EDITORIAL 19/8/2010: COALITION’S $60 MILLION GAME CHANGER
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
"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
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
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