Rebates’ requirements rattle industry

Spotlight: Australia

SYDNEY — Veteran showbiz lawyer Ian Robertson believes the new Oz 40% film and 20% TV production offset “is the most generous government incentive in the world.”

But 11 months after it was first announced, local bizzers are still grappling with how they can use it.

Refined guidelines for the federally sponsored Significant Australian Content test released April 3 were designed to make it clearer which projects are “Australian” enough to qualify. (Those that don’t pass cultural muster will have to tap the 15% location rebate.)

The org behind the test, Screen Australia, went back to the drawing board last month after helmer-producer George Miller’s Warner pic, “Justice League Mortal,” was not deemed sufficiently Australian enough for the 40% offset.

A furious Miller threatened to take the Warner project, originally monikered “Justice League of America,” to Canada or New Zealand.

He said growth of the Oz industry was being stymied by federal protectiveness that “dooms us to making small films that not even Australians want to see.”

The director of “Happy Feet” and “Mad Max,” Miller also threatened to scuttle plans to shoot sequels of those projects in Sydney.

The test covers such things as a film’s subject matter, where it’s made, and the nationalities and residences of the producers, director and other key creative personnel. Pics seeking the 40% incentive must obtain a provisional certificate of Australianness, which they then use to claim the rebate after the films have lensed.

Miller’s vocal dissatisfaction with his film’s ineligibility pushed Screen Australia to clarify its testing guidelines, but it’s unlikely that those clarifactions will result in “Justice League Mortal” becoming Australian enough to qualify for the offset.

In fact, the first studio pic to receive the 40% rebate will in all likelihood be Baz Luhrmann’s Fox-backed “Australia,” with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

Foreign films, such as “Justice League” and the Jackman-produced “Wolverine,” are eligible for a 15% location offset (up from 12.5%) if they spend more than A$15 million ($13.7 million) on location in Oz.

If a film is budgeted at less than A$50 million ($45.7 million), its Australia expenditure must account for at least 70% of the total budget. For projects budgeted above that threshold, it doesn’t matter how much is spent in Oz.

Post and digital effects worth more than $4.6 million are also eligible for a 15% offset and do not need to be attached to a physical shoot.

Lobby org Ausfilm has details of the numerous incentives such as payroll tax rebates and discounts available in Oz’s six states and two territories.