Battle lines drawn in imported actors debate

21 January, 2015 by Don Groves

As the MEAA prepares to launch a campaign to fight proposed changes to the guidelines on foreign actors and crew working in Australian taxpayer-funded film and TV productions, filmmakers and other guilds insist reform is needed.

The union argues that the government’s review of the guidelines, which could result in the Arts Minister no longer consulting the union when deciding whether to grant visas, will significantly reduce opportunities for Australian performers in local screen productions.


“Equity will fight any changes to the guidelines that will leave performers worse off," the union told members in its newsletter.

Producer Jamie Hilton advocates, “Open the doors. All our A-listers are working overseas; we should be so lucky to have Academy Award-winning actors in our films. Red Dog, The Sapphires and The Water Diviner, our biggest hits of late, were all wonderful celebrations of this. “

Director Kriv Stenders says, “I certainly believe that we need to make the guidelines relevant to a radically changing environment and market.”

Stenders, who is wrapping the Essential Media and Entertainment-produced drama The Principal for SBS and getting ready to shoot Blue Dog for producer Nelson Woss, adds, “It's purely and simply about adaptation and survival, and that means moving on and continually reviewing things.”

Producer Julie Ryan says, “I’ve been waiting for a review of the import rules for a long time and would like to see the union removed completely from the process. That would leave the Department of Arts and Department of Immigration to deal with and from my experience, they have been excellent. Unfortunately I can’t say that about the union who have been difficult and at times, impossible to deal with.

“We have brilliant actors in Australia but the A-list ones don’t want to make Australian films once they’ve made it internationally. I understand that: what’s on offer overseas would be far more attractive once you’re at that level.

“But that leaves us producers with no possibility of including an A-list actor in our productions and that limits the finance available and the kinds of films we can make. If we could have access to international actors who mean something to the international financiers then we’d be able to make more films and more Australian actors would have more jobs.”

ADG executive director Kingston Anderson welcomes the review of the Temporary Work (Entertainment) visa (Subclass 420). “We need to have some flexibility in our selection process and not be thwarted by one particular group which may or may not decide on the future of a visa and ultimately the life of a film,” he says.

Anderson, who is consulting Screen Producers Australia and the MEAA before preparing the ADG's submission, adds, "One thing that I think all will agree with, even the federal government,  is we should determine who comes to our shores whether that be to work, play or teach."

Screen Producers Australia is also calling for greater flexibility to ensure more production and more employment for all sectors of the industry. “We must remove processes and regulations that inhibit our industry’s potential and at the same time acknowledge the market and our audience’s desire and need," says SPA exec director Matt Deaner.

“We must ensure that our potential is not limited by uncertain, onerous and expensive bureaucratic processes that deter our local and international partners.

“On occasion there are projects in which the creative and commercial requirements demand our screen creators to be nimble in the way they construct their content. We will be looking to the review …to deliver sensible reform that balances the needs of all parts of the screen industry and contributes to the continued growth of the sector to ensure greater employment not only for cast but also writers, directors, crew and producers.”

The deadline for submissions is February 23. The Arts Department said the intention is to enact any amendments, subject to the government’s views and priorities, this year.

Equity president Geoff Morrell tells IF its National Performers Committee will meet next week to plan the union’s submission.