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Documentary Production
Sources of Finance
Federal government funding

Next update July 2018

Titles by budget range  |  Producer Offset activity  |  Cashflowing the Offset

The Federal Government provides direct funding for documentaries through Screen Australia and indirect funding through the Australian Screen Production Incentive.

The federal funding landscape has undergone substantial change in recent years. Screen Australia was created from the merging of the Australian Film Commission, the Film Finance Corporation and Film Australia in July 2008, and the Australian Screen Production Incentive, comprising three streams – the Producer Offset, Location Offset and Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) Offset – was introduced in 2008, superseding earlier incentives such as 10BA. In addition, SBS Independent (SBSi), which commissioned Australian documentaries from the independent sector for screening on SBS, was incorporated into SBS’s Content (Television and Online) Division in 2007/08 and so no longer received separate funding.

Over the last nine years, Screen Australia provided finance (with or without the Producer Offset) to documentaries covering all budget ranges. Most Offset documentaries also had Screen Australia finance. Documentaries with ‘qualifying Australian production expenditure’ (QAPE) under $250,000 per hour are ineligible for the Producer Offset. Many titles in the <$250k/hr budget range without government funding were documentaries made inhouse by the broadcasters.

Administered by Screen Australia, the Producer Equity Program (PEP) was introduced in July 2011 for low-budget documentaries (ie with budgets of $500,000 or less) to replace the Producer Offset. Under PEP, producers of eligible Australian documentaries can receive a direct payment of funds equal to 20 per cent of the approved budget. The program has contributed 1 per cent of total funding in each of its three years in operation: 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16.


Producer Offset activity

The Producer Offset is available to producers of projects with ‘significant Australian content’ or official co-productions. This tax rebate is paid through the Australian production company’s income tax return once the project is completed. It is worth 20 per cent of QAPE for eligible non-feature documentaries that meet the ‘qualifying Australian production expenditure’ (QAPE) threshold.

The number of non-Offset single titles significantly increased in 2011/12 primarily due to a shift from the Producer Offset to the Producer Equity Program (see Number of titles with Federal Government funding by budget range for definition).

Between 2007/08 and 2015/16, projects accessing the Producer Offset accounted for 33 per cent of documentary titles and 66 per cent of total documentary production budgets.

Over the same period, Offset documentaries averaged $567,000 per hour, more than triple the cost of non-Offset productions ($184,000 per hour).


Cashflowing the Offset

As producers can only access the Producer Offset once the project is completed, they need to cashflow the portion of the budget that comprises the Offset.

Over the first nine years of the operation of the Offset, the main source of Offset cashflow for documentaries has been the film/TV industry, where production companies and broadcasters cover the Offset contribution from their own funds, including any overdraft facilities. Several specialised funds have also been established, focusing specifically on providing Offset cashflow