Industry urges tax break for foreign TV skeins

Downturn in film, television prod'n deepening

SYDNEY — Pat Rubie runs Top Technicians, Australia’s largest booking agency for film and TV crafts, and she’s glum — as are many techies.

Rubie describes the first six months of this year as “catastrophic.” She estimates half of those on her books have found regular work this year, compared with the usual average of two-thirds.

The downturn in film and TV production, which began 18 months ago, has deepened.

Now industry body Ausfilm is stepping up its campaign to persuade the government to extend the 12.5% tax credit for big-budget films lensed Down Under to include international TV series and telepics.

In March, Ausfilm, which represents more than 60 private-sector firms and all seven state film agencies, delivered a study showing the tax breaks could bring up to A$295 million ($192 million) a year into the country and pour $16 million-$26 million into government coffers. The government is still evaluating the report.

Ausfilm execs were due to voice their concerns June 25 when they meet lawmakers in Canberra after a special screening of “The Matrix Reloaded” — the kind of major film lensed here that takes advantage of the movie rebate and generates jobs for techies, actors, FX houses and labs.

“We continue to meet with ministers and members of other parties to put our case in the hope the government will give this (issue) priority,” Ausfilm acting chairman Ian Robertson tells Variety.

“Australia has made an enormous investment in training and infrastructure. We are in danger of putting that at risk because we are not competitive with countries that have incentives for TV producers. People are out of work and businesses that relied on TV production are under pressure.”

According to the Australian Film Commission, only the seven-hour U.K. kidvid “Jeopardy” lensed here in the year ending June 30, compared with 33 hours of foreign series in the prior year.

The total spend of foreign TV productions (the rest were telepics and one mini, “Salem’s Lot”) was just $11.7 million, down from the prior year’s $17 million.