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Review of Documentary funding
Round 2 Draft Guidelines

On 19 September, we released a second draft of our proposed new guidelines for documentary funding, and we’re keen to hear your views. The new draft reflects many of the ideas from the documentary community that came in through written submissions and discussion over the past six months.

The new programs respond to industry’s desire for both certainty and flexibility. They also recognise Screen Australia’s need to continue to fund projects that meet our objectives of quality, culture, innovation and diversity.

CEO Graeme Mason said, “We have refined the guidelines to respond to industry feedback while sharpening our focus in the context of reduced funds. We are pleased that our biggest partners in this area, the ABC and SBS, have expressed indicative support for these guidelines, and we look forward to receiving final comments over the next three weeks from the sector."

Download Round 2 Guidelines

The draft includes notes to help explain the thinking behind the new programs.

Comments were open until 10 October 2014. Read submissions received

We aim to release final guidelines in November, and the first funding round for all new programs will have a closing date of 30 January 2015.


Initial consultation included:

  • the launch of a comprehensive discussion paper at AIDC by Screen Australia in February 2014
  • a plenary session that involved all AIDC delegates, open round table discussions at AIDC and specific stakeholder engagement
  • ongoing consultation over six weeks that lead to 25 submissions.

Following on from initial consultation, Screen Australia:

  • sought views on new proposed models from a range of filmmakers, practitioners, commissioners and decision makers
  • released draft guidelines, proposing a new model, for public comment
  • received 33 submissions, both private and public, on the draft guidelines by 18 July 2014
  • responded to divided opinion about the draft guidelines, by agreeing to develop a further draft drawing on industry feedback, and to work under existing guidelines for the remainder of 2014
  • issued new draft guidelines on 19 September and opened up again for industry comment,  with a view to finalising guidelines for implementation in 2015.

Submissions on the discussion paper and first draft guidelines were published online unless they were submitted confidentially. Read submissions

Feedback on first draft guidelines

Screen Australia’s previous draft documentary guidelines sought to encourage new funding models, grow the pie, support new ways to reach audiences and continue tell great stories on traditional and non-traditional platforms.

Documentary content covers a spectrum from one-off, auteur-driven, challenging treatments of issues for niche audiences to more accessible, often constructed factual series that are currently popular with audiences and commissioners. Content ranging across this spectrum is unlikely to benefit from static programs in an evolving landscape, and the guidelines explored some bold new ways to encourage a range of approaches. 

Some stakeholders found those guidelines to be innovative and supportive of diversity in documentary production while others thought that the uncertainty would be too disruptive at a time when the industry is under pressure.

Submissions offered a range of diverse opinions across a number of key issues including:

  • funding foreign formats
  • broadcaster allocations
  • local broadcast licence fee minimums
  • budget threshold levels, particularly in the proposed Premium fund
  • the definition of marketplace
  • the producer equity program and concurrent funding from other programs
  • funding allocations for international programs to grow the pie for Australian production.

The ‘round 2’ guidelines were drafted in this context, and include explanatory notes help you to understand how we have responded to and addressed the issues raised.

Screen Australia acknowledges that any funding program is unlikely to fully satisfy every stakeholder in a very passionate industry. Documentary production, however, operates with a set of relationships between content creators, audiences, broadcasters and investors that rely on effective partnerships to move forward.  As Graeme Mason noted back in February:

  • Screen Australia has a key role in the development of documentary in Australia, but we don’t hold all the levers. We also cannot be all things to all people. We cannot provide incomes – especially to the huge number of people operating in this sector, again larger than any other area we deal with.
  • We recognise we operate in an ecosystem in which producers, directors, commissioners, schedulers and channel controllers, festivals, investors, and government (via the Offsets) all play crucial roles.

What’s changed?

We’ve taken feedback on board and looked at a range of funding models that best support the aspirations of content creators, broadcasters, businesses and investors in telling great stories for Australian and international audiences.

Two new programs supporting documentary production are proposed:

  • Producer program: Supports singles and series for distribution across broadcast, festival, theatrical, digital, i-doc and transmedia platforms. Minimum budget of $120,000 per hour. Maximum Screen Australia contribution of $750,000. Finance does not have to be confirmed at application (Screen Australia is ‘first in’).
    Notional allocation: $5–6 million
  • Broadcast program: Supports singles and series intended specifically for broadcast television release. Minimum budget of $250,000 per hour. Maximum Screen Australia contribution of $1 million. Minimum licence fees apply. Broadcaster contribution and any other finance must be in place at application (Screen Australia is ‘last in’).
    Notional allocation: $9–10 million (45 per cent for projects to be broadcast on the ABC, 40 per cent for SBS projects and 15 per cent for other platforms)

The Producer Equity program will continue to be available in conjunction with other Screen Australia funding, and funding for documentary development is also available.

Overall, the proposed new programs:

  • continue to support the production of significant Australian content in documentary, assessed via a holistic test taking into account subject matter, location of production, nationality of creatives and expenditure
  • recognise the importance of both the broadcaster and the producer in finding pathways to audience
  • focus on the Screen Australia policy objectives of quality, cultural value, innovation and diversity, bringing the creative assessment that Screen Australia has always conducted into sharper relief in the context of reduced funds (with a $1.1 million reduction in the funds available to documentary)
  • no longer use matched funding as a basis for determining Screen Australia’s contribution (any amount can be provided, up to a specified limit)
  • include strategies to incentivise international finance.

The Broadcast program in particular:

  • provides certainty by reintroducing the notional funding allocation for domestic broadcasters, to support projects that offer a compelling vision and have enduring value beyond initial broadcast
  • raises the minimum licence fee thresholds in line with changes since they were introduced in 2010 (these were always intended to increase in line with CPI).

Send comments to Feedback by 10 October 2014. We aim to release final guidelines in November, and the first funding round for all new programs will have a closing date of 30 January 2015.