Screen Producers Australia hopes to reach agreement with the other major guilds on a new scheme for low budget features within the next few months.
SPA is proposing that all participants- producers, directors, writers, cast and crew- would receive 50% of their minimum award fees, reinvest the balance and thus share in the potential profits.
The scheme would apply to features costing less than $1.5 million which would not be eligible for Screen Australia funding but could qualify for the producer offset. Producers would pay the employees' tax obligations based on the minimum rates.
The aims are to boost the level of feature production, which has barely changed in 30 years; enable cheaper films to be made on a far more professional basis; and provide a pathway for a new generation of writers and talent.
Owen Johnston, SPA’s manager, commercial and industrial affairs, gave IF an update on the scheme today after hosting a screening on Tuesday night of UK film Delicious. The writer, director and co-producer Tammy Riley-Smith and the producer/ composer Michael Price took part in a Q&A session after the screening at AFTRS.
To be released in Australia by iTunes on February 9, Delicious was made for £150,000 ($280,000) under the agreement for low budget features between the UK producers association PACT and the UK’s Equity. The filmmakers say they expect the production to be in the black in two years.
The darkly comic romance stars Sherlock’s Louise Brealey as Stella, an obsessive dieter who embarks on a dysfunctional romance with aspiring French chef Jacques (Nico Rogner). Released from prison, Jacques arrives in London and starts working in the kitchen of volatile chef Victor (Adrian Scarborough), whom he believes could be his father. In the city he meets his neighbours, feisty pensioner Patti (Sheila Hancock) and the beguiling Stella, whom he plans to seduce with his culinary talent.
Since 2009, 139 films costing £3 million ($5.5 million) or less have been registered under the scheme.
SPA’s scheme is a simplified version of the UK model which entails actors taking a 75% pay cut on films costing less than £3 million and 50% less for projects budgeted below £1 million.
Johnston said, “One of the union’s concerns was that the scheme would erode the pay scale for actors. In the UK that hasn’t happened; it has created work additional to the status quo.”
He points out the number of films produced in Australia, 25 to 30 per year, excluding credit card films, has not changed in 30 years.
“We think the scheme will enable low budget films to be made far more professionally, inspire writers to work on these films and provide practice for a new generation of talent. “
Last year SPA flagged the idea of creating a joint review panel made up of reps from MEAA and SPA to assess applications for certification under the scheme. That notion caused concern at the ADG, which wanted a seat at the table.
Johnston said the composition of the review panel has not been determined and the ADG may well be involved.
SPA has been negotiating the terms of the agreement with the MEAA and will soon circulate a draft to that body, the ADG and the AWG. He hopes to get sign-off in the next few months so the scheme could be operating by mid-year.
Equity director Zoe Angus tells IF, "We have had preliminary discussions with SPA about introducing a registration scheme for low budget films. SPA has advised us that they will table a proposal shortly. MEAA will consult widely with members to ensure that any new arrangements offer the right protections for performers."
Concurrently SPA has been discussing with Screen Australia a more flexible interpretation of the offset rules which require films to have a theatrical release or, at minimum, the intention to do so.
That seems to be happening as evidenced by The Mule, which eOne released on digital platforms and qualified for the offset.
SPA is also working with Screen Australia on ideas for alternative distribution avenues for Australian films.