Australian and European producers presently lack the business skills to effectively compete with Hollywood and need to make fewer low-budget and more large-scale productions.

That’s the verdict of international speakers at the 10th annual Screen Producers Assn. of Australia conference, which wrapped Nov. 10, where Rupert Murdoch and Hollywood, not unexpectedly, emerged as the top public enemies.

But despite the suspicion of Hollywood, British producer David Puttnam, in a surprisingly well-received speech, called on Euro and Aussie producers to emulate Hollywood’s business and marketing professionalism.

“While Hollywood studios have from time to time lacked any identifiable artistic or cultural ambition, our fault is that we have so often lacked something just as essential – the commercial ambition to earn the revenue to make the next picture,” Puttnam said.

Highlighting a recent Variety headline – “Earth to Hollywood: You Win” – Puttnam asked, “Are we going to allow the Hollywood industry to go on consolidating its grip on movie entertainment while we survive with varying degrees of success on the margins? Or are we going to develop an alternative scenario, one which allows us to build a genuinely thriving, creative and sustainable audiovisual industry of our own?

‘We’ve got to find common cause between creativity and commerce. We must begin to build businesses and stop moving from project to project in a fragmented fashion. We need to merge and manage businesses with capital and cash flow.”

But not all were so enthused about American influences in the industry. In a lively panel session, Miramax Films executive VP of acquisitions Tony Safford found himself the target of Beyond Intl. managing director Mikael Borglund’s wrath.

Borglund outraged Safford by suggesting Australian sales companies have first right of refusal over fare heavily subsidized by the Australian government’s Film Finance Corp. (FFC).

“It seems inappropriate that foreign sales agents can benefit from this investment by Australian taxpayers at the expense of local agents, whose presence reaches far beyond a simple sales role,” Borglund said. “We believe the FFC has a duty to the Australian industry to make sure that it’s represented as much as possible by Australian agents. We put more back into the industry, and we put more faith into the riskier projects a foreign company wouldn’t handle.”

“Unlike foreign agents, our returns are plowed back into new Australian production. Our profits are not repatriated offshore,” he said.

Despite Borglund’s attempt to appeal to delegates by saying local companies had an interest in the industry that went “far beyond the occasional infatuation of our international competitiors,” his views were not generally endorsed by delegates.

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