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At what cost? Cuts to screen resource organisation funding.

The development sector is bearing the brunt of slashes in Screen Australia funding from the latest federal budget. Our screen resource organisations (SROs)--the Film & Television Institute (FTI) in Western Australia, the Media Resource Centre (MRC) in South Australia, Metro Screen in New South Wales, Open Channel in Victoria and Wide Angle Tasmania are facing funding cuts that will have a profound impact on their daily operations. Collectively, these SROs stand to lose A$1.2 million to A$1.5 million in federal funding from the end of 2015.

According to Screen Australia, SROs play a key role in providing early-mid career film and multimedia makers across Australia with affordable access to production equipment and advice, subsidy programs, professional development and accredited training, exhibition programming and a range of special projects.

During Screen Australia's recent roadshow at Adelaide Studios, it was noted that, in New South Wales and Victoria, television production is reaching critical mass whereby larger TV production companies are facilitating professional-development opportunities. But the upshot of this is that the importance of SROs to 'smaller' production states, where the market fails to provide such career opportunities, is magnified.

Queenslander Mark Overett, producer of The Fear of Darkness (Christopher Fitchett, 2014) and a former board member of the now-defunct SRO QPIX, laments the dearth of opportunities in the smaller production states: 'Sadly, the days of an apprenticeship via one of the main broadcasters are long-gone.' And despite the proliferation of career-development opportunities in the major production hubs, Christina Alvarez, chief executive officer of Metro Screen, reaffirms the significant function of SROs:

Most universities and colleges provide generalist, largely theoretical screen courses, with the vast majority of graduates unable to get a job in their specific area of interest [...] over 75 per cent of the people we work with at Metro Screen already have a tertiary degree --it takes most people several years after graduation to build up their show reel, credits, networks and applied skills. SFIOs create this 'bridge' for tertiary graduates by providing opportunities such as production funding, networking, hands-on skills development and access to equipment, so you can get noticed as a screen creative or crew [member].

As the former chief executive of both ScreenWest and Screen NSW, Tania Chambers has intimate knowledge of and ongoing working relationships with SROs. Since completing her tenure at Screen NSW, Chambers has returned to Perth and recommenced producing, with Kriv Stenders' Kill Me Three Times (2014) as her latest project. Chambers offers a pragmatic view of the crucial role the FTI fulfils in Western Australia:

SROs provide both practical training opportunities and networking for emerging practitioners. Whether it is through access to industry guest lecturers or through other informal meeting opportunities, talent coming through the ranks can come to the attention of more experienced industry players.

Chambers further emphasises the significance of SROs as filters of new talent:

We are often so busy in development and production [that] it is hard [...] to track new talent, without whom our industry would atrophy. The FTI runs the annual WA Screen Awards. In addition to creating a platform to showcase excellence to the industry and general public, it creates a reference point of nominees for various categories. Yesterday,

I accessed this list of nominees to source the next level of recognised talent for a production I am planning! I also decided to review the list of nominees for WA Young Filmmaker of the Year to ensure I am aware of these impressive industry players.

The part that the FTI plays in Western Australia matches that in other states especially in South Australia, where the MRC also produces the state's screen awards. Furthermore, Danger 5 director Dario Russo and Wastelander Panda director Victoria Cocks have both benefited from the MRC's career-development initiatives. MRC director Gail Kovatseff elaborates:

It is hard to name a filmmaker succeeding in South Australia who did not come through the MRC. Young filmmakers looking to work professionally quickly realise they need a post-university track record. MRC filmmakers are going directly to [professional] film sets.

Kovatseff continues by recounting recent MRC successes:

In the last couple of years alone, the MRC has produced filmmakers who have made a documentary series for ABC2, been nominated in the 'Shorts' category of the AACTAs, or have or [are] about to launch their works on ABC or SBS online.

This position is echoed by Chambers: 'To my knowledge, few screen-industry professionals have not been associated with the FTI at some point in their career.'

With the future of SROs jeopardised by impending funding cuts, the fate of Queensland's QPIX is brought to mind: it was dissolved in February 2014, compelling Screen Queensland to absorb QPIX's roles such as administering the Queensland arm of the Raw Nerve Initiative. Such a change could see a reversal of policy in some states. As a case in point, the South Australian Film Corporation enjoys a sound working relationship with the MRC but has already delegated development functions, such as the A$15,000 Next Step production initiative, to the MRC.

Chambers sums up the concerns regarding the fate of SROs: 'I really believe it would be a great loss to this ecosystem within the screen sector if active and valued SROs were to cease to exist.' Indeed, if SROs are not sustained, the scenario noted by Overett at a recent The Fear of Darkness cast and crew screening in Queensland could become even more prevalent: 'Many of our Bond University graduate-production interns have already moved down to Sydney and Melbourne seeking work.'

Michael Clarkin is an Adelaide-based producer experienced in the development and production of feature films, whose productions have won national awards. A member of the Screen Producers Australia, Michael is a past recipient of Paw Nerve funding from the Media Resource Centre, for whom he has also served as a consultant producer.
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Title Annotation:Scope: Screen industry views
Author:Clarkin, Michael
Publication:Metro Magazine
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 22, 2015
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