Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher.

When COVID-19 hit and production came to a sudden halt on most film and TV sets around Australia, things looked grim for the Australian screen sector. But nearly a year down the track, the story is very different. There’s a boom in Australian screen production, and it could keep going for years to come.

For that we can thank first of all the thousands of Australians who work in the screen sector.

Rather than throwing in the towel when productions were halted and financing dried up, Aussie film and TV folk quickly worked out how to reposition and get started again.

Led by the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS) and Screen Australia, a group of industry professionals quickly developed guidelines for COVID-safe productions.

At the same time, industry leaders alerted the Morrison Government to a major threat: insurers would not provide cover against productions being halted if key cast members caught COVID. In turn, without insurance, screen financiers would not release cash to allow productions to commence.

We worked with industry to develop a solution: a $50 million temporary interruption fund, administered by Screen Australia, to fill the gap insurers would not. The scheme has worked exactly as we hoped, to date allowing projects with combined production budgets of over $330 million to start or restart.

2020 was not just the year of COVID; it was also the year when we took a long overdue look at the rules and funding arrangements supporting Australia’s screen production sector. Some said COVID made it the wrong time to do this; but many others agreed with the Morrison Government that the COVID crisis made this work even more urgent.

In April 2020 we issued the Screen Australia and ACMA options paper, Supporting Australian Stories on our Screens, and kicked off intensive industry-wide consultation on the options it proposed.  

After listening carefully, we acted: the October 2020 budget injected an extra $53 million into local screen production: $33 million to Screen Australia and $20 million to the Australian Children’s Television Foundation.

We also brought in new, simplified local content sub-quotas, designed to support Australian producers in making shows which appeal both to local networks and the global streaming market.

Pleasingly, in the 2021 “upfronts,” where our local broadcasters showcased their program line-up for the coming year, there were strong commitments to new shows, including plenty of original Australian drama.

As COVID raged in Europe and the US, by mid-2020 it was increasingly clear that Australia’s careful management of the pandemic gave us a big opportunity to attract productions to film here.

It was great to see A-list Australian movie stars like Nicole Kidman and Chris Hemsworth using their market clout to bring productions to Australia, delivering big employment dividends for Australian actors and crew.

The Morrison Government moved quickly to support the Aussie screen industry to seize this once-in-a century opportunity, announcing in July an additional $400
million in funding
to extend the Location Incentive program until 2026/27.

Under this program, film or TV producers get a cash grant of 13.5 per cent of what they spend on their production in Australia. When combined with the existing 16.5 per cent Location Offset, this adds up to a globally competitive 30 per cent incentive to shoot in Australia.

Once announced, Ausfilm and Austrade got to work straight away publicising the new funding to producers in the US and globally, and within a few weeks we were signing up major productions.

First cab off the rank, in September 2020, was a package of three series from NBCUniversal’s Universal Studio Group which will film in Queensland: Young Rock,
Joe Exotic and Irreverent.

Since then, we have announced funding for Blacklight, starring Liam Neeson and
currently filming in Melbourne; Thirteen Lives, directed by Ron Howard; and The
Tourist
,
which will film in South Australia – and there is plenty more to come.

Australia’s screen sector is world-class, with talented writers, directors, producers and actors and skilled and hard-working crew. We have fantastic scenery and locations, great studios, and our careful management of COVID risks has given us another big advantage.

The global demand for screen content is exploding, with free-to-air and subscription television, streaming services, cinemas and many other markets.

The Morrison Government is looking at further changes to help the Aussie screen sector seize this opportunity.

We released a Green Paper late in 2020 seeking views on several reform proposals, including a legislated Australian content spend requirement on streaming video services operating in Australia like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime, and a new funding source for Australian content.

2020 has been a remarkable year for the Australian screen sector: the COVID
pandemic, which at first seemed to be very grim news, has turned out to create
exciting new opportunities.

Well done to the creative and hard-working people in our film and TV sector who
have leapt on the opportunities.  The Australian government is backing you all the
way.

Paul Fletcher is the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher. The Minister will address the industry at the upcoming Screen Forever conference February 16.

Do you agree with the Minister’s assessment that 2020 was a “remarkable year” for the screen industry? Have your say in the comments below.

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5 Comments

  1. What a clown. Who writes his spin? This Scomo government do not support the Arts. They had to be dragged kicking to make any effort and even then they lied. He’s talking figures which sound good, but the reality is elsewhere. “Australia’s screen-sector is world class”… Yeah Fletch, just saying that instills the olde cultural cringe, yep mate, bring us back to the 50s where we’re importing American and British leads and Australian actors are in support roles or filling. Fletcher is incapable in this section of his Ministry.

  2. Thanks for this Paul, excuse me for my rant, I think you should NOT do any of that but give the money to locals, but here goes. I fail to see how any of this is enabling us to tell our Australian F’ing stories. I for one, and I know many, many other producers and writers – the actual people that promote and create the original idea with 99% chance of failure and by the way basically for FREE – for YEARS- are in the woods. Not knowing where their craft will take them. No incentives. No consulting. No communication. What your doing is promoting talent to leave Australia and come back attached to a US corporation and make stories about other countries. That’s what I’m seeing…great for crew and some local actors, great for ROI’s, great for a photo opp with the exalted ones, great for super hero franchises and HBO whatever the freak show they have. Lousy for the next Muriel’s Wedding, Chopper, Sampson and Delilah, Lion… and dare I say blatant entertainment like Oddball. What’s the point? Just ramp up sales of coal and ore to China and you will get the same result. Bauh bye!

  3. It’s great that Paul Fletcher has worked quickly to assist these initiatives and is keen to spruik our industry. We could do a lot more by improving long term infrastructure, not just throwing millions of $ at one off productions. Our industry is ideally set up for Netflix type production, but we need “ready to go” facilities if we are to compete well. We also need to look at job training, TAFE cuts. Very hard to get skilled crew of late.

  4. Before we get too excited we seriously need more Stages! A LOT more! As vaccines roll out foreign productions will not be too keen to move so far away from home – especially when there are the facilities they need there. Cutting edge facilities plus appropriate offsets – and not cutting it back to 30% before the end of this financial Year – will attract and keep OS Production.

  5. Terrific for crew members and actors getting work on these productions- but it would be great if a portion of this money is set aside for local producers, writers, directors etc. telling Australian stories.

    There should be room for both.

    It can be easily fixed with an Australian Production Fund (a little less for the OS shoots to kickstart the local industry.)

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