Funder proposes new coin plan

FFC to look at content, audience before investing

SYDNEY — The traditional system of government funding for feature films doesn’t work and in the last couple of years has resulted in a string of films that have performed poorly at the Oz B.O. and struggled to sell overseas.

That blunt assessment came last week from the government’s peak funding body, Film Finance Corp. Australia, as it released a blueprint to radically overhaul the way it evaluates projects and finances films.

The FFC proposes a “two door” model, with a new process of judging projects based on script, creative team, budget in relation to anticipated audience and recoupment potential.

That would run alongside the customary practice of funding films based on pre-sales and distrib guarantees — a system which it believes has resulted in pics being greenlit without sufficient scrutiny and in a way where no one takes ultimate responsibility for the choices made.

For producers who want to take the traditional route, the FFC foreshadows making it tougher to access its funds by stipulating it won’t invest more than 40% of any film’s budget, compared with the going rate of 50% or more. That would put the onus on producers to raise more coin from sales agents and local and international distribs and via pre-sales to Oz free-to-air and pay broadcasters.

On the premise that co-productions can access money from more than one market, the FFC would not contribute more than 30% of the budget for co-prods and it would expect market attachments of at least 35%.

It intends to hire two execs on short-term contracts who would assess projects together with chief exec Brian Rosen. The FFC would help the producers of projects that met its criteria to put together deals, and the board would have final approval.

Rosen tells Variety, “There is no way we can pick winners but we can hopefully find a slate of films that have the potential to find audiences and critical acclaim, and we can hopefully weed out projects that have dubious potential.”

The FFC invests about A$30 million ($22.5 million) per year in features; it has no formula for dividing its coin between those two streams and says the allocations will depend on the projects.

It’s asking the government for extra coin in the May budget to underpin a new film fund for private investors, which would funnel money into films that get through the evaluation process.

Aiming to encourage new producers in the field of children’s TV drama, it will try a scheme to provide up to $1.8 million for two lower-budgeted miniseries from emerging producers.

The FFC will meet with industry guilds and hold public meetings to discuss the draft guidelines for investment in the next few weeks. Its board is due to approve a final draft on May 20, and the changes would be implemented in the fiscal year starting July 1.

Initial feedback from the guilds is highly positive. Australian Screen Directors Assn. of Australia exec director Richard Harris welcomes the creative assessment initiative as “accountable and transparent” and he lauds the FFC’s plan to support docus that would not be dependent on pre-sales to pubcasters ABC or SBS.

“It’s a very progressive approach,” says Screen Producers Assn. of Australia exec director Geoff Brown. “We need to see the detail on the evaluation proposal and the caliber of people who’ll be hired to do it, but as long as that sits alongside the marketplace attachment (route) we see merit in it.”

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