At annual Screen Producers Association of Australia conference, producers want to make sure local content delivery gets support.

Producers are very worried that the outcomes that flow from the government’s current convergence review will fail to ensure that Australian content stays accessible to Australians in future. This was very obvious at the annual conference of the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA), held this week in Sydney.

The review aims to determine the best regulatory and policy settings for the media and communications industries, including for the production and delivery of local content. This could mean regulating all deliver platforms in proportion to their popularity or removing regulation in favour of a subsidy-only regime.

To ensure overall Australian production levels grow, SPAA president Brian Rosen suggested in his opening address that the producer offset (PO) is pushed up from 20% to 40% for television and, with the scarcity of international pre-sales, hinted increasing the 40% PO already in place for features. The PO is a tax rebate on production expenditure.

“The outcomes emanating from the convergence review are so important to us,” said Rosen. “Get it wrong and we are out of the game. Simple as that.”

But some delegates don’t think much about policy, of course, instead focussing squarely on using the conference to find partners, financing and/or sales.

Producer Michael Clarkin [pictured] and writer/director Rory Noke won DigiSPAA — including cash, a TV presale and a trip to Rotterdam’s CineMart — with their film 10 Metres, about a student who has a bomb strapped to his chest by a vengeful classmate. Described by DigiSPAA co-curator and producer Antony I Ginnane as a “devilishly smart thriller and an almost text book example of using low-budget as a plus”.

At a conference session on casting foreign actors, Ginnane attacked the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance for blocking veteran actor Gena Rowlands from appearing in his film Last Dance, which is now in production.

“If this sets a precedent, no-one is going to pick up an Australian film,” said High Point’s Carey Fitzgerald, the film’s sales agent. MEAA’s move changes the film from being “a really interesting theatrical movie to a small Australian film with no names”, she said. Having a sales agent on board is a prerequisite for getting Screen Australian funding.

The union is not happy with the government’s proposed new guidelines around the entry of foreign cast and members have voted to take industrial action in certain circumstances.

In a session on working with the US, producer Chris Brown suggested the studios would eventually move out of production. No-one howled him down.

In the annual peer-judged SPAA producer awards distributor Natalie Miller won the Maura Fay Award for services to the industry, distributor Hopscotch won the services and facilities award, producers Julian Harvey and Enzo Tedeschi won the breakthrough award for The Tunnel, and Emile Sherman won the feature category for The King’s Speech, which had $10m of its $13m budget financed via presales. Matchbox Pictures, which principally makes television, received the independent producer of the year award.

An affiliation agreement was signed between SPAA and the Producers Guild of America during the conference, which attracted 710 delegates.