Australian’s Screen waits for CEO

Federal fund agency still without topper

SYDNEY — Oz bizzers are becoming frustrated that the lack of a CEO for federal funding agency Screen Australia, progress could slow on doling out the country’s crucial 40% production rebates as well as managing other funding programs. Former Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett, now arts minister, has yet to appoint a permanent head for the newly-merged film agency.

Filmmakers have begun calling on the government to speed up its appointment of a CEO and increase input from the industry.

“Call me old-fashioned but it’d be a reasonable idea to appoint somebody to run the joint,” says producer David Elfick.

Ray Argall, prexy of the Australian Directors’ Guild, says his members are alarmed that for two years they have not been consulted about directions for the industry.

“Our main concern is that we are actively involved in the review process because structural and procedural change must be done in consultation with those who do the work,” Argall tells Variety.

Current funding programs include low-budget financing scheme IndiVision, the Natl. Interest Program, and part-funding of features, docs and TV skeins as established by doc shingle Film Australia, the Film Finance Corp. and the Australian Film Commission.

These three agencies were merged July 1 to form Screen Australia, as flagged by the former conservative Liberal government mid-2007.

Screen Australia administers the generous 40% (film) and 20% (television) producer domestic production rebates, which have had teething issues since they were ratified last September.

Filmmakers are bracing for further delays in the overhaul of federal funding programs after board members emerged from their first meeting this week to say there will be no changes until the end of 2008.

News follows more than two years of reviews, funding upheaval and considerable production stasis ahead of what will be a significant overhaul of funding schemes.

“Screen Australia has a mandate for reform that can’t be [achieved] overnight,” says its strategy director Fiona Cameron. “It is going to take time to determine what they need to do and how they need to do it.”

The industry has generally responded positively to the announcement in June of Screen Australia’s board chaired by IBM managing director Glen Boreham, but there is growing frustration over Garrett’s failure to appoint a permanent CEO. Bureaucrat Lyn Maddock is acting in the role.

CEO candidates were interviewed last week and Garrett is tipped to make an appointment ahead of the next board meeting on Aug. 18.

Australian Cinematographers Assn. board member David Curl is alarmed that the merger that was supposed to save on overheads is actually costing money that will not flow through to filmmakers.

“At the moment we’ve got the worst of the three organizations,” Curl says.

Screen Australia has undertaken “internal reports we haven’t been involved in, that’s where a lot of the anxiety is coming from, especially in the documentary area,” Argall says.

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