Screen Australia Presents… Its Guidelines

These People Scare Me

I don’t know what it is about government film bureaucracies and the people they get to make crucial, key decisions for them, but today I found out Ross Matthews is the head of Production Investment. I hadn’t heard Ross’s name in a long while but now that I have my heart has sunk. Dear heavenly hosts, why the fuck did I have to be in the Australian film industry!?

I’m not going to quote the whole thing because it’s privileged content, but this is an excerpt from Screenhub:

Ross explained that this sector is doing relatively well. “Obviously there are two types of feature films now, the offset and the non-offset. Every movie is an offset movie unless it’s under the offset threshold, and if you want to come to Screen Australia you have to utilize the offset as they are looking to do as many productions as we can, and the only way we can do that is by utilizing the offset, cash-flowing the offset and Screen Australia comes along as a top-up.”

He talked about the looming deadline of June 12 for low budget films, which is those under $1.2 million resulting in a QAPE under $1 million, which means it can’t utlize the offset. He said that Screen Australia would hopefully fund two or three features under this program, which don’t need domestic marketplace attachments, although it would be good if you had them.

With the offset, the total amount that can go to any film under the offset is 75% of the budget. “By legislation we can’t top up the budget to any more than 75% of the budget and it will be very rare for Screen Australia to go that high,” he said. They are hoping to fund films to a level of 60 to 65 per cent. “At 75% you’d have to have a really strong cultural remit such as a film like Ten Canoes.”

The assessment process for features has changed, with the merging of the evaluation and marketplace doors, and now there is one door for which you need a domestic distributor, an international sales agent, an idea of where the finance is coming from but the finance plan doesn’t have to be fully formed, and then it can come into the assessment process. At the moment Scott Meek and Tristan Miall are the assessors along with external readers. Every eight or nine weeks a committee meets to decide whether Screen Australia will or will not support the project.

Within the nine-week turnaround the assessors meet with the filmmakers once or twice. “The assessment committee includes the assessors, Ross Matthews, Ruth Harley, any investment managers working on the film, Martha Coleman from development, someone from marketing will be there, and the meeting is extensive and the final decision not taken lightly.”

There was some discussion around the need for a deal memo to be in place. You don’t need a long memo apparently, a one pager is okay. However Bryce Menzies said that even with a one-pager, this means that the deal is then locked in at a time when the distributors and sales agents have the upper hand, and once it’s signed you can’t renegotiate. There was then discussion about therefore whether you needed such deal memos to be signed, or whether the project may be better off with unsigned memos.

Bryce said that at the moment if Scott doesn’t like your project you’re dead in the water, so in a way it would be better to wait to see what he thinks before proceeding into the marketplace.

Dee McLachlan said that it was difficult dealing with a distributor where the budget is changeable depending on what stars will end up being attached to the project.

Ross said he believed the assessment process is currently working well, but the difficulty is the level of the bar that they’re requiring producers to get over. He said that in the next couple of years they’ll have to assess how it has worked. “We have a team of people who take a careful look at the projects, talk to filmmakers, talk at length and meet at length. You can argue about their decision. If it’s a no we’re a bunch of fuckwits, if it’s a yes you’re very happy.”

Well, to be absolutely frank, even if he were to fund one of my pet projects and I were to be a happy-camper director I’d still think he’s a fuckwit. That would be because he would still be one until the day he drops dead, goes to hell, and gets his face raped right off by a flock of extinct pteranodactyls. And he’d still be a fuckwit in my books the day after that. And the week after that too. So there’s nothing new. Moving right along…

Martha Coleman’s a name from my AFTRS days. It’s interesting how that vintage of AFTRS producing grads keep cropping up in Film bureaucracies as opposed to y’know… being producers. It’s a side effect of the industry tanking for so many years under the guidance of such apostates as Ross Matthews, but what the heck, it’s all new and shiny now at ‘ScrOz’, right? Get me my vomit bag puh’lease!

On A More Sanguine Note

It’s nice to know that if Scott Meek and Tristan Miall hate your project, you have zero chance of it getting made, even with a deal in place.

An Issue Of Competence

One of the assumptions we’re forced to live with is that people are competent until proven otherwise. The cop who takes your call after a burglary, the school teachers to whom you entrust the care of your children, the doctor the nurse, the lawyers you entrust for their professional judgment. Just as all the accused are innocent until proven guilty, we must presume competence upon all and everybody we meet.

Even if our lifetime of experience tells us that the cop is just some country yokel who couldn’t find any other job but was fortunate to be tall enough to join the police; that the teacher might not be a pedophile but is illiterate; the doctor only passed his courses, the nurse is a sadist, the lawyer a drunk; in spite of all these things we might encounter in our lives as we continually bump in to gross incompetence by people you wish weren’t so, we have to presume competence. And so it is with Screen Australia.

Thus, even after my entire adult life of seeing the Australian government fuck up the industry over and over and over and over again, and the likelihood is that this is going to continue due to institutional inertia and endemic incompetence, I – and by extension you and therefore we – must presume competence of these poor, wretched souls entrusted with making decisions at Screen Australia.

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