Dec 21, 2012

Screen Oz calls cut on funds — drama ends six months early

Australian film and television funding body Screen Australia has spent all its drama budget -- six months ahead of the end of the financial year. How could it let the kitty get so low?

Ben Eltham — <em>Crikey</em> arts commentator

Ben Eltham

Crikey arts commentator

Screen Australia Australia's federal screen agency has spent all its money for drama ... six months early. How do we know? Because they told us. In a media release. On Tuesday, Screen Australia issued an "Industry Alert 2012", abruptly informing Australia's screen community that the federal funding agency had spent most of its money for the 2012-13 fiscal year. As a result, Screen Australia is cancelling the rest of its drama funding for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The kitty is now empty. The cupboard is bare. What happened? Well, nothing really. Screen Australia has simply given out all its available drama funding -- $23 million of it. As the statement says, "the pressure on Screen Australia production funds in the lead-up to the 14 December 2012 Board meeting was extremely high, with an unprecedented number of quality feature film and television projects seeking support". As a result, 2013 applicants will miss out. Screen Australia says its board meeting in April (the forthcoming January deadline) will not be accepting funding applications, and the television funding round in May has been cancelled altogether. There will be a funding round in June, but "funding will be limited, and will depend on funds previously committed to lapsed projects becoming available":
"Screen Australia is aware that this news will be disruptive for some producers. It is very unfortunate that we are in this position; however, please stay in touch with your Investment Manager as your project progresses."
Industry reaction has been muted. Owen Johnston, head of production at the Screen Producers Association of Australia, told Crikey the issue is the overall lack of funding, "especially given the demand". "We're sympathetic to Screen Australia," he said. He argues that because Australia has no annual pattern of screen production, commissioning is often lumpy across any given year. "These sorts of problems are part of the nature of funding agencies. There's not enough money to satisfy the strong demand," he said. "I would add that we think that if the Producer Offset for television was increased to 40%, the same level as feature film, this problem wouldn't exist and commissioning of television productions wouldn't be disrupted."
"Screen Australia might be trying to pretend it has been overwhelmed with high-quality applications, but its hard to see how this is good budgeting."
Putting a brave face on the situation, Screen Australia's head of production investment, Ross Matthews, told Crikey the situation "reflects the current strength of the Australian film industry, rather than Screen Australia's fiscal management". "It is always hard to predict when film and television projects will have the funding jigsaw in place and be ready to go," he said. "The process of putting a film together is not only about a finance plan but also, critically, a matter of timing -- such as artist availability and seasonal considerations. Putting a 'production ready' project back a couple of rounds in order to keep money in the pot for future rounds can be detrimental to the quality of the projects as they may lose artists, financiers, locations, etc. "The fact is that Screen Australia was called on to fund considerably more 'production ready' quality projects in the first half of the financial year than we had anticipated." Matthews points out Screen Australia has increased the number of its funding rounds this year, from four to seven, "in at attempt to reduce timing pressures on producers". As a result, "it has proved impossible, with only $23 million to spend, to quarantine sufficient funds for the latter half of the cycle when so many finance-ready and quality productions are coming through the door". Screen Australia might be trying to pretend it has been overwhelmed with high-quality applications, but its hard to see how this is good budgeting. In other funding agencies, such as the Australian Research Council or the Australia Council, it is accepted that high-quality applications will often miss out in any given round, simply because there is a finite amount of funding. That doesn't mean they give out all their money simply because a particular round has a lot of great projects. After all, how is the agency to know that the applications received in the next round won't be just as good? By spending all the funding for 2012-13 by the end of 2012, Screen Australia is effectively telling producers that those whose projects were unlucky enough to fall in the second half of the year are simply unlucky. Drama applicants will have to wait until the kitty is refreshed in the 2013-14 fiscal year. Screen Australia is an independent statutory body and can spend its money how it likes. As a spokesman for Arts Minister Simon Crean told us this week, "it's up to Screen Australia to manage its budget".

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12 thoughts on “Screen Oz calls cut on funds — drama ends six months early

  1. Scott

    The press release says the funding available for drama was $42 million, not $23 million (as mentioned in the above article). Am I reading it wrong?

  2. Michael Ware

    not to put anyone at any film funding body I may yet apply to off-side politically, but, may I say, as a pathetically sad little fledgling production outfit, THIS IS REALLY, WHAT, DISHEARTENING? Let’s say that. We must constantly punch above our weight in these digital days, so it’s a comfort to know our hometown can’t back us this long, dark, coming financial year. choice, bro. hey?

  3. Michael Ware

    I probably shoulda changed my name, in retrospect. no?

  4. Arty

    Maybe I don’t understand the issue.

    They have spent their allocation for year 2012-13. Is that supposed to be bad?

    What if they were to spend the same amount of money on the same projects, but spread it out over 12 months – would that be good?

  5. paddy

    I’d be fascinated to see a simple list of these “high-quality applications”. Anyone got a link?

  6. Michael Ware

    I’m with “paddy”, so-called. a link, yes. do. let’s.

  7. Arty

    MICHAEL WARE: just be ready to swamp them with applications on I July 2013.

  8. Michael Ware

    lot of meal times between now and 1 July 2013, just sayin’. assuming taxpayers’ cash is all on good things. right? so good we can gobble up our entire annual budget half a year early. right? absolutely good things?

    don’t mind me. I’m just failing spectacularly to make ends meet. bittermuch, me? perish the thought. only forecasting, as US pilot cycle gears up starting next month. or so.

    no gov back-up? just checking, honestly. no harm, no foul. merely clumsily inquiring. just wanna know, heading in to New Year.

    Desperate and Depraved.

  9. neil busacca

    It is ridiculous to compare the funding to the Australia Council etc.
    As Ross Matthews clearly piunts out there are often severe time constraints on funding.
    Stars, locations, finance etc may only be available for a short window of time and Screen Australia has to move quite fast.
    Im sure the other funding bodies do nothave such deadlines and many of their prrojects can simply be funded in another funding round.
    Time constraints are a key difference.
    Thats not to say that Screen Australia are terribly well organised.
    As with the previous film bodies AFC and FFC funding tends to go to ‘mates’ in a small incestuous industry.
    Its remarkable how many on the funding bodies end up working n films they have funded.
    Graft and nepotism.
    The only solution is to scap all these ‘cultural bodies’ or should i say ‘cultural filtering bodies’ and bring back a simple tax exemption like 10BA.
    During the 10ba period Australia made most ofits great films and producers were out there grabbing investors and making films rather than submitting forms to Government bodies like an advanced Centrelink.
    Sure some rubbish was made in the 10ba days but it was a prolific creative period unmatchedin Australia.
    Then Someone who knew little aboutthe industry came in and created the conservative Gonski report which led to a dropping of the deduction and introduced dripfeed funding from the government and hence the mostly tame, timid and out oftouch shows produced that have mostly minimal audiences.
    When was the last time you saw an Australian drama that was remotely political and had something relevant to say rather than simple social programmng.
    Australian film bodies and producers live in fear of.becoming the target of an Andrew Bolt article and hence don’t push the limits.

    The key to a career in producing in Australia is network, become matey with film funders, rush films out if you can get finance, grab your producer fee and repeat. Funding bodies take such a huge chunk of any ‘success that is hardly worth doing the real hard yards to push a film or itspromotion to the maximum.

    Sad but true.
    – from an industry insider.

    PS – what was the lastAustralian film you recommended to yourfriends (if any)?

  10. James Butler

    sad how dependent australians arts and media on government funding, its like a socialist country.

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