Paybox PMP plumps for more mainstream pics

Group will likely fund fewer films

SYDNEY — U.S.-backed paybox the Premium Movie Partnership, one of the biggest investors in Australian films, has signaled a major shift in the type of local films it will back.

“We’re looking for projects that can play at 8:30 on a Sunday or Tuesday night, films that will be visible and attractive to our audiences,” says Peter Rose, PMP exec VP of programming and marketing, indicating a more commercial approach.

The firm, owned by Paramount, Sony, Universal, Fox and Liberty Media, has had very eclectic tastes, often supporting edgy, low-budget films as well as mainstream titles such as “Crackerjack,” “Dirty Deeds,” The Dish” and “Rabbit-Proof Fence.”

“Historically we have put small amounts into a lot of movies,” says PMP chief exec Jack Matthews said. “Now we will probably invest more in fewer films.”

The change is part of a restructure that followed last month’s departure of investment and acquisitions manager Mark Woods. He was offered the option of retaining responsibility for investing in Oz movies but opted to leave.

Rose has taken charge of investments, while acquisitions of indie product from the U.S. and elsewhere is being handled by Annalisa Paparo, reporting to Rose.

Since 1995, PMP has sunk A$25 million ($15 million) into almost 60 Oz films, often at the script stage. Of the 23 local films that were showcased at last year’s Australian Intl. Movie Convention, the firm had invested in or licensed 19. That was an “abnormal” year, Rose said.

Both PMP and its rival the Movie Network (owned by Warner Bros., Roadshow and Disney) are obliged to spend 10% of their annual program budgets on local drama. The coin has generally flowed into feature films, in some instances triggering other key investment or commitments from foreign sales agents.

Meanwhile, the Movie Network has been trumpeting its increased investment activities, overseen by topper Tony Forrest.

Following Australia’s pay TV content merger last December, the movie channels are now available on key provider Foxtel, as well as Optus and regional platform Austar — so tub-thumping their investment in local movies is one way to attract attention.

That said, TMN doesn’t have the infrastructure to pore over scripts and nurture projects into production.

“We’re not in the business of making movies, we’re investors by default,” says Forrest. “We only deal with people we know and like. The producer’s track record has to come first.”

Last week marked the deadline for submissions to an inquiry into the 10% investment quota.

TMN did not make a submission and PMP argued for the status quo, while the Screen Producers Assn. of Australia wants to up the investment to 20%.

“It must go to 20% over time, linked to the success of subscription numbers and decreased license fees,” argues SPAA exec director Geoff Brown.

“We think 10% works,” says Matthews. “We often find it difficult to invest 10% in the kind of movies we want. From our perspective there are not a lot of (desirable) projects out there.”

Foxtel is attempting to renegotiate PMP’s long-term, U.S. dollar denominated programming deal, which has proven doubly expensive especially as feevee penetration is stuck below 22%.

Anticipating that Foxtel will eventually renegotiate lower license fees Brown wants to head off any reduction in investment in Aussie movies.