Prod'n dipping low Down Under

Foreign shoots at lowest level in a decade with big U.S. drop

SYDNEY -- The lowest level of foreign feature production in a decade led to a 33% downturn in production spending in Australia last year, according to the Australian Film Commission's annual survey of feature film and TV drama production.

Despite an increase in the volume of Australian feature film production, overall film and TV production totaled AUS$361 million ($278 million) for the financial year ended June 30, down from last year's total of AUS$542 million ($417 million), with a significant absence of U.S. features.

Foreign feature production was the lowest since tracking of Australian expenditure began in 1994-95, according to the AFC report released Thursday. The four foreign titles produced in 2005-06 were worth just AUS$23 million ($17 million) in Australian expenditure, compared with a five-year average of AUS$172 million ($132 million) and unlike the previous year when "Superman Returns," among others, tipped AUS$243 million ($187 million) into the local sector.

Foreign features produced last year included World Wrestling Entertainment's "The Condemned," "July Breeze" from India, "Under the Open Sky" from Pakistan and Japanese feature "Moyuru Toki: The Excellent Company."

AFC acting chief executive Chris Fitchett said the contraction in foreign feature activity "is of concern."

"For almost a decade, production activity in Australia has been boosted by high-budget foreign features shooting here, and their decline in this year's slate has been keenly felt by the industry," he said. "This again highlights the importance of bolstering local production to provide the solid foundation required for a sustainable industry."

On a brighter note for the local sector, Australian feature film production increased year on year. Twenty-five Australian features were produced in 2005-06, up from 22 the previous year, with budgets totaling AUS$98 million ($75 million), up from AUS$66 million ($50 million) the previous year and on par with the five-year average of AUS$96 million ($74 million). In addition, three features were made as official co-productions, with AUS$13 million ($10 million) spent in Australia.

Thirty-four TV dramas totaling 623 hours were made, with production expenditure rising to AUS$228 million ($176 million), up from AUS$206 million ($158 million) the previous year. The number of hours of adult TV series produced fell, but this was offset by an increase in Australian telefilms, children's production and co-productions. No adult drama series were produced by national broadcaster ABC during the year, but foreign TV drama production accounted for AUS$26 million ($20 million) of expenditure.

The report also provided more impetus to the industry's lobbying for changes to government plans to entice more private investment to the sector. Australian private finance for production was just 7% of total budgets in 2005-06.

Australian government agencies, including the Film Finance Corp., contributed 42% of financing for features in 2005-06, while the industry itself tipped in 16%, foreign sources accounted for 36% and private investors 7%.

Broadcasters, production companies and distributors financed 54% of the TV drama slate, while foreign investors contributed 22%, government sources 18% and private investors 6%, the report said.

"The return to stronger levels of Australian feature production is good news," Fitchett said. "We are starting to see the effects of the federal government's injection of extra funds into the FFC in response to the downturn of production activity in 2002-03."

However, "increasing the amount of private finance is essential for a more sustainable industry, and we welcome the close attention the federal government is giving to this issue in the current review," he added.