Screen Australia has again called on producer Tristram Miall to help determine which feature film applications get letters of interest and production funding, and has also brought on six external specialists to advise on investment decisions.

Producer Jan Chapman (Lantana, The Piano), director Chris Noonan (Babe), writer Andrew Bovell (Lantana, Head On), editor Marcus D’Arcy (Tomorrow, When The War Began and the upcoming I, Frankenstein), script consultant Joan Sauers and Neil Peplow, head of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School’s screen content division, make up the gang of six.

Miall was on board at Screen Australia during the early years of the agency and before industry specialists Victoria Treole and Matthew Dabner, whose contracts are due to expire, were appointed. Producer of the seventh biggest homegrown hit of all time in Strictly Ballroom and, most recently, The Black Balloon, he will be employed part-time under the new arrangements.

Screen Australia has also gone ahead with the changes to its feature film guidelines flagged several months ago, releasing the final version today. The eligibility criteria for letters of interest are now less onerous, investment offers will be made at eight instead of four board meetings and both kinds of decisions will now have more input from Screen Australia’s development department.

Screen Australia chief executive Ruth Harley is currently in Beijing heading an Australian delegation interested in doing business with China but made some comments about the need to have an independent industry perspective in a statement issued today.

“Having one consistent person available for all funding rounds contributes to a context and depth of knowledge across Screen Australia’s feature film slate,” she said. “Drawing the other from the group of industry specialists will enable Screen Australia to work with experienced senior practitioners from various disciplines who are actively working in the industry. This approach will enable Screen Australia to manage any conflicts of interest that will naturally arise within such an active group of senior practitioners.”

Screen Australia issued a statement about how it manages conflict of interest about a month ago after attracting negative press on the matter.
Getting letters of interest earlier – it is no longer necessary to have a sales agent attached but there has to be interest from have a local distributor — will make them a more useful tool for producers raising finance, according to Harley.

Screen Australia notes within the guidelines, which are now on the website, that it “may” apply them flexibly for films it believes can be produced for less than $1.5 million. The cap on Screen Australia’s investment remains at $2.5 million.