More funding needed to keep Australia’s screen industry trucking

Published on Sat 5 June 2021 8:45am

Film-making is one of a number of creative industries that should be a foundation stone of Australia’s economic diversification and job creation in future. Screen industries – which include film & television, but also gaming – are exactly the kind of sophisticated, high-tech, and high-skill human capital dependent manufacturing that we should be looking to build.

First published in WAToday on Saturday 5 June 2021.

Last week saw the screening of the 100th episode of Outback Truckers, a successful and distinctive piece of Australian factual television making that was developed and continues to be made by Prospero Productions in White Gum Valley.

Prospero is just one example of the incredible skill and creativity and commercial nous that exists in the Australian film-making ecosystem, with all its businesses and all its varied professionals and practitioners.

Australian film does so much, and could do so much more, if only we supported it more concertedly, more intelligently – and I’ll come to that.

It is no small achievement for any series to reach the 100 episodes. Julia Redwood described how it took 4 years and numerous rejections for Prospero to get the series going in the first place, and now it has run for 9 series and has been seen by millions of viewers in over 120 countries.

Importantly, the Outback Truckers juggernaut has supported 450 jobs in its life to date, and provided some rare working continuity for a number of screen professionals.

What I particularly loved about the celebration event was the way in which Steve Grahame reflected on the relationship that had developed between the workers in what might seem like two quite disparate professional worlds.

It is not surprising that the filmmakers learned a lot about the stamina and perseverance and creative problem-solving of the truckers; and it shouldn’t be surprising that the truck drivers came to respect the persistence and attention to detail and logistical management of the film-makers.

But what Outback Truckers shows is that drivers are storytellers too. And that filmmakers are devotees of the road. And that both are running difficult businesses with more uncertainties than certainties.

Steve Graham remembered that when he was first approached by the Prospero producer at the truck assembly park in Wubin he thought to himself, ‘hello, this bloke is definitely on the bunk’ – he’s on the run from something, maybe looking for a ride.

But he finished by expressing gratitude to the show for helping people understand the reality of the freight trucking world, its many challenges and the hard-working, good-humoured characters who take on that vital task.

Over years the Prospero team and truckers like Steve and Sludge have formed a bond that has brought together workers that could easily be seen – if you’re in the silly game of dividing Australians from one another – as living in unbridgeable worlds.

But that was never true.

Film-making is one of a number of creative industries that should be a foundation stone of Australia’s economic diversification and job creation in future. Screen industries – which include film & television, but also gaming – are exactly the kind of sophisticated, high-tech, and high-skill human capital dependent manufacturing that we should be looking to build.

Without doubt we live in the screen age, and yet in so many emerging areas of screen communication and screen engagement, whether that’s telehealth or remote education, we do not yet make the most of the screen-specific expertise that is out there, ready for us to optimise how we deliver and benefit from such essential services.

Understandably there is a strong tie-up between filmmaking and tourism, and it similarly acts as an effective calling card for international students.

The circumstances of the pandemic have emphasised many of Australia’s strengths, and one of them is as a place where screen productions of the highest quality can safely happen.  We can make more of this in future, but only if we enable it.

For a long time we’ve needed a balanced producer offset for film and television, without cutting one to meet the other. Thankfully the government has abandoned its plan to cut the offset for film productions. But we also need strong and fair local content requirements, both in Australia and especially for streaming services that derive billions from Australian consumers, yet the government has lowered that bar. Without question there must be proper funding for Screen Australia and for our national broadcasters, which of course this government has cut time after time, despite promising that would not be the case.

The measures I have described are the kinds of sensible things that other countries do.

If we could make those changes – changes the industry has been crying out for for years – the Australian screen industry will grow; will generate export dollars; will employ Australians; will build links into our region; will accentuate our tourism and international education offers; will support the best form of screen communication in emerging and innovative service delivery – but most of all, most importantly of all, will allow Australian voices and stories and faces and landscapes to flourish, loudly and in full-colour – or quietly and in black & white, if it needs that kind of vibe.

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