The beginnings of Screen Australia

Screen Australia, the new film agency that replaced three pre-existing film agencies in the region, just toured the country to get feedback from the industry on the ideas laid out in its initial statement. Executive director of strategy and operation, Fiona Cameron, spoke to realscreen about the consultations and the differences between Film Australia and the model of the three outgoing agencies.
September 25, 2008

Since Screen Australia replaced the Australian Film Commission, Film Australia and the Film Finance Corporation Australia in July of this year, the Minister of the Environment, Heritage and the Arts laid down a statement of expectations and Screen Australia responded with a draft statement of intent. Currently Screen Australia’s executive director of strategy and operation Fiona Cameron is finishing up her tour of the country’s main cities where she met with members of the film industry to get their feedback on the ideas laid out in their initial statement.

The statement itself lays out the underlying principles of the agency which include a producer offset (one of three tax incentives that is available to feature films at 40% of qualifying expenditure and at 20% of qualifying expenditure for all other formats), professional development opportunities, the national interest program, marketing and distribution, reward achievement, more industry and external involvement and cooperation with other agencies.

Realscreen spoke to Fiona Cameron about the consultations and the differences between Film Australia and the model of the three outgoing agencies.

How does the Screen Australia model differ from three organizations that merged to create it?
That’s what we’re developing now, quite honestly. Until the end of this year it’s three under one umbrella. We will continue with existing programs and next year we will launch new programs. Initially, one of the potentially most fundamental changes is involving the industry more. The organization will be smaller, more focused and hopefully more efficient in delivering programs to the industry.

How does Screen Australia intend to help nurture the Australian film industry?
One of the philosophical changes we’re proposing is to help the industry help itself. One of the proposals we’re discussing is an enterprise investment scheme where we’ll provide a considerable amount of money to a range of producers to do a lot of the development work that’s done in house at the moment. While we’ll continue some in house, we believe if we can provide a considerable amount of money for the producers themselves and encourage alliances, get them to come together and do some of these themselves it will serve two purposes. It will assist production houses to grow and become more sustainable, and it will help the industry to encourage trainees to come through and encourage development expertise on projects at production house level rather than this big agency.

We haven’t formally developed a vision yet but it’s along the lines of an innovative, sustainable Australian screen industry that engages more audiences with excellent, culturally impactful content across a range of platforms. That’s quite long winded but we’re saying its about the industry doing that with our assistance.

What percentage of the productions Screen Australia supports will be documentary?
Documentary spending is quarantined and we’re ensuring we’ll spend at least as much as we did with the three organizations. Hopefully it will be more
How we commission or provide for those sorts of national interest documentaries is what we’re looking at. At the moment it’s an executive producer model. We’re consulting with the industry about much more of an outsourcing model whereby [there will be] a group of prominent themes about what needs to be commissioned and then a project manager will manage the contracts with producers. We’re looking at more of a curatorial model than an executive producer model, and we’re getting good feedback from the industry.

In August the agency announced project funding approvals for 13 documentaries, including a doc on Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, a late ’60s TV show about a crime-fighting kanga that became a symbol of the nation. Most of these docs were commissioned under the Film Australia’s National Interest Program. Cameron expects the next round of consultations to begin in mid October, and Screen Australia’s CEO, Dr Ruth Harley, will take her position November 15.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.