SAFC lining sector up to start quickly in recovery phase

The South Australian sector had a mega-moment online, called a Virtual Town Hall Meeting. This is how it turned out.

On Thursday 2 April the South Australian Film Corporation held a Virtual Town Hall meeting with the screen community, mostly to go through the initial support measures for the local sector. There was a substantial focus on development as Beth Neate, the head of production and development explained.

‘I’d like to introduce the way we’re thinking about approaching development. So the end goal of everyone at the other side of this is a return to local production, as soon as possible. The way we are proposing to approach development is to take a far more focused approach.

‘We’re thinking of temporarily putting on hold early and advanced development, and instead having a single stream called targeted development. Applications will be accepted for any genre or format under the terms of trade, but they must have a South Australian producer or South Australian co-producer attached. And they must be intended for production and post production in South Australia in the next 12 to 18 months. We’ll be looking to support projects with SA creatives and projects that can employ significant numbers of South Australian crew cast and screen services.’

This is really the state-focused playbook, in which production support is designed around local industry growth. 

‘We’re thinking … to reintroduce market funding. And this is to give South Australian producers certainty in their negotiations with the market. It’s such a difficult and uncertain time, but we’re hoping that this guaranteed match funding will empower South Australian producers to approach market partners with confidence that the SAFC is behind them.’

She was asked whether the SAFC would provide increased early development that would then lead into Screen Australia’s Premium Plus program. The answer was no; the two agencies are thinking in similar ways. But early stage development is still supported, as creatives make the case. 

Acknowledging that the basic building block of our sector is really the business, all the various industry stakeholders can access business resilience training. These are really tailor-made programs which can connect applicants with other enterprises with the requisite experience and expertise. Expressions of interest can be made via SmartyGrants.

The Crew and Services Director is being upgraded as it provides an important resource in connecting crews with interstate producers. The SAFC is partnering with the Media Resource Centre to create a master apprentice program for experienced crew to mentor emerging crew, investigating subsidies for technical training and licences, reaching out to universities and training institutions to unearth paid guest lecturing gigs and planning an online working day to attract new talent in particular crew areas.

The reform words come roaring out to disrupt the relationship between applicants and agency. Transparency, speed, simplicity, milestone flexibility, individual contact between industry and SAFC executives: less decorum and more trust. 

How will the normal development cycle be treated, particularly for emerging teams? Suppressing the normal development cycle is obviously silly, but the Corporation wants to front load more development into productions close to launching, and the tension seems unresolved. There is no more money from the state government, so the agency must be relying on reduced production demand to pump up development; not a problem because it is the same people. 

CEO Kate Croser is seeing the immediate future through a domestic lens, even though the Corporation does run studios which it is keeping as open as possible.

‘We’re looking at increasing funding for productions in the recovery phase. I think actually the recovery phase is going to represent a huge opportunity for the industry. So I just also want to put that out there for for producers and businesses and creatives. What is going to happen when the health restrictions are lifted? First of all might be the social distance requirements, while we don’t know about international travel. In the interim there may well be an opportunity for us to target our funds towards really domestically focused production.’

The online Town Hall meeting painted a strong picture of the COVID-19 response. The participants are scattered and the stream attracted more people than the SAFC could put into their theatre. All the agencies are meeting weekly online, Kate Croser is talking to the government and the Minister continuously, the SAFC is holding a myriad individual phone discussions, and there are formal working groups for producers and heads of department. 

So many of the barriers have collapsed at the moment because the traditional fiefdoms are overwhelmed. Pretty much everyone in the sector is actually present rather than hustling overseas or in production, while the money tap is the one that very different craft communities have in common. We may see more co-operation in the long term, and more intergenerational connections. For the smaller states this is likely to be a slow bolt of electricity. 

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.