If the industry is to continue to sustain or even expand upon current levels of production, Moneypenny CEO Jane Corden argues training will be key.
During the 35 years that I have worked in the Australian and international film and TV industry, I have never seen it as busy, and many predict this can continue for at least the next five years. To sustain this level of production long term, Australia needs to continue to live up to the great reputation it has internationally for talented, professional, resourceful cast and crew with a great work ethic.
In days gone by, when I could work and take business trips in Europe and the US, I was proud to repeatedly hear praise for our production, creative and technical crews. It is that reputation, along with our remarkable COVID track record, that is now bringing so much offshore production to Australia and NZ, on top of government incentives, strategic marketing by our agencies, Australian talent coming home, and local production companies partnering internationally.
If we can keep all of that going, then there is no reason why the current levels of production can’t be sustained and expanded. The Australian content creation industry could become a major part of Australia’s economic recovery, providing significant new jobs.
Training across the board is key to achieving this. I have written in past IF issues about the shortage of production accountants in the Australian screen industry. There is an important need to attract experienced accountants into the industry, teach them the difference between corporate and film accounting, and work with production companies to place them and fast track their career path with mentoring and ongoing professional development.
Now, this model for accountants and other production roles is more important than ever in order to ensure that domestic production doesn’t lose out when the big studio projects suck up all of the experienced production teams. Lower budget domestic production becomes a good training ground, with accountants and assistants getting a broader spectrum of experience, allowing them to step up from assistant more quickly to accountant. With managed programs, there is no reason why producers should be concerned that their lack of experience will cause problems for the production.
I am currently running an industry certificate course in production accounting for AFTRS, the fourth since July 2019. Around 50 students have successfully completed this 12-week course covering all elements production accounting. More than half of those students are now working as assistant accountants, from local TV or small feature productions through to large budget international projects, and some are stepping up to accountant.
Screenwest (with the support of Lotterywest) have just contracted me to mentor one of last year’s graduates on a project with the support and encouragement of the producer, Janelle Landers. Addressing the skills shortage requires a collaborative approach.
Wendy Gray recently stepped into a newly-created position at AFTRS as industry liaison, developing partnerships between industry and the school. This is a natural follow on for the role she held previously developing the industry certificate courses, which are all practically oriented to feed people into industry where they are most needed and to help people migrate between roles. We currently have a make-up artist training as a production accountant. Production accountants do well to learn the production manager role and vice versa. Increasingly productions are looking to put attachments in selected departments where the shortages are recognised.
The last two courses have been run entirely remotely as a result of COVID. Though I miss the face-to-face workshops there is no doubt that it has opened the course up to people country-wide and even internationally. Another COVID outcome has been an increased willingness for production to accept some members of their team working remotely. Such acceptance gave rise to me taking on the role of production accountant on Gold, which shot in Leigh Creek last year. I provided one week of in-office training for one of our graduates, who then was the on the ground assistant while I supervised her and ran the accountants from Sydney.
We are in a time of great change, which is creating new opportunities. Regularly we have heard that the business survivors of COVID have been those who have been able to break the mould and think creatively about how to resolve any number of the challenges that we have faced, and this is particularly true for these times of talent shortage.
This adaptability can mean that an accountant with a family who lives in regional Australia could consider being part of a production team, or an experienced film accountant who wants to relocate to the country or work shorter hours doesn’t have to give up working in the industry.
There is an increasing call for more flexible working in the UK, with the Production Guild that represents all production staff actively attempting to facilitate job share opportunities. We have proved that a remote accounts assistant can process invoices and payroll more efficiently than one surrounded by the distractions of a production office, while having the opportunity to do the school drop and pick up. On Gold, I avoided the slowdown of bad internet, dust storms and 45 degree heat, as well as saving the production accommodation, per diems and other travel costs by remaining in the comfort of home.
The Australian industry can ride the current tide for many years to come if we responsibly train across the board with a long-term vision. All the people working in a production office work long hours. If we are going to attract good people into the industry and keep them here we need to ensure they are not burnt by their first jobs.
They should be able to see a clear career path, feel supported and properly resourced and have opportunity for ongoing professional development.
This article was originally published in IF Magazine #200. Subscribe to the magazine here.