own backyard.”
The flip side, Maslin says, is that it will be “incredibly difficult” for emerging writers, producers, and directors to build the relationships they need without in-person networking opportunities.
“I think the fact we are not meeting up in live markets means that the key players such as the broadcasters, streamers, and distributors will increasingly work with people they have existing relationships with because there won’t be the kind of forums they can meet new entrants at,” she says.
“As an industry, we need to keep creating those avenues for new talent, so they have the opportunity to have their work seen and meet the key decision makers.
“It’s a byproduct of the pandemic that I think we will probably transition out of but there remains citadels of decision-making that very few people have access to and most people sit outside of.
“That has the potential to shape the industry going forward.”