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Screen Australia for beginners

In this quick guide, we outline what Screen Australia does and how creators can access the agency’s funding and resources.

Screen Australia is an independent agency of the Federal Government and funds the creation of Australian screen content for cinema, television and online. The agency also promotes Australian screen stories both at home and abroad.

This guide is intended for beginners and does not replace published program guidelines or Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade.

Header image: Content received $240,000 of Screen Australia online production funding in 2018/19, becoming the Australia’s first vertical video series. It was made by Queensland’s Ludo Studio.

WHAT WE FUND:

Screen Australia is a financier – not a producer – so we don’t actually make content ourselves, but rather invest in it. The agency funds the creation of Australian drama and documentary content for all Australians. 

  • ‘Drama’ is an industry term which means a scripted story (narrative), but it can be any genre e.g. comedy, sci-fi, action.
  • ‘Documentary’ references the ACMA definition, and expressly excludes programming like reality TV, news, current affairs and travel shows.

Australia is one of the few countries in the world which has a national screen agency that funds content made for cinema, television (including streaming) and online. In 2018/19 Screen Australia provided $65 million to the Australian screen industry.

We also fund individuals, screen businesses and industry organisations.

Sarah's Channel

YouTube comedy Sarah’s Channel received $100,000 of Screen Australia online production funding in 2018/19. It was directed by Nick Coyle from Sydney, who made the transition to screen after establishing himself as a theatre playwright.

HOW WE FUND:

The main funding types which help the creation of Australian screen stories are:

  • Development, which is the stage before a story is filmed e.g. scripts are being drafted, or a proof-of-concept teaser is being shot.
  • Production, which is when a story is being filmed.
  • Completion, which is when the story has already been shot but may need some further funds to finish the job e.g. to edit. You may see this phase referred to as ‘post production’.
  • Distribution, which is sometimes referred to in Screen Australia as ‘P&A’ (print and advertising). These funds are used to market a film. P&A is not currently available for television and online.

It is possible for stories to obtain more than one kind of Screen Australia funding, for example the award-winning film Sweet Country was funded for development, production, and distribution. The only types of funding that are generally not mixed are production and completion, because if you received production funding, it would have been based on a budget that included the completion of the project.

We also have a whole range of other funding opportunities including:

  • The Enterprise program, which funds individuals to take the next steps in their career and helps Australian screen businesses diversify.
  • Attachments, which are short-term paid placements on a specific production, to help creators get experience on set.
  • Funding to help support Australian film festivals, events and screen industry guilds.
  • International support, which helps creatives attend international festivals, markets and events in order to attract attention to their Australian works.
  • Targeted funding for parts of the screen sector, such as the programs run by our Indigenous Department (which is like a mini Screen Australia, covering development and production for Indigenous-led stories) or as part of Gender Matters for women.
  • Special initiatives, which are announced throughout the year and vary from helping more experienced creators connect with the global industry (e.g. Talent USA, Mentor LA), to assisting new creators obtain funding for their story e.g. VidCon Pitcher Perfect, Google Skip Ahead, Vice Pitch Australiana, ABC Fresh Blood.
  • Bespoke programs to help new creators up-skill e.g. Developing the Developer, Talent Camp.

You can see the range of programs that are taking applications at any given time on our Deadlines page.

Aunty Donna

Live comedy troupe Aunty Donna were first funded by Screen Australia through the ABC Fresh Blood initiative in 2015 to make a pilot. Although the Melbourne group of six were not the eventual winners of Fresh Blood, they were successful in another initiative – Google Skip Ahead – where they were funded in 2016 to make a full series called 1999. The web series was a hit, propelling them to make another full series (Glennridge Secondary College) that received $260,000 in funding from Screen Australia in 2018/19. The troupe also received Enterprise Business and Ideas funding in the same year to help other online creators realise their vision.

WHO WE FUND:

Our funding programs all have guidelines which explain who is eligible to apply and any specific requirements, but in general the applicant/s must be Australian and the story must be told by a majority Australian creative team.

Your story does not have to be about Australia or necessarily shot in Australia, to receive Screen Australia funding.

Who we fund varies by funding stage:

  • Many of our development programs can be accessed by a writer, director or producer, however there are differences between drama and documentary streams.
  • Most of our production and completion programs require a producer to be the applicant.
  • Enterprise and many of our attachment programs also provide funding for creators outside of the key creative roles (writer/producer/director) e.g. you may be an art department attachment.

When you read the guidelines for a funding program, you will see eligibility requirements. These outline the applicant experience level needed to apply. You’ll often see experience expressed as ‘credits’ e.g. if you made a short film that was selected for a festival, that’s one credit.

In general, as the funding amount increases, so too does the level of experience required. But the good news is, many Screen Australia funding programs require no previous credits. For instance, you can apply to the Story Development: Generate Fund for development funding having had no professional credits.

You’ll also notice many of our programs are targeted towards under-represented groups of creators, as we work towards making our screen industry more reflective of the Australia we all know.

Note: For all Screen Australia programs, applicants must be aged 18 or over and cannot be enrolled full-time in a film, television or interactive digital media course at a film school or other tertiary educational institution. Applications from part-time students are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

KGB

Set in Perth’s notorious ‘KGB’ area (Koondoola, Girrawheen, Balga), KGB was made for ABC iview and received $120,000 of online production funding from Screen Australia. The show was the second project for the creators Luke and Dan Riches, who had made a short documentary for NITV that was funded by Screen Australia called Lost Diamond.

HOW MUCH WE FUND:

Screen Australia funding is on the public record, and is announced via Media Releases and listed on the Funding Approvals pages on our website. The individual dollar funding amounts are announced once a year in our Annual Reports (appendix 3).

We suggest you browse previous funding announcements to get a sense of what kind of funding is being awarded and which creators/projects are being funded.

To give you a rough sense of the amounts of money Screen Australia disburses, in 2018/19 the following ranges of funding were awarded for drama productions:

  • Development funding from $7,000 to $93,000, across film, TV and online.
  • Production funding for film from $500,000 to $2,000,000. 
  • Production funding for television from $50,000 to $1,750,000. 
  • Production funding for online from $35,000 to $400,000. 

In 2018/19 the following ranges of funding were awarded for documentary productions across film, TV and online:

  • Development funding from $10,000 to $25,000.
  • Production funding from $35,000 to $600,000.

The amount of funding you can apply for is dictated by the guidelines of the individual program. Your funding request also needs to be appropriate to the needs of your story, your experience, industry rates and the intended audience. For drama, the guidelines and ‘supporting documents’ for the Story Development: Generate Fund are helpful in getting a sense of industry rates.

In 2018/19, the range of funding provided through other Screen Australia programs include:

  • International marketing support from $2,000 to $10,000.
  • International strategic delegations (travel grants for programs like Talent USA) from $3,000 to $6,000.
  • Enterprise Business & Ideas support from $10,000 to $540,000.
  • Enterprise People support from $5,750 to $140,000.

Shooting Cats

The very first Pitch Australiana competition was staged at the Australian International Documentary Conference in 2018 and saw director Inday Ford and producer Dylan Blowen walk away with $30,000 to make Shooting Cats. The confronting short-form documentary was released on VICE and detailed Australia’s severe feral cat problem.

GETTING STARTED:

Before applying for funding, it is essential you get a sense of the local industry first. You want to go into every professional meeting able to speak with authority about the industry around you. Of course it’s always ok to ask questions (but just make sure they’re not ones you could have Googled!).

Here is a checklist to get you started:

1. Subscribe to our fortnightly Screen News newsletter, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to be notified when new funding opportunities arise.

2. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to see how projects are made.

3. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Pocket Casts or Stitcher to hear from industry experts.

4. Browse our free industry publication Screen News for how-to resources related to your field.

5. Read Australian trade publications including Inside Film, Film Ink, Screenhub and TV Tonight plus international trades including Screen Daily, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Most of these trade publications have free e-newsletters. Also read your local news outlets that cover and review screen content e.g. if you’re in Melbourne, read The Age, Herald Sun plus national sites that cover screen including Daily Review, The Guardian and The Australian.

6. Subscribe to the newsletter of your local state screen agency:

7. Subscribe to the newsletter for the guild that is relevant to your career e.g. if you’re a writer, subscribe to the Australian Writers’ Guild, for directors it’s the Australian Directors Guild and so on.

8. Depending on where you live, there are a heap of low or no-cost festivals, seminars and workshops you can attend to help you learn and network. We’ve included some at the end of this guide, but your state screen agency will have a much more extensive list of what is happening in your area.

9. Watch Australian screen content. Our showcases make it easy to see what has been released recently on television, online or at the cinema. It’s essential you know what is being made, who is making it, where is it being aired/released and what the end product looks like. You should especially watch any Australian content comparable to what you are trying to make.

After doing all that, your next step is browsing the Funding and Support section of the Screen Australia website:

1. Look for the fund that best meets your needs. Development funding and/or special initiatives are a great place to start, particularly if you have no professional credits as yet.

2. Read the guidelines for the fund you’re interested in and any supporting documents we provide. They are written in plain language, and should be easy to understand.

3. If you have questions about the guidelines, you can call us on 1800 507 901 or there is an email address located on all funding pages. When you contact us, we will presume you have read the guidelines.

4. In some instances, you’ll also see on the guidelines page that there is a requirement to get in touch with a Screen Australia investment manager before applying. You only need to do this if it’s listed in the guidelines, and generally this extra step only relates to high monetary value funds like television production.

5. Once you’re feeling confident that you understand what is required, hit the ‘Apply Online’ button on the funding program you’re interested in. All Screen Australia applications are completed online, and you can also preview the form before you make a submission.

Remember, don’t be disheartened if your first funding application is unsuccessful. We always receive more applications than we can fund, so if you get a ‘no’ first try, that doesn’t mean you won’t get a ‘yes’ in the future.

Homecoming Queens

Dramedy Homecoming Queens was made for SBS on Demand and was directed by Corrie Chen, who had landed her big break the year before on ABC tween series Mustangs FC. Homecoming Queens received $270,000 in online production funding from Screen Australia, and the creators Michelle Law and Chloe Reeson explain the process of making the show here

FAQs

Below are a range of questions that emerging creators most often ask us:

Does my project need to be ‘exclusive’ to Screen Australia in order to be funded?

Absolutely not. In fact, it’s generally better if you have other investors who are interested in your project at the production stage. It’s less important at the development stage.

Other production financiers might be your state screen agency, crowd-funding or corporate backers. For bigger projects, they tend to require marketplace interest such as a commissioner (e.g. a broadcaster) or a distributor/sales agent (which is a company that gets your film into cinemas e.g. Transmission Films, or sells your TV show overseas e.g. all3Media).

What happens if my funding application is unsuccessful?

All that happens is you won’t be funded, based on your current application.

In some programs, you can re-submit the same project with a revised application.

Having an unsuccessful application has no bearing on your ability to get a successful application in the future. But make sure your application is not unsuccessful because of something avoidable, such as not reading the guidelines or not filling out the application form correctly.

Does Screen Australia provide feedback?

We don’t ‘pre-assess’ applications, meaning you cannot get feedback about an application you haven’t submitted yet. However, there are avenues to get feedback from other organisations before submitting your application, for instance the Australian Writers’ Guild have a script assessment service available to members.

In terms of getting feedback after an unsuccessful application with Screen Australia, due to the sheer volume of applications we receive, unfortunately we generally can’t provide individual notes.

However, for some of our programs targeted at emerging creators (e.g. Story Development and Enterprise) you will get basic written feedback via email. Applicants to high monetary value funds like feature and television production, will also generally get feedback.

Does Screen Australia only fund producers?

At the production stage of a story, you’ll need a producer to get your project made (with or without Screen Australia funding).

However at the development stage, a producer is not always necessary and that is reflected in our programs. For instance, a writer or director can apply for the Story Development: Generate Fund.

Can I apply for multiple rounds of Screen Australia funding?

Yes.

For instance, in 2018 we made it easier to get multiple rounds of Story Development funding.

Also, many stories that get production funding from Screen Australia also received development funding from the agency.

Superwog

Sydney comedy duo (and real life brothers) Superwog had been making YouTube videos for eight years before they landed their big break in 2016 as one of the recipients of Google Skip Ahead. They used the money to make a pilot, which became the #1 trending video on Australian YouTube in 2017. Demand for a full series was swift, with Screen Australia chipping in $850,000 to make the dual ABC Comedy/YouTube release comedy. It was released in 2018, and you can see how the series was made on Screen News.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

There are over 300 free articles, videos and podcasts on Screen News. We publish new content every fortnight in the Screen News newsletter.

Below are just some of the resources that are available for emerging creators:

MORE ADVANCED INFORMATION:

  • Australia has a series of tax incentives to support the production of screen stories. Screen Australia administers one of those incentives, which is called the Producer Offset. If you’re considering a project which will have a large budget spend in Australia (generally over $500,000), you can read more about the Producer Offset here or listen to this podcast episode.
  • Screen Australia also administers the Official Co-production program, which refers to arrangements Australia has made with some other countries to jointly create screen stories. Official Co-productions can be beneficial in sharing creative skills across borders, and potentially benefitting from funding and/or tax incentives from all the partner countries. You can read more about the Official Co-productions here. You’ll also find the topic discussed on the Screen Australia podcast, and you can hear directly from the producers of two Official Co-productions Animals and The Australian Dream here

EVENTS:

Every fortnight we update the Events listing on Screen News, but the organisations below have recurring events.

A lot of these organisations may have one major event a year, but if you subscribe to their newsletter they often have smaller events and opportunities throughout the year. Note film festivals rarely do just feature films, so even if you make TV or online content, you should still subscribe to their newsletters and follow them on social media.

Does your organisation provide low or no-cost opportunities for emerging creators? Let us know at [email protected]

Most states have multiple local film schools which also offer short courses and educational events including AFTRS, NIDA, VCA and Griffiths.

Any questions you wish this article had answered? Tweet us with #BeginnersGuide and we'll add it in if we can!