Oz producers move to up tax breaks

Screen Producers org lobbies for coverage of digital audio-visual products

SYDNEY — Australian producers this week are presenting to the government a blueprint that aims to tackle two of the industry’s primary problems: a chronic shortage of private investment in films, and the reluctance of free-to-air broadcasters to back longform TV dramas.

The government pledged to review the little-used tax incentives for Aussie films before the election last October.

In response, the Screen Producers Assn. of Australia is lobbying for a new tax break for all forms of digital audio-visual products. That would retain the present 100% writeoff but also give investors a tax holiday on 50% of the profits.

“Risk-averse punters should be given every opportunity for blue sky,” says SPAA exec director Geoff Brown. He’s confident the proposal will appeal to the government because it would boost exports and help create copyrights in intellectual property, and it jells with Canberra’s commitment to digital media.

SPAA’s blueprint also recommends the creation of an Australian drama development fund, aimed at supporting three new series of 13 episodes per year, one from each free-to-air web.

It’s asking the government to provide A$20 million ($16 million) to seed the fund for three years. Broadcasters would be asked to fund 70% of the budgets in license fees, with the remainder from the fund. He envisions the fund would be administered by the Film Finance Corp. Australia.

“There has been a decline in TV drama production in recent years, and this is impacting on sustainability in the feature film sector as so many practitioners work on both sides of the street,” he says. “The TV market is fragmenting, reducing the capacity of (nets’) revenues to purchase high-end drama.”

Lastly, SPAA’s submission urges the introduction of an independent production quota if the government relaxes or abolishes the foreign and cross-media ownership rules. The quota would oblige the free-to-air webs to commission 75% of their Australian content, excluding news, sport and current affairs, from indies; currently about 60% of that production is outsourced.

SPAA has briefed arts minister Sen. Rod Kemp on the broad thrust of its proposals. Kemp says he looks forward to seeing the detailed submissions and notes the government has acknowledged the need for more private investment in films.