As CEO of Film Victoria it has been incredibly rewarding to see Victoria increase its production output significantly by ensuring we have healthy diversity of production activity across drama, documentary, comedy, kids and games being derived from a mix of both local and international companies, whether through production or PDV work.
This is something that all State Screen agencies aspire to achieve on behalf of their respective practitioners, as does Screen Australia on a national level. It’s a harder task than it appears, due to the many variables involved that are beyond our control. So congratulations to all on the outstanding record year that we have collectively achieved for the Australian Screen Industry.
There is no doubt we have an abundance of talented writers, directors, actors, technicians and producers across Australia, creating world class content we can all be proud of.
The challenge for all of us is that no matter in what capacity we operate we’d all like to be doing more. The small size of our domestic population and local market constrains this. Which is in part why we have government intervention at both Commonwealth and State levels. The other reason being to preserve and reflect Australia’s cultural identity by supporting the production of diverse ‘Australian Made’ content so that is easily and readily available for the Australian public to enjoy on screen, rather than them only being able to choose from a majority of cheaper foreign content.
I’d like to acknowledge the strong support of Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley and the Victorian government. They recognised the social and economic value of the creative industries in April 2016 by establishing a clear strategy to support and stimulate the Arts. This approach has since been followed by several other Australian states.
Frustratingly at a Commonwealth level a vision for the Creative Industries across Australia and specifically for the screen sector is notably lacking. In their submissions to the House of Reps Inquiry and the Australian Content and Children’s Government Review, our guilds, screen producers and businesses, broadcast and other partners applied considerable effort in articulating their arguments recommending a range of much needed amendments and improvements to the offset legislation, content standards and quotas that regulate our industry. We now curiously, if not anxiously await the options or recommendations these reviews will put forward.
But how much more valuable could this effort have been if it had been driven by a more visionary proposition such as “How do we grow the Australian Screen Industry from a 3 billion dollar industry to a 5 or 10 billion dollar industry in the next 5 or 7 years, followed by asking ‘what are the regulatory and other settings needed to achieve this?’
This would be a productive and positive way to harness the energy and potential of our industry. Having a goal that aims to maximise the economic, cultural and social value of making high quality, original Australian content for the Australian people, content that can also appeal to global audiences, would provide the industry with a clear focus. It would help promote Australia, its voice, stories, landscape and talent to the world. It would also give the competing forces a united and common objective that better serves the interest of the Australian tax paying public.
An idealistic proposition to be sure, but strong leadership is driven by seeing opportunity, having a vision and sometimes strategically taking a risk. And strong leadership is what we are in need of to promote stability, certainty and a sense of possibility, as an industry and a country.
In 1966 US Senator Robert F Kennedy said, “Like it or not, we live in interesting times”. 51 years on that’s certainly true for most of us here in Australia and elsewhere. The past 12 months has seen huge political and social shifts, with conservatism and protectionism reclaiming a hold in the UK, the USA and other countries. This is largely I suspect driven by voter fear with politicians taking advantage of that fear, rather than offering policies that would help promote confidence and certainty and encourage people to be more generous and empathetic toward those in need or in less fortunate situations.
The recent Marriage Law Postal Survey, which thankfully delivered a resounding YES, is an example of this. It was an awful debate that caused an incredible amount of unnecessary distress for the members of the LGBTQI community, their families and friends. Fortunately the empathy and compassion we are capable of as a nation came out in force to raise its voice and allowed Australia to shine again.
We have State elections coming thick and fast. Queensland, where One Nation’s popularity is on the rise, goes to the polls on November 25. South Australia will follow in March 2018, then Tasmania, Victoria and NSW within the next 12 or so months. In amongst those there has to be a Federal election. It is going to be interesting to watch all this play out.
Meanwhile those of us in the screen industry will be waiting in hope that some of the updates needed to the producer offset can find their way through Parliament before everything or everyone goes AWOL and that the Federal Budget in May 2018 will bring renewed funding for the industry. A tad optimistic or perhaps not?
In every challenge there is an opportunity. I congratulate SPA, AWG, ADG & MEAA for joining together to create the Make it Australian campaign. With the Commonwealth Senate and House of Representative elections due in 2019, 2018 will be the perfect time for all of us as individuals and screen businesses to pick up on that work. We need to convince the general public to embrace and own the Make it Australian campaign. We also need to hound our federal politicians about the value of the Australian screen industry and the jobs and benefits it delivers in their local electorate. I strongly encourage everyone to do whatever they can to maximise the impact and public reach of this campaign.
We know Politicians want to win elections. To do this they need votes. They get votes by putting up policies and funding things that voters care about. We need the general public to want the Make It Australian to succeed as much as we do. We need all political parties to realise that a bipartisan policy position to support and grow the creative industries, and especially the screen production industry will ensure the longevity of Australian creativity and stories being made for the enjoyment and benefit of the Australian public. Health, Education, Roads, Transport, Infrastructure, social welfare are all important and costly budget items. However culture adds vibrancy, perspective and inspiration to our daily lives. There must be some balance. Strategic and considered policies geared to increase the production of Australian content would deliver significant economic benefits by increasing foreign investment into Australia, in addition to increasing jobs, exports, tourism, technological innovation and the creation of original IP. All it takes is political will and a vision to enable this to happen.
Meanwhile we do have some behavioural issues that need to be addressed. Whilst not necessarily as obvious or rampant the Australian Screen Industry is not immune to the attitudes, disrespect, intimidation and harassment that has been exposed in Hollywood and elsewhere. So we are all now on notice that it is time for this to stop. We need to be prepared to call this out as and when it occurs without fear of retribution. Only by taking action and calling that type of behaviour into account will we be able to seriously redress this issue.
So yes, these are indeed interesting times.
Which means it’s also time to think about what matters to you and what you’re prepared to stand up and fight for. Be decisive and look to how and where you can make a more proactive contribution that might help strengthen our industry. There are many great role models to take inspiration from.
As 2017 comes to a close we will see a change of Agency CEO’s, so I would like to acknowledge the significant contribution my colleagues Ian Booth at Screen West, Annabelle Sheehan at SAFC and Dave Gibson at NZFC have made in growing and enhancing the creative output in each of their respective jurisdictions during their tenures, as have all of the Screen Agency heads, so my congratulations again to all.
Likewise Jenny Buckland CEO and Bernadette O’Mahony Head of Development and Production at the ACTF have achieved some amazing outcomes for Australian Children’s content and continue to argue its value and fight for its survival.
Debra Richards, Kate Marks and the team at Ausfilm do an equally fantastic job of promoting Australian talent, incentives and locations to the world.
Whilst Neil Peplow CEO at the AFTRS has spearheaded many wonderful initiatives since he assumed the role two years ago.
And I am sure Jan Mueller will do equally important things to preserve our screen history as the CEO of the National Film and Sound Archive.
Graeme Mason, Fiona Cameron, Sally Kaplan, Richard Harris and the team at Screen Australia have made great strides in driving the gender issue, along with many other great initiatives.
Along with the ABC,SBS and NITV we are incredibly fortunate to have so many great organisations in place to support our industry and this should not be taken for granted.
Though faces and names may change our remit, as individual and collective organisations, remains to stimulate production, support and champion talent, create and sustain employment opportunities and foster strong partnerships that will see Australian made content flourish here at home and internationally and well into the future.
Like any producer, agencies face the ongoing challenges of working within a budget and financing framework. A key challenge is to ensure that we continuously innovate and improve our offerings to fit with shifting policy agendas. We must also deliver target outcomes and find persuasive arguments to ensure government funding is renewed and can be justified against competing priorities.
As an industry, The need to work together and with a united voice has never been stronger. We need to be smarter at selling our economic and cultural value, as we embrace new technologies and production methodologies, seek alternative sources of finance and new markets, whilst maximising the funding and regulatory support we already have.
Together, the Australian screen industry can be greater than the sum of its parts, be they big and small projects, companies, agencies … or individuals. It’s in your hands. Our future is bright if we seize the opportunities available to us, think global and occasionally take some strategic risks.
I’ve been most fortunate to enjoy 10 incredible years at Film Victoria, with the last six and half as CEO. It has been a pleasure and privilege to have served the organisation and both the Victorian and Australian industry over that time. And an even greater pleasure to have been able to assist so many talented teams bring their docs, drama, comedies, features and games to life finding success at home and abroad, with the support of the fantastic staff and Board at Film Victoria.
My congratulations to everyone who works in our industry and has contributed to its continued growth and success. My sincere thanks to all those I’ve worked with over that time for the wonderful collaboration and friendship we’ve shared. It’s been an incredible experience. I look forward to working with you in other capacities in this fantastic and sometimes crazy industry.