By Brendan Swift

Screen Australia has called on the government to raise its level of direct funding to bolster production of medium-budget films and documentaries.

The request forms part of the national screen agency's submission to the government's independent screen production sector review amid industry concerns about the level of support created by the Producer Offset tax rebate.

However, Screen Australia boss Ruth Harley said the Offset is generally working well although it cannot work alone. The rebate returns up to 40 per cent of qualifying expenditure to feature film producers and 20 per cent of qualifying expenditure to documentary and TV producers.

"For the Producer Offset to reach its potential, Screen Australia requires more direct funding to allow increased support for medium-budget films and authored documentaries,” Harley said in a statement.

The agency said there were no feature films made between the $15 – $30 million range without Screen Australia's support between 2007-08 to 2008-09, as the global credit crisis dried up the complex mix of funding which underpins mid-range budget films.

"Increased production of medium-budget films will help address local audience demands while generating greater international interest and attracting early buzz," Screen Australia's submission said.

"Medium-budget films are important to the development of sustainable production enterprises and the overall industry, permitting a stepping-stone from low to high-budget production and allowing talented filmmakers to become established."

The agency also said low-budget, one-off documentary productions do not attract sufficient marketplace support to be made without additional funding from Screen Australia, while the value derived from the Producer Offset does not justify the administrative burden.

It suggested a direct payment in the form of a grant could replace the Offset payment for one-off documentaries with an overall budget of $500,000 or less.

Innovative and entrepreneurial projects, which have low budgets or alternative distribution models, are also not being adequately supported by the Offset. Screen Australia suggested halving the $1 million Qualifying Australian Production Expenditure (QAPE) threshold for feature films as well as the single-episode program (non-theatrical drama) QAPE threshold.

The agency also called for the Offset to support the games sector. It suggested a hybrid Location/Producer Offset – governed by a modified Significant Australian Content (SAC) test focused on where the content is created rather than the subject – could support the sector.

More information, along with the full Screen Australia submission, can be found here.

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