Producers welcome Screen Australia reforms
Producers, filmmakers and guilds have welcomed Screen Australia’s switch to grants for all funding up to $500,000 and expressed relief that the budget cuts have largely spared investment in film and TV production and development. .
There was widespread sympathy for those who are losing their jobs as the headcount is reduced from 112 to 100, while some producers expressed concern that they may receive less support in marketing and legal matters.
Documentary makers stand to benefit from the new grants regime. Reducing the cap on investment in features from $2.5 million to $2 million was generally well received because money will be funnelled into more projects.
CEO Graeme Mason “is doing the best he can with the hand dealt to him by a harsh and short-sighted Government, " said filmmaker Bill Bennett, referring to the federal budget which slashed Screen Australia’s budget by $38 million over the next four years. “The $500,000 grant is a terrific step forward but it will be a bunfight to get it, with such a short amount of money available.”
Bennett urged Screen Australia to give producers a gross profit share of income, reasoning, “Producers only get a net profit share, and so are dependent on their fees from the film's budget, which keeps budgets high. It's time Screen Australia adopted a negotiated gross profit model. This will be an incentive for producers to make films that make money – that is, connect with an audience.”
“The management and board appear to have prioritised content and made a series of decisions that allow easier and quick decisions and a less complicated interface with the body, all of which is positive,” said Matchbox Pictures CEO Chris Oliver-Taylor. “Increasing the grant threshold to 500k should make investment easier to source and again is a positive.”
Oliver-Taylor theorised that capping feature investment could mean some films with already stretched finance plans may not get up, but he observed that “if the market isn't reaching the budget then I suspect that is the commercial reality.”
He added, “Unfortunately rationalising headcount and folding some services together is a direct result of budget cuts and a potential reduced service in marketing may have a negative impact on the sector. But the CEO has made the right recommendations in terms of getting the funding body back to core values and funding projects first."
See Pictures’ Jamie Hilton described the changes as a "necessary tightening and re-defining of services bought in by a savvy new team who are coping with funding cuts."
Hilton continued, "I do feel sorry for everyone at the agency; cutting numbers means losing jobs or friends and already stretched people with a much bigger workload. These changes will affect most producers, we won't have the legal support we once had, nor the marketing support, and our investment managers will be juggling even faster, if that's possible. That said, I do think all the cuts have been made with a 360 degree view and with a priority on maintaining the dollars going out to the production sector.
“See Pictures won't change anything we're doing: low budget projects with a large percentage of reinvestment through Ticket to Ride and bigger budget, cast-driven projects generated by A-list writers. The middle is where I expect Screen Australia to continue to play an important investment role, where culturally or otherwise, there is a compelling reason to make films that cannot be sustained by the marketplace, most likely in the $3 million – $10 million range.”
Australian Directors Guild executive director Kingston Anderson said the $500,000 grant scheme would especially benefit single documentaries as producers will retain the copyright and earn income. “The problem with negotiating with Screen Australia was that you had a lot of paperwork and a lot of lawyers,” he said.
Anderson judged the biggest blow from the budget cuts would be felt by the screen resource centres in each state which will lose direct funding over the next 18 months, He hopes state governments will make up the shortfall.
Screentime CEO Bob Campbell said, “Screen Australia has worked hard to keep the money on the screen and to reduce the cost of compliance.”
Red Dog producer Nelson Woss said, "I think the changes are rational given the tough situation with Federal funding. Giving producers more equity in projects, supporting business development and reducing red tape are all positive moves."
Jonathan Page, executive producer of The Babadook, The Infinite Man and 100 Bloody Acres, said, “I’m pleased that production funding is reasonably secure and recognise Screen Australia is under pressure to cut so, overall, it could be worse.”
Page lamented the $500,000 reduction in the P&A fund, observing, “I think that reducing the marketing support will affect some releases; however we didn’t have that a few years ago and distributors will still support strong films with P&A spend so, it’s not too dramatic. “
Freshwater Pictures' Trish Lake said, “Basically these changes make good sense if the agency has to make cuts. And I think marketing and understanding the psychology of audiences for Australian films is critical for all of us.”
Hilton concluded, “We're really lucky to have the support we have in Australia; reductions are definitely a negative but I think entitlement is even more dangerous. The production community needs to make the most of what we have, a 40% producer offset, as well as the millions that continue to go out the door in direct programs, which mean Australia is a great place to be making independent films.”