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

Comments received Thursday 25 September

2.10pm from James With

Comments submitted by pdf

9.17pm from Igor Grabovsky
One of the fundamental issues which must be established is that Screen Australia ("the Agency") is the funding agency for professional filmmakers, not an educational institution, or charitable organisation supporting community arts.
In the Statement of Intent,the agency's priorities must be streamlined and defined with much more clarity, to prevent any frivolous interpretation. Simplicity is a key to understanding, understanding is a key to control, control is the key to success.
The overall activities of the agency have to be divided into eight major sectors:

1. Feature films (including animation for a 'Big screen');
2. Documentaries;
3. Adult TV progams, including series;
4. Children TV programs;
5. Marketing and Distribution;
6. Co-production;
7. Digital;
8. Emerging (not necessarily young) talent support.

Any programs or initiatives other than creation of sustainable commercially sound and artistically attractive projects should be put aside until such time that all those programs and initiatives could be financed from profit generated by the Agency's activities. Exceptions could be made only for documentaries of National Interest and some childrens programs.

1. Feature films.
There should be two ways to support feature film projects:
(i) Commissioning
This option is for those producers who apply for production funds. When any direct investment into a project is made by the Agency, then the Agency should effectively assume the role of commissioning co-producer (not an editor). Upon completion of the program (film), the Agency should play a key role in distribution of the film in Australia and co-distribution in foreign markets. Selection criteria must be changed from that previously used to avoid subjective and in many cases dilettante approach for choosing a particular project.
(Detailed suggestions for practical application of this option could be provided).
(ii) Support
This option is for those producers who decide to make their film without direct investment and direct involvement of the agency in production. Upon completion of the film, the Agency must provide necessary assistance to the producer in receiving Producer Offset entitlements and practical (legal and financial) support in marketing and distribution of the film in Australia and overseas. This option already assumes objective protocol for decision making.
(Detailed suggestions for practical application of this option could be provided).

2. Documentaries.
I do not have sufficient knowledge to make any specific suggestion. My only wish, that Australian documentaries would be as breathtaking as those of David Attenborough or Jacques Yves Cousteau.

3. TV programs (Adult drama).
I do not have sufficient knowledge to make any specific suggestion. My main concern is the low quality of the majority of drama scripts.

4. TV programs (Children).
My suggestions for improvement of children programs contain commercially sensitive material. Any information could be provided upon agreement between parties.

5. Marketing and Distribution.
The Agency must play a much greater role in looking after Australian productions in local and international markets.

The Agency must be a competitor to existing distributors not a partner.
It is the only way (in addition to the film being of a decent standard of course) to make exhibitors, broadcasters and distributors alike pay more attention to local product. Below is the analogy for better understanding:
How much control has the Government over petrol prices? None.
How much control does the Government have over commercial banks? Quite a lot. Why? Reserve bank is a national bank and it regulates monetary rates. Reserve Bank is not involved in direct competition, but it provides necessary environment for competition for all financial institutions in Australia. If the Government would have national refinery to supply independent operators (or national chain of petrol stations owned by the Government), then the Government could control petrol price through means of competition. This a simplified scheme, but it is fully applicable to the Marketing and Distribution activity of the Agency, which currently has no influence on the local market whatsoever.
(Detailed suggestions for practical application of this option could be provided).

6. Co-production.
The Agency must provide legal support and representation of the Australian co-producer in any international co-production on request of the co-producer. Producer Offset scheme.
(Detailed suggestions for practical application of this option could be provided).

7. Digital
I do not have sufficient knowledge to make any specific suggestions. However, using logic and some experience, I would say the Agency should use any resources available in this area to support development of 3D cinematography (especially holographic) and electronic distribution of the programs (cinema and Internet) with the aim to build a distribution infrastructure to serve (and hopefully dominate) our region (Australia, NZ, Indo-China, Asia).

8. Emerging talent support. Screen Australia is not an educational institution and therefore, it has to provide only reasonable support for emerging talent in the area of script writing and directing only.
Script writing: the Agency has to represent and/or provide legal assistance to a script writer on his/her negotiations with any party who is interested in his/her work (on request, of course).
Special attention must be given to the protection of the authorship. Plagiarism is becoming so common, that in some instances it is not even considered a crime but called simply "copycat".
No other services have to be provided or funds given for script writing, unless the Agency commissions film/show/program based on the literary work of the applicant. In that case script writing expenses will be allocated in the production budget, presented by the producer and dealt with accordingly.
Directing: To encourage producers to use new talents, wages (Award rates) of the first time director must be reimbursed to the producer in addition to the Producer Offset scheme. Established producers, who provide apprenticeships for emerging directors to be, also should receive incentives in addition to the Producer Offset scheme.

Any sort of so called 'Indigenous programs' must be removed from 'the list' and any questions about indigenous background must be removed from all applications. It must be clean and simple: "Agency's programs available for Australian citizens/residents or companies". Documentary projects which record the contemporary history or explore our past (indigenous or not) must be supported. Priority must be given to the most professional applicant, not because the applicant has an indigenous background.
Australia has successful indigenous athletes. It would look ridiculous if lets say the Olympic Committee would create "indigenous programs" for native Indians or aboriginals. It will be offensive and discriminatory. Then why is it allowable in the film industry? Equal rights must mean equal rights. Otherwise, it is political hypocrisy.

In conclusion is the last but the most important point:
Previous structure of the FFC (main funding agency) was non transparent, suffered from absence of instruments for monitoring and control of agency's activities and wasn't accountable for its mistakes. To prevent the new Agency to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, procedures of public control and applicants' appeals against the Agency's decision(s) must be implemented.
Public control could be easily introduced through biannual publication of the results of the Agency's activity. The report should be structured differently to the accounting report and must show (minimal requirements) details of the project, names of the officials who made decisions, overall budget, the Agency's input of any kind, stages of distribution, up-to-date recoupment and biannual revenue projection. This minimal information will give a clear picture of the commercial viability of the Agency, including performance record of the Agency's officials.
(Detailed suggestions for practical application of this option could be provided).
To prevent any applicant to appeal against the Agency's decision (rejection), the criteria of eligibility to appeal must be introduced. Otherwise it will become chaos and the Agency will assume a 'full time job' to defend its decisions in arbitrating institutions.
(Detailed suggestions for practical application of this option could be provided).

Igor Grabovsky