Draft Program Guidelines
Comments received Tuesday 28 October
From Ian Brown
Having gone through the documents, I am left in absolute despair of the continual mantra stating that projects must have 'cultural merit'. This is, and has absolutely proven to be, the single most inneffective and self-destructive directive in the whole of the industry for many, many reasons. It's an anachronism handed down from the government to make spending vast sums on what is essentially entertainment justifiable.
And it simply does not work.
For a start, it is completely immeasurable and subjective. No-one - certainly none of even the best of our cultural ambassadors - is able to adequately define what Australian Culture is, and to have this as a quantifiable measure in a document such as this is head-smackingly useless.
Take a moment, lean back, and describe what 'Australian culture' is in less than a paragraph. Expecting a body to evaluate dozens of projects with this as a directive simply won't work - just as it hasn't worked for many years.
But the worst thing about having this as a prerequisite is that it almost always backfires and ruins many, potentially interesting projects.
Let's say a creative team has a good idea. They want funding. They think they don't have enough 'culturally relevant' material in the project.
So they put some in.
But it's fake, ersatz Australian culture. It's not organic to the project. It's what producers are thinking is Australian culture to get their projects past the gatekeepers. It's probably the single biggest reason there are so many detestable social-realist films in our output, so many larrikin comedies, all trying to be 'culturally relevant'.
I'm reminded of certain tribes in New Guinea. Tourists pay to come out to see them in their huts, using their stone tools. As soon as the tourist landrovers disappear over the hill they put on their hawiian shirts and get back to their iPods. The point is that it's all a fake, their real 'culture' is whatever they happen to be doing at the time. This is what 'culture' means.
Please don't let Screen Australia be those tourists, demanding New Guinea tribes adhere to an outlook they no longer identify with.
If an Australian makes a film, whatever it's subject matter, then it is - by definition - Australian Culture.
From Melanie Coombs
ELIGIBILITY: Who are these Experienced Producers? In both areas (Enterprise and Project by Project) there needs to be an acknowledgement that Experienced Producers often work across genres and that these credits across genres should be commonly acknowledged. If these ‘cross genre credits’ are not accepted then companies that have cleverly diversified their production slate making shorts and documentaries and television drama building towards feature film making (for example) are being punished not rewarded for their ‘enterprise’. Forcing “shotgun weddings” of EP’s and Experienced Producers who do not need EP’s, is not the role of the Agency.
In addition, the credits counting towards this eligibility must have been produced within the last ten (10) years.
SHORT FILM PRODUCTION: this notional budget should be $1 million per year, NOT $160K. While I can see that the idea could be that between the cashed up ‘Enterprise’ Producers and the State agencies should fund all Short projects, this is not realistic. Nor is there any reason to privilege animation over short drama or doco. And I say that as a producer of animation. Either fund this area properly or do not fund it, but please don’t fund it to fail.
The history of Australian film and TV shows us that filmmakers do not move to long form projects without at least one great well funded short project behind them. The common exception in this area is the (almost exclusively) nice white middle class boys who work in Advertising. If Screen Australia is genuine about fostering diversity it MUST recognise that these short film programs are an essential part of the development of film makers who don’t work in Ad-land. OUR industry is one of the whitest, most middle class industries in the country. Are we really telling representatively Australian stories?
And certainly many of the ‘low budget’ feature film makers whose films we sat through at the AFI screenings this year would be better off making a funded short instead of their current features which waste the resources of the wider industry and will never be seen by the general audience. Screen Australia should be looking at finding out why these filmmakers feel so alienated from the Agencies that they go it alone, and usually make un-distributable features.
Short Animation Production: The proposed rate is funding projects to fail. It’s not enough money to make stop motion for example. The $80K needs to be put up to $200K at the very least – otherwise it’s not worth having. Harvie Krumpet (23mins) cost $377,000 five years ago.
Short Drama and Short Doco Production: These are invaluable stepping stones for filmmakers careers. Again need to be $200K to be of professional value for Short Drama, and $100K to be of professional value for Short Doco. Unless the films are funded at this level the schemes should not exist at all as they are of no development value.
Workshops: Make sure we don’t see anymore ‘Keep Your Wits About You’ schemes that favour one Production Company/Distributor over others, and that are delivering workshops that give one company access to new projects from around the country, but do not require them to make any commitment to any of them.
Fellowships: This money should be spent on Shorts production or a New Writers Scheme, not funds for old mates between projects.
CONTRACTING/CASHFLOW OFFICER: The most important issue to be addressed in Production is CONTRACTING and CASHFLOWING. The agency MUST have a dedicated officer who tracks and chases contracts so that the current situation where Producers cash flow their projects, ceases IMMEDIATELY. The damage this does to people and projects is completely detrimental to the success of their businesses, projects and personnel and is THE MOST IMPORTANT change that needs to be made. Under the current conditions filmmakers arrive that the START of their projects completely and totally demoralised, impoverished and exhausted. Clearly, this is not conducive to good work. No other industry would accept the current situation as the status quo.
Screen Australia MUST take a leadership role in this, as Producers, particularly when they are in such a vulnerable state, are unable to insist that Sales Agent, Distributors, State Agencies and their various lawyers move contracts forward, while Screen Australia as a major investor is. It is a INDUSTRY DISGRACE that a PIA can take 6 months to contract. AND YES I AM SHOUTING!
It is of great concern to me that the area of marketing has not been addressed at all at this time – except for the Indigenous area. In other countries the funding split is something like 1/3 for Development, 1/3 for Production and 1/3 for Marketing. If we lock down the first two areas, necessarily making choices about funding levels, this leaves the all important Marketing area an after thought rather than a key part of the whole.
Melanie Coombs: Producer