Federal Government Inquiry into the Sustainability
of the Australian Film and Television Industry.
The Inquiry was chaired by the Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts, and opened with Mr Luke Howarth MP declaring, "We will be hearing from some of the biggest players in the industry over the next two days in Sydney. That includes a number of production companies, key industry bodies and also Screen Australia."
Mr Howarth explained that the background for the Inquiry was that, "The film and television industry in Australia is facing both challenges and opportunities in the face of technological advancement and a rapidly changing media environment....the committee will be investigating ways in which this industry can become more competitive and continue to grow sustainably. The committee also has a particular interest in how this industry can expand and better compete for investment with producers and multi-platform production companies from overseas."
As one of the few guilds to be invited to speak, we felt we were in a unique position to discuss the effect of the changing landscape from the perspective of the workers, those who do not generate the production dollar, but are at the production coal face. We explained exactly what Editors do, as our research reveals that even the Australian Bureau of Statistics do not know we exist. If you try to find out how many Editors there are in Australia, under "Post-Production", the ABS have lines for "animation", "visual effects" and "dubbing" and the only other line is "other" - that is us!
We were able to speak to our original submission, and then were questioned for around 45 minutes by the Standing Committee which included members Luke Howarth MP, David Littleproud MP, Susan Templeman MP and Tim Watts MP. Interestingly Mr Howarth explained he used to work for Sony, and so he was aware of post-production technology.
We explained how over time budgets and schedules have been reduced while our hours have increased, as well as the increasing workload created by shooting digital footage which runs into hundreds and even thousands of hours for some productions. We discussed the loss of training environments such as the ABC, Film Australia, Metro Screen, and the separation of Assistants from Editors. Training is being replaced by a proliferation of film schools around the country churning out generalist “film-makers”. We see less opportunities for training skilled craft Editors and a great attrition rate as skilled Editors leave the profession.
We described the cost to Editors of being employed predominantly as Sole Traders or small companies where we are missing out on entitlements such as superannuation, holiday pay and other entitlements. We explained how facilities and Editors are being asked to provide equipment at below cost or for free, the uncertain revenue that comes in, creating a completely unsustainable work life balance as it does not carry the freelance Editor and facilities over those empty periods between jobs.
We explained that our research shows that our skilled Editors are concerned for their health, their eyesight, RSI, depression, the effects of low wages and extreme hours on their families, a loss of craft and creative output. We are also losing women from the industry - in 1997, nearly 50% of our Editors were female, that is now down to 32%. It is just getting too hard to do the hours and have a family life, especially when wages have not kept pace with the CPI for a decade or more.
We recognised that underlying reasons exist for this, such as the broadcasters losing revenue through advertising with media now dispersed across so many platforms - including streaming services, YouTube, the web as well as television and cinema. We know producers are not receiving the returns that they used to. However, the solution is not as the broadcasters say - to get rid of children's content or reduce Australian content. Rather, they should be looking at enforcing Australian content regulations on the overseas streaming services, ensuring that these services are paying fees and taxes for the content that Australian audiences are watching and paying for.
We also put a slightly different argument to the funding bodies, suggesting that funding offshore productions does not help Australian Editors, or Editing facilities as post mostly goes back to the offshore country. Directors generally want to spend the extended post time at home. We also pointed out that the majority of our Editors are not employed on big budget features, but documentary and reality productions so it would help if the PDV offset was applicable to lower budget documentary and television productions. We asked that rather than funding multiple small budget productions, that the funding bodies be encouraged to fund fewer but larger productions that can provide sustainable wage.
Encouraging very low budget productions is not helping the industry create quality films that local or overseas audiences want to watch, or a living wage for any one. We also suggested that perhaps funding should be diverted back more into production then generalist educational institutions - allowing budget lines for Assistants to be included so they can learn correct procedures and be involved with other post personnel on the job, as so much of the film industry is learnt that way.
Finally we explained that Australian Editors and film-makers generally are very good at what they do, but that ii should not be at a personal cost. Well-crafted Australian productions not only reflect and archive our Australian culture, but are seen as unique and desirable to overseas audiences. With the easy global reach our media now has, we want to be able to excite audiences worldwide with our unique stories, and we want to do them to a high production value.
We especially want to be able to develop and pass on our craft and have the time and money for a decent work-life balance.
Fiona Strain ASE
President, Australian Screen Editors