Monday 31 May 2004 - Estimates Committee A (Giddings)


3.2 Film, TV and multimedia industry development -

Mr FINCH - I found this heading, recreation industry development, a bit confusing. It just seemed to confuse a lot of things with film, TV, multimedia and sport and recreation. There seems to be quite a bit of confusion there. Where is the delineation there?

Mr McILFATRICK - Within the department we cover both areas and the film unit comes under Economic Development and the recreation industry development comes under Sport and Recreation. So although they are within the same department there is a ministerial divide on the responsibility.

Mr FINCH - Okay. I just found it quite confusing to work my way through that and I was not sure, Minister, whether you had any responsibility in the sport and recreation area.

Ms GIDDINGS - No, only for 3.2. Output 3.1 is the other minister's portfolio.

Mr FINCH - With Mr Nicholl here from Screen Tasmania, can I just find out a little bit about how Screen Tasmania works, and how it is structured.

Mr NICHOLL - Screen Tasmania is a funding body that basically provides loan and investment assistance to people who are trying to films made. It basically works on a merit and market system. Projects need to have merit as a assessed and they usually need to have market attachment; in other words, as a broadcaster ABC-TV or SBS are also involved or there is a distributor involved or some other third-party investor, local or overseas.

Mr FINCH - So people come to you with their ideas and submissions?


Mr FINCH - So what things have happened in the past and what is likely to happen in the near future?

Mr NICHOLL - There has been really rapid growth over the last four years since we started. We really started pretty much at a zero base in 1999 and we are up this year to around $4 million. I am expecting the growth to continue but the film industry is notoriously erratic and depends on things like the value of the American dollar and all sorts of things, so it is hard to know whether that growth will be as consistent as over the last four years.

Mr FINCH - Who are the people in Screen Tasmania? Do you have a board? Where are they drawn from?

Mr NICHOLL - The board is drawn from a combination of both local and interstate people. We try to get the most experienced people we can on the board and because so much of the industry is Sydney-based it is quite important to have a board that is across those mainland areas as well.

Mr FINCH - Does the industry or Screen Tasmania have a role in training in Tasmania?

Mr NICHOLL - It does. We are not really set up to be a school. The kind of training we do tends to be in industry training. In other words, we provide funds for attachments, for people to work on film productions when they do not have many skills and get some training. For example, on Cable - which was a 50-minute drama film made recently - we provided funds for six attachments, so six young or emerging film-makers had a chance to work on the production.

Mr FINCH - Minister, I would have thought there were more opportunities for training of young people - I often bring this subject up about TAFE Tasmania - with the Minister for Education. I am just wondering whether you or Mr Nicholl have the thought that there can perhaps be more done in this area with skilling people and training them in the industry?

Ms GIDDINGS - I think some of those training issues you really do need to again address with the minister as to exactly what training is available in the State. I know Rosny College have a good strong drama and film area within that college and some of those students have gone on to pursue careers through further education, training through NIDA and other institutions, for instance.

But Screen Tasmania is not a training body as such. It has a system, as John said, with a couple of people involved in Cable and around that and I would certainly encourage that. But we are there to try to assist the film industry and the multimedia industry to grow in the State. I think Screen Tasmania has been very successful in doing that when you consider - as John just said - that we started at virtually zero dollars and we are up now to around the $4 million mark. There have been some really interesting projects that have come about through that. Some of it has been in the area of animation too. Blue Rocket is a local company that has done very well out of animation work.

So I think there are areas that we can continue to build on. We have to be careful that we do not get carried away by the glamour of the film industry and think that we can become a little Hollywood. I do not think we can do that, but we can certainly build and grow a film industry in this State, which is what we are doing.

Mr FINCH - I am thinking about the success that New Zealand has had with their ability to attract people to come down there and make movies. Surely Tasmania would have the topography and geography to match that.

Ms GIDDINGS - One of the interesting things that I keep talking about - I do not know if John agrees with me quite as much - is that the investment the Government is making in the optic-fibre cable is quite crucial as well. New Zealand has done well because they have had the technological infrastructure there which has enabled them to feed their footage from New Zealand to Hollywood within a couple of days, whereas in the old days you actually had to send the old reels of film via aircraft - or boat, if you really go back. I think that once we get some of our technological infrastructure here that will also assist us to provide basic infrastructure you need for the modern film industry.

Mr FINCH - It just seems to me there is such a potential for promotion of the State through the work of Screen Tasmania and the opportunities that come with developing film-makers and developing films here. Do you find a lot of interest internationally in Tasmania? How are we going at scratching the surface of encouraging more to come here?

Mr NICHOLL - We get a lot of interest; we get a lot of phone calls and e-mails. We belong to Ausfilm, which is the national exporting body of all the State and Federal film bodies and most of the major film production companies. But what happens, typically, is that they are attracted to the places that have large studios like Sydney, Melbourne or the Gold Coast, or have existing infrastructure, as the minister said, that is capable of supporting incoming production. I think we will crack it sooner or later but we have not yet. The other thing that has happened is that there has been a very big downturn in the amount of production coming into the country since the rise of the American dollar; that has had a bit of an effect too.

Mr FINCH - You mentioned earlier, Minister, that there were new investments of $3 million by the private sector. Do you want to detail some of those? Was Blue Rocket one of those?

[3.15 p.m.]
Ms GIDDINGS - I can. There has been a number of things. Let us have a look here. Major projects produced in the period 2003-04 included a 50-minute short feature film Cable, which had a budget of $924 000. Screen Tasmania invested $250 000 into that production and I had the joy of actually going on location and seeing some of that being filmed and I cannot wait to actually see it come together now. What I saw probably will end up being a blink, but it was very interesting to go on set.

There has also been a cartoon series Time Cracks that had a budget of $627 000, and Screen Tasmania invested $192 000 in that. Production also commenced on major projects, including Devil Diary with a project budget of $245 000, $70 000 of which was from Screen Tasmania, as well as two major interactive projects, Dog and Cat News and Dust on my Shoes, with a combined budget of $1 million. There are co-production deals with national broadcaster SBS continuing, with two projects under the Inside Australia banner, which is close to $200 000 budget total, and also the aforementioned Cable.

For the first time, Screen Tasmania has combined with ABC-TV to co-finance a Tasmanian episode of a new documentary series called The Next Big Thing, and animation and new media projects comprise the major component of the industry, with a total budgetary value of $2.4 million. There are two episodes of the Shacks series, which are four half-hour co-productions between ABC-TV and Screen Tasmania. That series went to air in May this year on ABC TV nationally and achieved excellent ratings, with one episode receiving the highest ever national rating for the Tuesday 8 p.m. documentary slot on the ABC, with almost 1 million viewers. So there are some examples of where we have been involved.

Mr FINCH - How do we go about it? Do we make the approaches to ABC and SBS to keep in touch with them or does it come back the other way? How does that link work?

Mr NICHOLL - It varies. Sometimes an independent film production company will develop a project which they will basically pitch to the ABC and us and then the ABC and we will come onboard and finance it. Other times we get together with SBS or the ABC or somebody else and do an over-arching financial deal where we say, 'We want to do a documentary, say, The Next Big Thing, about something exciting that is happening in Tasmania. Let's put up the money jointly', which in that case was $100 000, advertise it to anybody to actually pitch the project and then make an assessment and choose one of them to get it made. It sort of works both ways.

Mr FINCH - You mentioned, Minister, that Screen Tasmania has a presence in Launceston earlier. What does that entail?

Ms GIDDINGS - Perhaps John would like to answer that.

Mr NICHOLL - Really what has happened over the last few years is that we have seen a lot more activities start up in the north of the State and I think this year we will have about $400 000 worth. As it was we were going around the State every six months or so and doing our funding forums but we really decided that it would be a good idea to actually start having a Screen Tasmania presence in Launceston, so the plan is really that every few days either I or the senior project manager will go up and basically meet with the filmmakers. That could expand if there is enough demand but I think that will probably cover it at this stage.

Mr McILFATRICK - We will run that out of our local office. We will not create a new office but we will have a more sustained presence in Launceston so people will be able to go and call in.

Mr FINCH - Are we blessed in Tasmania with independent film-makers? Are people coming here? Are they being attracted here? Are they out there lurking?

Ms GIDDINGS - We have some extraordinary talent based here in Tasmania; in fact, even on the film Cable one of the assistant directors had just been involved in the Lord of the Rings production in New Zealand, for instance. But we have a number of gems who are hidden away in Tasmania.

Mr McILFATRICK - We have four local companies.

Mr NICHOL - We have a number of strong local companies, some who have been attracted here from interstate like Blue Rocket productions who came from Queensland. Other ones were people who were here working in other areas but since Screen Tasmania started they have moved into the film area. It is actually a very healthy scene.

Mr FINCH - Do we need to do more though, do you think, to perhaps encourage these people, and to find work for them to keep them here in Tasmania, keep them stimulated?

Ms GIDDINGS - I am very supportive of Screen Tasmania and I think there are ways that we can. We have a grants program through Screen Tasmania as it is and these are projects where these people are given the opportunity of bringing forward their projects and the board then of course determines as to which ones they believe should be funded and which ones should not be funded.

I certainly am very supportive of the grants program we have because I have a personal passion for the film industry and would love to see it grow. I have to be one of those who gets held back every now and again to be a bit more realistic as to what is possible in Tasmania and what is not. The approach of John and his staff is to go step-by-step and grow the industry carefully and with proper consideration and we are actually achieving fantastic results. I hope that we can come back next year and show how the industry has grown even further and the year after that and the year after that. It has come a long way as it is and it has a future ahead of it. We have to look at ways that we can support that and, again, it is not just in pure dollars in a grants program, it is looking at how you support the industry as a whole and that sort of investment into something like the optic-fibre cable is quite important.

Mr FINCH - Just touching on the multimedia side of things, those sorts of student skills are being developed and opportunities are opening up for us. Can you give me an overview on the multimedia side of development in Tasmania?

Mr NICHOLL - The multimedia side is incredibly strong. I think a really significant breakthrough is that the ABC and the AFC ran this big national broadband production initiative, 83 companies in Australia competed to get those half-million dollar projects and four were selected, two of them Tasmanian. For us, that really showed that all the development funds we have put into building up that area had really started paying off because it was a significant achievement.

Mr FINCH - When you say you put funds in, does that mean with training?

Mr NICHOLL - I guess it is interesting, the whole training thing, because you get companies like Blue Rocket that came down that really would suit people and they basically, over the last three years, they have pretty well consistently employed 10 to 15 people full-time in computer animation. None of those people had worked in computer animation before so in Tasmania it is almost like the training is taking place in the workplace. All three companies that are working have done that; they have started and have found people who have a little bit of interest or a little bit of knowledge but who really have not worked in the industry, so it has been a kind of in-house training scenario.

Mr FINCH - These young people, how do they do it?

Mr McILFATRICK - The minister was being diplomatic but, given the numbers we have in here, if John Nicholl continues to produce we would have to be pretty hard if we did not give him more funding, but he has to prove himself.

Mr FINCH - Just one more point that I would like to touch on. There was some sort of mobile unit that was going to be used for training for film and television. Can you give me a history of that, please?

Mr NICHOLL - Sure, that is the mobile media access facility. That has been jointly funded by us and by the Australian Film Commission, which is the national film industry development body. They started about six months ago and they basically bought equipment - they have started getting a training program together - and pretty soon they will actually start rolling it all out. What it is about is providing some training and opportunities for young and emerging film-makers around the State, particularly outside Hobart.

Mr FINCH - So how soon are we likely to see that up and running?

Mr NICHOLL - Within two months.

Mr FINCH - Then you would be doing centres like Burnie, Devonport, Launceston?

Mr NICHOLL - Absolutely. It is very much intended to try to take the resources and skills outside of Hobart and spread them around a bit more evenly.

Mr FINCH - Like colleges - will you be targeting the university?

Mr NICHOLL - I am not sure if they are working with the colleges but they are certainly working with all the little different film communities in regional places.

Mrs JAMIESON - I was wondering what Screen Tasmania's actual budget is. I was looking for it and I might have missed it but I cannot quite see it.

Mr NICHOLL - It is about $1.1 million a year now.

Mrs JAMIESON - Right. I was looking for it and I might have missed it, but I cannot quite see it.

Mr NICHOLL - I think it is about 1.1 million a year.

Mr McILFATRICK - Up 8.7. per cent.

Mrs JAMIESON - On a recent visit to Port Arthur we were just checking about the old buildings that have gone missing, and the subject of a virtual re-enactment and rebuilding of the site as a possible project was brought up as worth considering, because a lot of people wonder what Port Arthur used to look like, and it is a bit hard to envisage with all these huge broadacres and trees and things.

Mr NICHOLL - I have heard that somebody has been working on that very project, but I have not heard anything about it in the public arena. I just heard people saying that it was a very -

Mrs JAMIESON - Yes, very interesting. The only other one I was wondering about was a bit more interactive programming on, say, group 3 for example, so that people can go around and have a look at video shows of parts of Tasmania.

Wednesday 16 June 2004 -