It’s a weird sort of thing, but I have a project headed for Cannes to look for financing this year. It doesn’t happen every year and it’s been a while since I’ve had a script doing the rounds so it feels strange. The producer-director is an Australian citizen, a fellow graduate from AFTRS but he is a migrant from Lithuania, way back when it was a communist satellite state. He is, however, also a member of the European Film Academy. He’s somebody in Europe, as opposed to a struggling borderline unemployable middle aged person back here in Australia; and this owes no small thanks to the complete retreat of the Australian government from supporting the Australian Film Industry.
We have approached Screen Australia for support but the answer we got was that the project was not going to be Australian content so we had no chance of getting any such support. We pointed out that ‘The Great Gatsby’ was hardly Australian content but received millions in investment from Screen Australia, all on the back of its creatives being Australian and it being shot in New South Wales. The answer we got was “that was Baz and his team. You’re not Baz.”
In other words, Screen Australia supports only that which is already successful and doesn’t need support. No surprises there. Who wants risks in the film industry? Crazier still, the institutional narrowness of having such a selection ‘criterion’ – while well known and understandable – can be a big filter that weeds out successful projects. It seems to be the negative imprint that matches the tremendously unsuccessful commerce that is the Australian Film Industry. Honestly, on some simple level my producer-director ought to be getting more support than he is, just as other producers I’ve worked with ought to have received more support, from their own government agency.
Frankly, it’s a disgrace.
I’ve been wondering about how things came to this path for him and I. Obviously, I am neither European or the sort of screenwriter that aspires to the kinds of art house fare that is being planned with this project, but it still seems to me quite absurd that people properly credentialed as Australian film makers should have to go look for funding overseas. I will point out that this is the third project in my life that the principal money would have to come from overseas before an Australian bodies would look to support it.
This is my blog, so I’m just registering my bubbling discontent right here. But really, I ought to be happy that my producer-director has hocked his whole life to get to Cannes on his own to look for funding. No? Instead, all I feel is a desire to kick Screen Australia in he crotch.
I guess if my producer-director does get his film up on the back of his trip to Cannes, that would be a kick in the crotch enough.
AUD At US 90c
As David Byrne famously sang “How did I get here?” Here’s a random bit of information. Fox Studios in Sydney still has 22years left on its 40 year lease. For the last 18years it has been going, the second half has been marred by the high Australian dollar. In other words, the service subsector of the Australian Film Industry that faced America, has been knocked out by the mining boom and the subsequent high Australian Dollar. Screen Australia had to pay Baz Luhrman to shoot in Fox Studios in Sydney. The structure of investment right there is “good money after bad”, without even getting into the quality of the project or the returns. In fact Julia Gillard as Prime Minister put money into ‘The Wolverine’ from her office to secure the shoot in Australia.
The irony might be compounded by the fact that the NSW Government gave 20th Century Fox a very favourable deal in that 40yar lease in the hopes that it would lead to a constant churn of projects at the Fox lot in the middle of Sydney, transforming the service sector and infrastructure. Back then, nobody thought the Australian Dollar would rise to parity or that it would stay over US 90cents for so long. The back of the envelope calculations that made it competitive and viable had the Australian Dollar between US45c and 55c.
It’s easy to see that one of the most well equipped studios in the Southern Hemisphere is actually a bit of a white elephant infrastructure; a bit like an expensive Rolls Royce that only gets taken out on a rare Sunday. The Australian Film Industry’s service subsector servicing Hollywood will not get viable again until the Australian Dollar practically halves in buying power again. There’s really no other solution to the structural problem there.