Geelong film industry. An unfamiliar term perhaps. Yet over the past couple of decades production houses, creatives, actors and infrastructures have been slowly moving to our region. But how much of their work actually makes it to Australians’ screens?
Not enough is the view of the Federal Government. To improve the situation Minister Tony Burke has proposed a mandatory local content level for all streaming services. The rumour is this will be pegged at 20%. The prize could be big. Consulting firm PwC has estimated that Australians spend $2.5b a year on streaming subscriptions. We spoke to some local screen industry leaders about possible impacts of the legislation which is expected to take effect in July 2024.
“In the 70’s and 80’s the Australian music industry had a really large quota on Australian music on radio,” said Michael Stangel, Chairman of the Geelong Waterfront Film Foundation. “It created celebrity. It created excitement. Equating that to screening, if you see more Australian content then you think Australian content is great.”
“But the devil’s in the details,” he argued. “ Technology now allows people to create in their bedrooms. The Mik Maks are doing well on YouTube, it would be great to take that to the next level.”
Michael believes an important role of the Geelong Waterfront Film Foundation will be to bring all local content creatives together, to advocate for them and remove the mysteries of the industry. “The gatekeepers of the legislation must be open to risk taking, to cater for new artists and new content.”
Another local success is Ryan Chamley whose Robot Army Production, ‘Rostered On’, has been taken up by Netflix for screening in the US. He believes the legislation will be a boost. “People who are making art will be encouraged to know that there are better chances of being picked up.” A mandatory content level could bring new viewers to already completed projects.
“Funding is a hurdle…. or even going for funding. You need a production company lined up if you want to pitch to a service. A lot of people have no contact to pitch to in a network.”
There are hurdles for the other side as well.
Ryan explained: “It’s much less risky for streaming services to acquire finished material than to wait two years for a commissioned production to be ready. But it won’t be the defining factor for myself for making content. Do what you can. Focus on quality.”
Quality and content are recurring themes. For John McGlynn from Screen Actors, a key issue will be oversight of the legislation.
“What will be the definition of ‘Australian’?” he began. “Any money spent on the film industry is good …. but there are so many people involved in the decision making. Would ‘Crocodile Dundee’ be considered an Australian movie now?”
John moved back to Geelong from California because he felt the whole region offers a great production environment in terms of costs, the light and availability of great locations. “To shoot here is just bliss compared to Melbourne.”
Everyone agrees that the proposed legislation will not only put local screen content on the national agenda, it will highlight the importance of creativity. That can only be a good thing. What is less clear is the benefit to the Australian industry across the board. Questions remain about reality TV, commercial versus art house projects, and uncertainty around whether there really will be more work for industry locals.
One area that will be a secondary beneficiary is tourism. Internet recommendations for movie related tourism to our region currently include scenes from ‘Mad Max’, ‘The Dressmaker’, ‘Ghost Rider’ and ‘Queen of the Damned’. There are also of course TV productions such as ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘SeaChange’.
Movie Tourism is a continuing trend that has yielded financial impact around the world. Looking across the ditch, Tourism NZ has estimated that ‘Lord of the Rings’ has added more than $620m to the economy of New Zealand since 2001. Not bad for a land of 5 million people.
While such a tourism boast would undoubtedly be good for some in our region, the screen industry in Geelong will have more certainty of benefit if strong guidelines are built into the legislation about what actually is ‘Australian’.
Broadly, opinion indicates that the legislation should objectively embrace new content, new artists, new technology, commercial success and stimulation of production beyond capital cities. A balance between government policy and creativity. A big ask? Implemented correctly the legislation could have very positive impacts on our region’s screen industry.