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FILM DEVELOPMENT


Objectives

Through the provision of financial support, advice and purpose designed initiatives, the objectives of the Film Development Branch are to: assist the development of creative commercial film and television projects which reflect a diversity in genre, format, budget and audience; encourage and foster the development and production of work and individuals likely to make a significant contribution to the future of film, television and digital media in Australia; assist filmmakers and creative personnel in the enhancement of their professional skills and experience; and enhance the financing opportunities for Australian film and television projects through the administration of the International Co-Production Program.

These objectives reflect the consistent aim of the Film Development Branch to be the principal development site of the Australian film, television and multimedia industries. To implement this aim a variety of financial and advisory assistance measures are provided through five programs [see below] which support the development and production of outstanding productions and assist the careers of those individuals likely to make a significant contribution to the cultural and commercial wellbeing of those industries.


Principal Programs and Activities


Thirty Words for the City is an award-winning CD-Rom created by John Colette which investigates the relationship between personal subjectivity and the information landscape of the contemporary urban environment. It was fully funded by the AFC.

Development Investment Program

The early encouragement and support of ideas is probably the most crucial requirement to sustain a vigorous, original and competitive industry. It is also the area of greatest risk where investment funding is concerned.

The program receives applications in the following categories: animation; feature film; documentary; short drama; series; and experimental. In all cases whether the intended production could be regarded as mainstream or innovative, the selection criteria for investment or assistance focuses on originality, excellence, a high probability that target audiences will be successfully reached and that there will be career benefits for the filmmakers.

Feature films receive the majority of development investment. In the financial year 361 applications in this category were received, 76 investments were approved and total expenditure was $985,052. An average of $16,225 per project was approved, the majority of which represents writers' fees.

Twenty-seven documentaries were approved for development investment. Total expenditure was $272,711. Many of these reach television as Accord Documentaries [funded by the broadcaster and the Australian Film Finance Corporation], while others receive full investment funding from the AFC Production Investment Program. Five animation projects were approved with total expenditure of $43,950. Seven short dramas were approved with total expenditure of $18,150. Two television series proposals were approved with total expenditure of $50,275. And two experimental projects were approved with expenditure totalling $32,746. Multimedia seed investments totalled $342,130.

Production Investment Program and New Image Research Program

Whereas the Development Investment Program supports both mainstream and non-mainstream or ground-breaking projects, the Production Investment Program, which has the capacity to fully finance a film, is more selective. This is the area of innovation, risk­taking in subject matter and style and where careers are often begun spectacularly with a success at one of the many international film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice or Montreal. For example, Gregor Jordan's Swinger was in competition at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Jury Prize for short film.

By their very nature, projects in this program are unlikely to find finance from traditional marketplace sources and the program is operated in a complementary manner to the Australian Film Finance Corporation's investment funds. In this way, a greater diversity of filmmakers and films are assisted resulting in a richer screen culture.

1994­95 saw a significant increase in documentary investment owing, in part, to the quality of submissions received. One feature film, Road To Nhill, a tragi-comedy set in a small rural Victorian town was funded, and Everynight Everynight, the first feature film from Alkinos Tsilimidos received post-production funding.

Emergency bridging loans were made to Dad and Dave On Our Selection, the second remake of the 1920 Longford classic, and Shine, the story of gifted pianist David Helfgott.

Assistance to feature films totalled $1,720,284; an increase of $163,684 from 1993­94.

The range of documentary funding is broad and thematically exciting, including a personal view of the Bosnian conflict from Tahir Cambis, a Melbourne-based Bosnian Australian, and an examination of the nature of hatred on a personal and global level from Sydney filmmaker Mitzi Goldman.

Eleven documentary projects received support. Three were fully funded projects with budgets averaging $304,000. In all, assistance to documentaries totalled $1,503,626 an increase of $605,918 from the previous year.

Short dramas are a particularly important component of AFC support as they can provide a vital opportunity for emerging filmmakers to work in narrative drama, including comedy, at lengths which will indicate their capacity to move into feature films. Excluding 'top-up' funding to previous projects, post-production grants to three VCA films and funds approved under the Comedy Initiative and Microdramas, 16 short films were approved this year. Total expenditure on shorts was $2,376,578; a decrease of $401,637 from 1993-94.

As noted above, one of these short dramas, Swinger, was successful at Cannes. A major investment of $505,000 [including previous AFC development investment] was also made in the prison drama, Life, written by John Brumpton and to be directed by Lawrence Johnston, whose previous film, the documentary Eternity, has been a domestic and international success. Eat My Shorts, an eight-part AFC-SBS comedy initiative designed to identify new comic writing and directing talent was funded with the AFC providing investment and SBS facilities and pre-sales.

The AFC took a minority investment position in an exciting television series entitled House Gang, which follows the lives of three young people with intellectual disability as they are forced to share a rented house with their bankrupt landlord and his daughter. The series will challenge common perceptions of people with disabilities and is jointly funded by AFC, SBS, Film Australia, the New South Wales Film & Television Office, the Federal Department of Employment, Education and Training and the NSW State Department of Health and Human Services.

Other areas of production investment include 10 projects in the New Image Research Program, seven in Multimedia, four in animation, four in experimental and a special assistance investment to the Centenary of Cinema Committee for a two minute trailer to be seen in every cinema throughout Australia. Production assistance totalled $6,844,253.

Distinctly Australian Initiative

This discrete line of financial assistance designed to provide career development opportunities for writers, script editors and producers and their projects outside AFC assessment based application programs entered its second year with a more flexible range of initiatives.

The Producer Fellowship Scheme awarded $413,000 to 25 producers. The Scheme offered producers with differing levels of experience the chance to consolidate their creative and business plans.

The writer schemes were aimed at three groups of writers and script editors who were awarded $418,000. Writers of considerable industry standing were offered the chance to waive commissioned work to concentrate on a project of great personal commitment. Writers with significant credits were offered support for specific plans in the shorter term and script editing attachments were designed to lift the skill base of script editing services available in Australia.

Funds were also made available to allow the Australian Writers' Guild, the Australian Screen Directors Association and the Screen Producers Association of Australia to increase creative services to their members.

Co-Production Program

There was a renewal of interest in official co-productions during the year with three productions receiving approval. They were: Advertising Missionaries, an Australian-French documentary to be shot in Papua New Guinea; Muggers, an Australian-UK comedy drama feature film and The Bite, a two-part Australian-UK mini-series involving the ABC and the BBC. Other requests for approvals are being considered.

Treaty negotiations with Ireland, Germany, and Israel progressed and are now near to completion. Additionally, negotiations to convert the Administrative Agreement with France to full treaty status were concluded in discussions at the Cannes Film Festival.

Other Initiatives

The Filmmaker and Multimedia Conference II

The AFC has recognised the importance of multimedia as a medium for creative expression which utilises and converges existing and new technologies for a number of years. The New Image Research Program has been the forerunner of this work but more recently support has also been given directly to works created in multimedia.

Following the first The Filmmaker and Multimedia conference in October 1993 at the AFTRS in Sydney, a second conference was held in March 1995 in Melbourne. The conference theme was "Narrative and Interactivity" and the emphasis throughout was on content-related issues rather than technological advances. A distinguished panel of domestic and international speakers was selected and there were onsite demonstrations of multimedia works.

Conference attendance exceeded the most optimistic expectations as over 500 delegates filled the ABC Southbank Melbourne recording hall, with over 150 delegates travelling from interstate.

Creative Nation Statement

The Film Development Branch received a proportion of the funds directed to the AFC for multimedia development and production from Creative Nation announced in October 1994. As a result of the increased funds flowing to this area, the Film Development Branch created a specific set of guidelines relating to criteria for support for Multimedia works.

These guidelines identify interactivity and non-linearity as the key characteristics of works eligible for AFC support. Further, projects must be related to the "entertainment arts" and be capable of physical distribution rather than being works designed for installation. The new guidelines began operating after receiving Commission approval in June 1995.

Focus on Low Budget Narrative Drama

As noted in last year's Annual Report, there is a constant increase in the budgets of feature films and other dramas proposed for AFC investment. As a result, the Commission decided to focus its priorities on lower budget films, generally from first or second time directors, which were challenging in form and content, and in certain circumstances to cash flow distribution guarantees.

These policies were consolidated in further Commission decisions during the year which aimed to present a more flexible investment policy across all of the major narrative drama areas which are supported. The intention is to encourage the sorts of stories which lend themselves to lower budgets.

To assist the professional practice of low budget filmmaking, a two-day low budget seminar was planned for July 1995.

In order to ensure the probability of significant audiences for low budget features funded by the AFC, a production and distribution accord was agreed with SBS Independent, under which five feature films with budgets of $900,000 would be made in the years 1995-97. The films are planned as features and will be given theatrical distribution before being broadcast on SBS.

New Screenwriters Scheme

The Commission approved a New Screenwriters Scheme designed to identify and assist writers with no screenwriting experience. Such writers currently compete with experienced writers in the development program and understandably their success rate is low. In this scheme, the writers and their projects will be considered separately on a twice annual basis with an industry panel assisting in the selection process. A feature of the scheme is that the selected writers will be guaranteed high quality script editing support.


Interaction with Other Bodies

Branch operating guidelines and the Distinctly Australian guidelines were the subject of Australia wide industry consultation during the year, including the Australian Writers Guild [AWG], the Australian Screen Directors Association [ASDA] and the Screen Producers Association of Australia [SPAA]. The Director of Film Development and Project Coordinators travelled interstate on a regular basis to meet filmmakers and the State film agencies. Additionally, a 'Doing Business with the AFC' seminar was held in Adelaide in February 1995 and staff attended the annual conferences of the major industry associations. Branch administrative staff from the Sydney and Melbourne offices were invited to advise Screen West and the South Australian Film Corporation on application, database and contracting systems.


Staffing

As at 30 June 1995, the Film Development Branch employed 14 full-time staff.

Lynn Gailey's term as Director, Film Development ceased on 30 June 1994 and Tim Read, an independent producer and former Head of Production of Film Australia replaced her on 1 July 1994.

During the year Philippa Bateman, Jane Oehr and Lisa Logan joined the Branch as Project Coordinators. Nina Stevenson who provided expert legal consultancy to the Branch for three years decided not to renew her consultancy after 30 June 1994. The increased capacity for the Branch to offer assistance to Multimedia resulted in dedicated staff resources being switched to that area. Michael Hill, a Project Coordinator was joined by Lisa Logan in Melbourne, an appointment made possible by funds from the Creative Nation initiative.

Consultants

Assessors engaged during the year were: John Alsop, Karin Altmann, Martha Ansara, Geoffrey Atherden, Tony Ayres, Janet Bell, Miro Bilbrough, Rod Bishop, Annette Blonski, Andrew Bovell, Gil Brealey, Michael Brindley, Sue Brooks, Lizzie Bryant, Tony Buckley, David Caesar, Ken Cameron, Trish Carney, Dominic Case, Belinda Chayko, Marcus Cole, Bob Connolly, John Conomos, Gillian Coote, John Cruthers, Kim Dalton, Will Davies, Ysabelle Dean, Bert Deling, Linda Dement, Susan Dermody, Coral Drouyn, Nick Enright, Don Ezard, Francine Finnane, Richard Frankland, Lynn Gailey, Rob George, Ross Gibson, Christopher Gist, Jutta Goetze, Posie Graeme-Evans, Anna Grieve, Mic Gruchy, Glenda Hambly, Julie Hannaford, John Harding, Ross Harley, Michelle Harrison, Tom Hegarty, Peter Hennessey, Edward Hetherington, Chris Hilton, Robin Hughes, Paul Humfress, Simon Hunt, Michael Hutak, Laleen Jayamanne, Shelley Kay, Rose Keeping, Gayle Lake, Ned Lander, Denny Lawrence, Pat Lovell, Clare Macken, John Macumba, Robert Marchand, Barbara Masel, Jon McCormack, Margot McDonald, Ian McFadyen, Jackie McKimmie, Megan McMurchy, Sarah Miller, Jill Milroy, Richard Moore, Kathy Mueller, Kevin Murray, Virginia Murray, John B Murray, Mark Naglazas, Margot Nash, Peter Neale, Louis Nowra, Kathleen O'Brien, Bernadette O'Mahoney, Jane Oehr, Helen Panckhurst, Chris Peacock, Rachel Perkins, Russell Porter, Timothy Pye, David Rapsey, Hannie Rayson, James Ricketson, Vikki Riley, Christopher Roache, David Roberts, Glenys Rowe, Julian Russell, Peter Sainsbury, Joan Sauers, Roger Scholes, Bill Seaman, John Sexton, Mark Shirrefs, Jonathan Shteinman, Cathy Smith, Sue Smith, Helen Steel, Jon Stephens, Roberta Sykes, John Taylor, Paul Thompson, Keith Thompson, Michael Thornhill, David Tiley, Alison Tilson, Mark Titmarsh, Nick Torrens, Victoria Treole, Dennis Tupicoff, Ann Turner, Gary Warner, Tony Watts, Anne Whitehead, Martin Williams, Moya Wood, Greg Woodland, Angharad Wynne-Jones, Aviva Ziegler, and Tom Zubrycki.


Expenditure

During 1994-95 the expenditure of the Film Development Branch was $10,001,038 with a multimedia allocation of $826,714.


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