Australia needs to rewrite the script to maintain global hits

Government has been consulting on how best to support the Australian screen industry for some years now, and some contributors to this discussion claim that without further government action, a sharp decline is unavoidable.

The data doesn’t support that view. Screen production activity in 2020-21 reached all-time record-levels and more than $1.9 billion was invested across both domestic and inbound production. In December 2021, the Producer Offset for non-theatrically distributed Australian stories increased from 20 per cent to 30 per cent, triggering so much activity that Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason asked producers for patience as his team from him “work through a glut of applications ”.

Adrian Grenier in the Netflix series Clickbait.Credit:Netflix

But the best news is found beyond big headline numbers; we no longer have two separate worlds – one where Australian stories are funded with Australian money at lower production budgets, another where big Hollywood studio productions with massive budgets bring big international stars to Australia. Now these two worlds have amalgamated to form one seamless continuum. Australian stories now secure more funding from the international market than they do from home, and Australian production companies are developing big global hits, using the international Location Offset and Location Incentive tax incentive programs.

What excites me is seeing the cutting-edge virtual production technology trialled on the Location Incentive-funded the pitchthen used to stunning effect on the ABC’s Fires; clickbait – a show created and filmed in Melbourne – become a global hit on Netflix, with a budget most Aussie shows can only dream about; US cable channel FX finance a truly Australian show, Mr Inbetween; Nicole Kidman bringing Nine Perfect Strangers to Byron Bay, and Toni Collette bringing Pieces of Her to Western Sydney.

What excites me too is Baz Luhrman’s Elvis movie filmed on the Gold Coast, and George Miller’s mad max furiosa now shooting in Sydney and around Broken Hill.

But excitement alone won’t get us to where we need to go. We are victims of our own success, giving rise to unique challenges that we need to address if we are to achieve our full potential.

Soundstages are booked solid and the convention centers used for screen productions during lockdowns are no longer available. The capped nature of the Location Incentive creates too much uncertainty for much-needed new studio space to go up quickly enough. There are skills shortages in most screen departments that need to be solved urgently.

Let’s be frank, who would want to swap out such challenges for a parallel universe where the Australian industry was not in demand, existing studios sat empty and crews parted our shores in desperation for work?

Some voices in the industry assert that streaming services should be compelled to invest in Australian stories. Unfortunately, this only sends one clear message to the world; we do not think we are good enough for you to want to invest here.

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