Producers call for review of industrial agreements

18 November, 2013 by Don Groves

Screen producers say they are being asked to cut costs and make programs for less money while the evaporation of the Australian TV market for feature films means distribution guarantees have been slashed, in some cases to zero.

Faced with diminishing revenues and stagnant levels of film production, Screen Producers Australia (formerly SPAA) is advocating a review of industrial agreements.


In a discussion paper circulated to guilds and industry bodies, SPA is critical of the long-standing agreement on residuals, it flags a new model for releasing low budget Australian films and raises the issue of foreign actors working in local films.

Some of these topics are likely to be on the agenda at a meeting in Melbourne on Monday between the guilds, Screen Australia and state film agencies, as well as being ventilated at this week’s SPA Screen Forever conference.

Its paper asserts the system of TV repeat fees hinders re-licensing deals and denies production companies, writers and performers a revenue stream. The standard arrangement for performers in adult drama programs is a 70% loading which buys four plays over seven years, while the standard for writers is a 50% loading for the same term.

“When producers attempt to re-license programs after the initial license period has expired, in the vast majority of cases the amount payable for programs is often far in excess of what a broadcaster will pay to play it again on a multi-channel,” the paper contends. “This obviously prevents sales and contributes to the imbalance between imported programming and Australian programming on the multi-channels.”

The repeats and residuals agreement between SPA and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance is up for renegotiation.

It notes the average number of local features produced in Australia (excluding low-budgeted films which do not get a theatrical release) has fallen from 30 in the 2000s to 30 25 in the last couple of years.

In children’s pre-school TV animation, the SPA/MEAA agreement prevents a buy-out of rights for unlimited plays for performers, which has led to some Australian producers going offshore to record voice overs.

After 20 years SPA says it is close to reaching agreement with the MEAA on a buy-out for voice over recording, which would bring more work back on shore to Australian actors.

SPA notes that very few producers have been able to take advantage of the drop in the Qualifying Australian Production Expenditure threshold to $500,000 to qualify for the producer offset.

One of the biggest obstacles to increasing production is getting access to Australian cinema screens, which it attributes to the US studios’ dominance, the disappearance of the traditional art-house circuit, absence of regulation, the historically poor performance of Australian films and uncompetitive marketing budgets for Australian films.

The discussion paper suggests that establishing a ‘development circuit’ of cinemas would enable more low budget features to qualify for the producer offset, while reinvesting fees could create more opportunities for emerging talent.

The MEAA and SPA are discussing the rules governing the importation of foreign actors. Producers argue that globalisation is shrinking many territorial differences and that adaptation is necessary to remain internationally competitive and to continue to attract extra finance in to the country. Performers insist that Australian taxpayers’ funds should support jobs for Australians.

The paper asks, “Should Australian producers engage more foreign writers in order to increases access to foreign markets? This is what Australia’s competitors do.”