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Documentary Producer Program

The intention of the Producer program is to provide producers with the flexibility to drive projects both creatively and commercially, with Screen Australia funding as the foundation for growing and securing deals.

The program is designed to support innovative documentaries with a strong creative vision in the context of today’s evolving media and distribution landscape and the commercial realities of increasingly fragmented sources of finance.

It supports singles and series intended for broadcast, festival, theatrical, digital and multimedia audiences. Minimum budget is $120,000 per hour (or $120,000 in total for non-linear projects).

Screen Australia aims to fund 25–35 hours of content a year through this program.

Marketplace commitment is not required at application but projects will need to demonstrate a highly developed understanding of how they will reach and engage their target market and audience. See ‘Pathways to audience’.

What funding is available?

Any amount up to $750,000 may be requested. (For projects eligible for the Producer Equity program, the PEP payment will automatically form part of the Screen Australia contribution.)

There are no limits on the proportion of the budget Screen Australia can contribute under this program. However, other sources of finance are encouraged, and the assessment process will take into account the level of Screen Australia funding requested as a proportion of overall budget. Contributions might come from marketplace entities, as well as from state agencies, other government organisations, cultural institutions, international sources, private investors or other partners.

The program is open to applications for post-production as well as production. Screen Australia may decide to provide an amount of funding different from that applied for, based on its assessment of the project.

A minimum of 20 per cent of program funds will be reserved for projects with international finance. (There is no requirement for a minimum level of international finance for a project to request funds from the international reserve.)

Eligibility

In order to be competitively assessed for funding through this program, applicants and projects must meet the general eligibility requirements under Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade.

In addition, the project that is the subject of the application must:

  • be a documentary (see Information for applicants)
  • be intended for public release
  • have a total budget of at least $120,000 per hour (or $120,000 in total for non-linear projects)
  • not be
  • primarily a game
  • an extension to a film or TV program, or
  • content made for primarily for educational or training purposes.

Both one-off documentaries and series are eligible. However, more than 15 broadcast hours of any one project, which may include multiple series, will not be eligible for funding unless exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated.

Foreign formats are eligible, although the assessment criteria take originality of format into account.

The creative team responsible for the project must:

  • include one key principal who has at least two ‘eligible credits’ in their respective role (this may be the producer or director, or equivalent role relevant to the type of project).
  • For linear documentaries, and linear projects with multiplatform elements, an ‘eligible credit’ is a linear documentary, is half hour or longer in duration, and has:
  • been broadcast by a recognised broadcaster or channel, or
  • had a commercial theatrical release, or
  • been invited to screen at IDFA, Hot Docs or equivalent.

For interactive documentaries, an ‘eligible credit’ must be an equivalent project which has been publicly released.

Note that corporate, education, training or community access programs are not acceptable credits for eligibility purposes.

Less experienced practitioners may be part of the team, as long as at least one key principal is eligible as above. The intention is not to exclude new talent, but encourage them to team up with more experienced practitioners.

Broadcaster involvement: Screen Australia will not finance a production where the project has been developed by a broadcaster and sub-contracted at a later stage to a producer, except where chain of title resides with the producer. In addition, Screen Australia expects that key creatives (producer, writer, director, director of photography, editor) are not sourced from the staff of a free-to-air or pay television broadcaster or channel. 

Application and assessment process

Applications will be considered by Screen Australia executives in conjunction with industry specialists as required (see a list of documentary specialists here).

The assessment process is in two stages.

Stage 1 - Expressions of interest

Application materials:

You must apply using the expression of interest application form on the Screen Australia website, providing the following materials:

  • a three- to five-page proposal including:
  • an outline or treatment of the proposed documentary project making clear reference to structure, characters, and stylistic and visual approach (a good reference guide for what is a synopsis/outline can be found on the Screen Australia website)
  • the key principals’ vision for the project and how they plan to get it made and seen
  • 200-word bios and CVs for the creative team – the producer, writer and director, or equivalent key roles relevant to the project, and any other confirmed key personnel (DOP, editor, etc)
  • sample footage or sizzle reel (five minutes maximum) if available.
  • (optional) a simple talk-to-camera ‘video pitch’ of no more than two minutes, where key principals present their vision for the project.

Shortlisting:

Eligible expression of interest applications will be considered for shortlisting against the following criteria:

  • track record and capacity of the creative team
  • creative strength of the project, including:
  • the concept/idea – its distinctiveness, clarity of objectives
  •  the proposed realisation – level of boldness or innovation
  • cultural impact – its potential to create an impact beyond the first viewing, ie to inspire debate, insight or reflection, and/or create an enduring legacy for future generations.

Stage 2

Application materials:

If your project is shortlisted, you will be invited to submit further materials, which you must provide within two weeks. (Note that the project must be fully budgeted and production-ready, with a plan for how finance can be raised, but finance does not all have to be in place.)

  • a project proposal and/or scripts that demonstrate the project is production ready
  • a marketing and release plan (at least one page), including, as relevant, broadcast, film festival pathway, theatrical release and/or innovative distribution strategy (see Pathways to audience, page 8)
  • a production schedule and methodology, including appropriate milestones
  • a detailed budget and budget summary using the standard A-Z Budget format, available in Tools and insights for documentaries). Fees should comply with industry standards. They will be considered in the context of the budget and track record of the personnel.
  • a draft finance plan in the standard format available from the Screen Australia website, indicating which sources are confirmed.
  • a one-page narrative that explains how you intend to secure the finance
  • evidence of any confirmed sources of finance or marketplace commitment
  • releases from key subjects as applicable, and any other releases or access agreements
  • visual material, such as rushes or a rough cut of the film, where available
  • where there is Indigenous community participation or content involved in the project:
  • a statement setting out how you are approaching the Indigenous content or participation with regard to appropriate protocols, even if the content is not specific to a particular community or individual. You must demonstrate that you have a consultation plan covering the full production process and are following it. The statement should be based on the checklists available in Screen Australia’s guide Pathways & Protocols: a filmmaker’s guide to working with Indigenous people, culture and concepts
  • evidence of consultation to date
  • if the project will involve particular Indigenous individuals or communities, signed letters of consent confirming their willingness to participate.

Please note materials, including all AV materials, will not be returned, so applicants must ensure they keep copies of everything.

Funding decisions:

Shortlisted applications will be considered against the following criteria, taking into account the additional Stage 2 supporting materials:

  • Creative strength of the project, including:
  • the concept/idea – its distinctiveness, originality of format, clarity of objectives
  • the proposed realisation – depth of research, boldness of approach or level of innovation
  • quality of submitted production materials (script, treatment, footage, EPOC, etc as relevant).
  • The project’s relevance and resonance to audiences, including such factors as:
  • cultural significance for Australians
  • potential to create an impact  beyond its first viewing – ie, to inspire debate, insight or reflection and/or create an enduring legacy for future generations
  • ability to engage, challenge, entertain, inform and/or enlighten.
  • Viability of the project, including:
  • understanding of audience, release plan and demonstrated pathway to viewers
  • viability of the budget
  • strength of the finance plan, including the amount requested from Screen Australia as a proportion of the total budget, and the international component where relevant
  • revenue potential
  • Track record and capacity of the creative team.

Other factors, including availability of funds, diversity of slate and the gender and cultural diversity of the team also influence Screen Australia’s funding decisions.

Decisions on applications are final. Screen Australia will advise applicants in writing of the outcome of their application. Where an application is declined, the applicant will be advised of the reason.

Pathways to audience

Projects must be able to demonstrate a clear pathway to audience as part of their Stage 2 application. There should always be a credible pathway to Australian audiences, even for international projects.

For content with traditional marketplace attachments such as broadcast presales, festival investment or distributor guarantees, relevant agreements or letters of interest should be provided.

For non-traditional attachments, a described pathway to audience could involve:

  • demonstrated community of interest in topic
  • marketing plans
  • existing database and promotional channels
  • existing and potential partnerships with organisations tied to significant communities of interest
  • analytics of audience engagement in existing program related content and platforms (eg websites, social media channels and trailers).

For example, a VOD release on an obscure website would not be sufficient by itself. You would need to support this with proof of an established community of interest or audience being driven to the website by a marketing campaign.

Applicants proposing alternative pathways should submit copies of any marketing plans as well as provide detail on relevant mailing lists, audience analytics and/or existing partnerships with organisations.

Terms of funding

Screen Australia will provide a letter of interest to successful applicants, to allow producers to complete the project’s finance plan. This letter will set out the amount of Screen Australia’s contribution, which will not be varied other than in exceptional circumstances. The producer needs to secure the total finance plan or have a revised finance plan and budget approved by Screen Australia within an agreed period, generally four months from date of issue of the letter of approval. Where relevant, Provisional Producer Offset certification will also need to be obtained before funds can be released.

Where Screen Australia’s total contribution (including any development funds) is $500,000 or under, funding will be in the form of a grant:

  • Screen Australia does not take a share of receipts from projects funded under a grant, which means the funds do not have to be repaid other than in circumstances set out in the Terms of Trade.
  • The amount of the Screen Australia grant will be agreed upfront and not varied, other than in exceptional circumstances.
  • Screen Australia does not require a share of copyright in productions that it funds under a grant.

Where Screen Australia’s total contribution (including any development funds) is more than $500,000, funding will be in the form of recoupable equity investment, with copyright and recoupment terms in accordance with the agency’s Terms of Trade.

Note that Screen Australia will not be able to give unlimited extensions to producers to secure their finance and it’s expected that some approval letters will lapse.