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SA film industry facing crisis: producers

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Senior South Australian feature film producers have questioned the current system of funding productions, with one saying the industry faces a growing crisis.

Speaking exclusively to InDaily, both Wolf Creek 2 Producer Helen Leake and AMPCO Films Producer Mario Andreacchio say they have seen talented people leave the industry due to lack of opportunity and growth.

“While being government funded in the beginning was a godsend, the limits to government funding and indeed progressive contraction has caused the industry to not be in a position to grow,” says Andreacchio.

Leake agrees that the current system of film production is unsustainable and we need to address why people are leaving.

“It goes back to what the industry is. It’s small, it’s competitive and the technology means a lot of people think they can make films but they’re making them from non-sustainable budgets,” she argues.

“Time is money and that is often forgotten for small businesses. The process of development, financing, production, postproduction and marketing – that’s the food chain of our manufacturing of a product.”

She believes in order to run a sustainable film business you need to make a film every two to two and a half years; current estimated time for an average Australian production company is five years. During that time each phase of the production process needs to have cashflow to work.

The warning comes after the SA Film Corporation defended the state of the local industry, arguing it is in good shape and is well-positioned to face coming challenges.

The South Australian Film Corporation’s FilmLab program began with three full-time weeks of development workshops where participants were not paid for their time. Writers and producers then undertook an extensive scriptwriting phase that saw drafts of scripts written with partially paid fees. The SAFC then provided production budgets of $350,000 while Screen Australia averages feature film budgets at $8.49 million.

Meanwhile interstate productions are coming here with larger budgets however they also come with their own producers, writers, directors and key creatives.

“And that’s talent that all needs to be nurtured,” adds Leake. “Ideally it would be local companies’ intellectual property that they’ve developed and financed and got in to production. At present we are not producing enough volume of South Australian films to provide sustainable employment.”

While it may look like Australian production is prospering Andreacchio says we need to be wary.

“A ‘bumper year’ should be seen in terms of how long has it taken to get this ‘bump’ and averaged out over that time, how much has it cost to get to that bumper year, as well as looking at what potential there is to repeat it,” he says.

“Farmers know that a single bumper year only relieves some of the debt and pain, you need three or four in a row to really even begin to make headway.“

When Andreacchio was on the board of the Film Finance Corporation 15 years ago, that body concluded that a reliance on government funding would not produce growth and change was required to avert a crisis.

“We still have the same crisis, but on a much larger scale and with the industry, as an industry, in fact having gone backwards,” says Andreacchio.

“We are at a point where the government funding model to base the economics of an entire film industry upon is now obsolete, with a need for the government agencies in need of serious structural change in terms of their roles and relationship with industry.”

Andreacchio and Leake argue strongly that producers need to look outside this model to find new markets and audiences for our films.

“Whether we are prepared for the uncertain future depends on the degree to which we are prepared to debate, in a mature and honest way, the very fundamental government funding basis of our industry,” says Andreacchio.

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