Caroline Pitcher.

Film Victoria CEO Caroline Pitcher is committed to growing the state’s screen sector next financial year but, longer-term, she worries about the sustainability of production.

“Over the next 6-12-18 months we will see a good news story with a lot of production,” she said in a webinar with Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner.

“Therefore the numbers and the employment will look good because so much production that had been supported was on hold. It will look like a boom, but in fact it will be a house of cards.”

Asked to elaborate by Deaner, she said the options paper and Federal Government support will be crucial in sustaining the industry over the long term, with a policy framework that may last for 10-20 years.

Like SPA and most other stakeholders, she advocates reinstating the local content quotas as soon as possible, without which she believes the commercial free-to-air networks and Foxtel will not commission Australian drama, children’s and documentary content.

She also expressed concern about the current dearth of theatrical releases and how that is impacting distributors, exhibitors and post houses.

In the next financial year she said the agency would focus on growth in local production, attracting international productions and in PDV and digital games.

“If we are not growing local content at the same speed as other territories, and we’re not, that will be an industry killer,” she said.

Although Fremantle’s Wentworth and Neighbours have continued shooting, the Victorian stage 4 lockdown is taking a heavy toll on the state’s screen sector.

“We have crews who have not worked since March and many were ineligible for Federal Government support. For the industry, the majority is doing it incredibly tough,” she said.

However she said she hopes seven TV dramas will be able to start pre-production in Victoria in September/October.

She did not name them but IF understands they include the second seasons of Easy Tiger’s Jack Irish and Every Cloud Productions’ Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, Goalpost Pictures’ New Gold Mountain, Playmaker Media’s The Midwife, Werner Film Productions’ The Newsreader and Porchlight Films’ Entitled.

While those productions are expected to apply to the Temporary Interruption Fund to cover the COVID-19 insurance risk, she said Film Victoria may look at investing in a small number of contained projects, subject to board approval, that are not insured.

The agency is also releasing funds earlier than planned to get productions started as part of its efforts to help the industry recover.

On a bright note, she said the pandemic has not delayed plans to build a sixth sound stage costing $46 million at Docklands Studios.

The builder is close to being selected and she hopes work will begin in mid to late October and the studio is on track to open in October 2021.

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