Screen Australia explains its investment process following criticism – Part 1

18 October, 2011 by Brendan Swift

When British crime writer Lynda La Plante took to the stage for a wide-ranging ABC Radio discussion earlier this month, few would have expected Screen Australia to feature so prominently.

But the government agency’s decision to reject her project about the last woman hanged in Australia (which had actor Nicole Kidman and director Gillian Armstrong attached), prompted a vitriolic attack from the eccentric creator of the successful Prime Suspect TV series.


Filmmaking is, if nothing else, a passionate business.

The government agency won’t talk about individual decisions – a stance it says protects the privacy of applicants. However, the government department contacted IF magazine shortly after La Plante’s outburst to explain its investment process, which is often criticised by filmmakers.

“We are very respectful of writers, producers and directors,” feature film consultant Matthew Dabner says of his and colleague Victoria Treole’s approach to evaluation.

“Before Victoria and I started the job, it was just a discussion between the evaluation manager… the producer and director – we’ve brought the writers into the conversation because we thought that’s helpful to have that voice in the room. We’ve brought the investment managers into those meetings so they are across various aspects of the production as well. So we do our absolute level best to be clear and fair.”

Dabner and Treole were appointed in January 2010, replacing previous assessors Scott Meek and Tristram Miall. Their assessment of eligible projects (which must have a marketplace attachment to get in the door) is the first in a three-part process.

Treole says they are very aware that people have often spent years of their lives working on the projects they are putting up for assessment.

“You always hope for a good outcome – you want people to be at their ease, you want to arm them with as much information as you are able to, to help them make the best decision about the next step.

“But we’re also charged with the responsibility to kind of interrogate the ambition of the project, vision of the team, the firmness of the financial attachments (the distribution and sales) – some people do find that very confronting but that’s our job.”

The filmmakers and the assessment team will discuss the project at one or two meetings. A wide array of factors comes into play including an analysis of the quality of the team and the project’s potential, as well as Screen Australia-specific issues such as the diversity of its overall slate, its cultural objectives, and talent escalation goals.

“Audience does sit in the centre of most of the major criteria,” Treole says.

Part two of this article is continued here.