The Australian screen industry achieves great things. We have extraordinary talent, strong creative vision, excellent crews and savvy businesses. We enjoy the benefits of screen incentives that have seen expenditure by local narrative production increase 58 per cent since 2008; a regulatory system that ensures local content on television, reaching big audiences – one night of local drama earlier this year captured 5.7 million Australian viewers; and a growing digital production sector recognised for its innovation, winning four Digital Emmys® in five years.
Screen Australia support underpins 50 per cent of all local narrative screen projects – feature films, TV drama, children’s drama and documentaries – and helps to increase ambition, promote risk-taking and support significant cultural content that would not be provided by the market alone. Such support is vital in an environment where the economics of screen production result in foreign programs costing far less in this country than Australian-made productions. Without government support, Australian screen production becomes unviable, and audiences would have less choice and less access to compelling and relevant content.
A healthy volume of production activity generates significant economic benefits and an industry able to hone its skills through ongoing work. It also delivers immeasurable cultural benefits. It shows us that our stories matter and can inspire distinctive treatment of issues that help shape our understanding of the world. The ambition underlying all this activity is to move, inspire, inform and connect audiences.
Audiences are seeking this connection in new places, however, and we have to find ways to ensure that strong local content is there to meet them, accessible on new platforms, and delivered through the most effective mechanisms of distribution. We need an industry that is agile and prepared for the changes that are upon us, while drawing on the enduring skills of creative vision, craft, and an ability to reach audiences.
We have recently reviewed our funding programs to adapt our approach to both the evolving needs of industry and shifts in audience behaviour. The Enterprise Program now supports three strands – People, Stories and Growth – with a focus on industry attachments, the creation of original IP through high-level writing initiatives, and new business development models to extend the capacities of our industry. Production funding will sharpen its focus on stories that matter: innovative, risk-taking projects that identify and build talent; culturally significant, intrinsically Australian stories that resonate with local audiences; and high-end ambitious projects that reflect Australia to the world.
Screen Australia is introducing changes that respond to a new budget environment and focus on our core business. We are streamlining our operations and making processes simpler and easier for industry, and to the greatest extent possible we have tried to maintain funding for on-screen production. We have also had to make difficult decisions, including a further 10 per cent reduction in staff, cuts to professional development and marketing initiatives, transitioning away from funding industry training organisations, and a relatively small reduction in production investment and project development. Key changes are listed here.
There are challenges before us, but I also see great potential. We will back our creative talent to capitalise on opportunities and take more Australian stories out to the world. We will grow the pie for Australian production by facilitating international collaborations, using advantages such as our talent and our world-class production reputation. We will reduce process as much as possible and step out of the way of industry, providing more funding as grants, with no copyright interest, so that producers keep more revenue from their productions. We will encourage new models of digital production and distribution that ensure our industry continues to evolve with its audiences.
I look forward to working with all of you to help realise this potential and to continue to inspire our collective imaginations into the future.
CEO, Screen Australia
24 July 2014