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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 

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By Andrew L. Urban

The Coalition goes into this election (21/8/2010) with a new $60 million fund promised for Australian filmmakers which puts the emphasis on higher budget films with good commercial prospects. This is a real game changer – and I’ll explain why. (At time of writing, Labor has not announced any new initiatives for the screen production industry.)

For as long as I’ve been reporting on the film industry (since 1985) there has always been a somewhat surprising lament that the share of the Australian box office by locally made films has been desultory. This is surprising simply because the majority of Australian films have not been made for mass audiences; so what do we expect? Modest budgets and modest in scale, many Australian films are essentially arthouse projects, or at best ‘crossover’ – meaning a slightly broader audience.

"the cultural imperative to tell our own stories has been constantly clashing with our desire to see better box office results"

The reason is that the cultural imperative to tell our own stories has been constantly clashing with our desire to see better box office results. Government support has been driven by cultural arguments – but assessed by commercial outcomes. This confusion is finally being cleared away by the proposed distribution-driven fund. That’s why it is a game changer.

One of the road blocks to commercial success for Australian producers has been the absence of genuine support for bigger budget films. George Miller and Baz Luhrmann, for example, had to go to Hollywood for their big budget films. The Coalition policy, developed in consultation with the screen producers, aims to help films in the higher budget range between $7 and $30 million.

“The objective of the new fund is to boost investment in new films and refocus Australian film production on commercial outcomes,” according to shadow Arts Minister Steve Ciobo, who announced the plan on Tuesday (17/8/2010). The fund will provide matching non-recourse loans to distributors. This means, for example, that a distributor’s $3 million investment in an upcoming $20 million film will be matched by another $3 million from the fund, with the fund recouping on an equal basis with the distributor. This would encourage distributors to provide significant marketing support for the release.

The producer would still be able to access the Offset rebate (up to 40% of qualifying budget).

Under the expected scenario modelling by SPAA, 73 per cent of the funds invested will be returned to the Commonwealth over five years. The actual cost of this fund is therefore estimated to be $31.9 million over the forward estimates.

If the new high budget (over $20 million) Australian drama, Tomorrow When The War Began (opens Sept 2, 2010) “proves as successful as we hope it will be, the film could be the harbinger of more higher budget films that engage Australian audiences,” said Ginnane. “Then we might start moving our share of the box office closer to 10%.”

"this fund would add a whole new layer [of support]"

If this fund was already operating, Omnilab Media for example would not have deferred or rejected a number of film projects. Christopher Mapp says that the company was already committed financially to Tomorrow …War Began plus the $66 million The Killer Elite and was not able to pursue other projects. With this fund in place, it could finance and produce more films in the proposed range between $7 and $30 million.

“Screen Australia and the state agencies are doing a terrific job,” says Mapp, “but this fund would add a whole new layer [of support] …”

Ginnane says one reason why Australians produce terrific television is that broadcasters are involved from the beginning of the project; under the new fund, distributors will feel encouraged to be involved from the start and their selections and inputs is expected to help deliver films with broader appeal. That would be welcomed by Australian audiences.

The Coalition’s new funding promise highlights one of the ironies of Australian politics: that while most screen practitioners lean Left (according to industry observation and general wisdom), most of the key film industry initiatives, including the 10BA tax deductibility for personal investment in film production, the Australian Film Development Corporation (AFDC), the Experimental Film and Television Fund, the Commonwealth Film Unit (which became Film Australia), the Australian Film, Television & Radio School and the current Production Offset Scheme, have been Liberal Party initiatives.

Labor rebadged and reshaped the AFDC into the Australian Film Commission, later set up the Film Finance Corporation and established the Commercial Television Production Fund.

A more controversial piece of Labor largesse came by way of Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy who (early in 2010) rebated licence fees to the commercial networks to the tune of $250 million annually, without requiring any new commitments to Australian content. Even some devout Labor supporters winced at the decision.

"the industry’s wish... that Labor adopt a bi-partisan position on this the latest Coalition initiative."

It would be the industry’s wish – and the wider community’s - that Labor adopt a bi-partisan position on this the latest Coalition initiative.


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Andrew L. Urban

Tomorrow When the War Began

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