2021 outlook: Unprecedented opportunity but barriers to entry continue to rise, says Steve Jaggi

Sana’a Shaik, Mercy Cornwall, Miah Madden, Georgia May-Davis and Aubri Ibrag, stars of 'Dive Club'.

Producer Steve Jaggi has forecast varying fortunes for Australian screen businesses across the next 12-18 months, depending on their capacity.

Speaking from Port Douglas, where production has just wrapped on his Netflix series Dive Club, the proprietor of the Steve Jaggi company tells IF the “limited window of opportunity” for Australian screen businesses to gain market share as a result of the country’s relative handling of COVID-19 is contrasted with rising barriers for entry.

“My prediction is that the next 18-24 months will be something of a bonanza for business with international outlooks and the ability to produce at volume and scale,” he says.

“The flip side of the coin is that solo producers and very small production companies will likely be snuffed out as the domestic market continues to contract at pace.”

Jaggi’s company was prolific in the second half of 2020, shooting three features (Kidnapped, The Dog Days of Christmas, and the Netflix-acquired Romance on the Menu), as well as the 12-episode Dive Club.

While he acknowledges he is overseeing a business “of some scale”, Jaggi is quick to add they are still adapting to an ever-evolving industry.

“We’re fortunate that after five or six years of trial and error we hit our stride in 2008 and have steadily grown to become a business with bricks and mortar, finance, HR, and other aspects in-house,” he says.

Producer Steve Jaggi

“We’re still finding our feet but have learned an incredible amount during the last six months.”

Recently, Jaggi was invited to join a panel of children’s content creatives during AACTA Screenfest, at which he said the theatrical release had become a “small piece of the pie” for content creators.

Expanding on his comments, he identifies streaming as the “principal engine” of change within the industry, saying it deserves greater consideration when measuring the performance of films.

“Outside of select titles, it’s difficult to see how theatrical will provide screen businesses with opportunities to grow as the risks continue to increase while the opportunities for meaningful revenue realisation continue to contract,” he says.

“In Australia, it remains incredibly frustrating that the dialogue around film performance continues to be dominated by box office, a metric which I have argued until I’m blue in the face is meaningless, as even on the strongest performing titles producers see little to none of it.

“Savvy producers will work to aggressively splice rights between streaming services, broadcasters, and other avenues, keeping hold of rights and when possible developing IP internally.”

“My prediction is that Global SVOD’s will be developing and producing more and more content out of Australia to take advantage of local subsidies, however we need to ensure that Australian storytellers – writers, directors, producers and HOD’s – are at the core of this content production so we continue to build a sustainable local creative industry.”

In terms of shooting in Australia, Jaggi says it is important for the sector not “to rest on our laurels” when it came to the COVID disruption in other markets.

“I think Australia will probably be popular as a place to shoot for the next couple of years,” he says.

“However, at some point, the US, UK, Canada, etc will be back up and running COVID free and Australian production will free fall.

“Without considered government support the sector is likely to experience an extreme boom and bust event cycle.”