Australia Government Finds $35 Million to Restart Screen Production

The Australian federal government said on Thursday that it would provide the film and industry with $34.4 million ($A$50 million) as a post-coronavirus relief measure. The move was announced a day after public broadcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said it would lay off 250 staff.

The new fund, to be administered by Screen Australia, will be largely directed to providing financial guarantees that allow the film and TV industries to restart production. The government statement acknowledged that “filming of new productions has largely been halted as insurers are not providing coverage for COVID-19.”

The film finance measures were part of a larger $12 million (A$250 million) package to support the arts. Other beneficiary segments covered include festivals, concerts, tours and events.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the commercial arts and entertainment sector was one of the first sectors to be impacted by COVID-19 and will be one of the last to come out of hibernation as social distancing restrictions are eased. “We’re delivering the capital these businesses need so they can start working again and support the hundreds of thousands of Australians who make their living in the creative economy,” he said.

The federal government last month gave its approval to post-coronavirus production protocols, that should have allowed a production restart. But very few have been able to do so because insurance policies have excluded COVID-19 as a known-pandemic.

Leading local producers including See-Saw Films’ Emile Sherman and CJZ’s Nick Murray, allied with trade organizations to make the case for government to help bridge the gap between the insurers and the screen industry. A similar guarantee, with Euros 100 million of cover, has been made by the French government to support French productions and majority-French co-productions.

“The benefits of this package will extend far beyond the personnel on a physical set, with flow on effects to related industries such as tourism and hospitality, and the boost to Australia’s export potential, playing an important part in the nation’s economic recovery. Moreover, the Australian public will no doubt celebrate the return of homegrown stories to our screens,” said Screen Producers Australia CEO Matthew Deaner.

SPA estimates that the coronavirus-caused lockdowns affected 120 local productions and over 30,000 working employees, freelancers and contractors.

The shutdown also halted large foreign productions that came to Australia to use studio facilities and Australia’s post-production sector. These include Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” which was shooting in Sydney at the time and Baz Luhrmann’s untiled “Elvis” project, which was in advanced pre-production at the time of shutdown, and star Tom Hanks already in the country. Marvel’s “Thor: Love and Thunder” is supposed to shoot later this year in Australia, but its shoot date remains very unclear. A significant delay could have knock-on effects for release dates of the entire series of Marvel Comic Universe movies.

The federal government says its JobKeeper wage support program is injecting $68.8 million (A$100 million) per month into the creative industries. But many guilds remain angry that freelance and short-term contract workers are not eligible.

Cuts at the ABC were announced Wednesday by MD David Anderson as part of the corporation’s first ever five-year plan. He said that a previous decision to stop indexing government contributions had cut the ABC’s budget by $58 million (A$84 million) over three years. A further $28.3 million (A$41 million) per year is to be removed from 2022.

“The proposals announced today ensure the ABC can enhance its value to all Australians now and into the future. However, we anticipate we will farewell as many as 250 people through this process, valued colleagues who have made tremendous contributions to the ABC and to our audiences,” Anderson said in a notice. “This is a difficult time for us, as it is for the broader economy and community as we all struggle with the events of this year.”

Cutback measures include greater focus on digital and on-demand news services,; reducing independent production by approximately $5m per year, predominately from the factual and entertainment slate, with the ABC prioritizing investment in drama and children’s programming; reducing travel budgets by 25%; and a review of the ABC’s property portfolio.