Learning to leave – new programs to engage creatives with the world

In response to a globalised industry, become a professional nomad. Here's two support measures which reflect fundamental changes in the sector.

Australians in Film (AIF), the Los Angeles based group of industry antipodeans working in the US sector, is involved in a joint initiative with Screen Australia to run a Talent Gateway program and a Global Producers Exchange. 

They provide a conduit between Australia and the US ‘for established Australian creatives to expand on their skills and connect with key US decision makers, as well as help position Australian projects for success in an increasingly global market.’

This move builds on the success of Untapped, which gives ‘emerging Australian screenwriters and directors the education and access needed to fast track their careers and their projects, which launched earlier this year and received over 700 applications’. 

Over the last twenty years, AIF has provided a structure for a profound change in the Australian sector by banding together, providing support, running awards and now hosting formal programs. 

At the other end of the scale, the South Australian Film Corporation has just announced a program to recruit what it calls ’25 skilled workers from adjacent industries such as performing and visual arts, festivals and events, accountancy, trades, construction and more..’ They will be trained in association with the Australian Film Television and Radio School through the government’s Skilling South Australia program.

Another 25 people will be assisted to upskill themselves to fill a clear shortage in local crews, covering assistant directors, the camera and art departments, the production office and production accounting. 

There is a heap of interest – the SAFC reported that 140 skilled people registered their interest through a Technical Screen Careers Open Day. But we can’t think about strictly local crews and careers any more, as people follow the work interstate while key creatives go around the world. 

It is no longer possible to talk about a home-grown and Australian screen sector. The last bastion is free-to-air television, which is crumbling before our eyes, egged on by changes to federal regulations supporting domestic production. 

We effectively have Australian companies and creatives spread across three sectors – homegrown, Hollywood, and truly global. 

At the moment younger (elite) key creatives are joining a pantheon from the past, using the power of agents and managers, along with the capacity to travel and their own ferocious ambition. But screen workers want to go beyond skimming the best to creating viable international careers for the unglamorous but really experienced larger group of screen technicians. At the moment they are often working on footloose productions, and are sometimes taken back to the US by producers and heads of department.

We are also seeing a mass of screen people who don’t aspire to mainstream drama at all, but are working on domestic shiny floor shows, or as copywriters and videographers and producers on smaller commercials. How those communities are affected by the larger changes remains unknown. 

The list of partners for the AIF and the Hollywood programs is remarkable, including the state agencies, the larger guilds, Screenworks from Northern Rivers and Scripted Ink, attached to the Australian Writers Guild.

Everyone sees this move as an opportunity, and no-one is dissenting. Working in Los Angeles may seem bleak, but Australian creatives revel in Hollywood’s obsession with screen, and the challenges involved. The future exists in a special world of screen creation with its own rules and heroes, its dangers and compensations, anchored lightly to planet prosaic in a few feeding zones, but really belonging to no culture and no country.

But there is a dark side. Foreign production in Australia is enabled by a ready supply of good crew and plenty of subsidies, but the real driver is the value of the dollar. The great opportunity is the turf war between the streaming companies. Both of these are extremely unreliable.

So the answer for Australian creatives is mobility – to work around the world for extended periods of time, and/or to settle wherever they can score a visa. That means their cost of living will rise, and sustaining a family becomes even harder. Those South Australian tradies will discover they have signed on to mobility and a degree of rootlessness – just ask their colleagues in animation and post production. 

Behind all this is that profound change which AIF has tracked and enabled, which is a conceptual problem we don’t yet understand. Three sectors intertwined to create a whole, driven by opportunities in a huge range of cultures and jurisdictions. The ride is getting wilder and wilder as the agencies cross their fingers and try to create a two way street..

Information on these programs can be found at Screen Australia and the South Australian Film Corporation, which also has a primer about crew roles. Ironically, the Talent Gateway and Global Producers Exchange are both virtual, due to Covid. Applications close June 10. 

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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.