Screen Forever program now available, and it is lean and clever

Under the pressure of the pandemic, Screen Producers Australia has put together a tight, pungent program for its belated 2020 conference.

The arrival of the major program for Screen Forever, which runs from 16 -18 February 2021, is an important milestone for Screen Producers Australia. It was supposed to be the first edition in Queensland, then became a hybrid online/in-person edition, and finally turned into a fully online event. At least there there was never any doubt that the international guests at least would be Zoomed into the ideas stream. 

As SPA’s Owen Johnston pointed out, ‘We were absolutely determined that we would not go two years without a market.’ The various pitch and meet sessions are still in the conference as the meat and potatoes for many delegates. They will be open for applicants shortly, with perhaps the best list of buyers and financiers that SPA has ever been able to bring together. There will also be chat-rooms and questions using the technology which is now so familiar to conference goers since the pandemic started. 

The session program itself is neatly laid out online, which is a big help when delegates sit at their own computers across the country trying to choose which Zoom to tangle themselves up in. 

The first day begins gently with a post-lunch welcome, followed by the traditional ABC-derived Q&A session, and then a bit of networking. It gets serious very suddenly when the Communications Minister Paul Fletcher does a fifteen minute keynote. On day three, the ALP’s Arts and Communications duo of Tony Burke and Michelle Rowland will have another fifteen minutes to discuss ‘the ALP’s screen policy positions on proposed changes to government regulation and the governments’ Media Reform Green Paper.’

Given that all three of these politicians are very smart, I really wish we could see all of them together on a panel for an hour or so. That, of course, is just not possible.

These two session anchor the Future Proof strand, which combines big questions with some bent ideas from the digital nerdscape. ‘Can Robots Write More Successful Scripts’ could turn writer-producers into jelly, while ‘Epic Games’ will showcase the Unreal Engine, which takes producers further into virtual production. Screenhub looked at this in detail last August.

Read more: Think Tank – can virtual production transform screen budgets?

Here also we find another major policy session, called ‘Brave New World’, which used to be a nerdy reference to 1930’s psychedelic science fiction and has now become a series on Stan.

Summary: The future of our industry looks very different in 2021, with a vastly changed funding and regulatory environment and key decisions coming on quotas for streaming platforms. There’s a new Australian Content Standard, big changes to tax offsets and new money for Screen Australia and the Australian Children’s Television Foundation. 

The panel will give their take on the wash up from the Government’s announcements and what this means for an industry in flux.

The conference comes back to this space with The Big Picture, in which researchers Amanda Lotz and Anna Potter, along with journalist Karl Quinn, lay out the numbers underlying the Australian television economy (which are easy to sense) and compares them with international experience (which will be illuminating). 

Summary: This panel will present recent research investigating Australia’s television economy, how Australia’s situation compares to other countries and the difficulties facing producers of scripted content.

The keynote to the strand is probably this: ‘How Producers can Compete in a Global Screen Ecosystem’. A lot rests on the experience of Hoodlum’s Tracey Robertson and Alistair McKinnon from Matchbox Pictures. Paul Muller, if he is properly provoked, could turn the conversation in new directions since he is ‘Chief Executive Officer of the Australia New Zealand Screen Association (ANZSA), an organisation established to promote and protect the interests of its members, which include; Disney, Fetch TV, Netflix, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros.’ He is Mr Streaming Company.

After all, if the Australian screen sector can’t sustain a role in the global media ecosystem, the industry and the culture will be in dire straits. We are seeing media decay play out around the world and it is not pretty.

According to Owen Johnston, the program came together organically and split neatly into three strands. Besides the big picture, Screen Forever is offering a business strand with a comprehensive list of buyer presentations, some finance sessions and a panel on Screen Entrepreneurship:

Summary: Screen producers and screen entrepreneurs around Australia are increasingly diversifying their business models and revenue streams in response to a fragmenting marketplace, increased global competition, the decline of the feature film market, technological change and emerging opportunities, growing demand for short online content and regulatory changes to the content quotas.

Outside of capital cities in particular, screen entrepreneurs are building screen businesses that break down silos between different formats, embrace new technologies, and in some cases, offer a 360 range of services to manage risk and develop multiple revenue streams.

The third strand covers content, which is an opportunity to look at Covid stories, Indigenous development, podcasts, showrunners and children’s TV.

‘We’re really excited about our Tik-Tok competition, which is one minute long, but it’s a pilot for a series that will be 10×1 minute, so it’s bringing narrative content to that,’ said Johnston. ‘And we’re finding that the next generation of talented filmmakers are working in that space so producers need to know where they are and connect with them.’

The point about Screen Forever is really that it sticks closely to the needs of Australian producers, and the organisers do this very thoroughly.

The point about Screen Forever is really that it sticks closely to the needs of Australian producers, and the organisers do this very thoroughly.

As Johnston described, ‘The conference comes together from a number of sources. From our program advisory board which is drawn from industry and we make as broad as possible. From our members who write in with issues or contact us. From our board, and sponsors and other interested industry parties. There’s a lot of voices in the conversation as we put together a conference program.’

The result is very lean, as Johnston acknowledged, because each session has really had to earn its keep. There is much less overlap, and delegates can watch sessions after the conference anyway. There are still more sessions to be announced as the participants are secured. The full Queensland conference, with actual people and heaps of gossip will happen next November. It will, won’t it?

Screen Forever runs entirely online from 16 -18 February 2021. Tickets now on sale.


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.