ABC Arts documentary ‘The Show Must Go On.’

Screen Producers Australia (SPA) has broadly welcomed Screen Australia’s proposed overhaul of documentary funding guidelines but fears low budget productions will suffer from scrapping the Producer Equity Program (PEP).

In its submission to the review SPA also asks for 15 per cent of development funding to be quarantined for producers, which is not likely to sit well with the Australian Independent Documentary group or the Australian Directors Guild, whose submissions were virtually identical.

Noting the proposal to reserve 20 per cent of the Development Program for productions budgeted below $500,000, SPA argues this will not make up for the loss of PEP.

Projects that receive funding from the Producer and the Commissioned Programs would be ineligible for funding from the Completion Program, leaving the Development Program as the only other source of funding for low budget documentaries. “The net effect of these changes is likely to be much lower support for low budget documentaries,” it says.

SPA also takes issue with the proposed creative assessment regime for the Completion Program, which will provide up to 20 per cent of an approved budget via an accelerated cashflow.

“While SPA appreciates the need to manage Screen Australia’s finite resources and that creative assessment might provide a useful filter, the proposed mechanism will remove certainty for documentary makers,” it says.

“For most, the possibility of receiving completion funding will not be enough to justify going ahead with a project. We are of the view that there is still a need for an offset scheme for low budget documentaries. Pending reform of the Producers Offset, SPA urges Screen Australia to consider other ways of containing PEP, for example, by requiring applicants to have prior credits.

“The current proposal is likely to have a detrimental effect on low budget documentaries, such as those commissioned by ABC Arts. We believe that this requires Screen Australia and the department to work with industry to develop a policy solution.”

Echoing SPA’s stance, Sue Maslin, who produced The Show Must Go On, in which filmmaker Ben Steel explores mental health issues within the Australian entertainment industry, without Screen Australia’s investment today urged the agency not to drop PEP for fear that “important documentary films like ours will never get made.”

SPA advocates that documentaries commissioned by streaming platforms should be eligible for Screen Australia funding but only for projects that qualify for the Producer Offset.

While the body is disappointed the funding cap per project under the Commissioned Program will be reduced by $250,000 to $750,000, given increasing production costs, it welcomes the proposed hike in broadcast licence fees.

The fees will rise from $180,000 to $196,000 per hour for projects in which Screen Australia’s funding is above $500,000 and from $150,000 to $163,000 when the agency contributes $500,000 or less.

These increases should apply to all projects funded by the Commissioned Program and the fees should be annually adjusted according to the CPI, as happens with drama, it says.

The new guidelines will be published in February and will be effective from July 1.