Screen Australia chief executive Ruth Harley released new figures at the close of the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA) conference which showed that the 40% producer offset has injected $83m (A$91m) into the budgets of 19 films in the past two years.
However, producers had mixed feelings about the impact of the offset on the local production industry, which is currently enjoying success but anticipating problems further down the line.
“The figures are handy to know but meaningless unless we can identify what films they are,” said SPAA executive director Geoff Brown in response. Earlier this week he revealed to Screendaily.com the details of a fund he is proposing to address the anticipated downturn.
Indeed, exuberant enthusiasm and dreadful doom and gloom were present in equal measure by the end of the three-day annual conference, which wrapped in Sydney today.
Delegates are feeling upbeat because several outstanding Australian films have pushed up local box office share and there’s more to come with Bran Nue Dae, Daybreakers and Bright Star, but there is little doubt that two key factors behind this success, the high number of films and the larger-than-usual budget size of some of them, are heading for a fall.
Australian producers can access indirect and direct finance, thanks to the 40% uncapped producer offset and Screen Australia respectively, but speaker after speaker made it clear that the shaky global independent film scene made it a major feat to find the other 60% and the traditional obsessive-compulsive-sized dependence on the federal film agency is alive and well despite a reduction in its allocation for film.
Brown says the only true indication of the success of the producer offset is how much private sector finance it attracts and the picture is still blurry – how much of the A$91m is due to Baz Luhrmann’s flash-in-the-pan film Australia would be useful to know but is subject to the strict secrecy provision around the tax act.
Perhaps producer David Hannay summed the mood up best when presented with life-time SPAA membership: “We are at crisis point, but we have to be positive.” Animation producer Sandra Gross was the other recipient.
Registrations had to be closed when they reached 720, which supports his view, although being located in the country’s biggest production centre helped push up numbers.
The conference ended with Melanie Coombs (Mary & Max) being crowned independent feature producer of the year, and Emile Sherman producer of the year overall. Sherman has one of the biggest feature film financing hit rates in the country, with recent credits including Disgrace and $9.99, and the unfinished The Kings of Mykonos and UK/Australian co-production Oranges And Sunshine.
Other producers recognised for their work were Suzanne Ryan for Des Hamilton: Alien Entomologist (children’s television), Screentime for Underbelly Series 2 (television drama), FremantleMedia Australia for MasterChef (light entertainment), Cathy Henkel for The Burning Season (documentary), and Tracks Post-production (services and facilities).
The winner of DigiSPAA, an award for a film originated digitally, and shot without direct government subsidy, was Missing Water, a refugee story that drew on the personal experience of director Khoa Do, who was Young Australian of the Year in 2005.