Thursday, March 18, 2010

Screen Australia and film industry

Greetings from the Screen Australia road show. A government review of support for the screen production industry, including the Producer Offset, is due out today. But at the same time Screen Australia is seeking input on the future of the film industry. CEO Ruth Harley is speaking at a road show around Australia and today is Canberra's turn. The meeting is at the CSIRO Discovery Theatre, with about 60 people present.

What strikes me is that Screen Australia talks about the feature film and TV industry. However, these are now dwarfed by the computer games industry. The Apple iPod has changed the music industry and the iPad may be about to do the same to the TV industry. However, the way Screen Australia works does not seem to have changed since cameras were hand cranked. They seem to be trying to help set up an obsolete analogue last century industry for Australia, rather than a digital one for the future.

Pressure points identified by Screen Australia:
  1. Mid range features ($M10-30 ) lack domestic funding. This is an effect of the government offset, which helps both small and large features, but not mid-range.
  2. Longer documentary series are doing well, but the Screen Australia process is complex for one off documentaries.
  3. Liquidation of SPV has complex legislative issues. Providing a grant has tax issues.
  4. SAC test is currently holistic and has no detailed points score type process which leaves producers uncertain as to what might rate well. Details of previous applications are secret due to tax law. "Reality" TV is uncertain as to if it qualifies as "documentary".
  5. Low budget features may not be helped by lowering the limits on the current tax offsets as this requires a "theatrical release". Low budget films might use other distribution, such as online digital, which does not qualify as "theatrical".
At question time I asked if Screen Australia were addressing digital media. They responded they have initiatives in this area. However, I suggested they need to change their mindset and terminology. Digital distribution is seen as "alternative" by Screen Australia, and theatre distribution normal. I suggest this needed to be reversed. Young consumers see the iPhone as normal and going to a "cinema" as unusual.

Another attendee asked about support for the gaming industry and Screen Australia replied this was a matter of government policy and that representations should be made direct to the government. I got the impression that Screen Australia did not want to address the gaming industry without additional resources.

In my view, as the gaming industry is now larger than the film industry, at least half Screen Australia's resources and the government funding, should be devoted to it and digital media. Screen Australia appears to be stuck in last century technology and unable, or unwilling to change. The government should therefore abolish Screen Australia and set up a new digital entertainment body, which addresses digital media as a priority and also the legacy film industry as a secondary priority.

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Blogger Gye Greene said...

You raise good points. However (and this may be based on a flawed understanding):

-Shooting t.v. shows, films, and movies is the generation of the product. The final format, and distribution, does not affect the front end. Example: Whether a feature-length movie is meant to be shown in theatres, or digitally streamed, production costs will be the same. Thus, I wonder if they simply are more concerned with the front end.

-Asking Screen Australia "what about the gaming industry" is like asking a Woodworker's union "but what about blacksmiths?" A different -- but somewhat related -- field.


March 19, 2010 12:33 PM  

Blogger Tom Worthington said...

Gye Greene said March 19, 2010 12:33 PM :

Shooting t.v. shows, films, and movies is the generation of the product. The final format, and distribution, does not affect the front end. ...

TV, films and movies are just some of the digital media products which can be produced. There are also computer games and various types of content for mobile devices and 3D devices, which require new production techniques.

As an example James Cameron‘s Avatar is released as a 2D and 3D move, but is not produced using conventional film production techniques. A traditional script and storyboard were used, but then sets are constructed as a 3D computer models. While there was some recording of the actors using digital cameras, for most of the “film” the cameras were used just to record point data used for the 3D software to render animation: the video was not used in the final film.

3D data from set models and actors will be used increasingly to build products which are not comparable to “film”. As an example, these will be used to construct video games.

>Asking Screen Australia "what about the gaming industry" is like asking a Woodworker's union "but what about blacksmiths?" A different -- but somewhat related -- field.

A better analogy might be asking the stage coach union about automobiles. Stage coaches are now obsolete as are the skills used to build them. There are very few stage coach builder still in business. Similarly I suggest Screen Australia and the Australian "film" industry, has to decide if it wants to be part of the future digital entertainment industry (in which film will have a minor role), or if they wish to go out of business.

As an example, I design e-learning for vocational and tertiary institutions. These educational materials are not "film" or "TV", but can use digital video. The materials are produced as hypertext documents (web pages), e-books and even can be rendered as old fashioned paper books. That might seem a minor niche industry to film makers, but education is now Australia’s third largest source of overseas earnings, at $15.5 billion in 2008 and supporting 125,000 jobs. If you want to be part of this business, you will have to learn new ways of working.

March 21, 2010 4:46 PM  

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