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Review of programs and operations
Draft Statement of Intent 2008/09
industry comments

Comments received Sunday 21 September

1.24pm from Stefan Moore

To whom it may concern,

As a documentary filmmaker who has worked for more than thirty years in the US, UK and Australia (and as a former executive producer at Film Australia and the ABC), I would like to take this opportunity to respond the Screen Australia’s draft SOI.  Although the document is understandably vague at this stage on a wide range of critical issues, it raises many important questions for the documentary sector.  Specifically, my concerns are as follows:

2a states that “Screen Australia has a major role in ensuring the effective administration of the offset.”  Right now every filmmaker I know is tearing their hair out over how to finance the offset.  Frankly, there are very few options short of mortgaging the house (that is, if you happen to own one).  Banks are simply not interested in providing bridging loans involving documentary sized budgets. Even mid-size companies are finding it extremely difficult if not impossible.  Now that the producer offset scheme is a reality set in stone, I think that SA must seriously consider taking on this role. 

2c says “With regard to the National Interest Program, Screen Australia is considering whether it should move from an executive producer model to a commissioning editor model with the industry taking greater responsibility for production.”  What does the term “commissioning editor” mean” in this context?  In television parlance the term refers to an executive with editorial control over the end product.  This is contrary to what the overwhelming majority of documentary filmmakers desire and was one of the main complaints about the former FA model of commissioning.  I would suggest that SA seriously consider a commissioning model based on a revolving industry panel for the NIP and History collections.

Section 3 states that SA wants to initiate programs that “aim to grow larger, better resourced production houses able to undertake a portfolio of audience focussed projects over time.”   This commercial model is commendable so long as it leaves adequate resources for producers who do not want to be forced to work through larger production companies.  Individual filmmakers and small production companies should be able to retain equity in their films and also be able to work in an environment that is not constrained by the financial and political imperatives of larger production houses.  Even emerging filmmakers should not necessarily be forced into working with larger production houses since they can be paired with more experienced independent production teams.

Under the heading of documentaries the SOI states: “While Screen Australia would remain open to individual proposals from producers, it may also supplement the commissioning process by introducing tendering for relevant sections of the NIP and History collections.”  What is meant by “relevant sections” ? Who would they be tendered out to and who would be responsible for deciding which productions get financed?  If left to individual production companies or broadcasters how could it be insured that their objectives are consistent with the original NIP charter?  And, importantly, how much of the NIP and History collections would remain open to individual proposal submissions?  How this pie will be divided will be of paramount concern to the independent documentary sector.

The SOI concludes: “Screen Australia is not currently considering changes to alter the existing arrangements that apply to domestic documentary and international documentary, special and low budget documentary arrangements.”  Does this mean that the domestic direct funding and international doors remain in place?  Again, what portion of these arrangements does SA intend to farm out as slates to larger production companies?  These questions will have to be spelled out in the next draft in order for the documentary sector to respond.

Finally, there is no specific mention of non-broadcast documentary initiates such as the former innovation fund although I presume it is meant to fall under “existing arrangements.”  It is critical that this strand of funding remains in place.  As I have said before, this is the equivalent of funding basic research in science. Free of broadcast constraints its purpose is to expand the scope of documentary and open up new horizons for filmmakers and audiences.

Stefan Moore