Mason looks forward to his homecoming

Graeme Mason hasn’t lived in his native Australia for more than 20 years but the incoming chief executive of Screen Australia says he is well acquainted with the screen industry, its output, talent and major players.

In an interview with IF, Mason said he visited Oz on average three or four times a year in his previous roles with the UK’s Film 4 International, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment and as president of worldwide acquisitions for Universal Studios.

“I’m looking forward to coming home, working with the industry and seeing how we can build on the successes and how to best deal with the challenges,” said Mason, the CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission, who will succeed Dr Ruth Harley at the helm of Screen Australia in November.

“In film and TV terms, for 20-plus years I have been monitoring the people and projects coming out of Australia and the opportunities coming in.“

Mason has been following the debate in Australia over release windows, particularly the four-month gap between theatrical release and home entertainment. As IF has written, the NZ government’s proposal to shorten the ban on the parallel importing of DVDs from nine to five months may have repercussions on both sides of the Tasman.

“The big question for all of us is, ''What is the future of windows?'” he said. “That’s something which we here, Australia and the UK, everybody has to look at. I’m just watching a bunch of students walk down from the university in front of my office. They now believe that when they want something, they don’t wait. If we don’t work out ways to get (content) to them in whatever medium they want immediately, we are opening ourselves up for a problem.”

Mason seems unfazed about the challenge of making the transition from running a screen agency with 22 permanent staff and an annual budget of about $NZ20 million to one with 110 staff and a budget of $110 million.

He points out that New Zealand has a disproportionately large screen industry for a population of 4.5 million, including the output of Peter Jackson, James Cameron and US-born producer Rob Tapert and the projects handled by Weta Workshop, plus home-grown production.

He noted 14 films were produced in NZ last year (including a string of low-budgeters), compared with 16 features which got Screen Australia production investment in 2011-2012.

Of his role at the NZFC, he said, “It’s a fascinating job here because the Film Commission does touch everything to do with film on behalf of government. It’s much more intimately involved than I have seen in the UK or I believe in Australia. “