Proyas spat muddles Oz pic rebates

Failed bid leads to confusion among filmmakers

“Knowing” helmer Alex Proyas’ failed bid to tap Australia’s generous 40% producer offset for Nicolas Cage starrer “Knowing” is generating confusion among international filmmakers planning to shoot in Oz.

Lobbying agency Ausfilm says Proyas’ battle with federal funder Screen Australia over his $58 million pic’s eligibility for the rebate has led to a spike of concerned enquiries about the incentive schemes.

A source familiar with the situation cautioned that “Knowing” might still qualify for the offset, adding that Proyas is leading an effort to make another application for the subsidy.

There are two levels of rebates: the 40% tax offset for Australian films that must pass a test to prove their “Australian-ness”; and the 15% tax offset for runaway Hollywood productions.

“Knowing,” financed by Summit Entertainment, failed the “Australian” test even though Proyas, an Aussie, produced and directed the pic and shot it in Melbourne (standing in for Boston) using a largely local crew.

However, despite re-writing the script, Proyas does not have a writing credit, which for Screen Australia undermines its right to apply for the higher credit.

“We made the film (thinking) it was unlikely it would qualify. I feel very strongly we should,” says “Knowing” executive producer Topher Dow.

Confusion has arisen because other Oz directors’ claims for the 40% rebate on productions developed abroad but shooting, or due to shoot in Oz, have been rejected, while other international films pass.

Last month Oz helmer George Miller failed to get a provisional certificate for his planned Warner Bros. pic “Justice League America,” re-tagged “Justice League Mortal.” Pic is now in turnaround.

But digital effects house Animal Logic obtained a provisional certificate for American Zack Snyder’s “Guardians of Ga’Hoole,” even though it was developed Stateside. CGI movie is being made in Sydney.

As with “Justice League” and all other sizeable foreign shoots “Knowing” is eligible for the 15% offset. Understandably, Summit would prefer a rebate of some $20 million to the $6 million it is otherwise eligible for.

Ausfilm topper Caroline Pitcher said the perception among international filmmakers that Australia is reneging on its funding schemes is damaging, especially as the Oz government has enshrined its incentives in legislation that protects them from being easily altered.

She added, as a reminder, “The location offset is standing at 15% and those projects are being processed in good time.”