New-look Screen Australia website to come as Graeme Mason foreshadows cuts
Screen Australia chief executive Graeme Mason.
Kicking off the Australian International Documentary Conference with a presentation entitled The Future is Now, Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason flagged the urgency of understanding the current landscape, and foreshadowed – bravely, given the audience – looming cuts to Australia's factual sector.
While Screen Australia has so far absorbed budget cuts internally – by halving the number of staff and with a forty-eight percent reduction in overhead – there is no more fat to cut, he said.
"In just over two years, we have seen a reduction in our budget that amounts to over $50 million".
"I know that most people in this room and in your part of the sector think we have already made cuts to Documentary and Factual. This is incorrect. To date we have protected documentary, but this is no longer sustainable or practicable. We can no longer absorb the cuts in our overhead or other 'non-core' areas so are seeing a downward trend in funding of projects across the agency – not, I stress, just in documentary".
"While we have managed to keep funding for the documentary sector above $17 million over the last few years, in spite of the cuts we have received, the reality is, that the next few years we will have to make changes".
In cheerier news, Mason also told delegates that Screen Australia will unveil a new website in coming weeks, in which click-through-to-purchase links will accompany each Australian film on the website with an online platform. If the information on your film is not correct, don't scream, Mason pleaded – help us fix it.
He also previewed new research undertaken by the national body on Australian documentary.
"447 hours of Australian documentaries were made in the last financial year, with total production value of $147 million", he said.
"Documentary hours were up by about four percent on last year and the five-year average, and total dollar value was up by about two percent".
"You – the independent sector – made 75 single episode docs, the same number as last year. And 73 doco series, up from 62 last year".
Screen Australia's session at AIDC also included a screening reel of factual highlights from last year, as well as ones to look forward to in 2016 (excerpted were Conviction, Aussie Gold, Motorkite Dreaming, Hanson, Black As, The Family, Indian Wedding Race, and Matilda and Me, starring Tim Minchin).
Mason also spoke about the huge shifts in documentary since he last addressed AIDC two years ago.
"The need to adapt to audience behaviour and embrace new ways to produce, fund and distribute documentaries in 2016 is beyond urgent.”
The average age of regular broadcast viewers is old and getting older, Mason said.
He also noted that "many if not most" finance plans submitted to Screen Australia, even by experienced producers, relied on traditional sources of funding (the public broadcaster, screen bodies) and often gave little thought to the life of a documentary beyond broadcast.
The pillars for Australian factual should be innovation, quality, ambition and scale – or even ambition without scale, Mason said.
He pointed to Sherpa, bought by the Discovery Network and debuting day and date in 220 countries in late April (the film's director, Jennifer Peedom, will be presenting her film at AIDC today).
The full text of Mason's speech can be found here.
And the latest stats on Australian documentary is here.