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Review of Programs and Operations
message From the CEO

Screen Australia’s new program guidelines for development and production investment are, I hope, the beginning of a strong and fruitful relationship between the agency and the Australian screen industry.

They embody a commitment in 2009/10 of around $10 million for script, talent and business development programs, $60 million for production investment and $4 million for specially targeted Indigenous programs. $7 million has also been allocated to marketing support, which will see new programs introduced in the first quarter of 2009.

Industry feedback on the draft guidelines during the recent consultation period has demonstrated a very generous level of engagement with the evolving role of the agency. There were more than 120 submissions from both individuals and organisations, and numerous meetings, both large and small, around the country. Many voices; many views.

It is important that you understand why in the new guidelines we have changed some things as a result of your feedback, but not others.

At a broad level, the new programs took shape around several principles: to simplify and better target our approach to project development, to encourage more focus on audiences from the very beginning, to support innovation, to introduce a qualitative assessment for all feature film production investment, and to assist in the development of viable businesses.

The response to the new programs at this broad level has generally been positive. The main thrust of the feedback related to the development programs, and fell into two main streams:

  • Firstly, a perceived lack of opportunity for new talent, resulting from both the high bar set for eligibility for the single-project feature development program, and the proposed cessation of direct funding for shorts production.
  • Secondly, the producer-led approach to development, which was seen to diminish the role of the writer and the script, and the contribution of the director.

We have responded to the first point through a significant commitment to talent support programs, which will include project- and skills-focused project labs and other events, as well as targeted initiatives and industry fellowships. The detail of some of these programs is still under development but their aim is clear: to encourage renewal of the industry and help less experienced practitioners take the important next step in building their skills, their careers, and their slate. They will also support experienced professionals in continually upgrading their skills.

Outstanding projects that emerge through the talent support programs will also be given special consideration, and this is expected to enable selected writers and teams with or without previous credits to access Screen Australia single-project development funds.

We have not lowered the bar on eligibility for feature film development, although we have adjusted the criteria to better reflect our intention, and clarified the issue of rights to reflect standard industry practice.

We have also maintained our requirement that applications for development investment should generally come from an experienced producer.

In both cases, this is because we believe our approach will achieve better outcomes for a lower administrative cost, which in the medium term will mean a higher strike rate and more money available to fund productions.

We will continue to encourage producers, directors and writers to work in teams at the development stage, with the producer generally acting as the conduit to the funding agency. This is in recognition of the value of the producer’s involvement with the writer or writer/director during the development process and their key role in providing the overall creative and financial strategy for the project.

The approach is also supported by analysis of strike rates from the AFC’s development funding programs between 2001 and 2006, which suggests that:

  • funding more experienced practitioners is more productive;
  • emerging filmmakers do better when funded for development in a workshop or lab context rather than by draft funding alone;
  • when a producer is committed at the point of first development funding, there seems to be a higher chance of the project being produced, and more quickly.

Some aspects of our programs need more work from us, so do not yet form part of the new guidelines.

Firstly, we acknowledge the strong feedback received on the role of shorts production. As a result, we have resolved to commit funds for this purpose within our development programs; however, we want to spend more time developing effective mechanisms for applying these funds. We expect to release a detailed proposal early in new year. In the meantime we will continue to fund the Raw Nerve initiative, which provides opportunities to new filmmakers to create short films in collaboration with the Screen Development Australia (SDA) network.

We also need a little more time to finalise our internal assessment processes, particularly how best to involve industry experts and peers. 

In this context, there is also a tension between flexibility and accountability that needs to be worked through. Flexibility is important – the ability to be responsive, to recognise and support outstanding potential, for example, that may emerge from unexpected source.

However, there are necessary boundaries around this flexibility – as a government statutory authority, we must have clear and transparent processes. We are working through these boundaries with the board and again, we expect to be able to provide details of these processes early in the new year.

Along with the new guidelines, we have released our proposed Terms of Trade, which are open to comment until 22 December. In the new year, we also intend to conduct a series of seminars for the industry on doing business with us.

We will now begin the review of our marketing support and cultural development programs – ensuring that Australian projects have the best chance possible of reaching receptive audiences, both locally and internationally. I’m very excited about the potential in these areas and look forward to engaging with you on their development.

Ruth Harley
December 2008