Saturday, December 16, 2006

Unfinished Business

I think that the Howard Government has probably drawn the curtain on any more policy decisions for the year. The Prime Minister has last been seen skulking away from a press conference where he might have had to answer questions about the army mislaying some of its weapons of modest destruction. So we can assume that the future bureaucratic arrangements for supporting the Australian film industry are in limbo for another couple of months. All those acting in positions within the bureaucracy can breathe easy for awhile at least and shortly we'll start getting the announcements of new production investments and the hope that next year's crop will be 'audience focussed', targetted at key box-office demographics and all the other management speak that passes for discussion from the financing bodies. What will be done finally when the Government gets round to doing something. (That starts to look now like something for the 2007-2008 Budget. My guess is that the current tax incentives will pretty much remain, or be tweaked just a little perhaps. I doubt there's anyone associated with the Government or its advisors who could dream up a new incentive scheme designed to create a production environment where all of a sudden we start producing great, internationally admired films that are all, or mostly, stunning successes at the local box office. Such success has largely been left to George Miller, and the producers of Kenny both of whom didn't want, or need, any Government intervention at all.

So next year we can probably expect somebody to come up with some rejigged bureaucratic arrangements, probably putting parts of the AFC into the FFC and leaving the residue of the AFC to run the National Film and Sound Archive and the cultural activities stuff like grants for festivals. ....But then again who knows the Government may have been convinced its all in perfect working order already.

In the meantime we have more time to ponder on the figures Gary Maddox produced in the SMH with the box office takes of all the Australian releases. Most disappointing, at least to its prodcuers though hardly surprising to any one who saw it was that for the co-production Like Minds. A film which cost $13m to make grossed the rather modst amount of $35,000 at the box office. It would have found about 3,500 paying punters on that basis. Still box office numbers cant be the be all and end all of the discussion. Just to remind you, Bruce Hodsdon and myself put in a submission to the Government review which recommended a few things about these matters. I dont expect anybody will have taken the slightest notice of what we said but it was nice to get it off our chests. Here's what we recommended

. there should be a clear recognition that the comparative box office performance of Australian films has been unfairly denigrated by the use of inappropriate comparisons;

. the focus of assessment criteria to judge success should be shifted from percentage return on investment and market share to comparative subsidy per consumer. This shifts the conceptual emphasis from a film as a product to a film as a work with intrinsic cultural value with an enduring outreach across national boundaries;

. Australia’s film agencies need to radically rethink the attention given to the process of scriptwriting, the funding of writer/auteurs and the relationships that exist between writers, producers and directors in the Australian film industry; and
there needs to be a strong, forthright and full commitment on behalf of all funding and investment bodies to ensure that our best film-makers, those whose work has been internationally or locally recognized and rewarded, and our best writers, are working more fruitfully and more often.

In the meantime, as a breathless film world awaits these decisions, I wonder whether it's time to ask the question about whether the ABC is in fact setting up some some equivalent of SBS Independent to handle the additional money for drama that it got in last year's Federal Budget. Or has the money just passed through to whomever is doing the commissioning now? That would be nice to know.

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