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Irish Film Trip To Australia
22 Apr 1999 :
18 - 23 March 1999

Delegation:


Tania Banotti:- Film Makers Ireland
Peter Boyland: - Boyland Consulting
Richard Boyle: - Owen Drumm Design
Jim Colgan: - Editline
John Cummins: - Independent Pictures
Paul Donovan: - Bandit Films
Teresa McGrane: - Wildfire Films
Paul Moore: - Ardmore Sound
Liam O' Kelly: - Viscom
Liam O' Neill: - Paradox Pictures
Tristan Orpen-Lynch: - Subotica Productions Geraldine Quinn: - Indi Films
Dominic Wright: - Subotica Productions


(The Minister for Arts, Silé de Valera, Rod Stonemann and Claire Duignan were also in Australia and took part in some of the meetings.)

The timing of the visit was to capitalise on the fact that the Minister was going to Australia and had agreed to meet the Australian Film Commission. The purpose was to make initial contact with the main organisations and individuals in the film industry, explore what kinds of co-operation are possible under the new Irish-Australian Co-Production Treaty, and find out more how the industry is structured. Producers and facilities/technical people in the Irish delegation set up individual meetings with producers, financiers and broadcasters alongside group meetings.

It's worth saying at the outset that the group was bowled over by the warmth of the welcome we received and pleased at the level of interest shown by producers in working with us. We all came away with a strong impression of how well supported the industry is in Australia at federal and state level, certainly compared to Ireland!

We met the Australian Producers Association (SPAA), the Australian Film Commission (AFC), the Australian Film Finance Corporation (FFC), Fox Studios and various post-production offices in Sydney along with Film Victoria and Cinemedia in Melbourne. In addition the AFC and SPAA brought together groups of producers, distributors and commissioning editors for us to meet in Sydney. Film Victoria did the same thing in Melbourne.

The following is some information we gleaned on the visit. I have also brought back plenty of written information so if you require more details, please contact the FMI office.

General information

The market in Australia is much bigger - over £462 million spent on independent TV and film production last year. Despite this only 17 Australian features were released theatrically last year, achieving only 4% of the box office. (Films like Circle of Friends and Waking Ned Devine did relatively well at the box office). There are about 2000 companies involved in film and TV production, some of the biggest being Grundy, Becker, Southern Star, Beyond and Screen Time.

There are two studios in the country, the largest being Fox Studios in Sydney, the other is Warner Roadshow in Queensland. A combination of a weak Australian dollar, a large pool of talent and technicians, outstanding locations and a very flexible labour relations system have succeeded in attracting major incoming American productions like Mission Impossible II, Babe, Pig in the City and the next two Star Wars prequels. There's a strong possibility of Paramount opening a smaller studio in Melbourne in the next two years.

Regulation and Incentives

There are 5 national broadcasting networks, two of which are state funded ABC and SBS as well as with two pay TV platforms. There is a tough system of quotas on all the broadcasters. For example, a certain percentage of all programmes transmitted have to be Australian, stations such as ABC and SBS have to produce a minimum of 25 hours a year of documentaries. (ABC is involved in the second Irish/Australian co-production with RTE a documentary series "Irish Empire" made by Little Bird/Hilton Cordell). There is also a minimum spend on children's programming and on Australian TV drama which has to be shown in primetime and a certain percentage has to be first run.

There are a variety of financial support mechanisms for the industry provided at both federal and state level. The Australian Film Finance Corporation (FFC) is the primary agency for providing investment to the film and TV industry. It has an annual budget from the government of around £25 million a year as well as income recouped from previous investments. It invests in "qualifying Australian" features, TV movies, documentary and mini series (up to 13 hours).

Investment is provided on the basis that projects are supported by private sector investors such as broadcasters, distributors and sales agents. The FFC have very detailed guidelines setting out the nature and level of their investment for different genre and budgets. These are available from FMI. In the case of co-productions, they consider elements such as the overall level of Australian content, the participation of Australians in key creative roles and whether the project has been originated in Australia. Generally for feature films the FFC expects either the writer or director to be Australian and a major role to be played by an Australian actor. In terms of TV drama/documentary the FFC expects a co-producer to bring a major presale from their country and/or other presales. The FFC will only fund the cost of Australian elements.

The Australian Film Commission has an annual budget of around £7.5 million. It is the responsible body for granting official co-production status. Australia currently has co-production treaties with seven countries.

It markets the industry internationally via representation at the six principal markets and festivals ( MIPTV, MIPCOM, AFM, Milia, Cannes, Sundance) and provides funding for directors and lead actors to attend markets. <

It invests in the development of screenplays, shorts, documentaries and it provides production loans Together with a number of broadcasters, it runs a programme called "Million Dollar Movies" for first time directors.

It supports 'domestic cultural development', which spans a range of activities including supporting film co-operatives, and societies, indigenous filmmakers, film festivals, interactive media etc.

Interestingly for the Irish delegation, the AFC and FFC have laid down more detailed criteria than the Irish Department of Arts as to what Australian elements are necessary for a production to gain co-production status. "It has to be a genuine co-production, this is not about attracting production into Australia for the sake of it". Although it might be cumbersome to obtain official co-production status, this doesn't prevent Irish producers working with their Australian counterparts and through them accessing finds for development and production. Detailed AFC co-production programme guidelines are available from FMI.

There is also a tax incentive known as 10BA which is similar to our Section 481 which has been in existence for around 20 years. Currently relief is set at 100% so the industry doesn't find it very attractive or useful! (In the past it was 150%). It contributed around £12 million in funding for production in Australia last year and is normally used to discount presales or for very wealthy people to offset some of their tax liability.

The government is now introducing a new scheme known as "FLICs" Film Licensed Investment Companies which may replace 10BA. The scheme allows a limited number of companies to raise up to £20 million capital to invest in a slate of Australian film and TV productions, including co-productions.

Film Australia is an initiative unique to Australia. It is a government fund with an annual budget of around £3.3 million dedicated to making documentary programmes in the national interest, and is separate to the AFC or FFC. The interpretation of what constitutes the national interest is very very broad, Film Australia is always open to co-production opportunities.

In addition each state has its own film commission to attract incoming productions and some, such as Western Australia, use lottery money to offer very generous capital grants, tax write-offs and production grants to attract and keep production companies in the state.

Further action

The Irish Film Board and the Australian Film Commission have agreed to host a briefing and reception for Irish and Australian producers during the second week of the Cannes Film Festival in May. A number of Irish producers are considering returning in November 1999 to coincide with the SPAA conference, annual gathering of the whole Australian film and television industry.

What came across in discussions with big production companies such as ScreenTime or broadcasters like ABC is the interest they have in making contact with Irish TV drama companies who produce miniseries and series. (Apparently they find one offs very difficult to sell internationally). In addition several Australian animation companies are interested in exploring partners for co-productions. I will be in contact with Irish companies working in both these areas with lists of interested companies.

Tania Banotti,
Film Makers Ireland
Email: filmmi@iol.ie



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