Impending changes to the regulatory environment could negatively impact the type of stories that are told by documentary filmmakers, but the sector’s ability to adapt should not be underestimated, according to a Screen Forever panel.
The challenges facing documentary makers were discussed at length today as part of a session entitled ‘How to Find Money for Your Must-Tell Doco’.
Wildbear Entertainment executive producer and principal Veronica Fury, Docplay and Madman Entertainment CEO Paul Wiegard, and Screen Australia investment and development manager Andrew Arbuthnot gave their views on what it takes to get projects off the ground in today’s climate.
Towards the end of the forum, the speakers were asked whether they thought the harmonising of the Producer Offset at 30 per cent would lead to more documentaries being financed.
Fury, whose company Wildbear works across film and TV, said while the proposed changes were “foundational”, there was hope that producers would adjust to ensure previous opportunities were not lost.
“At Wildbear, we always pivot; we’re survivors,” she said.
“We do television and feature docs, but the feature docs are my passion projects and I’d hate to think I wouldn’t get a show up that I’d previously been able to in the past.
“Moving forward, we’ll be doing our financing based on the new models and just start working backwards.
“We just have to look at what we can potentially raise and whether we are eligible to apply for some funding at a state or federal agency.”
Wiegard was less optimistic, noting that the proposed raising of the QAPE threshold to $1 million would make it difficult for aspiring filmmakers to get a foothold.
“If the changes that are touted go through, it will become difficult for people entering the industry because who is going to back a first-time documentary filmmaker for a project that will go well over $1 million?” he said.
“There have been some extraordinary works come through in the last couple of years that ended up having a major social impact that I don’t see getting made because they do not have the backing.
“I don’t think it is a complete market failure but it is disproportionate and unfair to a lot of projects.
“There definitely needs to be some tweaks made to the proposed media reforms.”
Madman has recently distributed successful docos such as The Australian Dream, Mystify: Micahel Hutchence, and Gurrumul.
Wiegard said the films it backs locally need an international audience to “make sense of the numbers”.
“A film such as Gurrumul, which is an extraordinary piece of cinema, was difficult to place internationally,” he said.
“Those are the films that will be knocked around a bit with these reforms.
“In terms of our investment, it will be driven by international potential.”
For his part, Arbuthnot said Screen Australia was “looking at the positives” of where the industry was at.
“The industry is very healthy at the moment,” he said.
“In terms of the reforms, the information we have is the government is going ahead with them and that’s all we know.”