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Coronavirus response update

A message from CEO Graeme Mason.

Crew pictured standing outside on the set of Five BedroomsCrew on the set of Five Bedrooms S2: Back Row L to R - Marco Mitchell (2nd Assistant A Camera),  James Todd (B Camera), Matt Temple (DOP), Rayner Cook (1st Assistant A Camera). Front Row L to R - Hazal Alakus (Video Split Operator - attachment), Madi Southorn (2nd Ass A Camera), Corydon Anderson (2nd Assistant B Camera) Photo credit: Sarah Enticknap

Dear Colleagues,

The events of the last couple of weeks have been a serious reminder that the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia continues to present significant challenges for everyone, with some states feeling its impact more acutely than others. To that end the key message is that we all need to remain focused on health and safety and following all medical advice.

Beyond this we are concentrating on getting the projects that were forced into hiatus, as well as those which have been blocked from commencing, back on track. Having COVID-Safe plans in place will be critical for all productions as we continue to navigate the complexities of this evolving situation.

I commend the industry on its resilience and ability to persevere and adapt with each new challenge it faces. I acknowledge that this is not an easy time for many in our sector, but am heartened by the increase in production activity and the diligence shown by production teams in preparing to mitigate the risks that come when cameras start rolling.

Below is the latest update from Screen Australia:

Increased Production Activity

It has been encouraging that over 90% of documentaries have been able to continue in some form during this time, as have animation and post-production activities. However that has not been the case for scripted drama projects with their bigger crews and complex shoots. Only in the past month has drama activity been able to resume, which we are of course delighted by.

We have contributed approximately $1 million in emergency funding assistance to Screen Australia-supported productions that were forced to shut down or go into hiatus due to COVID-19.

The Premium Plus fund has also provided critical late-stage development funding to high-budget projects with firm market interest that were impacted by COVID-19 and this financial support has assisted many productions in getting back up and running as quickly as possible. Between this special fund and the normal Premium Story Development fund we have been able to push $2 million out to the sector in this period. As the purpose of the fund has now been met we will be closing it down at the end of this month. The Premium strand will continue to be able to support new projects of scale.

In the past few weeks it’s been fantastic to have some major projects return to production or ready themselves for pre-production, joining those already back such as Neighbours and Wentworth which are continuing to film in Melbourne.

  • The second season of Network Ten’s critically acclaimed series Five Bedrooms from Hoodlum Productions was able to resume filming in Melbourne on 19 June and wrapped last week.
  • Season Two of Jonathan M Shiff’s children’s series for Network Ten and Netflix, The Bureau of Magical Things, resumed shooting on 29 June and will continue into September in Queensland.
  • New ABC comedy Aftertaste (working title) from Closer Productions and starring Erik Thompson, commenced pre-production in Adelaide on 29 June.
  • New Channel Seven drama series from Endemol Shine Banks RFDS starring Justine Clarke, Rob Collins and Stephen Peacocke has returned to pre-production in Broken Hill.

More projects will be commencing in the coming weeks, which is incredibly pleasing for all.

The COVID-Safe Guidelines are available on the Screen Australia website here and provide a useful framework for productions to develop their own COVID-Safe risk mitigation plans prior to recommencing work.​

Last week the Government announced a $400 million increase to the Location Incentive Scheme to attract foreign film and television productions to Australia over the next seven years. We welcome this announcement and the job opportunities these projects create for the sector and we will continue to work to ensure this is best leveraged as broadly as possible.

COVID-19 Budget Support Fund

Today the agency has announced it will launch the COVID-19 Budget Support Fund on Thursday 30 July. The fund is to cover the additional costs green-lit productions will incur on top of their original budget in order to safely return to production with rigorous COVID-Safe plans.

The agency has not been allocated additional funding or human resources for this fund, but acknowledges the importance of getting these already funded projects safely into production, and will reallocate some Production Investment Funding for these purposes.  Screen Australia will be unable to support every production seeking assistance with COVID-19 costs. This fund will close either when funding is exhausted or at the end of the 2020 calendar year.

Temporary Interruption Fund

On Thursday 25 June 2020, the Government announced a $50 million Temporary Interruption Fund (TIF) for the screen sector to kick-start local production, which will be administered by Screen Australia. This fund is separate to the COVID-19 Budget Support Fund mentioned above.

In an environment where productions had been halted by insurers not providing coverage for COVID-19, the TIF will help film and television producers provide their financiers with certainty so they can start filming. We welcome this vital support for the industry from the Government.

Screen Australia is currently liaising with the Government and Department to determine procedures for administering the TIF, with Guidelines and further details to be released in the coming weeks.

Drama Report

A reminder that responses to Screen Australia’s annual Drama Report survey are now due. This year’s report could be the most important yet in terms of assessing the impact of COVID-19 on our industry, and informing content creators and Government, so I would strongly encourage all productions to participate. If you have any questions, please email [email protected].

Looking Ahead

Given the volume of productions that were forced to stall (including more than 30 scripted Screen Australia-funded projects) the key challenge ahead for the industry will be managing the number of productions that will all be trying to either restart or commence at the same time. It will be a highly complex jigsaw and I’d encourage everyone in the sector to be patient, adaptable and collaborative as each production navigates shoot schedules, studio space, crew and actor availability, and continuity challenges along with their COVID-Safe planning. Australia is one of the first countries back in production and we have to ensure we make the most of this opportunity by creating distinctive Australian stories for screen that will resonate here, and all over the world.

The Melbourne International Film Festival opens next month as a digital event showcasing films from Australia and around the world. This year’s program features Screen Australia-supported projects including documentaries Looky Looky Here Comes Cooky and The Leadership, feature film Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) and short film The Moogai.

Lastly, two critically acclaimed films release this month from debut feature directors Shannon Murphy and Natalie Erika James. Murphy’s Babyteeth, which had its world premiere in competition at Venice Film Festival last year, will release in Australian cinemas on 23 July. James' horror Relic had its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival in January and is available to stream now on Stan. I encourage everyone to support these productions by getting to the cinema or watching from home.

Our industry continues to demonstrate its resilience but supporting local screen stories with your wallet is the best thing you can do.

Warm Regards,

Graeme Mason
CEO, Screen Australia

  • Subscribe to the Screen Australia newsletter to receive news fortnightly here
  • Listen to writer/director Natalie Erika James discuss Relic on the Screen Australia podcast here
  • Watch producer of Babyteeth, Alex White talk to Screen News here