Behind-the-scenes of ABC’s ‘The Heights’. (Photo: Megan Lewis)

Screenwest has launched a $2.5 million sustainability package, designed to temper the crisis facing the industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Western Australian industry has already lost more than $1 million in revenue and seen nearly 2,700 job losses, according to an initial impact survey. If the crisis extends to September, the loss of income may extend to $7 million.

Among the impacted WA-based productions are Robert Connolly’s Blueback, a feature film adaptation of the Tim Winton novel due to start pre-production mid-year, and Jub Clerc’s coming-of-age movie Sweet As, to be produced by Arenamedia’s Liz Kearney.

Screenwest’s package is funded through a repurposing of existing Lotterywest funding, and will be delivered in addition to funding already committed to current projects.

It is particularly focused on screen practitioners’ activities over the next six months, and has been designed in response to industry feedback. It is targeted at the sectors of the industry that have been hardest hit with job and income loss, in addition to employers in production companies and producers. A mid-to-long term goal of the package is to have a more resilient screen sector in place when the current crisis eases.

Key elements of the package to be launched with immediate effect include:

    • The Bright Ideas Crew Capacity Initiative: A one-time special purpose practitioner initiative aimed at creating new methods of sustainability for the Western Australian production industry. It is aimed at directors and below-the-line crew. This initiative is designed to inspire practitioners to:
      • Enhance, and potentially re-think, their existing work methodologies.
      • Consider what services they can offer to the industry in the current environment and into the future.
        Applicants may apply for up to $5000.
        Applications open today and close April 14.
    • A funding boost to existing Screenwest Development Programs: additional funding will be available across the Small Screen Scripted Development Fund, Documentary Development Fund and Feature Track. Market attachment criteria will be redrafted in light of current market realities.
    • Repurposing and funding boost to the On Demand Content Fund: The fund is now open to emerging, mid-career and established producers and will now accept projects for broadcast, not just online. While still primarily aimed at low budget projects, guidelines have been broadenedto consider projects with mid-range budgets. The projects need to have a pathway to an Australian audience, have a clear risk management strategy in place and be production ready.
    • Taking Care of Business – Production Company and Producer Support Package: A one-time special purpose sustainability fund aimed at enabling WA production companies and producers to sustain their business and to continue to contribute to the screen industry during the COVID-19 crisis. This fund is separated into four tiers providing support to a range of companies and sole operators, depending on their levels of experience, company needs and recent and anticipated contributions to the WA screen industry.
      Tier 1: (Up To) $75,000
      For well-established, high-volume, WA production companies that have significant and well-established infrastructure and overheads in place.
      Tier 2: (Up To) $30,000
      For WA production companies that have moderate infrastructure and overheads.
      Tier 3: (Up To) $15,000
      For WA production companies/producers that have made a significant contribution to the industry and have at a minimum a producer, co-producer or associate producer credit, or confirmed market commitment to at least one theatrical or television production within the last 12 months.
      Tier 4: (Up To) $7,500
      For emerging producers/production companies that have no employees, minimal overheads, and have made a consistent contribution to the screen industry within the past two years.
      Applications close April 14.

In addition to these, Screenwest is expected to announce talent and diversity-based initiatives in coming weeks.

Screenwest CEO Willie Rowe said: “This is unprecedented territory for the Western Australian Screen industry and Screenwest, and we are seeing severe impacts within the sector play out. Screenwest is committed to working with the screen industry and would not have been able to act as quickly as we did without the fantastic support that Lotterywest provides to sustain the sector. Without this funding we would have to look to other already stretched funding sources to meet this need.”

“We hope the new initiatives will build capacity within the industry and help it emerge on the other side of the pandemic with strong foundations, skills and innovative projects to commence a new era for screen in WA.”

Head of strategic projects and screen investment Matt Horrocks added, “Nurturing the talent of our industry is key to enabling it to survive this period. We know investing in development opportunities will enable many members of the industry to sustain work and utilise their creativity. Whilst these initial decisions will provide some support and guidance for the industry, we are still working with our partners on other measures to bolster sustainability. We make no pretense that these initiatives are adequate to the full needs of the sector. They amount to what we can do through the active repurposing of the funds we have. Watch this space.”

The Tasmanian government has also launched a COVID-19 support package, including new funding of $1.5 million and operational measures of over $2 million to support the individuals and organisations in the cultural sector. The Northern Territory government has flagged $1 million reprioritised funding program for the screen sector, and the ACT government is offering a package of $500,000 ACT practitioners (up to $10,000 per artist). Screen Queensland is also expected to be imminently announcing a support package.

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