Australia is abuzz with long-awaited news: Graeme Mason is the new chief executive of government agency Screen Australia.
Mason [pictured] is currently chief executive of the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) and has held executive roles at PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Universal Pictures and Channel 4. He will take up the role in November.
“After so many years away I am delighted to be coming home to Australia to take on such an exciting role and to build on the great work of Ruth Harley and her team,” said Mason in Screen Australia’s statement. “I am really looking forward to working as part of the Australian screen industry to help tell our stories to domestic and global audiences and to continue to build a vibrant and sustainable screen sector.”
The joke that is rolling off everyone’s tongue is that the NZFC will soon be as famous for producing chief executives for Screen Australia as it is for financing New Zealand films. Mason also replaced Harley at the NZFC.
“Graeme is a very experienced executive with great knowledge of the distribution and production industry,” Brian Rosen, president of the Screen Producers Association Of Australia (SPAA), told Screendaily within minutes of the announcement.
“SPAA looks forward to working with him, especially in constructing new financial paradigms to embrace the rapidly changing distribution model that the internet has instigated.”
Warp Australia’s Anna McLeish, the producer of Snowtown who recently filmed Shopping in New Zealand, said the appointment was encouraging given his track record in New Zealand.
“He ensured talent were supported while also embodying changes in the marketplace and moving with those changes,” McLeish said. “Screen Australia is a bigger machine with many challenges ahead. Notwithstanding this being another offshore appointment to the industry, he embodies a great deal of the proactive mindset needed to tackle these challenges and move forward.”
Robyn Kershaw, producer of one of Australia’s biggest recent local hits, Bran Nue Dae, said she was thrilled for both the organisation and the industry.
“Graeme brings tremendous and expansive international and agency experience and a great love of filmmakers and their compulsion to tell stories,” she said.
Mason recently told Screendaily that the NZFC had funded more films in 2011 and 2012 than at any other time in its history, in part because of the many low-budget pictures being pushed through to develop new talent and encourage on-the-run entrepreneurialism. Many believe that Australia makes too many films in the middle ground.
As Screen Australia points out in its media release, Mason has worked “with large US studios, a UK television network, independent producers and government agencies.” This is much broader experience than Harley brought to Screen Australia in late 2008 after 10 years with the NZFC.
The federal government had decided to overhaul the sector before Harley’s arrival. The agency was created out of the ashes of three organisations and a whole new way of financing was introduced, driven by a producer offset that is worth 40% for Australian films.
During her time the Enterprise Program was ushered in, which provided large amounts of money to support companies rather than merely focus on backing individual projects.
Only Baz Luhrmann and George Miller consistently make films in Australia without the agency and, not surprisingly given this dominance, Harley has supporters and detractors – usually based on who has and who has not managed to get financing.
Screen Australia supports television drama and documentary as well as film but is regularly accused of putting too much emphasis on film.
The decision to appoint Mason was made by the board and ratified by the Minister For Arts Tony Burke. This month saw Rosemary Blight, one of the producers on The Sapphires, and media lawyer Joan Peters join the board and lawyer Ian Robertson finish his term.
Robertson was deputy chair and has been replaced by Deanne Weir, who has been involved since the board’s inception.
Former managing director of IBM Australia, Glen Boreham, chairs the board and also chaired the Australian government’s forward-looking Convergence Review, which addressed what to do about media law and government support for production given changes in technology and audience habits. The government has yet to give a comprehensive response to the review report.