SCREEN INTERNATIONAL: Just 11 official co-productions have gone into production in the last four years, eight with the UK. Why doesn't Australia make more co-productions and more with other countries'
BALDERSTONE: Co-productions are a result of stories naturally relevant to two participating countries. Given our shared history and close relationship with Britain, many stories emerge that qualify for official co-production status. These deals can be extremely complicated and the fact that Australian-UK co-productions occur quite frequently provides a level of comfort to financiers and funding bodies.
BROWN: Co-productions are based on a points system that matches financing expenditure with creative points: they make the Rubik's Cube seem relatively simple. Australia doesn't do more with other countries because the original agreements were based on and are slanted towards working within the Commonwealth. Also, producers are mostly English speakers and monolingual and tend to look for partners from the UK and Canada rather than Europe.
SHERMAN: We share a lot with the UK culturally and so there are many stories that link us, and the UK has supplied a lot of tax-incentivised money in the past, which has now largely disappeared. There is great scope to co-produce with other countries. Australia needs to open itself out to the world more.
What change would you like to see in the rules around co-productions'
BALDERSTONE: Australian expenditure can't always directly correlate with the talent points. There needs to be some flexibility to ensure that we are not discouraged from using Australian heads of department simply to make the numbers work. The focus should always be on making the best film and, where a co-production is legitimate, every effort should be made to ensure the creative vision for the film is not compromised due to unduly strict guidelines.
SHERMAN: There is no flexibility for any of the key elements of a co-production to come from a non co-producing country, aside from actors in extraordinary circumstances. Ironically, this is less flexible than the requirements to qualify as a fully Australian film.
SHTEINMAN: An encouraging attitude wouldn't go astray, and the devotion of greater bureaucratic resources is necessary.
Foreign finance contributes about a quarter of the total budget of the annual Australian slate (excluding US-financed blockbusters such as Australia). Will the offset encourage more international co-financing of non-official co-productions'
BROWN: The offset is the most important event in Australian film history apart from the introduction of division 10BA of the Tax Act (no longer used for film). It will make co-financing much more appealing, particularly now the Australian dollar is dropping like a stone. However, the main problem is the lack of banks prepared to cashflow the offset. The global monetary crisis is not helping.
MACGOWAN: South Solitary, which shoots soon, is a non-official co-production with foreign finance. There will always be partners, such as UK equity funds, who want a preferred position and the offset isn't a factor in those investment decisions. However, on another co-production, our ability to convert the offset into what is effectively a grant, allows us to make the film for less or, rather effectively, allows us to cast at a more achievable level.
SHERMAN: Some bigger and/or interesting stories that may have been optioned or part developed by overseas producers might be set up as Australian films now, bringing in Australian producers, a director, a writer. This is great for the industry as Australian producers will be able to take a meaningful position in films that might otherwise not have been made here. Because the films still need to qualify as Australian, they will have all the necessary Australian elements and so will benefit Australian key creators and crew.
SHTEINMAN: Non-official co-productions accessing the offset must pass the Australian test. Therefore I can't see why they will attract a greater amount of foreign finance compared to the previous system, other than that they can receive subsidy with no upper dollar limit. Maybe we will see an occasional big one.
How do you believe Australia's feature-film output will change as a result of the introduction of the offset'
MACGOWAN: This will depend, to a degree, on how Screen Australia co-invests with the offset: with just the offset, the money the Australian co-producer can provide will be less than they were able to contribute previously.
SHERMAN: It should substantially increase the number of films we make. As producers have equity in their films now, it should encourage producers to think more like investors.
SHTEINMAN: There will be a greater volume of smaller films and a greater volume of larger films and a much diminished middle ground. More genre films will be produced and more large official co-productions.
Why do Australian films find it difficult to get into cinemas worldwide'
BALDERSTONE: Unfortunately our films are typically lower budget which means the stories are, almost by definition, personal or parochial. Every country has their own stories which are more relevant to them culturally. With increased budgets, more ambitious stories and enhanced production values, we should see this improve.
BROWN: Mainly casting and subject matter. Distributors don't want films without stars and audiences don't want to watch depressing personal films about drug addiction and personal angst. When was the last time you saw an Australian romantic comedy'
MACGOWAN: They don't deliver a unique enough product to justify the cost of theatrical distribution.
SHERMAN: There is no bias internationally for or against Australian films. The films that are good enough and have a clear understanding of their audience and market find that audience.
Deborah Balderstone runs Working Title, Australia, and produced the UK-Australian co-production Gone, directed by Ringan Ledwidge. Before moving to Sydney she was a partner in London-based Haystack Productions. Before Haystack she worked at PolyGram Film International, then Universal Pictures.
Chris Brown has produced around 20 features in the UK, Australia and New Zealand and operates from Queensland under the Pictures in Paradise banner. He is in post on Australian-UK co-production Triangle, directed by Christopher Smith, and was a producer on John Hillcoat's The Proposition. Brown and Diana Le Dean have a five-picture joint venture with Italian production company Barbablu.
Marian Macgowan produced Gillian Armstrong's 2007 film Death Defying Acts, an official UK-Australian co-production. She is now preparing for a January production start on Shirley Barrett's South Solitary. Miranda Culley, who has been director Phillip Noyce's Australian partner for seven years, joined Macgowan Films in July.
Emile Sherman has just locked off director Tatia Rosenthal's stop-motion animation $9.99, the first official co-production between Australia and Israel. He was a producer on the recently completed Disgrace, shot in South Africa by Steve Jacobs while an Australian-South African treaty was under negotiation. Sherman produced the UK-Australian co-production Opal Dream, before partnering early this year with the UK-based Iain Canning in See-Saw Films.
Jonathan Shteinman has many credits and operates as Bluewater Pictures. He was a producer on director Roger Spottiswoode's The Children of Huang Shi, the first official co-production between Australia and China; Germany was the third partner. He produced Like Minds, and executive produced The Night We Called It A Day and Oyster Farmer, all of which were made in the last six years as UK-Australian co-productions.