When COVID-19 hit and production came to a sudden halt on most film and TV sets around Australia, things looked grim for the Australian screen sector. But nearly a year down the track, the story is very different. There’s a boom in Australian screen production, and it could keep going for years to come.
For that we can thank first of all the thousands of Australians who work in the screen sector.
Rather than throwing in the towel when productions were halted and financing dried up, Aussie film and TV folk quickly worked out how to reposition and get started again.
Led by the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS) and Screen Australia, a group of industry professionals quickly developed guidelines for COVID-safe productions.
At the same time, industry leaders alerted the Morrison Government to a major threat: insurers would not provide cover against productions being halted if key cast members caught COVID. In turn, without insurance, screen financiers would not release cash to allow productions to commence.
We worked with industry to develop a solution: a $50 million temporary interruption fund, administered by Screen Australia, to fill the gap insurers would not. The scheme has worked exactly as we hoped, to date allowing projects with combined production budgets of over $330 million to start or restart.
2020 was not just the year of COVID; it was also the year when we took a long overdue look at the rules and funding arrangements supporting Australia’s screen production sector. Some said COVID made it the wrong time to do this; but many others agreed with the Morrison Government that the COVID crisis made this work even more urgent.
In April 2020 we issued the Screen Australia and ACMA options paper, Supporting Australian Stories on our Screens, and kicked off intensive industry-wide consultation on the options it proposed.
After listening carefully, we acted: the October 2020 budget injected an extra $53 million into local screen production: $33 million to Screen Australia and $20 million to the Australian Children’s Television Foundation.
We also brought in new, simplified local content sub-quotas, designed to support Australian producers in making shows which appeal both to local networks and the global streaming market.
Pleasingly, in the 2021 “upfronts,” where our local broadcasters showcased their program line-up for the coming year, there were strong commitments to new shows, including plenty of original Australian drama.
As COVID raged in Europe and the US, by mid-2020 it was increasingly clear that Australia’s careful management of the pandemic gave us a big opportunity to attract productions to film here.
It was great to see A-list Australian movie stars like Nicole Kidman and Chris Hemsworth using their market clout to bring productions to Australia, delivering big employment dividends for Australian actors and crew.
The Morrison Government moved quickly to support the Aussie screen industry to seize this once-in-a century opportunity, announcing in July an additional $400
million in funding to extend the Location Incentive program until 2026/27.
Under this program, film or TV producers get a cash grant of 13.5 per cent of what they spend on their production in Australia. When combined with the existing 16.5 per cent Location Offset, this adds up to a globally competitive 30 per cent incentive to shoot in Australia.
Once announced, Ausfilm and Austrade got to work straight away publicising the new funding to producers in the US and globally, and within a few weeks we were signing up major productions.
First cab off the rank, in September 2020, was a package of three series from NBCUniversal’s Universal Studio Group which will film in Queensland: Young Rock,
Joe Exotic and Irreverent.
Since then, we have announced funding for Blacklight, starring Liam Neeson and
currently filming in Melbourne; Thirteen Lives, directed by Ron Howard; and The
Tourist, which will film in South Australia – and there is plenty more to come.
Australia’s screen sector is world-class, with talented writers, directors, producers and actors and skilled and hard-working crew. We have fantastic scenery and locations, great studios, and our careful management of COVID risks has given us another big advantage.
The global demand for screen content is exploding, with free-to-air and subscription television, streaming services, cinemas and many other markets.
The Morrison Government is looking at further changes to help the Aussie screen sector seize this opportunity.
We released a Green Paper late in 2020 seeking views on several reform proposals, including a legislated Australian content spend requirement on streaming video services operating in Australia like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime, and a new funding source for Australian content.
2020 has been a remarkable year for the Australian screen sector: the COVID
pandemic, which at first seemed to be very grim news, has turned out to create
exciting new opportunities.
Well done to the creative and hard-working people in our film and TV sector who
have leapt on the opportunities. The Australian government is backing you all the
Paul Fletcher is the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher. The Minister will address the industry at the upcoming Screen Forever conference February 16.
Do you agree with the Minister’s assessment that 2020 was a “remarkable year” for the screen industry? Have your say in the comments below.