What does it mean to support an industry?
What is an industry anyway?
Buzz terms are thrown around like 'the film industry', 'the entertainment industry', and 'the dream factory'. Like secret societies that operate in the shadows.
Why do industries need support? Is it a purely economic argument? Is it social?
If they can't support themselves, shouldn't they be allowed to fail?
Ask a random sampling of people and you will get vastly different answers to the above questions. Save for one.
What is an industry?
An industry is the aggregation of the people within it. The practitioners.
People like you and I.
People who have a shared vocation. A congruent passion and goal.
For filmmakers, this goal is to tell visual stories, engage audiences, and make a living doing it. That's our industry, in a sentence.
And it's changing.
Technological disruption. Piracy. Global homogenisation. The changing habits of audiences.
All of these disruptions must be confronted by filmmakers to ensure we remain a relevant art form for our audiences.
But it's not a level playing field.
The United States has a heavy advantage, with huge existing financial resources to promote their industry's chance of success. We see these deep pockets in the marketing of American blockbusters, especially.
But Australian audiences want their own stories. We enjoy American films, certainly, but we like many others (the French, the British, the Indians, the Spanish, the Koreans, etc etc), want to see ourselves reflected on-screen.
And in this desire, this need to ensure that our screens are not totally dominated by American accents, the role of 'Screen Australia' is born.
To the uninitiated, 'Screen Australia' is the Australian Federal government screen industry agency. Their mission is to support the industry to grow and develop.
Why should the Australian screen industry receive government support, you might ask?
Because of the cultural desire to see Australian stories on screen. Because our industry is, relatively, very small and needs support to mature. Because the rewards of a successful 'dream factory' are lucrative, like the recent 'Marvel' films making over a billion dollars in revenue, each.
But I would ask you a similar question.
Why shouldn't the Australian screen industry receive government support?
The Australian mining industry receives AU$2billion (yes, with a 'B') a year via a Federal Government fuel tax credit. Government support for an already hugely profitable industry.
Shouldn't industry support go to an industry that actually needs it?
By comparison, how much did 'Screen Australia' receive in funding in 2013-2014?
AU$100.8million. With an 'M'
And, in the recent Federal Government budget, 'Screen Australia' received further funding cuts. It's a tough position to be in, certainly, and 'Screen Australia' has had to 'pass on' their funding cut to reductions in their industry support programs.
The 'flow on' decisions by 'Screen Australia', however, go right to the heart of this entire question: why support an industry?
In response to their reduced budget, 'Screen Australia' has levied the largest proportion, of the flow-on cuts they have to make, to their programs for new and emerging filmmakers. Kicking the little guys.
Of the roughly AU$5million in planned cuts to their programs, AU$2million has been cut from programs that will directly support early career filmmakers to get their start in an already tough industry.
Specifically, 'Screen Australia' cut money from their 'Talent Escalator' program, supporting emerging filmmakers to make high quality short films on their way to a feature film. They have also cut all of their funding to the state based 'Screen Network' organisations: Metro Screen (New South Wales), Media Resource Centre (South Australia), Wide Angle (Tasmania), Open Channel (Victoria), and The Film & Television Institute (Western Australia).
These 'Screen Network' organisations directly support emerging filmmakers with: small amounts of project funding; career and craft advice; cheap gear hire and facilities; networking and professional contacts; and accessible learning and development for their filmmaking capabilities.
And now, all of that support is under threat.
Yes, in a Government agency that is supposed to be about developing the Australian screen industry, they have decided to kill the future of our 'dream factory'.
And yet, the Federal Government is willing to offer Disney a AU$21.6million grant to shoot the next 'Pirates of The Caribbean' film in Australia. When 'Pirates 5' makes a huge profit for Disney, its creators and the Producers, how much of that will flow back in to the Australian industry?
So, I ask you, what is the point of supporting an industry?
Is it to give out taxpayer money to foreign companies, so that they can employ Australians for six months then leave?
Or is it about developing the current and future talent of this industry so that our filmmakers, and our films, can compete on an international level? To grow our industry both from the roots and the canopy?
I am lucky enough to make films and to support other filmmakers to make theirs. I still shake my head occasionally that I am fortunate enough to be in this position.
Through Opening Act Films, I get to tell stories that audiences all over the world have seen. I live two lives in film, however. I also work at Metro Screen, where I get to provide career planning and coaching to early career filmmakers.
Have you ever seen the look on a person's face when you help them get a tiny bit closer to their dreams?
It is, without a shred of doubt, magic.
I have sat across from a young guy in his early twenties, dumbstruck, as he cried at the possibility that he might actually make his dream to be a filmmaker a reality.
What am I supposed to tell him now?
That 'Screen Australia' doesn't think he deserves support? That the industry has shut the door on him?
I won't, because there are those of us who are going to fight for the future of emerging filmmakers in Australia. We are going to shout from the rooftops that supporting an industry is about creating opportunities for new and early career talent, not a cloistered elite hanging a 'NO VACANCY' sign.
This is about the priorities we elevate as a society via our government. Art or mining?
But it's about more than that. This is about the future of the Australian screen industry.
Will it be humbled with a whimper, or defended with a cacophony?
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MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!
If you want to have your say on the abandonment of Australian emerging screen practitioners by 'Screen Australia', there will be a peaceful protest event at The Chavel Cinema in Sydney on Tuesday 2nd September, 6pm.
To register, check out: http://createsend.com/t/j-30734F0093E71FE4
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