Appearance at The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts Hearing

Abi Binning, Executive Director of Wide Angle Tasmania appeared today at the public hearing of The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts to speak to the submission made jointly with the Media Resource Centre to the Inquiry into factors contributing to the growth and sustainability of the Australian Film and Television industry.

We were pleased to have the opportunity to highlight our concern that Australia cannot create a thriving screen industry unless it provides opportunities from storytellers from across the breadth of Australia to participate.  We called for a policy and strategy which allows new skills and new regional voices to enter the market.  The full submission is included below.

30 March 2017

To: The House Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts 

Re: A submission to the Inquiry into factors contributing to the growth and sustainability of the Australian film and television industry. 

Dear Committee members, 

The OECD suggests the best path to economic success is based on ‘developing local knowledge and skills, catalysing networks, having foresight as to areas of opportunity and actively facilitating connections, knowledge sharing and learning systems’. Critical to this is open rather than closed networks. 

For as long as 45 years in some states, Australia had in each capital city a screen resource organisation delivering these very success factors, focussed particularly on the next generation and the generally disenfranchised (rural, women, Indigenous, LBQTI, multicultural & disabled). Historically, they have been the bodies that segue the next generation and a diversity of our community members into the screen industry, closing the gap between study and broader aspirations and the professional screen industry. 

In response to losing around 8% of its funding in the 2014-15 federal budget and what amounted to 2.9% of the Federal Government’s commitment to the screen industry once the Producer’s Offset is also taken into account (at 2012-13 figures), Screen Australia defunded the screen resource organisation in their entirety (valued at $1.2m for 5 organisations) and took $400k out of the Talent Escalator Program. In total, emerging practitioners carried 27% of the burden of a 2.9% cut. 

Prior to its closure, and in response to these cuts, the Sydney screen resource organisation, Metro Screen, commissioned the Emerging Visions report. This landmark research shows that the federal government annually contributes $250 million to screen and media degrees and $419 million to screen production (including the Producers Offset) and would with the aforementioned cuts to the emerging sector provide less than $2 million to emerging screen practitioners. What these figures also highlight is that since 2007 support for film production had grown by 90% while support to emerging filmmakers was set to decline by 80%. 

A major insight of the report is this massive gap between learning and earning, capturing the lack of considered policy in regard to talent renewal. In plain terms, what the gap highlights is wastefulness - a federal government willing to fund degrees for a new generation but not to provide a career pathway in order to use this knowledge and talent. What also needs to be understood about this gap is that it represents the loss of future opportunities in what is regarded as one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy – the creative/contents industries. 

Emerging Visions also did significant research on the factors that led to the launching of a successful screen career. They are:

  •   Formal education and training 

  •   Production experience 

  •   Networks 

  •   Personal qualities including ‘talent’ 

  •   Overall reputation 

    These factors are remarkably similar to the OECD aforementioned success factors – facilitating networks and collaboration, providing {production} opportunities to demonstrate talent and build a reputation and professional development programs that focus on skills and knowledge. These are the very bread and butter program elements of the screen resource organisations. 

    Screen resource organisations have now been without federal funding (except for modest project grants) since January 2016. They have closed or are failing in large cities with scaled production (ie. Sydney, Brisbane & Melbourne), where large private screen businesses and broadcasters exist which might (though don’t necessarily) carry the cost of absorbing trainees and interns. Since the defunding of the screen resource organisations, Screen Australia has begun to recognise the scale of the gap at least in regard to access by investing funding in programs designed to increase diversity (such as Gender Matters and Developing the Developer). However, this is done as limited time-frame initiatives and also without the on-the-ground presence and local networks underpinning screen resource organisations, all of which makes access and diversity work over the long term. 

    Where screen resource organisations continue strongly is in Adelaide, Hobart, Perth and Byron Bay in part because in these jurisdictions, without scaled up production companies or active broadcasters, there is strong community and industry support for these organisations to continue. In Tasmania the philanthropic sector stepped in to fund the operations of Wide Angle Tasmania – providing a stopgap rather than a long-term solution. As not for profits with the purpose of assisting young people and supporting fair and diverse access, their boards have worked strategically in order to ensure pathways for the up-and-coming talent in their small cities and regional towns. They have significantly reduced staff, drawn on their reserves and cut programs which saw the next generation in every state making shorts for ABC2 as part of the Raw Nerve initiative. However, they still continue to deliver important services to an engaged and ever growing constituency. For example, Adelaide’s Media Resource Centre (MRC) currently has 71 people participating in its Springboard screen development program with a membership increasing by 200% since 2015. As federal funds disappeared, the MRC developed the New Screen Makers Conference to keep networks open and information around innovation, opportunities and trends flowing. The Conference has sold out twice, and is broadcast nationally via community television with hubs in Byron Bay and Hobart. 

    Any strategy to ensure the growth and sustainability of the Australian screen industry must address the lack of a career pathway between learning and earning. The federal government must find the funds to provide a pathway to ensure generational renewal in regard to ideas and skills that fosters a diverse constituency (now widely recognised as a success factor in new economies) by being open access.

The pathway must address the needs of the breadth of this country. It cannot just be a fingers crossed default strategy in which it is hoped scaled production in Sydney and Melbourne might pick up the slack or that all young people can find a path through You Tube. We ask the Inquiry to consider the need to find funds for the screen resource organisations that have survived in small cities and regions in order for them to have sufficient resources to continue as a successful talent renewal pathway. 

We note that Senator Fifield recently returned the diverted Catalyst funds to the Australia Council in order to re-dress funding issues for the small to medium arts sector, and in doing so acknowledged the importance of an ecology based on renewing generational talent by providing opportunities at grass root levels. Screen resource organisations have been the small to medium not for profits of the screen industry. Sorting out how these small to medium not for profit screen organisations are to access federal funds must also be an imperative of the federal government – given the dominance of screen content in the global cultural landscape. 

Recommendation 

  •   Closing the gap between learning and earning in the screen industry by the federal government re-investing on-going funds at 2015-16 levels in the surviving screen resource organisations. 

  •   Consider ways of redressing this gap in the states where screen resource centres have closed or are slated to close. 

Yours sincerely, 

Gail Kovatseff 

CEO
Media Resource Centre 

Abi Binning 

CEO
Wide Angle Tasmania 

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