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Review of programs and guidelines
Draft Program Guidelines 2008/09
INdustry Comments

Comments received Wednesday 29 October

From Jeremy Atcliffe

My notes - Feature Films.

1. Screen Australia is trying to do everyone’s job for them showing a distinct lack of trust of the industry resulting in greater bureaucracy and stifling the creative process. If you insist on a Completion Bond then let that company worry about a projects schedule and budget - that's why we pay them! If you insist on Local and International distribution by "recognised" companies then we need to make them responsible for "Audience potential" and "distribution strategy" - find a way to raise the stakes for them and this should happen naturally.

2. If you are going to recognise experience it should not put one production ahead of another (everything else being equal) but it should exempt that producer from jumping through so many hoops. In fact an experienced team is better placed to asses a project on many of the criteria, such as "viability of the proposed budget" than Screen Australia is.

3. The Producers Rebate was intended to bring more commerciality into the industry. If Screen Australia controls the rebate by keeping two thirds of the margin they will remove any chance of the rebate benefiting the industry. The rebate should give a producer some carrots, to do deals as they see fit, attracting new players into the industry. If they have a desirable product or are a good negotiator they might get to keep the carrots for themselves. A few instances of producers making profits will change our industry dramatically. The current plan for the rebate simply creates a cash flow cost, effectively lowering production budgets.

4. The overview sounds more like a production company than a funding body. Screen Australia needs to either, let go and allow the industry to grow up, or employ us all directly and produce the content itself, it’s too restrictive to try to have it both ways.

I'd also like to echo Ian Browns comments on 'cultural merit'.

Jeremy Atcliffe

From Jessica Douglas-Henry

What the draft program guidelines point to, flagged by Peter Garrett in his June speech at MIFF, is a shift towards the U.K. model that supports bigger companies who become the conduit to broadcasters at the expense of smaller production companies that can only access broadcasters through the bigger fish. The knock on effect of this is that it could lead to homogenous content.

If the PTO is to have any real benefit in creating sustainable businesses for documentary makers who fall under the description of "small businesses" (i.e. not the medium sized or larger companies) then the PTO for documentaries must be increased to 40%

As one of the increasing number of documentary producers raising their own finance to cashflow the PTO I would like to outline how limited the benefits are with the offset at 20%. Once the lawyers and accountants have been paid and the management of the application process has been completed the actual dollar value of the PTO is negligible. Yes my company has equity in the project, and that's great, but let's be realistic about what sorts of returns most of us are likely to make from our documentaries.

The news about Gil Scrine's distribution initiative is excellent, and Sue Maslin's move to take distribution into her own hands is commendable, but neither of these models is likely to generate the sort of returns that would come from a much needed policy review that gives documentary parity with features.

Jessica Douglas-Henry
Iris Pictures

From Chryssy Tintner

Dear Screen Australia,

I am a development executive and writer, an Aussie trained at USC in LA, with both studio and indie experience in Oz, the US and the EU. I was working at Ardmore Studios in Dublin when the Irish Film Board brought in slate funding, for one of the recipient slate funding companies, and am currently working at Fox Studios Australia. I am on the NSW Committee of the AWG.

The major issues for writers concerning the new emphasis on project development funding could be:

1. Developing and intermediate level screenwriters cannot apply for project funding unless they are part of a team with a producer/director, although they may be the creative initiator of a project.

2. Experienced writers in another field like playwrights, novelists or journalists cannot apply for project funding unless they are part of a team with a producer/director, although they may be the creative initiator of a project.

3. Producers have been given the focus for project development funding, regardless of whether they are the creative initiator of a project (in the case of commissioning a project or the purchasing of rights to an adaptation for instance), or lending their experience to a completed draft of a screenplay. In terms of copyright, this means that the producer will always control the rights at the start of the script development process, regardless of their role in the creation of the material. This is a government intervention in the market, intefering in the legal process of private contracts, and our capacity to develop a market for scripts at a later stage of development.

4. What is the nature of "experience" and who has provided these definitions? Is experience the same thing as talent?

The major issues for development concerning the new emphasis on slate funding could be:

1. There is no requirement for the new slate funded entities to have a creative/business qualified development executive with experience of slate funding (as is the case with a number of other slate funding initiatives overseas). What is the accountability for the spending of public funds if there is no such requirement?

2. As there are no cultural objectives in the section on slate funding, we must presume the slate funding is intended to be commerical in nature as it lasts for 3 years, and there seems to be an implication of self finance following that time. Will this result in a reduction in the numbers of culturally relevant Australian stories that are not Indigenous? For instance when the Irish scheme for slate funding was introduced, I think digital project funding increased and separate funds were set aside for Irish language projects and programming to ensure this was not harmed by the commercial objectives for the slate funding, plus the slate funders were actively encouraged to make projects at a variety of budget levels. This feels like positive discrimination re Indigenous to me - what about multicultural and other objectives? Is everything except Indigenous programming now up to the slate funding producers?

3. There is an implication that the slate funding is intended to be self financing after the 3 years of funding from a cold start. Most start ups with slate production aim for 12 projects in various stages of development, production and exhibition cycles, to ensure there is always some income baring content. It is highly unlikely that 12 projects from a cold start could attain production within 3 years, and the exhibition cycle often takes 8 years after production for full exploitation. Is this distribution of $500k per year for 3 years determined by the term of the Commonwealth Government or bureaucratic concerns, as opposed to any film related development objective? Would it not be more commercially and creatively sound to fund these entities at $300k per year for 5 years? True development is not short term.

4. There does not appear to be a distinction made between the "development" of a company and the "development" of the creative/market potential of content. These are not the same thing.

5. Is there a training budget to facilitate sector change from current industry models to the slate funding models? This has been available where slate funding is used overseas. For example to provide market training for producers, development and business training for script editors, genre writing workshops for writers who hitherto have been encouraged to write material with a budget of under $4m, often with an arthouse scope.

6. Can Screen Australia provide figures to the industry concerning the cost savings of the merger, and how this saving is being spent?

Yours sincerely
Chryssy Tintner MFA MBA