Plea to Brandis: Get Scroz to cut red tape

A group of filmmakers today asked Art Minister Senator George Brandis to urgently address several issues which they believe have reduced the efficiency and effectiveness of Screen Australia.

The gist of their message is that the agency has become overly bureaucratic and it should refocus its efforts to support creativity.

Gillian Armstrong, Fred Schepisi and Kimble Rendall were among the group that met with Brandis after he gave the opening speech at the Australian Directors Guild conference in Sydney.

In a debrief for IF, Armstrong and Schepisi stressed they told the minister they did not want to be seen as a “bunch of whingers,” thus avoiding the negativity which has been directed at Screen Australia in recent years.

Armstrong said she told Brandis she believes Screen Australia has gone into a self-protection phase marked by “too many shut doors and red tape.”She was critical of a number of policies which she said were “strangling” creativity, citing the agency’s insistence that an international sales agent be attached to each project as a condition of funding.

She said that signing with an agent before shooting starts can “take away any chance of winding up with the best” agent for the project. Armstrong accused Scroz of having lost its way, straying from its brief to encourage and support films and filmmakers and forgetting the primacy of “creatives and creative forces.”

Schepisi agreed, stating the funding body should not operate like a “studio that wants everything to be made to their taste.”

Armstrong also called on Screen Australia to be more flexible in its funding decisions so it could greenlight projects at times other than its board meetings.

In a critique of Scroz’s outgoing CEO Dr Ruth Harley, Armstrong said, “Ruth’s heart was in the right place but because she did not have hands-on experience in filmmaking she was more of an arts bureaucrat.”

Noting that Harley is a Kiwi who ran the New Zealand Film Commission before she took the post in Sydney, Armstrong said “it is difficult for an outsider to understand the Australian industry.”

Armstrong is hoping for a change of attitude and culture from incoming CEO Graeme Mason, whose background was in international distribution and production before he was appointed NZFC CEO.

Kimble Rendall told Brandis that despite the commercial success, particularly in China of his film Bait 3D, he was having trouble securing an Australian distributor for his next project, another horror film.

He said he can raise half the finance for the new project from China but cannot obtain investment from Screen Australia without an Australian distributor. He suggested to Brandis that Screen Australia should waive the need for a local distributor for horror and other genre films which Australian companies are unwilling to distribute and market.

“I want to shoot my films in Australia to support my industry,” Kimble tells IF, while stressing he has no quarrel with Screen Australia . “But the end result may be that I’ll have to go somewhere else where I can put the film together.”

Armstrong said Brandis listened sympathetically to the filmmakers’ case and observed that one of his government’s main aims is to reduce the level of red tape. The Minister asked the directors to contact him again. “We’re really hopeful,” said Armstrong of an ongoing dialogue with government.