Screen Australia reveals low recoupment levels as budget cuts squeeze funding
Screen Australia counts commercial elements/market-driven appeal among the eight criteria for its feature film funding decisions.
By that yardstick alone, the agency’s track record has not been stellar recently, according to data released this week on the 19 films it supported in 2014/15.
Of those, 11 received production investment ranging from $1.19 million- $2 million and eight got grants of up to $500,000.
While Screen Australia rightly points out it is early days to judge the financial performance of those releases, to date only four of the 11 have recouped some of their budgets.
Head of production Sally Caplan says she expects to recoup just 6 per cent- 8 per cent of its investment annually.
In the past three financial years the agency earned between $5.3 million and $6.5 million from investing in film, TV and documentary projects. On the plus side, that was enough to support an additional three films and two TV series.
Illustrating the pressure on the agency’s funding, the 35 projects submitted so far in 2017/18 are seeking a total of $39.46 million. That is more than double the $18.27 million available for production and completion for the entire financial year. The final deadline for applications this fiscal year is April 6.
Cuts in government funding of $51.1 million over the last four years initially were absorbed by lowering operating costs but are now having an impact on production funding levels, Caplan noted.
This fiscal year the agency received $81.85 million in taxpayer funding, down from $84.44 million the previous year.
Of eight films for which information was available on international sales estimates, one had earned zero from post-financing sales, one had taken more than double its estimate while the other six had earned revenue of 7 per cent-40 per cent of their estimates. The average was 26 per cent, which in Test or first class cricket terms would not be a great batting average.
The other funding criteria are cultural merit, regionalism, innovation and risk, female balancing, diversity, talent development and career building, and established talent.
The more of those boxes that each application ticks, the harder it is for Screen Australia to say no, according to Caplan. Expanding on the commercial/market-driven benchmark, she told the agency’s web site. “Big, top-quality commercial films can be good for our brand politically and financially. Potential recoupment is not the cornerstone of what we do but it is increasingly important because of the budget cuts.”
She advises producers to ask for less than $2 million- which is the cap on each feature project. CEO Graeme Mason has the final say on investments of up to $1 million. Projects that seek more than $1 million are referred, with recommendations, to the board, which usually concurs.
The organisation has invested $2 million in Simon Baker’s Breath, which Roadshow will launch on May 3, and $1.19 million in Paul Currie’s 2.22, which begins a limited theatrical run on February 22 followed by premium VOD.
Among the other 2014/2015-funded projects:
Deane Taylor’s Blinky Bill the Movie had Screen Australia investment of $1.2 million and achieved Australian BO of $2.91 million via StudioCanal. Of the 11 films it was No. 1 in both Australian and rest of the world grosses and recoupment as a percentage of budgets.
Rachel Perkins’ Jasper Jones. Investment, $1.63 million; Oz BO $2.7 million via Madman.
Simon Stone’s The Daughter. Investment, $1.61 million; BO $1.75 million via Roadshow.
Jeffrey Walker’s Ali’s Wedding. Investment, $1.81 million; BO $1.41 million via Madman.
Tim Ferguson and Marc Gracie’s Spin Out. Investment $1.27 million; BO $685,000 via Sony.
Abe Forsythe’s Down Under. Investment, $1.66 million; BO $162,000 via StudioCanal.
Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome. Investment, $2 million; BO $265,000 via eOne. However it was the top title in revenues from international post-financing sales.
Greg McLean’s Jungle. Investment, $1.65 million; BO $66,000 via Umbrella Entertainment. But the thriller was the top-earner in pre-sales revenues and a very high proportion of the BO came from outside Australia, particularly Russia.
Five of the 11 secured pre-sales ranging from $53,000 to $2.72 million, averaging about $1 million.
Ten attracted post-financing revenues from the rest of the world, ranging from about $100,000 to nearly $3 million. The average is about $1 million and the number of deals per film varied from two to 21.