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'Explosion of opportunity' for SA filmmakers


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New subscription television and video-on-demand channels represent an “explosion of opportunity” for South Australian filmmakers and potential new industry jobs, says SA Film Corporation CEO Annabelle Sheehan.

Sheehan, who began a three-year term at the SAFC in February, said one of her priorities for the corporation in the coming months was to look at ways of activating work that would go directly online.

“I think content creation is one of those important new industries we talk about when we talk about inter-generational change and where the jobs are,” says Sheehan, who has more than 25 years’ experience in the screen industry and was most recently director of production investment at ScreenWest.

“Even though we are in that period where it’s not clear how it’s all going to be monetised and how the revenues will flow, there’s definitely going to be more content needed.”

Sheehan pointed to satirical web series Plonk, which takes an off-kilter look at the wine industry and will premiere its second season on subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) channel Stan next month, as an example of a project geared to the new online TV environment.

Multi-award-winning South Australian horror film The Babadook is now available on Netflix, which data leaked this week has shown to be the Australian streaming market leader. Another SAFC-supported series, the action-comedy Danger 5, is being streamed in the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland after producer SBS International signed a deal with Netflix.

“We have that possibility of our content going more global than it ever has before,” Sheehan said. “Because now you can get that content out through the broadcast networks, online providers, pay TV … it’s a much more likely flow than when we were in that whole territories world.

“There’s also more opportunities for niche content, and Australian content is what you would call a little bit niche.

“We’ve just got to work out how to respond to it effectively and to make sure that we at the SAFC are supporting all different kinds of content.”

Nathan Earl, Chris Taylor and Josh Tyler on the set of 'Plonk' at Sevenhill Winery. Photo: supplied

Nathan Earl, Chris Taylor and Josh Tyler on the set of ‘Plonk’ at Sevenhill Winery. Photo: supplied

She said one of the corporation’s roles would be to ascertain what type of content online distributors were seeking, and then work out how it could trigger and support ideas to create these types of programs in South Australia. This may be through production investment funding specifically for programs pitched at one of the new broadcast platforms.

“I think there’s lot more experimentation that can happen there at this point and time. There’s a bit more opportunity for risk, to try to find new audiences and create audiences … with online, I think you can say we are actually going to find and create a new audience.”

SA post-apocalyptic sci-fi web series Wastelander Panda, which was commissioned by ABC’s iView VOD service after a hugely successful YouTube trailer, is cited as another  example of the opportunities offered by the new screening environment.

However, some industry members have expressed concern that SVOD services such as Netflix, Stan, Presto and Quickflix are not required by regulation to fund or offer Australian programs. As media commentator Ben Goldsmith wrote last month on The Conversation, in Canada, similar services are forced to make all new Canadian films available to their viewers.

Sheehan wouldn’t comment on whether there should be a quota for Australian content on SVOD services here, but said the industry needed to work out how to push locally produced shows “front and centre” where possible.

“I think the Netflix CEO has been quoted as saying they might end up commissioning content, like they did in the UK. And you really do just have to be able to compete with a good idea, which is hard … but I don’t think any business wants to overlook good content that might capture an audience.

“This issue about regulation is one that will be addressed. Australians do like watching Australian content, they like watching Australian drama, so if it turns out Netflix hasn’t got it then I imagine they will be wanting it.”

In a column for InDaily last year, former SAFC CEO Richard Harris acknowledged that after a busy couple of years at Adelaide Studios, there would be some challenges in 2015 and beyond following budget cuts at Screen Australia and ongoing uncertainty over ABC funding.

Projects using the Studios so far this year have included the feature film A Month of Sundays, starring Anthony LaPaglia and Justine Clarke, and online filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippous’ comedy Versus.

Sheehan said the SAFC was looking at several major projects for the latter half of the year, but these had not yet been finalised.

“Overall in Australia, I’m not sure yet whether this is going to be a lower calendar year because of the slightly restricted spend from ABC, SBS and Screen Australia … I think it’s still too early to say whether there’s any shrinking.

“But the Australian film industry in most states has a tendency to go up and down a bit, so I think it’s the long-term story that’s important – that you just keep these strong projects over five years.”

Sheehan would like to see South Australia secure an ongoing television series or several strong mini-series – be they for free-to-air networks, pay TV or the new streaming services – to bring continuity of employment for those in the industry.

Her other plans include a reassessment of the FilmLab funding initiative to take account of the new content creation and distribution environment, and increased support for all levels of Indigenous filmmakers.

Sheehan said she wants to further promote the state to filmmakers in other parts of Australia, highlighting the potential for co-productions.

“One of the things I’m really trying to get across to filmmakers across the nation is about making films in South Australia because it’s unique visually. I’m new to South Australia just in the last three months so I can see how different it is to be in Adelaide and how different it is to be in the smaller towns, in Burra or down the York Peninsula … they are completely different communities with different stories to tell.

“And I think Australia really needs to dig into its stories. We are very used to stories from Fitzroy and Sydney Harbour and maybe it’s time to look at Norwood and Unley and get out to Port Adelaide – very particular stories come out of particular places, and I think the way that the UK tells stories about itself is perhaps a good model. So that’s something I really want to focus on.”





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