In an attempt to drag Australian films out of the doldrums, Film Finance Corporation Australia (FFC) has unveiled a plan to radically overhaul its funding procedures.
The proposals would give the government-owned financier much more control over which films get funding.
Under the existing model other industry players make the decisions and the FFC is the last in with its investment. In other words, advances and guarantees from sales agents and local distributors, and at least 40% of the budget already being in place, principally act as the triggers and the FFC has limited ability to reject projects that meet the guidelines.
While this model will stay in place, albeit with more stringent conditions attached, the FFC also wants to introduce a second model where marketplace attachments are no longer a prerequisite of the application process.
Instead, two yet-to-be-appointed staff members will fully evaluate all aspects of the film package submitted. Once a project gets through this process, the FFC would then work with the producer to bring in other partners and offset the risk.
In the notes attached to the draft guidelines Australia is described as "probably the only country in the world where the main film production agency has not given substantial weight to the creative merit of the project."
The shake-up has been coming ever since Brian Rosen was appointed chief executive last year, but the new guidelines spell out the changes and officially throw open the doors for discussion.
If implemented, the new rules will finally put an end to the vexed question of whether the FFC should or should not make subjective decisions.
"Let us be absolutely clear about this. Through evaluation, we want to identify a slate that shows strong potential not just for audiences but for kudos on the festival circuit," said Rosen, who expects to get 50 to 80 scripts when the model is first put in place. "It is going to be much tougher for those films that are not distinctive enough to stand out."
One of Rosen's big aims is to entice Australians home who are working on the world stage, including directors with pet projects and actors wishing to contribute to their local industry.
He is also trying to increase the diversity of Australia's film slate, by adding films budgeted over $7.5m (A$10m) and allowing genre films for example, while boosting the country's production capacity. To this end he is lobbying Government for more money and has undertaken a feasibility study into using FFC resources to underpin a fund also involving private investors.
"To be brutally honest, due to the conservative nature of the Australian financial market, it is perhaps better that we seek out money from overseas."
An initiative introduced by Rosen last year, namely putting up distribution guarantees for Lantana director Ray Lawrence's Jindabyne and The Boys director Rowan Woods' Little Fish, looks like it is going to bear fruit: contracting has just begun on both films, he said.
"We, the FFC, cannot make great films but we can create an environment in which great films can be made. If we can do that we can put the spotlight back on Australia."
The FFC will be holding public meetings to discuss the guidelines with the industry, and will meet with the relevant industry unions and associations. The guidelines are intended to come into effect from June 30.