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Documentary development

Screen Australia’s Documentary Development program assists documentary makers to achieve planned outcomes for the development of their projects.

This could include further research, writing the next draft of a script or treatment, strategic shooting and/or editing to attract marketplace development or production finance, or compiling a sizzle reel.

The program is primarily focused on providing development support to one-off and series documentary including online and interactive.

Screen Australia does not invest in programs such as reality or magazine television, light entertainment, panel or travel shows, infotainment, current affairs, cooking, ‘how to’, sports, corporate, training, games, extensions to film or TV, or community access programs or projects whose primary market is the education sector.

What funding is available?

Applicants may apply for any amount up to $30,000.

Who can apply?

Applicants must meet the general eligibility requirements set out in Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade. In addition:

For one-off or series documentaries intended for significant audience reach such as a recognised Commissioning Platform or commercial theatrical release:

  • Sole applicants must have at least two ‘eligible credits’ in the role of producer or director
  • In the case of teams, one of the key creatives must have at least two ‘eligible credits’ in their respective role (this may be the producer or director, or an equivalent role relevant to the type of project).

An ‘eligible credit’ under this program must be:

  • a documentary project that is 30 minutes or longer in duration, and has: 

  • been broadcast by a recognised broadcaster or channel or Commissioning Platform, or
  • had a commercial theatrical release, or
  • been invited to screen at IDFA, Hot Docs or equivalent.

For interactive or online documentaries:

  • Producers of interactive or online projects must discuss their project with an Investment/Development Manager before applying for development funding
  • You should be a team that comprises of at least a director and a producer
  • The director and producer must have at least one credit in their respective roles on an equivalent documentary project which has been publicly released
  • In exceptional circumstances, you may be able to apply as an individual who is the director and producer with the same credits on an equivalent documentary project that has been publicly released. Please discuss your eligibility with an Investment/Development Manager before applying.

Note that reality or magazine television, light entertainment, panel or travel shows, infotainment, current affairs, cooking, ‘how to’, sports, corporate, training, games, extensions to film or TV, or community access programs or projects whose primary market is the education sector 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.

Time-critical funding – by invitation only: Producers must consult with an Investment/Development Manager about applying for time-critical funding (including funding for time-critical shooting). Applications outside of the scheduled rounds can only be submitted by invitation.

A convincing rationale will be required, setting out:

  • what the funding is to be used for
  • why the expenditure is vital to the realisation of the project and
  • why the timing is critical.

Strong marketplace interest, including broadcast, must be demonstrated.

Unsolicited applications will not be accepted for consideration outside a development funding round.

Further funding: Generally, projects funded under this program may only reapply for further development funding if they have confirmed matching marketplace funds (i.e. from broadcaster(s), distributors, sales agents or other credible marketplace entities), and such applications will be considered in the light of the advancement and the overall viability of the project.

What is the process?

You must apply using the Application Portal available on the Screen Australia website, providing all the materials requested.

Applications can be submitted by the deadline posted on the website and must include:

  • A maximum five page proposal including an outline or treatment of the proposed documentary project making clear reference to structure, characters and stylistic and visual approach
  • Development notes describing the stage and intended materials to be developed together with the rationale for these materials and a proposed finance strategy describing how the materials created in this development phase will be used to secure further development or production finance or support
  • 2-3 page CVs for all key team members
  • Examples of the director’s previous work
  • A proposed pathway to audience: A short paragraph on who the audience is for the project, how will you build this audience, raise awareness of the project, and how the audience will access the project initially and then in the longer term. This does not have to be confirmed but you need to think strategically especially if you intend to apply for production funding through Screen Australia.

Applications are considered by Screen Australia executives and/or industry specialists consulted as required. Funding decisions will be normally made within 6 weeks against the following equally weighted criteria:

  • track record and capacity of the creative team including the ability to fund production
  • the strength of the idea and the fit with the aims of quality, culture and/or innovation
  • the appropriateness of the proposed development strategy and use of Screen Australia funds at this stage of development
  • understanding of audience, and pathway to viewers.

Other factors, including availability of funds, diversity of slate and the gender and cultural diversity of the team may 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.

Unless invited to reapply (in the context of managing available funds), projects can only be submitted more than once if substantial changes have been made, and any more than two applications for the same project will not be accepted.

Terms of funding

Funding through this program is provided as a grant.

Where Screen Australia subsequently provides production funding, its contribution to the development phase will be recognised in the production budget and will become part of Screen Australia’s total funding for the project. Screen Australia’s total contribution will then be treated as a grant or recoupable investment according to the terms of trade and guidelines for production funding.

Where the project goes into production without further Screen Australia support, the development funding provided by Screen Australia is not repayable.

You must list all of your Chain of Title documents in the application form. If over the course of the development tranches, you receive $50,000 or over of combined funding, you may be required to submit a solicitor’s opinion letter.

Sector Development

Screen Australia will also continue to seek ways to strengthen and advance Australian documentary storytelling and its practitioners through special initiatives such as workshops, forums and other events, conducted by Screen Australia or in partnership with state bodies, industry organisations or other entities. Past examples include the Doco180 joint initiative with News Limited and the Art Bites joint initiative with the ABC. Stay in touch via Screen Australia’s e-news, like us on on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter.

General Information for applicants


What is a documentary?
For the purposes of these guidelines, Screen Australia will have regard to the guidelines compiled by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). These guidelines are available on the ACMA website.

Screen Australia does not invest in programs such as reality or magazine television, light entertainment, panel or travel shows, infotainment, current affairs, cooking, ‘how to’, sports, corporate, training, games, extensions to film or TV, or community access programs or projects whose primary market is the education sector.

Applying for funding
Applicants and projects must meet the general eligibility and delivery requirements set out in Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade, as well as the specific requirements of these guidelines. With the exception of official Co-Productions, it is Screen Australia’s expectation that applications for direct funding will demonstrate that the project is written and directed by Australian citizens or residents. Applications must be made on the relevant application form, and include all supporting material listed on that form.

This includes those without finalised finance plans in place with associated letters of offer.

Unless invited to reapply (in the context of managing available funds), projects can only be submitted more than once if substantial changes have been made, and any more than two applications for the same project will not be accepted.

Budgets
Format: Budgets must be presented in the A-Z Budget format, using the Screen Australia template. Fees should comply with industry norms. They will be considered in the context of the budget and track record of the key creatives and crew.

Production budgets must include:

  • Contingency: Contingency is set at 10 per cent.
  • Completion Guarantor: Screen Australia reserves the right to require a completion guarantor.
  • Delivery items: Allowance must be made for delivery items specified for Screen Australia, the Commissioning Platform and NFSA, as well as for sales company deliverables and other delivery items as required. See Terms of Trade for details.
  • Study guides: The cost of a study guide must be included in the budget as a line item of $2,750 per hour. If the publisher decides not to create a study guide, the $2,750 can be applied to marketing expenses. The producer must seek Screen Australia’s approval of the choice of publisher (ATOM is pre- approved).
  • Promotions and marketing: Budgets should allocate an appropriate marketing spend fit for purpose.

Indigenous community participation or content
Where there is Indigenous community participation or content involved in the project applicants should provide:

  • 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
  • signed letters of consent confirming their willingness to participate if the project will involve particular Indigenous individuals or communities.

Official co-productions

Projects approved as official co-productions are eligible for, but not automatically guaranteed, Screen Australia support.

As co-productions have access to more than one domestic market, they must bring a higher level of genuine market attachment to the budget.

IMPORTANT: The Australian co-producer must lodge an application for provisional approval as a co-production with Screen Australia before applying for production funding. Provisional approval is required before the decision meeting at which the project will be considered for funding, although some flexibility is allowed if approval is delayed due to circumstances outside the control of the producer or Screen Australia.

See Co-productions.

Contact an Investment Manager:

Before applying to Screen Australia for development funding, it is essential that you contact an Investment Manager to discuss your project. Contact the Program Operations team if you are unsure who to speak with: 1 800 507 901 or email Documentary.