New Funding Guidelines for Film and TV Production

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Six months of extensive industry consultation have culminated in the announcement of dramatic changes to the funding structures for Australia's major film and television production investment body, Film Finance Corporation Australia. The new structures cover all levels of production finance--film, television drama, children's drama and documentary.

'When I took on the job here twelve months ago it was evident the funding guidelines needed revamping to address the issues confronting filmmakers today and into the future rather than reflect the financial environment which existed fifteen years ago when the FFC was formed', FFC Chief Executive Brian Rosen explained, adding that the FFC's aim is to 'assist creative teams who have a vision to make something unique and unexpected and to provide a solid business infrastructure in which to do it.'

The key reforms include:

* The trial of a two-door approach to feature film financing--the existing market attachment model and a new system where the creative merit of the projects applying for finance will be assessed. Projects financed through the existing market attachment door will need to bring higher amounts of 'genuine' market advances (i.e. distributor and sales agent advances, television licence fees) in order to secure FFC backing. Also, the maximum proportion of the budget that the FFC will invest in market attachment projects has dropped from the current fifty per cent to forty per cent for Australian projects, and thirty per cent for co-productions. In the case of project evaluation, the FFC will recruit two specialist staff who will bring complementary perspectives to the evaluation process. With a more holistic approach, the slate of films funded each year should have a greater diversity and distinctiveness about them.

(The role and experience of the specialist staff members was probably the most hotly debated issue at the industry discussion sessions; although most were enthusiastic about the idea of bringing creative assessment into the process, and bringing it in-house, there were concerns about who these people would be, how much power they would have and how long they would have it. The proposal that the whole creative package would be assessed was seen as important--not only the script, but other elements, from the director's vision to the marketing plan.)

* Recoupment splits between the FFC and producers will be revised to support producers in building viable business. Under the proposed changes, the FFC will split the funds recouped from its investments with producers, from first dollar. This will provide greater incentive and remuneration to producers for the exploitation of their projects. To maximize production, there will be a trade-off between the share of recoupment for producers and the level of non-FFC finance they bring to their projects. Producers asking for a lower percentage contribution by the FFC will receive a larger recoupment corridor.

(There was much discussion at the sessions on the need for Australian films to lower their budgets, with the idea that some filmmakers should look at creatively approaching the use of digital formats, as independent films are doing in the US and other countries. As ASDA Executive Director Richard Harris commented, 'the aim of the creative door is to impose discipline on the funding process.' Brian Rosen was also hopeful that this change in recoupment would encourage producers to be more active and entrepreneurial in marketing their films, particularly overseas, and that would result in both producers and FFC eventually benefiting from increased revenue.)

* In a pilot scheme in 2004/05 within the Children's TV Drama category--Distinctively Australian Children's Drama Fund, the FFC will apply up to $2. …