WAT Future Forum – member feedback

Background

On Sept 2, 2014 Wide Angle Tasmania’s members and supporters gathered together to discuss the impact of the decision by Screen Australia to cease direct funding of Wide Angle Tasmania beyond Dec 2015. 

80 people attended the evening – including production company directors, emerging and established screen practitioners, Council, government representatives and community partners.  39 individuals who were unable to attend the forum provided feedback via an online survey.

Next steps
The WAT Future Forum was a critical first step for WAT members and supporters to come together and better understand the context that WAT is operating in.  The feedback provided the WAT Board with a clear message that the services provided by WAT are valued and rated as critical for the ongoing production of screen projects within the state.

The WAT staff and Board are now meeting with stakeholders and partners from government, industry and the broader community. These consultation phases will inform and refine the viable options that Wide Angle Tasmania intends to develop and interrogate during 2015.

Summary of Feedback

The forum was structured in four parts:

  1. A summary of WAT’s not-for-profit financial model and a snapshot of WAT’s services.  An outline of the SA decision and the options open to WAT going forward.
  2. A reflection on how WAT is valued by our stakeholders.  We wanted to ensure that, collectively, we understand the core role of the organization in the state.
  3. An exercise to establish the screen aspirations of our stakeholders.  We wanted to ensure that we, collectively, understand what our stakeholders are working towards.
  4. A brainstorm about potential pathways for WAT.  We wanted to explore potential partnerships, trends, opportunities that WAT should consider as we plan for the future.

A number of unifying themes could be identified from responses.   We provide the summary below as a record of the feedback received from the Forum and survey.

How do our stakeholders value WAT?

WAT’s place in the screen sector
WAT was described strongly as a “hub for filmmakers” that acts to link practitioners and projects together.  Our role in supporting collaboration and encouraging a sense of community was highly regarding by respondents. “WAT encourages a feeling of community and of possibility.”

The structure of WAT (as a not-for-profit model with a development agenda) was identified as a key contributor to our capacity to build community and connection - “it can be very comforting to know there's a place to go for advice and learning from experts who are simply there to help - not to extract money from those they support and not with any other agenda.”

WAT’s independence was highlighted as a key strength – WAT is small and independent of bureaucratic organisations but connected with industry such that they can (be) responsive and flexible and targeted.”
Many respondents highlighted the value of WAT’s formal and informal processes for connecting experienced screen practitioners with emerging practitioners in the state – Wide Angle Tasmania empowers new film makers with a vision to turn that vision into a reality by pairing them with industry professionals.” 

One respondent summarized WAT’s place in the sector: They perfectly compliment Screen Tasmania and provide a service that is vital and not within the remit of any other organization.”

WAT provides access to resources
A significant number of responses indicated that affordable equipment hire provided by WAT is critical to individuals creating short films, community organisations creating screen projects and screen practitioners working on commercial and screen agency funded projects.  For many, “hiring their gear means projects can happen. That simple.”

WAT supports screen businesses broadly statewide, reflected best by this comment: “I was made redundant from a commercial television station in late 2010, in the wake of which I set up an independent production business. We're largely self-sufficient now, but in those formative months we had very little money for capital expenditure on equipment purchase etc. Without WAT's equipment hire resources we may well never have made it past that first year.”

WAT also supplements the equipment needs of screen practitioners and enables freelancers and established businesses to provide professional outcomes for clients.  “In everyday terms WAT has helped me provide successful services to my clients. Many times I have used their hire services to facilitate my own productions.”

Strong concern was raised about the lack of other options for sourcing equipment in the state without WAT: “Even though equipment is cheaper now (than it was 10 years ago), you still need a heap of stuff.  If you lose access, this is a very expensive business.”

Respondents overwhelmingly referred to the value of accessing advice and referral through WAT – as a way to engage with industry as a newcomer to the State or the industry, for equipment, study, career and production advice.  Referrals extended to matching projects with people.

WAT provides unique opportunities
The opportunities most commonly cited include: telling Tasmanian stories, professional training, on-the-job-training, providing first screen credit, career-pathways and partnership opportunities. 

Respondents commented on WAT’s role in providing access broadly to the community “(WAT) helps those of all ages in the community on projects of all sorts” and specifically to providing career pathways for emerging practitioners:My very first contact with WAT led me to a film industry conference where I made a pitch and attracted development funding for my very first film project.”

Provision of professional training rated highly, as both a way to fill gaps in technical knowledge and to gain industry specific skills as newcomers.  WAT’s role in partnering with businesses, individuals, government and community groups was rated as providing opportunities for projects to proceed and succeed with small budgets.

What are our stakeholders’ screen aspirations?

The results were overwhelmingly similar across responses – our stakeholders want to create critically acclaimed content that engages audiences.  They want to work in Tasmania, with skilled Tasmanian crew. They want to earn a decent living:

“Being able to put on record the stories that reflect the world in which we live, the everyday, the great, the significant, the insignificant…. All that makes our culture.“

“Success is a diverse group of self sufficient creative and technicians who make a full time living producing world class media content.”

“I'm able to do my work, in the state… and make a comfortable living income doing it.”

What do our stakeholders think will assist them to reach this success?

Stakeholder response strongly reflected the view that WAT’s existing suite of services (education, equipment, access to mentoring, networking opportunities, advice, referral and support) would be of fundamental importance to their future screen success.  Access to WAT, basically. Access to WAT means access to training, mentors and connections plus hands-on experiences”.

The role of government was rated as a contributor to success – both as a support to WAT and to provide funding for projects: “… ongoing Australian government valuing the contribution that film makes not only to the culture of this country but the huge economic value through direct employment of technicians but also tourism.”

In addition to existing services, stakeholders indicated strongly that increasing networking opportunities and opportunities to develop skills in distribution and financing opportunities would be valuable.

What decisions need to be made to create success?

This was perhaps a poorly crafted question – the idea was for us to gather ideas about how to begin looking at the drivers of change.  The results are, consequently, varied – but some strong themes emerge about how screen success in Tasmania will be fostered:

Collaborating with Tasmanians: “People need an entrepreneurial spirit, but our strength here is community and willingness to collaborate.”

Investing in Tasmanian creatives:It's great to see things like TKI, The Hunter shining a positive light on the state, but ultimately that work is still emanating out of a "hub" like Sydney, and as far as I'm aware all the key cast & crew are flown in. I think we have the talent here to originate these products, so I guess if I were looking to a bold decision it would be somebody taking the leap and originating serious content from here.    I guess like i.e. Blue Rocket have done for animation.”

Government support for art/culture & emerging practitioners/WAT:Despite the economic climate and trends, Tasmanian Government prioritised the arts as an important state asset and industry worth nurturing.”

Opportunities, trends, partnerships that our stakeholders identified could be promising for WAT to explore

This question was designed to focus respondents on areas we may have missed, or unmet needs for our stakeholders.   The majority of respondents interpreted this question as a request to suggest ways to cover the budget shortfall created by Screen Australia withdrawing funding.  Interestingly, most suggestions were based on an assumption that WAT should seek finance in order to cross-subsidise our existing services.   The suggestions fell into the following broad categories:

  • Seek to reinstate Federal funding
  • Grow existing income streams
  • Seek private sector investment
  • Reposition WAT as a content producer/engaged in distribution