By Simon de Bruyn
The divide between emerging and established producers – as defined by Screen Australia – was widened on Wednesday when a mixed crowd of screen practitioners met at the agency’s Sydney offices to dissect the new guidelines.
Producers of all shapes and sizes had been buzzing up a storm since the guidelines were released on Monday, with emails bouncing back and forth across the industry about the cuts to short film funding, the rigid agency definition of ‘experienced’, as well as the concern that the agency is effectively outsourcing film development.
On Wednesday afternoon, producers from film, TV and doco crammed into a theatrette, along with some distributors, festival curators, exhibitor reps, to get some answers.
Some of it was discussion, some of it was argument, and all of it was governed by four of the guidelines’ architects who were keen to move things along where there was no room for debate (short film funding) and to linger and listen when there was (digital media).
The agency revealed its colours early on, after the discussion got a bit out of hand and executive director of strategy and operations Fiona Cameron jumped in to bring it back on track.
“You can see in this room the problems we have as an agency; we can’t get a group of you people in a room and get you to agree on anything,” she said.
Some of the major concerns from the assembled crowd were that emerging producers will have no choice to share their partly developed projects with other producers in order to score development funding, that experienced producers wouldn’t actually be compelled by the agency to read new scripts, and that unfinanced filmmaking talent could be exploited under these guidelines. Some of the experienced producers in the room reacted rather colourfully.
Screen Australia revealed its hand in its unequal measures of eagerness and exasperation. Cameron made clear that the short film funding decision was up for explanation, but not debate.
“Short film funding is not in these documents as we cannot afford to spread money so thinly; in the word of the board it’s a bold decision,” she said.
She introduced the digital media and innovation sections of the guidelines rather effusively, and the “extraordinary success story” of Queensland-based Hoodlum was given as a key example. As one attendee chimed in on the commercial possibilities of digital media content the panel perceptibly leaned forward in anticipation.
“Why not work with the best and get the best outcomes…we really believe the agency needs to support whatever is the next thing,” she said. However, Cameron’s two word summation of what digital media means to Screen Australia – “more audiences” – was perceived as an overtly simplistic understanding of its potential.
INSIDEFILM spoke to several producers following the session and the confusion was clear over whether they could be classified emerging or established, despite strong track records. Some had features under their belts that had played on under 10 screens but had been considered successful, while others had made numerous award winning shorts with much festival play and had features in development – which is the same route to success that many now established producers had.
There were also some examples thrown around of practitioners who could meet the guidelines, based on screen credits, that were not actually producers by trade.
In fact, there was a lot of concern about Screen Australia choosing arbitrary means to denote ‘experience’, and then equating this experience with talent, even though it could apply to producers that had met the guidelines but had not produced successful films.
"I think that when Screen Australia says established, they mean establishment," one producer said.
"Every industry recognises the need to support and develop new talent as that is where the innovation often comes from, but for some reason this doesn’t apply to the Australian film industry. In a few years, we’ll still be making the same mistakes, using the same old distribution models, and nothing will have changed."
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