Screen Queensland polishing up the go button after lockdown

Screen Queensland lays out part one of its Coronavirus rescue program to get crew working as soon as possible. Still to come is business development and resilience.

According to Screen Queensland CEO Kylie Munnich, the response to COVID-19 has been driven by discussion between the agency, the board and an industry task force set up for that purpose. The strategy builds on a screen industry survey which had more than 560 responses. 

Unsurprisingly, some of the agencies response is fast and specific. The existing sqhub program provides a co-working space, access to courses and a business incubation program run by 113 Partners and designed for the broad creative community. It has now gone online, suspended the costs associated with the shuttered physical space and put the incubation program on the net, to be run at six monthly intervals into the future. 

This means the whole program, is available to screen practitioners across the state. Applications close on Monday, 20 April.

The general outline of the whole program was announced last week. ‘We are investing in continuity for productions, creativity for screen practitioners, skills for industry practitioners, business development and resilience, as well as screen culture activities.’ Munnich has described the Australian industry support packages in a single sentence; the sector has road-tested those categories again and again, in different local conditions and they are clearly robust. The total amount adds up to $3.3m, which is over 10% of the outgoings to the sector for the year ending in 2019.

The jewel in the industry’s financial crown in Queensland is the studios. The Village Roadshow complex had been taken up completely by Elvis, which shut down completely. By a stroke of luck it was about to start shooting, so it will spring back into action as soon as the isolation rules are relaxed. 

The Screen Queensland Studios, set up for lower budget productions a year ago, are in lockdown too, and available as storage for production companies to minimise their rent bill. 

As Munnich explained, ‘We want to get work into our own studios as quickly as possible. I think everyone recognises that there is going to be somewhat of a bottleneck when we can all finally get back to work, with a lot of productions that either need to complete, or a lot of new productions ready to start. And that’s ideal to get people back into work.

‘So our studios will be promoted throughout this time as an available space to bring productions in. And part of our announcement today is around how we can put money into development and get projects to a production ready state, so that they can start.’

Screen Queensland has put an extra $250,000 into the Ideas Program specifically to support shows that can move quickly into production, as per the guidelines for ‘projects in development that are seeking to secure market attachment and finance and proceed to production’.

It is also investing in a Creative Consultations Program to ‘engage a network of experienced Queensland writers, producers and consultants, to provide online feedback and one-to-one script meetings for local writers and creators with stories in development’.

The screen cultural activities relate to festivals. ‘Annually we give a million dollars towards some festivals and screen culture activities,’ Munnich explained. ‘As we are towards the end of our financial year, we have come up with a small pot of money, just $50,000, to help film festivals pivot to online or virtual film festivals.’

This is really a skeletal account, because there are more announcements to come, which will cover most of the categories that Munnich outlined above. 

Screen Queensland has a strongly market driven approach, which means that development for local practitioners is tied up in external initiatives. That creates certain kinds of discipline and focus for participants, but it now means that the future strategies depend on the outcome of the pandemic for broadcasters and streaming companies. In the meantime, Screen Queensland is reallocating funds which are not being used in production, like the other agencies. 

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.