The legacy of Dr Ruth

24 October, 2013 by Don Groves

Ruth Harley steps down as CEO of Screen Australia on November 8 convinced that the agency and the screen industry are in much healthier shape than when she started five years ago.

Dr Harley is not claiming the credit for the industry’s achievements but she takes justifiable pride in a number of Screen Australia’s initiatives including the enterprise program that supports screen businesses; the Indigenous department’s success in nurturing talent and film and TV drama projects; the new scheme to help producers develop high-end TV series with international partners; and the agency’s assistance to the games/multi-media sector.

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Collectively Screen Australia staff and board members can take some of the credit for the overall improvement of Australian films at the Oz B.O. Local product has grossed an average of $46.3 million per year from 2008-2012, up 63% on the $28.3 million average in the previous five years.

“We have far more films going out on 100-plus prints than we did have,” she tells IF. “We had a very niche slate when I arrived and a niche audience reach as a result. The slate is much broader and more diverse.”

The record spending on Australian TV drama in 2012-13 is one of the high points of her reign. “I am enormously excited about where [the industry] has got to with television drama,” she says, “partly because of the quality of the material, partly because of the audiences and partly because we are taking our seat at the international table.”

She is delighted with the level of international sales of Australian TV programs and formats, and notes that Netflix has bought Top of the Lake, Mako: Island of Secrets and a third show which she declines to name.

Harley says she is working collaboratively with Graeme Mason, the NZFC CEO who takes the reins on November 11, on matters such as appointing new heads of production and legal affairs.

She acknowledges that presiding over the merger of the Film Finance Corp., the Australian Film Commission and Film Australia to form Screen Australia was challenging. “Getting three agencies into one was hard for everybody,” she says. “I believe we now have the agency that the policy people who thought up the merger envisioned.”

She says Screen Australia’s costs have been reduced by 40%, which implies a leaner and more efficient organisation.

The CEO pays tribute to the agency’s research and data collecting functions, noting there was a risk when the merger occurred that the research role could have been hived off to AFTRS.

As for the future, she plans to remain in Sydney and assemble a portfolio of interests, not seek another full-time executive position. "I feel like having a bit more variety," she says.
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