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SA film and TV industry's uncertain future

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Serious concerns are emerging about local film and television production, with feature work drying up and the ABC under funding threat, writes Louise Pascale.

When the Adelaide Studios had its Gala Opening in October 2011 it was drowned out by torrential rain.

Instead of a formal opening with then Premier Mike Rann on the balcony of the refurbished Glenside building guests were ushered in to soundstage Studio 1. With no microphone, Rann shouted from the top of a staircase about the nostalgic history of film in South Australia and the bright horizons ahead.

At the launch he announced that Wolf Creek 2 and ABC children’s sci-fi series Resistance would be the first productions to use the new studios. However,by the following March it was announced that both productions would be delayed, with Resistance eventually being cancelled. This left the Studios idle until late 2012 when productions such as The Rover, The Babadook and TV series Sam Fox: Extreme Adventures began utilising the soundstages.

Three years later and stars such as Sam Worthington, Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson and even The Rolling Stones have performed in the Adelaide Studios soundstages. Yet the bookings have been inconsistent, with months going by where they have been left empty.

The South Australian Film Corporation, which manages the production facility, recorded a $2m loss in 2012-2013.

In the meantime the renting of office space to local film, television and digital media companies at the Glenside building, which is managed by Arts SA, has been consistently at full capacity.

The SAFC works to entice production to the state by offering an array of incentives to interstate and international productions. These include a payroll tax exemption that has the potential to reduce total payroll costs by 4.95% and investment packages that incorporating subsidies on production facilities. The proviso’s attached to these deals can include bringing in a local producer to work on the production and employing South Australian crew. When advertising these incentives they do not stipulate the crew be in key creative roles or as heads of departments.

Meanwhile the SAFC has been forced to streamline its development and industry programs as it accommodates a decrease in revenue from the State Government of $725,000 leaving it with just $5.1m to cover overheads and invest in the local industry.

In the 2011 Census South Australia recorded a 13 per cent drop in number of people employed in audiovisual industries in the state. Since the previous census in 2006, 337 practitioners had left the industry while all three universities in the state continue to deliver film, television and media courses.

The transition between graduating and working in the sector often requires building a body of work and that is where the Media Resource Centre has stepped in to assist emerging filmmakers. But as InDaily reported in July they are bearing a 23 per cent cut to their funding. Journalism graduates are also facing a shrinking workplace with NewsCorp shedding 200 jobs locally in 2013 and Channel 10 news cutting staff in its Adelaide bureau.

Over at Collinswood the ABC is gripping itself for a round of redundancies once the Federal Government announces its overall funding cuts to the national broadcaster.

Senator Nick Xenophon has been lobbying the ABC Board to protect the production of news, current affairs and factual television in the state.

In a letter to the ABC Board, released to InDaily, he describes ABC TV department in South Australia as the “last man standing” as the only production unit outside of Sydney and Melbourne. This department employs around 15 people and sources inside the ABC have told InDaily that they have enough production to keep them going until May next year. No new programs have been commissioned beyond that.

Despite suffering cuts in 2011, ABC TV in South Australia has continually produced quality programs that have stood out of the schedule. Locally made The Cook & The Chef ran for four seasons bolstering Maggie Beer’s profile and placing local chef Simon Bryant on an international stage. Another series, Dream Build, won multiple awards with a peak in its ratings in excess of one million viewers and most recently the ABC series When the Beatles Drove Us Wild took an 11 per cent share of ratings. Their next production will be on air in November and is a two-part documentary that marks the 40th anniversary of Countdown.

In his letter Xenophon notes that outsourcing production by the ABC in South Australia “has not been a success, based on ratings, quality standards and ongoing financial returns”. He cites the ABC/SAFC funded initiative the FACTory as being problematic, claiming that ABC executives were so unhappy with the quality of one six-part series on a Jillaroo school that they shelved it. He goes on to say that another series called Croc College attracted just on half a million viewers on its first episode and that dwindled down to the 300,000s by episode three.

He writes: “It is worth noting that the SA Film Corp initiative produced just 18 x 30 min programs in four years (only 12 of which have aired). Had a program such as Talking Heads (or a similar internal production) continued under the Regional and Local Program Initiative, a total of 160 x 30 min episodes would have been produced over four years.”

With uncertainty hanging over the production of ABC television in South Australia, local film crews are still waiting for the next job to roll in to town.

The last production to utilise the taxpayer-funded facilities was Deadline Gallipoli which was enticed here with a $600,000 investment from the South Australian Government and ended in mid-August. A Month of Sunday’s starring Anthony LaPaglia was scheduled for this coming December, however that has now been postponed until early 2015 leaving the Studios idle, except for The Rolling Stones rehearsals and a Fashion Week fashion parade.

The CEO of the SAFC was approached for an interview but was unavailable due to being overseas at Austin Film Festival.

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