With new guidelines due to come into force, Australia could see a boost to its already healthy co-production sector. Sandy George reports.


Compared to the past, Australia has an impressive number of foreign co-productions in development, indicating a new-found desire among its producers to collaborate creatively with the rest of the world.

Not only that, Screen Australia is ripping off the red tape surrounding co-productions, revising the guidelines that cover the current 11 co-production arrangements Australia has in place with countries including the UK, Germany and Canada.

“We kept hearing that one of the barriers to co-production was that it was a bureaucratic, paperwork-heavy and expensive process, and if we can come close to fixing those problems and making the guidelines more flexible and user friendly we can unshackle the industry,” says Alex Sangston, manager of the producer offset (PO) and co-production unit at Screen Australia.

“In the Australian context, co-productions give you access to the producer offset and as this is a secure method of financing film, co-production status can be extremely beneficial,” adds Sangston.

But it is not just Australian producers looking outwards. With its skilled filmmaking community, crew and cast depth, diverse locations, favourable climate, and of late, increased ambition for international collaboration, it is no surprise that Australia regularly tops international producers’ lists of potential co-production partners.

As a further sweetener, all official co-productions are regarded as Australian and therefore able to claim the PO - an uncapped rebate worth up to 40% of qualifying Australian expenditure, which is, according to UK producer Andy Paterson (The Railway Man) an “automatic and easy-to-operate system”.

Stronger together

Currently in post is Anton Corbijn’s highly anticipated Life, a co-production with Canada and Germany for See-Saw Films. Luke Davies’ script traces the real-life friendship between James Dean and photographer Dennis Stock, played by Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson respectively.

‘If we can make the guidelines more flexible and user friendly we can unshackle the industry’

Alex Sangston, Screen Australia

Camera d’Or winner Michael Rowe (Leap Year) films Rest Home this year, also in Canada. The co-production stars Melissa George and Paul Doucet, and Canada’s Serge Noel is producing alongside Freshwater Pictures’ Trish Lake.

“It is possible that we will make [director Liselle Mei’s debut] Red Earth as a UK co-production and we are also in discussions with potential European and South African partners for White Knuckles, written by Roger Monk and to be directed by Pia Marais (Layla Fourie),” says Lake, whose credits for her Queensland-based production company include Gettin’ Square.

Australian producer Heather Ogilvie, under her Galvanized Film Group banner, and the UK’s Sarah Radclyffe are setting up writer Jan Sardi’s adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures as a co-production, with considerable backing already in place from Icon.

Lake and Ogilvie are among the 15 producers that will be at Ausfilm Week London (October 20-23). The event aims to develop co-production activity, and will move on to Los Angeles (October 27-31).

Another UK-Australia co-production at the planning stage is caper film King Of Thieves, based on Adam Shand’s book about the Kangaroo Gang shoplifters who operated in the UK in the 1960s and ’70s. Andrew Knight and Essential Media’s Ian Collie, who was the originating producer on Saving Mr Banks, is working with the UK’s David Parfitt.

Finite resources

In the last three years Elixir with Germany and Absolute Deception with Canada have gone through the system without Screen Australia support.

Sangston regards any co-productions outside head of production Sally Caplan’s “finite budget” as a good thing because it creates more production activity and reduces pressure on the federal agency’s resources.

In addition to the territories mentioned, Australia has treaties with Italy, Ireland, Israel, South Africa, Singapore and China, and memorandums of understanding with France and New Zealand. A treaty with Korea has been signed but not ratified and negotiations are underway with Denmark, India and Malaysia.

During the same period, Maya The Bee and Lore (Germany), The Railway Man (UK) and Adore (France), all picked up Screen Australia investment while 10 films went through in the previous three years, including Bait with Singapore and The Dragon Pearl with China.