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Australian biz calls for investment

Confab says filmmakers need incentives to stay in Oz

Aussie producers looked toward an uncertain future at the 25th anniversary edition of the Screen Producers Assn. of Australia conference last week. Though the talkfest was not as overtly political as last year’s pre-election edition, the three-day conference sent a clear message to the incumbent Labour government that the industry needed it to pay attention to its problems.

With the Aussie and American dollar at parity and no big international productions in the pipeline, the biz is hoping the current review of government coin may raise the current Location Offset tax rebate, which now stands at 15%.

Kicking off the conference, vet film critic Margaret Pomeranz did not mince her words about the state of film Down Under.

“We cannot expect our top filmmakers to exist on one film every five years,” she said. “But how do we ensure continuity of work for our talented people?”

Her answer was for the government to invest in film talent in much the same way it does with its sports stars. She proposed that up to four successful filmmakers a year be selected and given A$100,000 ($97,000) development coin with a promise of up to A$2 million in future funding.

“You have to give them a head start; you have to give them a reason to stay here,” she said. “What is David Michod (“Animal Kingdom” helmer) going to do next? I think we ought to encourage a talent like that to stay here, make his next film here, give him a major incentive to hone his skills in this country”

Also on day one, Ausfilm called on the government to review its incentives after it was announced by Panavision topper Martin Cayzer that his company had sold local division Panalux, with the likelihood that millions of dollars of lighting equipment would leave Australia. Such a move would increase the problem of drawing runaway production.

The final day of the conference saw TV come to the fore, with Ruth Harley, topper of Screen Australia, releasing new guidelines for television funding.

Other proposed changes included not funding the production of imported formats, and not supporting any series beyond its second season, where it should be able to stand on its own merits.

The new guidelines will be implemented from next July after industry consultation.

But the final day’s guest speaker David Puttnam gave a more upbeat view of the industry as he regaled the audience with big-sky ideas about how film and television could change minds and inspire.

In an upbeat speech, he also had some practical advice to the industry as to how to present itself to government during this challenging time. His advice stems from the recent closure of the U.K. Film Council, and the aftermath that he said saw the U.K. film industry dissolve in a rabble of self-interested parties with no clear message.

He urged the Aussie industry to speak as one. “Civil servants rub their hands with glee when they detect factions,” he said. “It is the great excuse for doing nothing.”

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