Graeme Mason.

Screen Australia expects to support the same number of documentary projects each year despite the proposed scrapping of the Producer Equity Program (PEP).

The PEP program had no qualitative controls and was becoming unsustainable due to the sheer volume of people who were trying to access that scheme, according to Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason.

Mason told a Senate Estimates committee in Canberra earlier this week that the creatively-assessed completion fund for low budget projects, which the agency is proposing to replace PEP, would help producers develop projects and at completion.

Asked by Labor Senator Anne Urquhart if the proposed funding regime may result in fewer projects getting assistance, Mason said: “It would be fair to say that some would not be eligible or would not be successful that could have been in the past.

“In the last two years the scheme was going so far over its budget allocation that we were having to take money out of other programs.

“The documentary envelope, or our envelope as a whole, was under pressure. People were getting turned down regardless, somewhere, so we are thinking this is probably the fairest way for the industry as a whole.”

Referring to Screen Australia’s annual documentary funding budget of $14 million – $16 million, plus factual projects supported by its Indigenous and online units, he said: “We will probably have the same number coming through, because we will have that allocation, but some specific projects will get turned down.”

The Senator then asked if there would be any impact from introducing the completion fund, which would be capped at 20 per cent of projects budgeted between $125,000-$500,000, with a total annual funding pool of $1.5 million-$2 million.

“Fiscally, I don’t think there will be,” he replied. “As I say, I don’t think it will make specific changes. What is possible, of course, is that some projects that would have been funded under the old scheme will not be funded now, because they won’t hit the minimal creative criteria that we are asking for.

“We are also introducing here that there has to be a route to audience. There has to be a way that their project will be screened to Australians here, whereas previously that didn’t have to be the case.”

The Australian Independent Documentary (AID) group, whose members include Tom Zubrycki, Ruth Cullen, Pat Fiske, Simon Nasht, Catherine Scott, Anna Broinowski, Trevor Graham and Sally Ingleton, today applauded the proposed increases in development funds and the amount allocated to the Producer Program.

Similarly, it supports cutting the cap for Commissioned Programs from $1 million to $750.000, the removal of quotas and the opening up of platforms as indicated in the discussion paper.

However in its submission AID expressed concern at the lack of parity between the Producer Program and the Commissioned Program and opposed the view that at least 20 per cent of the Producer funds should be targeted to projects that secure at least 10 per cent of their budgets from international sources. Instead, it advocated that these projects be funded through the Commissioned Program.

While the group supports the new completion fund it notes: “Applicants who have already received funding from the Producer Program and who were relying on PEP to complete their projects will have a serious budget shortfall as a consequence.

“We recommend that projects with budgets under $500,000 which have already received funding through the Producer Fund should still be able to apply to the completion fund where their creative merit will be assessed.”

The group also called for more clarity on the discussion paper’s proposals to appoint a documentary maker on the Screen Australia board and to review the eligibility of cinema-on-demand projects for the Producer Offset.

Its submission concludes: “Our group consists of emerging and older documentary makers and we are very keen to support multi- generational crews and leadership teams. As ageism is still alive and well we would like this to be considered when looking at the diversity of the funding applicants.”

Submissions to the documentary guidelines review close on October 27. New guidelines will be published in February and will be effective from July 1.

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