Brian Rosen: Screen Australia funding has been dysfunctional

04 February, 2011 by IF

Brian Rosen led the Film Finance Corporation between 2003 and 2008 and has over 20 years experience as a producer in Australia and overseas. He has also led Hoyts and spent 10 years in America as president of Classic Films USA. He considers the original intent behind the Producer Offset and whether it has been a success.

Over two years have elapsed since the creation of Screen Australia and the Producer Offset.


We know the collapse of the traditional presale model and the shuttering of the studio specialty divisions has ravaged the world of independent film.

With a further reduction in Screen Australia’s feature film funding program, what should the mandate be for direct and indirect funding?

Former Arts Minister Peter Garrett in his speech at MIFF in 2008 stated: “Projects which can attract the Offset should first go to the marketplace to secure the remainder of their funding. The new indirect funding model is designed to be market driven and to attract more private investment to the sector… Top up of the Offset projects from direct funding to Screen Australia should be capped based on clear criteria developed by Screen Australia taking into account cultural merit.”

So taking the Minister’s position that there should be a clear difference between marketplace driven projects using the Producer Offset and projects relying on Screen Australia funding, what should be the criteria that differentiates the two?

With only $23 million available for investment in features, a strategy should be put in place stating the kind of slate the agency wishes to support.

Personally, I have no problem with an agency setting such an agenda because then my expectations would be tempered accordingly.

An example might be a slate that would incorporate 10 to 13 films made up of two to three indigenous stories, three to five emerging filmmakers, three to five culturally significant films (eg Beneath Hill 60, Animal Kingdom, The Cup).

In that way, a producer would have a much better handle as to what the agency is looking to support and if a film does not fit that criteria, then it clearly will have to be market driven.

Funding to date at Screen Australia has been dysfunctional.

Why would a Paramount-supported $27 million film need $3 million in direct subsidy in what is obviously a marketplace project?

If box office is the criteria then the investment is prudent but therein lies the rub – should an agency’s main criteria be box office?

Success in its many forms should be sought, but the interminable demand that all films invested in by an agency should be box office-driven is a ridiculous political and media mantra that should be dismissed.

Why? Because as the much-quoted William Goldman states “nobody knows” and with no disrespect to the people working at agencies they are not equipped, nor should they have to be, to operate in a commercial world.

An agency’s role first and foremost is to create a robust environment of support that allows talent to shine and when that happens box office will follow in its own good time.

Going back to the Minister’s speech: is that the kind of differentiation in criteria he wanted the industry and Screen Australia to adopt?

This article first appeared in IF #135, September 2010 – subscribe here.