Screen Australia open for business – but business is changing

In these wretched days, screen agencies can offer new opportunities during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some possibilities with Screen Australia.

Screen Australia today published an open letter  which explains the work it has done on productions in the last two weeks as  Covid-19 crashes in. Standouts are the fact that:

1. All of the decision-making apparatus is still in place, including board meetings.

2. Screen Australia has been talking through individual projects and companies to work out how to proceed in each case. This make sense because the agency has contracts for many different kinds of support which have to be investigated. What is more, deals may well be partnerships and the other elements will have different national or commercial rules.

Screen Australia has quietly emphasised that ‘the Online team are also working through a huge number of projects and today confirmed to me that their financial year investments will be expended in full.’ This means that:

1. They are not seeing the same kind of hiatus that is occurring in conventional production which has stopped completely.

2. The agency is pretty likely to expand its online offering as funds become available from other areas. The online space will surely have its own problems, but much more of the work can be done in front of a computer.

3. This is the area which is most tuned to emerging, younger and craft transfer applicants because the CV demands are lighter. From Screenhub’s point of view, this could be a real opportunity. 

Screen Australia also has an Enterprise Business and Ideas round in the offing. It closes on 31 May 2020. Enterprise People is open all the time but it is likely to decrease as it is all about social contact. This is what head of development Nerida Moore has to say:

‘When we announced the new Enterprise program streams in Feb 2019, it was unashamedly experimental and we encouraged applicants to think laterally in proposing ways we could support innovation in the sector… With the program having been active for over 12 months, it’s clear that Enterprise People has been incredibly popular, with 28 successful applications funded to date. Conversely, Enterprise Business & Ideas has received less than half the volume of Enterprise People applications and to date, only eight applications have solidly met all criteria to be funded.’

‘As such, Enterprise Business & Ideas will be reviewed and revised with the aim of becoming available again in 2021. There is no change to Enterprise People.’

But Screen Australia is also saying

‘Any Enterprise Business & Ideas applications received by 1 May 2020 will be assessed as normal. Successful applications that move into Stage 2 will still have the full three months to submit their second stage materials…

‘Enterprise is funded through the Development departmental budget, as such any unused Enterprise Business & Ideas funds will be directed to other development programs.

‘There is no reduction to the Development budget, subject to any unforeseen circumstances beyond Screen Australia’s control.’

Read more here. This program is configured at the moment around larger scale and longer range ideas – exactly what producers will soon have a chance to contemplate. Can it be opened up to support more immediate ideas? Wait and see. 

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.