Matthew Deaner previews the 2016 Screen Forever conference

25 October, 2016 by Harry Windsor

Matt Deaner (r) and Trigger Street's Dana Brunetti (l) in conversation at last year's conference.


Screen Producers Australia will hold its 31st Annual Conference from November 15-17 at the Crown Conference Centre in Melbourne.

SPA has just announced that Keli Lee, Managing Director of International Content & Talent for ABC Entertainment Group (ABCEG), will appear as a keynote speaker.

Based in London, Lee leads the international content and talent divisions of ABC Television Network and ABC Studios. In her former role as Executive Vice President of Talent and Casting, ABCEG, Lee oversaw all talent and casting for ABC, working on series such as Modern Family, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder, Blackish, Fresh Off The Boat, American Crime and Quantico.

Lee joins already announced guests Graham Yost (Speed, The Americans, Justified) as well as the Vice-President of I.P. Sales, Acquisitions and Co-Productions from Technicolor, Alison Warner (UK); Sky Drama Head of Development, Lindsay Salt (UK); Creative Artists Agency TV Scripted Agent, Michael Gordon (US); Steel Springs Pictures Producer Peter Lawson (US); Cornerstone Films Co-President, Mark Gooder (US); Head Gear Films Finance Associate Marlon Vogelgesang (US); A24 Films Head of International Business, Sasha Lloyd (US) and AMC/Sundance Vice President of International Programming, Chris Loveall (US).

In our most recent issue, excerpted below, SPA CEO Matthew Deaner tells IF what to expect at the conference.

This is your fourth conference looking after Screen Producers Australia. How’s it changed in your time at the helm?

We deliberately decided that we should rebrand it Screen Forever, and look at it as a 360° content conference but through the prism of people that make content. That’s kept us in good stead because it’s given the conference a bigger trajectory, and the conversations aren’t just through one prism. People aren’t just putting earmuffs on and trying to bang their own drum. The conference is one of the few environments now where everyone gets to sit around the table and listen to each other. The production space is so complicated in terms of the amount of people you’ve got to bring together to make a good piece of Australian film or television or online. So getting people together is at a premium. You’ve got the heads of broadcasters there as well as the commissioning people as well as the programmers. You’ve got the distributors, the larger production companies, the medium production companies, as well as the people looking to break into the industry. You’ve got the financiers and the government agencies. And increasingly we’re getting a range of writers, actors and directors, because a lot of people want to take more control of their careers. They want more understanding about finding a pathway in a global space that’s very wobbly, very up and down. There’s no certainty around anywhere. And the degree to which all the creative elements understand that can be really helpful for creating good content. We’ve got a really important role in that, and I think we all take that responsibility very seriously.

What can we expect this year?

There’s the sessions themselves, with people in the audience listening to the conversations. The other strand of the conference is a lot of market-driven opportunities; people are given opportunities to meet and further their own businesses. The networking ends up being quite primary in this industry because a lot of people have to trust a lot of people to get the job done and done well. And that comes from personal trust. It’s an industry that kills itself because of the amount of work that people do in an informal setting. That’s the social element. The market elements that we are doing – we’ve announced a strand called SPA Connect, which is the basis by which our market work operates. There’ll be two markets: one is the international and one is the domestic partnerships market and they both work in tandem. There are some people who are primarily looking for outward-facing arrangements; most businesses have relationships outwards, you’ve got to finance your work that way. But increasingly we’re finding that the domestic partnerships are really as critical, if not more critical. Because as the industry changes, small producers need to partner with larger producers to take internal co-productions forward. So those domestic relationships are critical.

Are you doing any screenings?

We may do one screening. But the market is really what people are hungry to engage with. There’s an element of practical learning: because people are operating in siloes, they’re craving a little bit more knowledge around who the people are and how to make things work.

Last year you introduced streaming platforms into the Meet the Buyers strand for the first time. Is that continuing?

We introduced Stan [last year], who will be there this year. At the moment, they are the only platform directly commissioning. The big challenge for production is to ensure that those offshore streaming services engage with us, whether it’s behind the ABC or directly.

Netflix doesn’t have an office here, do they?

No. I’ve heard – and I don’t know if this is true – that Amazon [Prime] is launching [here] later this year. We really want those guys to engage. What we’ve heard in the past is that they’ve been unofficially there [at the conference]. So they’re sort of scoping the territory. We would like them to be more officially there. The biggest theme in our industry is the disruption for everyone created by SVOD and the degree to which broadcasters are being challenged and affected by that disruption. There’s a strand called Meet the Buyers where each broadcast platform or commissioning platform sends their commissioning team to have in-depth conversations about what it is they’re looking for. We do a strand of in-conversations with broadcaster CEOs. We’re looking at strands where you engage with some of the production companies. And then you’ve got thematic discussions, [focusing] around, say, the challenges in international work across Asia. We launched a lot of the gender discussion at the conference last year – so one of the things we’re looking to do is [explore] how far we’ve come with some of those primary conversations. Then there’s the broader conversations about interactive and online. I’m particularly interested in conversations around how you attract that missing generation, the people drifting away from traditional screens but staying on content. They watch content but how that content is being consumed is different and it’s not necessarily returning dollars to the creators.

In addition to SPA Connect, what else is new this year?

There’ll be a focus on film, a focus on small-screen, and a focus on meeting production companies themselves. A three-stage approach for engaging with our international guests. Any given year there’ll be up to one hundred international guests. It’s the largest conference in the southern hemisphere for media practitioners of this ilk and certainly the biggest in Australia, so we find there’s a lot of interest. We’re hoping to keep building the numbers of that international component.

What are you looking to stir up discussion about?

I’m really interested in a conversation about how there are opportunities if you’re big and opportunities if you’re small but lots of challenges if you’re in the middle. How you navigate that. There are opportunities, because of disruption, for Australia to be better than it is. So you can deliver the Hacksaw Ridges, which aren’t necessarily through a prism of Australiana but they’re Australian. It ticks the boxes for everyone. That’s the potential we haven’t realized properly. There should be a better pipeline for those Australian creatives. I’m more excited by those things than the big fly-in, fly-out productions. They end up making a lot of noise, but I think Hacksaw Ridge is a more important strategic thing for the industry than, say, Pirates, which comes and goes. It’s like the cherry on the cake, but I think Hacksaw Ridge is the icing below the cake (laughs).