The Commonwealth Ombudsman has ruled that Screen Australia did not breach its own conflict of interest guidelines when assessing the funding application for the $6.5 million feature film Brothers At War.
The dispute, centred on producer Scott Meeks' dual role as evaluation manager of Brothers At War as well as executive producer of a competing feature, Griff the Invisible, prompted the producers to lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman, which handed down its decision after a six-month investigation.
“Screen Australia advised, and we have accepted, that when Mr Meek initially assessed your project, he was not aware of its potential to be in competition with his own project,” the Ombudsman told the Brothers at War producers Wayne Groom and Richard Bradley.
The issue, which resulted in the government funding agency overhauling its conflict of interest policies earlier this year, was originally raised in the Senate by Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham.
Meek accepted the role of executive producer on the $2.7 million Griff the Invisible – which included just over $1 million in Screen Australia funding – after he was involved in assessing the project through the IndiVision scheme. Screen Australia approved his appointment.
But Groom and Bradley raised concerns that Meek did not tell them he was involved in Griff the Invisible despite their initial plans to also cast Ryan Kwanten and shoot at the same time of year in late 2009.
Brothers at War was rejected for funding by Screen Australia.
However, Screen Australia rejected Groom and Bradley’s claims on two grounds: Meek was not aware of the proposed casting conflict, while the potential scheduling conflict was removed when Brothers at War shoot date was delayed to 2010 after director Peter Andrikidis became attached to another project, Kings of Mykonos: Wog Boy 2, in the second half of 2009.
The Ombudsman said if Meek had been aware of the casting of Kwanten in Griff the Invisible while assessing Brothers at War, Screen Australia would have been required to declare that information to Groom and Bradley.
The producers of Brothers At War argued that it was "highly unusual" for an executive producer to not have been aware of, or involved in the casting of, the main actor. However, they said they have accepted the Ombudsman's ruling based on the evidence presented to them by Screen Australia.
Screen Australia's new conflict of interest guidelines ban contractors (other than casual assessors) from becoming professionally involved with any production they have worked on through their employment with Screen Australia.
Meek and fellow assessor Tristram Miall finished their tenure at Screen Australia last Christmas and were replaced by Victoria Treole and Matthew Dabner. Meek remains a feature film consultant to Screen Australia.
Griff the Invisible stars Ryan Kwanten and Maeve Dermody and marks the feature film directorial debut of Leon Ford. The film is scheduled to be released in March 2011.
Brothers At War remains in development. It previously had an Australian/New Zealand distribution deal with Paramount Pictures, a world sales agreement with Arclight Films International, production funding from the South Australian Film Corporation and private investment of over $1 million.