Caroline Pitcher, Donna Chang and Robert Connolly.

Stories that are “big, bold and surprising” or “provocative with a purpose” are the kinds SBS scripted acting commissioning editor Donna Chang hopes to see ushered through the new feature initiative the broadcaster has launched with Film Victoria and Arenamedia.

Titled Originate, the joint initiative, announced today, seeks to back low budget fiction features from writers and directors of diverse background.

The structured program will see the partners work with creatives on their projects from initial concept, through development, with the aim of getting into production. UK-based story developer Angeli Macfarlane has helped to devise the program.

Originate starts in May with a series of online writers’ seminars, which will then see up to six teams selected to take part in a week-long writers’ lab in August. The third stage is a three-month writers’ intensive with up to three teams. One project will then be selected for production investment.

That film will then go into production in 2022 with an approximate total budget of $1.5 million, of which the majority will be financed by Film Victoria, SBS, Arenamedia and Robert Connolly’s distribution outfit, North South East West.

North South East West will provide an Australian cinema release before a premiere on the SBS.

The emerging filmmakers will be mentored Arenamedia’s Liz Kearney and Connolly, as well as Chang.

Chang told IF that SBS is keen to see more local films across its broader network, including the SBS World Movies channel.

“Within the slate, features sit alongside our primetime series and short-form series commissioning, though there is an ethos that binds all three – a desire to tell stories that reflect inclusion by exploring multicultural Australia and our rich First Nations cultures,” she said.

“In terms of SBS commissioning features, for us right now, that primary pathway is through these initiatives.”

Via Originate, the executive hopes to see inclusive stories that speak to the SBS Charter, but that are also “courageous, sticky ideas” that are achievable within the realm of a low budget feature.

“We’re not after stories that feel too worthy or earnest; the focus still has to be on entertaining and/or engaging,” she said.

“There’s so much content out there, so now more than ever, so new content has to stand out. Really think how your idea can be as distinctive as possible and embrace your unique voice in telling that story. Every piece of content has an audience – so do test drive your idea with others before you submit and see if they get excited about it as well.”

Film Victoria CEO Caroline Pitcher said the recent $33.8 million screen industry boost in screen sector support from the state government had helped the agency to initiative more programs like this, that would make tangible differences for Indigenous and traditionally under-represented storytellers.

“We know that the all-important first or second screen credit can be difficult to attain and even more so for diverse writers and directors. With scaffolded development support and a market safety net, this accelerator initiative will benefit the talent participating in the development phase, in addition to the team ultimately selected to produce and release their feature film.”

Arenamedia and North South East West founder and director Robert Connolly said: “We are excited to be working with Film Victoria on this innovative initiative which aligns perfectly with Arenamedia’s long term commitment to working with new and diverse voices in Australian cinema. Supporting and nurturing emerging talent is critical to the success of our industry.”

Chang will join Film Victoria’s production investment manager Alicia Brown and fiction development manager Katherine Slattery for a live Q&A to talk about Originate on March 19, 12.30pm.

Applications are now open and close 11pm April 15. Visit https://www.film.vic.gov.au/funding/funding-for-development/ to find out more.

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