Australia Producers' Confab is Good News, Bad News

2010 a Good Year for Australian Film, but International Prods Drying Up

SYDNEY -- Australia’s annual producers' confab opened with good and bad news Wednesday as 700 delegates from the film and TV sector heard of the success of local feature films and TV shows in finding audiences in 2010, tempered with reports of a major sale of production infrastructure caused by the lack of big budget foreign productions shooting Down Under.

Opening the three-day Screen Producers Association of Australia conference, the organization's 25th, president Tony Ginnane said 2010 could prove a watershed year for the sector.

A future president he said could look back and say “that was the year the feature film industry turned the corner and the industry as a whole achieved critical mass” against a backdrop of “volatility, uncertainty  and change."

Australian films are finding audiences both at home and abroad.

2010 is the first year that seven local films have entered the top 50 Australian films of all time in box office takings. They include Mao’s Last DancerTomorrow When The War Began; Knowing; Bran Nue Dae; Wog Boy2: Kings Of Mykonos; Animal Kingdom and Legends Of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

To date local films have grossed close to AUS$50 million ($49 million) at the local box office this year taking a 5% share – an increase on last year's 4%.

And international sales are following, with an Australian film playing in theatrical release in an A or B territory outside Australia each week this year. Legends Of The Guardians and Daybreakers have taken $74.5 million and $60 million theatrically worldwide.

“The stigma attached to Australian films here in the last decade should progressively disappear as more and more Australians have a positive theatrical experience with Australian movies, be it at the multiplex or specialty art house audiences,” Ginnane said.

At the same time he noted the success of last year's Independent Producer of the Year, Emile Sherman, who with Iain Canning have produced Oscar contender, The King's Speech, TV continues to thrive and is a "massive export success" he added.

Nevertheless funding challenges remain and tweaking is need to government assistance and support to continue to build a “successful and sustainable, dynamic, multi-layered film and TV industry."

That tweaking includes pressing the government to adopt SPAA’s Producer Distributor fund, which would provide $60 million over three years. According to Ginnane, that would “correct the failure of the offset to work for feature films in the $7- 30million budget range.

Elsewhere SPAA wants an increase in license fee minimums for both free and pay-TV and the introduction of a 10% pay-TV quota for documentaries.

But while Ginnane was relatively upbeat about local film and TV production, the industry was warned of a crisis with the lack of foreign production here that has underpinned the sector for a long time.

The concern was underscored with the announcement at the conference that Panavision is being forced to sell its Panalux lighting business.

Panavision CEO Martin Cayzer, after accepting the SPAA Independent Producer of the Year award for services and facilities, warned that physical infrastructure is starting to dismantle with no international productions ion the pipeline.

“International production funded the development of the industry infrastructure over the past decade and now with the decline of international production comes the dismantling of that same infrastructure and the skilled crew base is leaving our shores,” Cayzer said. “Unless changes to the screen incentive program happen, Panalux is just the beginning of the dismantling of key infrastructure. We have already lost hundreds of highly skilled crew.

Locations marketing agency Ausfilm has called for an increase in the current 15% production incentives to lure shoots back to Australia.

Elsewhere, the SPAA Independent Producer of The Year award went to Christopher Mapp, founder and managing director of Omnilab Media, and producer of Tomorrow When the War Began and The Killer Elite.

Accepting the award Mapp urged producers to “listen to your audience, distributors and sales agents."

Former Walt Disney Motion Picture Australia and NZ distribution chief Alan Finney was lauded for services to the industry.

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