Richard Harris‘ first priority as the incoming head of Screen Australia’s newly formed business and audience department will be to rejuvenate if not reinvent the tainted Australian cinema brand.

“The fundamental core of the role is to strengthen the brand and look at it from the ground up,” Harris told IF today. CEO of the South Australian Film Corporation for the past seven years, he will start in the new role in early March.

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason said, “Richard’s appointment is a fantastic coup for us – his depth of industry experience and relationships across television and film, both domestic and international, will be invaluable.

“His smart business acumen and ability to deliver strong creative and commercial success will be a great asset to our new business and audience department. It is a bonus to have his first-hand knowledge of working with government.”

Mason has been acting head of that department, which combines the teams from marketing, communications and state and industry partnerships, including the Enterprise program.

Led by Harris, South Australian screen industries posted a record year of production in 2013-2014. Screen Australia’s drama report showed the value of drama production in the state was $73 million, up almost 50% on the prior year's record of $50 million. SA was the only state to record an increase in its level of national production share, from 7% to 9%, its highest ever.

His initiative The Film Lab has backed such innovative  films as 52 Tuesdays, The Infinite Man, One Eyed Girl, Touch and Wish.

Harris said of his new job, “It’s a great challenge. While I am sad to be leaving such a dynamic team here at SAFC, I am enthusiastic about the great potential this new role offers to lead a specialised team in delivering progressive strategic options to the industry for the benefit of the sector.”

He acknowledges that a key challenge facing the industry is the inability of distributors to spend enough money on P&A to cut through to mainstream audiences, as eOne MD Troy Lum acknowledged after Son of a Gun opened poorly.

Harris said, “We have to look at how and where (marketing) money is spent and the best use of that money.”

SAFC chairman Judy Potter said, "It is with more than a tinge of sadness that we note Richard will be leaving the Film Corporation in the new year, but we are so pleased that he is going to take on an exciting new role at Screen Australia.

“During his time as CEO he has overseen a dramatic transformation in the local industry, and really put both the organisation and the sector back on the national and international map.”

“In particular over the last year the South Australian screen production industry has been kicking serious creative goals, with films like The Babadook achieving great worldwide audiences and 52 Tuesdays winning best directing in the World Cinema Competition at Sundance and a Golden Bear at Berlin. At the same time, South Australia has registered two record years of drama production, generating over $120 million of economic activity in the state. Richard can take a lot of the credit for these results.

"Richard will be remembered as the CEO who ushered in the Adelaide Studios, taking the original business case to government, advising during the design and construction phase, and ultimately filling the Studios with production, post-production and a full suite of company tenancies."

The SAFC will soon advertise the vacancy to national and international candidates.

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