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There is little doubt that this year’s meeting of the many movie minds from Australia and around the world was a genuine coinference. It was the watershed gathering that ushers in the new world order of Australian screen production assistance from the Government, the Producer Offset scheme, the world’s most generous, uncapped device to stimulate production of film, tv - and indirectly - new media. Andrew L. Urban reports.

‘Show me the money’ might have been the appropriate promotional tag for this gabfest, where the Film Finance Corporation was the centre of attention. To be precise, it was their new baby that everybody wanted to stroke and gurgle with: the Producer Offset scheme, which changes the way the Government supports production in the screen industries.

And show them the money the FFC did. Charged with administering the scheme, CEO Brian Rosen and Offset manager Antonia Barnard repeated the details that they had already rehearsed many time on a roadshow around Australia, talking to all interested parties.

Film producers were busy grappling with how to make best use of the 40% (max) rebate of the budget they will receive after completion of filming. (Unless of course they owe money to the ATO, in which case the rebate will be reduced by whatever they owe.) The primary criterion for eligibility is Significant Australian Content – an assessment that will be arbitrated by the FFC’s team. Guidelines and application forms are going up on the FFC website (by the end of November 2007). All those to whom we spoke expressed optimism – a new sensation for many.

"the sound of rustling banknotes"

The vortex also sucked in (but in a good way) a long list of international program buyers whose ears have pricked up to the sound of rustling banknotes. As one delegate remarked, there was an absence of the insecurity that marked the last couple of SPAA conferences this year, and a greater a sense of confidence, right across the film and tv spectrum.

Among the heavies breathing honeyed words were people like Bill Schultz, three time Emmy Award winning producer whose credits include The Simpsons. Based in Washington, Bill now runs Kabillion (among other projects), a new multiplatform kids entertainment service, available both as free video on demand channel and a free online broadband site – all driven by advertising. Through its cable partnerships it reaches 13 million households on VOD and 50 million online. Kabillion is looking for content and Australia is a highly regarded source of kids programming.

That’s why Sebastian Debertin from German public service kids channel KI.KA was also attending, as was Dea Connick Perez from New York, where she runs Discovery Kids Media.

William Weil, COO at National Geographic Entertainment was also upbeat about content from Australia, ranging from feature film, kids entertainment and even giant screen productions. The integration and distribution opportunities that National Geographic offers across a range of platforms is staggering.

"tattoos on his arms"

Among the hot keynote speakers was Mark Herbert from Sheffield in the UK, where he works in a small production team (Warp and Warp X Film) who have developed a brilliant template for low budget, high return movies, all made for about A$1.8 million. Their latest was This Is England. They specifically seek out edgy material; nothing safe, nothing ordinary. They have a plan based on economic research and hard work, and they are making a package of movies that is calibrated to generate enough volume to make money – a statistical plan. Mark wears tattoos on his arms.

Rex Wong was also in demand after his keynote, the Los Angeles based digital entrepreneur behind DAVE Network, an internet-tv convergence enabling platform that serves many international clients, including Disney, CBS and (shortly) Telstra.

Australian distributors (Alan Finney from BVI, Paul Weigard from Madman, Sandie Don from Hopscotch, Mike Vile from Rialto, Mike Selwyn from Paramount, John L. Simpson from Titan, etc, etc) mingled with dozens of producers, writers and directors – a happy sight.

Asia and Canada were targeted for co-production and distribution opportunities, while kids entertainment and small screen content/commerce was another major subject. Over 600 delegates attended, including Government agencies and lawyers – the latter also stand to gain from the expanding activity around contracts and rights that the rebate conditions will generate.

Adjacent to the main conference was the all-important SPAAMart, where producers and directors met with potential financiers, distributors or buyers. This was a precision run speed dating type of affair in the old Rolls Bar down in the belly of the hotel … which temporarily became the Deal Dungeon.

This time next year, the conference will be assessing the first commercial fruits of the new scheme, if not actually sampling the finished products. We’ll be there to bring you the first biopsy.

Published November 22, 2007

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Brian Rosen

For details of the Producer Offset scheme, see last week’s feature and related links in FORUM.

Mark Herbert

Rex Wong

Screen Producers Association of Australia
Annual Conference, Sheraton Mirage, Gold Coast,
November 13 – 16, 2007

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