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Shadow minster for arts addresses screen producers' conference in Thredbo



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NEWS RELEASE

Senator Chris Puplick Shadow M inister for the Environm ent and Arts

IMMEDIATE RELEASE________ ________________ A9/39 Fri. 10 Nov 1989

SH A D O W M IN S T E R F O R A R T S A D D R E S S E S

S C R E E N PR O D U C E R S* C O N F E R E N C E IN T H R E D B O

The Shadow M inister for the A its, Senator Chris Puplick, addressed the “Take Four

Conference" organised by the Screen Producers' Association o f Australia in Thredbo,

today. A copy o f that text Is attached to this media statement.

Senator Puplick said that the first priority for the Australian film industry must be the

establishment o f a secure future for the industry in which artistic development is possible

and encouraged.

"It is the spirit o f individualism which must be protected by ensuring that the industry

continues to be healthy and able to support new initiatives. However, more and more as

commercial success becomes necessary for survival, the makers o f commercial films

seem to be finding less and less opportunity to be innovative and to make a film without

being concerned as to its overseas presale value.”

“M any are now warning o f the imminent collapse, financially and artistically, o f the

Australian film industry. It is time that steps were taken to ensure that an industry with so

much artistic and economic potential is not left to flounder. Governm ent policies arc

needed which address the issues in a comprehensive manner, not just on an ad hoc

haste.”

“The past two years have been recognised as leading towards a crisis point for the

industry and it is time that Australia had a government which would be both visionary

and committed in its support o f one o f Australia’s most original and unique industries.”

Senator Puplick concluded.

ENDS

COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY MICAH

The Artistic and Financial Future of the Australian Film Industry

address by

Senator Chris Puplick

Shadow Minister for the Arts

Screen Producers Association of Australia

“Take Four Conference”

Thredbo, New South Wales

10 November 1989

Almost twelve months ago I had the pleasure of addressing the SPAA Take Three Conference here at Thredbo. Few if any

of us at that Conference would have been either prescient

enough, or perhaps I should rather say crazy enough to have predicted the scope, nature and magnitude of the changes which have taken place for this industry in the last twelve

months.

The film and television industry has been through something

of a revolution, and for the first time that revolution has

had virtually nothing to do with technology but rather with

political, economic and to a lesser degree programming

issues.

I can confidently predict that during the course of the next

twelve months the changes will be just as revolutionary and for some just as unsettling. Changes being foreshadowed by

the Government may and I do emphasise the word may, pass the

Senate before the change of Government which obviously I expect in the first half of 1990. Those changes, from what

we understand from the cryptic hints of the Minister, Ralph

Willis or the more explicit mutterings of the Department's Deputy Secretary Mike Hutchinson (which may or may not be

policy proposals depending on who you believe is lying), could transform the whole modus operand! of the Broadcasting

Tribunal and rewrite the rules on such matters as local

content in a way which will have the most profound effect on

film makers and producers in Australia.

The changes contemplated in the published Communications

policy issued by the Opposition and currently being refined

further by Richard Alston will have even greater impact on

the industry. However since my colleague Senator Alston is

here with us today and since he is the Shadow Minister for Communications I do not intend to trespass on his patch and I will leave to him the discussion of Opposition policy in this area. Suffice it to say that the general impact of

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deregulation means that nothing will ever be the same. It is only to be hoped that deregulation in broadcasting is not accompanied with the same traumas now attending upon deregulation in the airline industry - one thing I can promise you is that the process of preparing for that deregulation will not be underpinned by the expenditure of

public money on behalf of some players in the game as is now the Government's shoddy policy in relation to the airlines.

I therefore propose to confine my remarks rather to the

future of the film industry in the next twelve months or so

and to discuss this from my perspective of Shadow Minister

for the Arts.

Those of you who were here last year will recall the debate which I had with Minister Clyde Holding about our Arts Policy which had just recently been released. Again I am

tempted to remark how things have changed in this last year.

You may recall that Minister Holding referred to me as a "cultural gauleiter" for my proposal to modify the operation

of the so-called "arms length" principle of arts funding. However since his own Ministerial direction in this year's Budget to enforce a payment of an extra $1 million to the

Australian Opera for the next three years - with funds

having to be found, not from new money, but from existing

Australia council allocations - the "arms length” principle

does not look quite as virginal as it was last year and

indeed the Minister has had the good grace to stop talking

about it!

In the last twelve months there have been three significant changes in the nature of the film industry worth mentioning;

the emergence of Film Australia Pty Ltd as an independent

company; the first full year of operation of the Film

Finance Corporation and the continuing lack of direction and leadership at the Australian Film Commission where the departure of Mr. Rowland and the continuing failure to

decide upon the changes proposed by the Peat Marwick review

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are causes for real concern.

Let me digress for a moment however to stand back and take a wider look at the nature of the film industry as a whole teetering on the brink of the 1990's and now almost 100

years old.

In any arts-related field, film and television included, a

fair amount of navel-gazing is an expected, and indeed essential component.

In most other countries, contemplation and debate is predominantly concerned with the artistic, intellectual, cultural and thematic contents of film and the implications

Of these within the genre and for society as a whole. In

Australia however, recent debate has been overwhelmingly

dominated by financial concerns and the issue of government assistance and intervention (in terms of funding and in

terms of laying down standards for Australian productions). Such has been the vigour applied to these and other like

issues that little energy seems left to spare for artistic

and cultural concerns relating to Australian film and

television. ·

In August 1988, I addressed the 43rd Annual Motion Picture

Industry Convention in Queensland and raised many issues

which I felt were crucial to the survival and growth of the

film industry in Australia* the uniqueness of Australian quality being compromised by the pressing need for overseas presales; the unwelcome pressures of "internationalization";

financial confusion with new Government funding

arrangements; the need for clear definition of the roles of

the various and multiplying funding and support agencies; the neglect of the National Film and Sound Archives; the

need for more support of script development and the need for a new look at questions related to the distribution of Australian films. All of these concerns must be raised again today because none of the issues has been resolved.

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They are important because they will affect deeply the Australian film industry, and its reservoirs of still

untapped potential.

When considering future directions in the industry, one cannot avoid looking at both the cultural and financial concerns raised, because to ignore either is to misunderstand the nature of the industry.

The first priority must be establishing a secure future for

the industry in which artistic development is possible and

encouraged.

The Australian industry still retains a reputation for individuality and innovation throughout the world, and this is still justified - but I wonder for how much longer? We

have a unique multiplicity of styles in our art, but often

with a common thread of individualism, signalled by a certain dry wit, and the flaunting of authority and

convention. It is this spirit of individualism which must

be protected by ensuring that the industry continues to be healthy and able to support new initiatives. However, more

and more as commercial success becomes necessary for survival, the makers of commercial films seem to be finding

less and less opportunity to be innovative and to make a

film without being concerned as to its overseas presale value; presales being notorious for supporting ideas which

have already been proven at the box office rather than new

ideas. In this kind of financial climate, it is the smaller

independent producers who suffer most, because they do not

have the financial backing of larger international

production and distribution companies.

I fear this trend is likely to be exacerbated by the behaviour of the Film Finance Corporation if we are to judge from its first Annual Report. This Report announces two "new policies" to be put in place for next year. While the

second of these makes some reference to "talented but

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relatively Inexperienced film makers" who arc to be "matched" with experienced personnel, the first new policy

is to "target proven industry performers, and thus take a more pro-active approach within the industry" (p.13). This policy of "picking winners" is one with which I profoundly

disagree, and as Minister it is one which I would not

support.

Many are now warning of the imminent collapse, financially and artistically, of the Australian film industry.

Elizabeth Jacka in The Imaginary Industry (Nov 1988)

identifies only 11 theatrical features out of 126 listed in

the 1987 AFC Annual Report and produced between 1983/84 and 1986/87 as "the films the Australian industry is proud it

has produced". One of the criticisms of 10BA was that although it resulted in funds being easily obtainable,

investors were completely disinterested in the quality of

the product and hence a great many totally forgettable films were produced, all at an ultimate expense to the public for

no artistic national gain. However as I said, I believe current funding policies are now erring too far in the

opposite direction.

It is time that steps were taken to ensure that an industry

with so much artistic and economic potential is not left to flounder. Government policies are needed which address the

issues in a comprehensive manner, not just on an ad hoc

basis.

The first priority is to define clearly the roles of each

Government body associated with the industry. There is too

much confusion as to the responsibilities of the various organisations, and too much overlap. For support to be effective and provide value-for-money, rationalisation of

the various film agencies is essential.

Since the advent of the Film Finance Corporation and other support bodies, some sections of the original charter of the

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AFC are no longer relevant. The a f c needs to focus on four

clearly defined priorities *

♦marketing and promotion, particularly focusing on overseas markets;

*support of new, innovative and experimental film works - as this is not being adequately catered for

by the FFC;

♦data collection and industry research - arts data

in general is lacking in Australia, although recent initiatives have been undertaken to correct this, since it is impossible to formulate rational

effective policies without appropriate data;

♦stimulating local distribution - a vital part of a

healthy film industry, and one which has been too little supported. Enthusiatic local distribution and exhibition is vital if the Australian film

industry is to survive and gain audience interest. Certainly everyone went to see Crocodile Dundee but

there are many worthwhile, often brilliant

Australian films often buried at festivals or the

AFI cinemas which people simply do not hear about

or do not have the opportunity to see, and I cite Loverbov as a prime example.

The AFC Review has dragged on for many months. It is time

for positive action to be taken in establishing the AFC's priorities. It cannot be allowed to further stagnate as yet

another dreary bureaucracy, peter Sainsbury warned of this

at the Sydney Film Festival this year; "Before too long what

you find is that creative endeavour is being administered and managed and it's not being supported."

1989)

The workings of the Film Finance Corporation need to be

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closely monitored in order to ascertain whether it is

providing effective financial assistance without undue recourse to American standards in assessment procedures. There has been much criticism of the assessment procedures

and criterion and this should be given urgent consideration. It must also be questioned whether the FFC should be required to develop explicit artistic/creative policies for

funding or whether it should be allowed to make assessments

on purely commercial grounds. If the latter is the case then regardless of the economic state of the industry, its cultural status will inevitable decline, to the cost of us

all.

Distribution and promotion of Australian films needs urgent

consideration. The problems identified by the Tariff Board in its 1973 Report t Motion Picture Films and Television

Programmes\ are still largely unresolved, for example its

conclusion that Hit is difficult for Australian films to obtain opportunities for exhibition commensurate with their

intrinsic worth" (p.13) remains valid. The major chains

still have the advantage and with their move towards the suburbs, smaller independent exhibitors are being pushed

further out of the mass city market.

The Australian public clearly enjoys Australian movies, because they feel that the industry is interested in creating movies for Australians which relate to contemporary

Australia and by which they can be stimulated. I regret

that Governments and the media generally fail to play a

meaningful role in encouraging and supporting this trend.

While audiences are being encouraged to "watch Australian",

assistance needs to be given to those who are still learning their craft. The Australian Film Television and Radio

School is already making valuable contributions to the film and television industries in a wide variety of ways. The School has had a very successful year since its move to new

premises and already is introducing impressive programmes,

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such as the production workshops with eminent Australian and foreign practitioners. Its 1989 Showreel is a most

encouraging one, especially with its emphasis on the film work of young "ethnic" filmmakers exploring new issues in

our developing culture.

One area which particularly needs support is ecriptwriting

and development. This is an area in which the AFTRS and other film schools such as the Swinburne Institute should play a larger role, in order that all training and

development aspects are properly co-ordinated. This co-ordination needs to extend to other arts training institutes, for example NIDA - the Opposition's Arts Policy

provides specifically for the establishment of a National Arts Institutions Liaison Committee to respond to this

challenge.

Anomalies relating to the taxation position of donations to

the School and the funding support for students also need immediate consideration.

Everyone agrees that Australia has outstanding talent in the

film industry, both new and established. Unfortunately many

of the major names in film production who made such an

impact over the last decade are now based permanently in

America and are heavily in demand, while we can be justly

proud of their success and of the benefits their reputations

are giving to Australia, it would be disappointing to see

all our youngest, newest and most innovative craftsmen and

women leaving the country after graduating because of lack of opportunity within the industry at home. What is needed

is opportunity for them to get intensive experience without the enormous cost of the high-level commercial market, and

this is one area where once again the FFC does not seem to

have any vision.

Financial difficulties are not the sole preserve of the film

industry. The television industry's financial woes have

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become all too obvious in recent months with television executives appearing to spend more time in Court than in their studios of late.

Television and film producers have also been thrown into an

uproar this year over the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal's

Australian content points system which is still to be resolved. Quality will not necessarily be enforced by the points system# which at the moment is being highly criticised by many sections of the industry. While nobody

wants to see Australian production levels suffer, I am not

convinced that the Broadcasting Tribunal's forthcoming guidelines will necessarily serve to raise standards.

Degrees of "Australianness" are difficult to define.

Concern has been expressed that the points system will

merely result in networks using "dumped-, poor quality Australian movies Just to gain maximum points. It is however, comforting to note that the ABT did at least take notice of the outcry within the industry, and that as a

result, sanity may yet prevail.

Another Australian content debate is being pushed by Actors

Equity in- their ongoing campaign to limit the use of imported performers. This provides particular difficulties

when combined with the policies of the FFC, as an overseas presale frequently means that those overseas also want some

control over the product, and a well-known foreign performer

certainly gives them more apparent financial security (the

example of The Earthling notwithstanding). Payment of Australian actors employed in foreign productions here in

Australia was another major issue raised last year.

The definition of co-productions has created on-going difficulties when applications for funding are assessed. International co-productions can only ultimately be a good thing for an industry which would benefit from further

international exposure. The industrial difficulties which

have been caused in the past by these ventures must be

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approached in a rational, conciliatory manner because there are real conflicts of interest (and ideology) which need careful resolution in the interests of all parties.

The next few years are going to be hard financially and the film industry cannot expect to be exempted from taking its

share of the medicine. The Coalition Parties' Economic Action Plan released in October makes clear that there will

be cuts in three areas - a reduction in national interest film subsidies to Film Australia which we are still

considering for privatisation ($5m); some minor programmes in the Film Commission will be eliminated ($5m) and the funds available to the FFC will be further reduced ($10m).

These cuts, and they are just that, will mean the need for a

far greater targetting of production support along the lines I have already discussed. On the other hand we will be

maintaining the level of direct grants for art and culture

in peal terms and this is one of the reasons that I have deliberately been holding up consideration of the Australia

Council Amendment Bill where the Government is seeking to remove "film" from the definition of what constitutes "art" for current funding purposes.

In a climate where funds are restricted, there is an even

greater need for ideas not to be so. There must be freedom within the industry to break new ground, to be innovative.

Policies are now required which encourage the industry to

move progressively towards a reduced dependence on direct

government subsidy (almost eight years of 10BA is surely

enough), while at the same time ensuring a secure

environment for further growth in the industry.

The past two years have been recognised as leading towards a crisis point for the industry and it is time that Australia had a government which would be both visionary and committed in its support of one of Australia's most original and

unique industries.