Members of the Victorian Film & TV Industry Working Party (L-R): Adam Portelli (MEAA), Sue Marriott (WIFT), Glenda Hambly (ADG), Chris Corbett (AWG) and Ewan Burnett. (Photo: Adam Portelli via Twitter) 

The Australian television production industry risks losing an entire strata of producers and storytellers due to government funding cuts and the squeeze on licence fees, according to veteran producer Ewan Burnett.

“We are at a critical tipping point with the funding mechanisms that are available,” Burnett told the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts inquiry into the sustainability of Australia’s film and TV industry.

The CEO of Burberry Productions, Burnett warned that TV production will be dominated by the broadcasters and foreign-owned production companies.

He pointed to licence fees for children’s and adult drama which have not changed from $440,000 an hour and $100,000 per half-hour respectively since 2007 and are only marginally higher than in 1988, while production costs had jumped by 50 per cent over that time.

He pointed to licence fees for adult and children’s drama which have not changed from $440,000 an hour and $100,000 per half-hour respectively since 2007 and are only marginally higher than in 1988, while production costs had jumped by 50 per cent over that time.

That has put pressure on actors, crews, shooting schedules and the viability of independent producers, who are often forced to defer their fees and now find it hard to secure distribution advances from international distributors.

Burnett told the inquiry he lost a 13-part, half-hour children’s series he intended to produce for the ABC last year after Screen Australia was forced to slash the cap for kids dramas from $3 million to $2 million per project due to budget cuts.

Budgeted at $7.8 million, the series which he declined to name was to have been shot on the Gold Coast and would have employed 120 core people and about 700 including actors and extras.

“Screen Australia was keen to support the production and was prepared to look at ways of contributing more than the cap but I was $600,000 short of what I needed,” he told IF.

Burnett appeared as a member of the Victorian Film & TV Industry Working Party, which included reps of the MEAA, AWG and Women in Film & Television (WIFT).

Writer Chris Corbett told the inquiry his last paid writing gig was a year ago and he has trouble persuading producers to read his scripts because they are under such stress.

“If this does not change soon, I’m out of the industry,” said Corbett, whose extensive credits include episodes of Newton’s Law, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Neighbours and McLeod’s Daughters.

Freelance production manager and MEAA member Sue Marriott expressed the working party’s support for the Australian Screen Industry Group’s recommendations which include extending local content obligations  to pay TV and  streaming services; the creation of a platform-agnostic content fund; and a commitment to exclude the cultural sectors from free trade agreements because if  Australian content quotas are reduced they can never be reinstated or increased due to the US/Australia Free Trade Agreement.

Addressing the issue of gender equity and diversity, Marriott cited a WIFT study which found there was a better outcome for the Screen NSW policy model than other state and federal government initiatives.

Within a year of funding linked to access and gender equity, the participation of women in key creative roles in NSW television production increased significantly and in some cases exceeded parity while gender equity in feature films is well on track.

Film Victoria president Ian Robertson told the inquiry he believes the commercial FTA broadcasters will eventually succeed in their push to abolish the children’s quotas and warned, “Their next target will be adult drama.”

If the kids’ quotas were removed it would a significant impact on production and leave the ABC as the only gateway and buyer.

Robertson advocated lifting the 20 per cent TV producer offset to 40 per cent, which he said would help make dramas and documentaries more affordable for broadcasters.

And he suggested that increased government funding for the ABC should be tied to specific amounts for children’s, drama and documentaries.