Slight Rise in Australian Shoots as Drama Appetite Grows

Producer Offset Tax Rebate a Major Factor in Growth

SYDNEY -- Australians’ appetite for local TV drama has fueled another increase in local shoots, with the value of feature and TV production rising 2% to AUD$731 million ($734.6 million) in the 2010 fiscal year to June 30.

The findings were released in agency Screen Australia’s annual Drama Report, which pointed to the overarching contribution of the Producer Offset tax rebate to the national slate.

Describing the offset, which has been in place for three years now and provides a 40% tax rebate for feature films and a 20% rebate for TV series, as “the Australian screen industry stimulus package we didn’t know we needed to have,” Screen Australia CEO Ruth Harley said it had helped the Australian industry weather the global financial crisis and the resulting downturn in global production.

Quite simply, Screen Australia said, there would have been no growth without the offset.

In all 48 feature films and 38 TV dramas were made here in the 12 months to June 30, showing a small decrease in overall numbers but an increase in budget values. However, Harley sounded a note of caution. The rise of the Australian dollar and continuing falls in foreign production and the lack of big budget local features going into production means that there’s a “serious risk” of a drop in total expenditure in Australia in the current year.

“In order for the screen sector to continue to thrive, it is vital that Screen Australia maintains its direct support for films in the medium budget ranges, which are difficult to finance in this climate with the indirect support of the producer offset alone,” Harley said.

Steven Spielberg’s Terra Nova is the only big budget production currently being made here. Recent years saw The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of The Dawn Treader and Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark as well as Happy Feet 2 and The Guardians of Ga’Hoole contribute to overall expenditure, but that won't be the case in 2010-11.

“We have to emphasize direct support for domestic production and pave the way for the next George Miller and Baz Luhrmann to come through. We can’t survive on the offset alone, especially with the strength of the Australian dollar,” Screen Australia’s director of operations, Fiona Cameron, added.

Other key findings from the report included:

The total value of the producer offset to the Australian slate was $128 million; 99% of features made accessed the offset, up from 90%, while 71% of TV drama expenditure was financed with the help of the offset. Over 40% of offset finance was cashflowed by banks and other private sources. Film funds set up specifically to cashflow the Producer Offset are also becoming more significant, contributing 15% of finance in 2009/10 compared to 2–3% in the first two years.

Also, expenditure on TV dramas was shown to be at a 10-year high but while the average cost of TV drama increased, the number of hours made fell.

Indeed television was the “success story” of the year, Harley said. Increased investment meant higher quality productions and bigger audiences for series like Underbelly and Packed To The Rafters.

“Government policy in the support of television continues to play a vital role in ensuring that Australians have access to Australian stories on television and that the production sector is healthy and sustainable. This will continue to remain important to ensure that the current production levels are maintained in a changing media landscape,” Harley said.

Children’s TV drama hit a trough compared to the previous two years, but that was put down to the cyclical nature of that part of the sector and the quota arrangements.