Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA) president Brian Rosen has called on the industry to acknowledge that it is a manufacturer of creative content, which adds value to the economy in the same way as mining and tourism.

Rosen, opening this year’s SPAA conference in Sydney, said he was sick of hearing arguments that the local screen production sector was a cottage industry that only exists for cultural reasons. He instead called on the industry to embrace better financial models and creative processes which will boost content production, exports and create profitable businesses.

“I want us to be seen as an industry that has value in our economy, just like the mining industry or the car industry or the tourist industry,” he said.

“For us to succeed as an industry we need to start acknowledging that we are manufacturers of creative content. Each year we create thousands of hours of content, be that from current affairs, infotainment, comedy, drama, documentaries, feature films. The concept that we are manufacturers may offend our creative psyche but if we wish to lift ourselves out of the cultural ghetto that we are at times assigned to by government and patronised to by the agencies, who feel they are the Medicis of all things cultural, then we need to promulgate a position that firmly and squarely puts us in the same status as other manufacturing industries.

“We take great joy in ridiculing Hollywood as being the dream factory which sells out to the lowest common denominator for the sake of profit,. Well, at least they make a profit. But within that so-called creative sell-out is some of the best content in the world.”

His call comes as the government continues its convergence review, which is evaluating the regulations that apply to traditional media. It looms as a critical report for the future of local content.

Rosen called on the local industry to work with the free-to-air sector and pay-TV, which understand the value of local content better than telcos, and suggested that the 20 per cent Producer Offset tax rebate that applies to TV productions be doubled (which would bring it to the same level of subsidy as feature films). He also called for a lift in existing local content quotas (although broadcasters are largely arguing for a reduction).

“The industry needs to expand and the Producer Offset is the best and most efficient mechanism to manage that objective,” he said, while also calling on the Offset eligibility to be expanded to include a wider range of screen content, as well as games production.

Screen Australia is currently appealing a ruling by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that a local documentary, Lush House, should qualify for the Producer Offset. The government agency believes that “infotainment”, such as cleaning show Lush House, should not qualify.

“That Screen Australia is trying to define through the courts what is or is not a documentary is misconceived purism – a cultural hangover I believe from the Film Australia days,” Rosen said.

“At a time when we want our content to grow exponentially this is not the time to have cultural arguments as to how worthy a documentary has to be in order to qualify for the Producer Offset. Screen Australia’s role, like the FFC before it, is as an administrator of the Producer Offset and not as an arbiter of taste and their argument that they are concerned that to broad a definition will blow out budget estimates of the Producer Offset is not what they are charged with – that should be a direct discussion between the industry and the government.”

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