Screen Australia may shift funds to development in crisis

Screen Australia signals flexibility if demand shifts, but the major problems are shaping up to be huge.

Screen Australia has posted an update on COVID-19 after a teleconference with other agencies to create a national picture. 

Aside from travel, Screen Australia is processing applications as normal. In addition, ‘Any Screen Australia-funded production that is experiencing delays should reach out to their Investment Manager, or call 1800 213 099 or email to be directed to the appropriate contact. We will of course be flexible wherever possible to support your production.’

An unknown number of productions will be marooned late in their funding campaign, partly because insurance has now become extremely difficult, probably for good reason. Others will be delayed indefinitely after starting.

But, Screen Australia has announced that if the number of applications drops, (particularly in production) ‘we will divert funds to other programs such as development, to ensure the sector is still being supported to the same level.’

Read: COVID-19 sector scrambles to make sense

That poses a challenging problem. What can Screen Australia do to pump support funds into the sector?  In raw terms we have to expect that the agency will want to protect the production companies and senior creatives with significant slates and solid achievements. One barrier is the agency’s stand on providing minimal funding to producers in development applications.  

Can Screen Australia divert funds to newer writers, directors and producers? Maybe there is some version of mentor programs. One problem here is about capacity as producers carry full slates forward and provide no space for additional shows. No matter how you scrub up, you won’t get fed if the dining room is full.

For the state agencies at least, the threat to individual crew members in the gig economy is particularly dire. In the past, crew have been able to deal with hard times by going back to the removals business or building their corporate side. But this is a much bigger emergency and there is nowhere to hide. 

AFTRS is converting to online education; we will see if the stoppages are an opportunity for screen people to skill up. 

Faced with a sudden void, some screenmakers may form informal crews, pool their gear and shoot a project. To do that they will need to find a way to stay together in some location with minimal contact with the outside world. That is a big ask but it can be done. We are good at desert noir.

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.