The Australian screen industry is facing the fight of its life. A renewed commitment is needed from government to bring our stories to our screens.
The rules that ensure Australian stories appear on Australian screens are archaic, leaving new players like Netflix and Stan without any obligation to create original local programs.
• The rules that ensure Australian stories appear on Australian screens must evolve so that new players like Netflix, YouTube, Stan, ISPs and Telcos have obligations to create original local programs.
• Major supporters of Australian stories – Screen Australia and the ABC – have had their funding axed year after year.
• Commercial TV broadcasters want to walk away from any requirement to create children’s content.
• Tax incentives that encourage production in Australia are no longer competitive.
Performers, producers, writers, directors and crew are joining forces to campaign for the future of the screen industry.
We have some the most talented workers in the world. We have unique, inspiring stories waiting to be told. We want to celebrate the diversity that exists in this country and see that diversity on our screens. Without commitment from Government we can’t bring Australian stories to our screens. That is the reality. It always has been.
Since the 1970s we’ve fought to Make it Australian. Now, it’s a fight for our future.
Will you join us?
Rules for minimum Australian content only apply to the commercial networks (free to air and pay TV).
• It is time to extend content regulation to the digital realm. Digital content providers that generate revenue from the Australian market (particularly, subscription video on demand services like Netflix and Stan) should contribute to telling Australian stories.
• Commercial networks want to abolish children’s content quotas. When UK children’s quotas were removed, 93% of children’s content production ended. If children’s quotas are removed we will never get them back. These quotas must be kept up and be extended to the digital realm. #savekidsTV
Australia is competing in the global market but we are held back by our tax system. Competitive tax offsets will increase production and support local jobs.
• It is time to update the 40% producer offset for Australian feature films by making it platform neutral – television and digital are now just as important as film.
• At 16.5%, the location offset for international productions is simply not competitive. It is time to put Australia on a level playing field and increase the location offset to 30%. The investment, training, and profile of international productions keeps our industry on the cutting edge.
Public broadcasters and Screen Australia play an important cultural role as a major source of funds for film, television and digital productions in this country.
• Since 2014, more than $250m has been cut from the ABC. Over this same period, the ABC’s commissioning budgets for adult drama and children’s content each dropped by 20%.
• Given their important cultural role, the ABC and SBS need to be properly funded.
• It is time to set minimum Australian content levels for the ABC and SBS and provide sufficient funds to meet these requirements.
• Restore Screen Australia funding to at least $100m per year (2012/13 levels) so that more projects can be green-lit.
Having started my professional career in 1960 in West Side Story at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre, I quickly came to realise I had a lot to learn. There was no educational facility like the Victorian College of the Arts, NIDA or WAAPA to study with; you had to rely on natural ability to get you through.
At that time, actors were not considered very productive members of the community and, therefore, had little say. The arts, generally, were not well supported, which was one good reason to belong to Actors’ Equity where, collectively, performers had a stronger voice and could be better protected with regard to basic rights and conditions, as well as helping to change prevailing attitudes towards them.
I was fortunate to meet director Wal Cherry and actor George Whaley, who were starting up an alternative small venture in South Melbourne called The Emerald Hill Theatre Company. I was given many opportunities to play substantial parts in their productions, which proved an incredible experience and training ground.
Many years of my career were taken up with working for Crawford Productions. The main show I was involved in was the police series, Division 4, and it was fairly primitive when it started. We didn’t have a caravan to change in – just the backs of cars − there was hardly any catering, and make-up and wardrobe were limited. More often than not, we wore our own clothes.
This became such a problem that when my one and only suit started to fall off me, my dear friend Pat Forster, who was in charge of wardrobe, took me to the boss to explain our problem. He looked me up and down and said: “You look fine.” I turned around and bent over, and my arse was hanging out of my pants. He said: “Well, that won’t do” and promised he would do something. The next week, they did a deal with a clothing shop and all the actors got new suits.
I went to thank the boss but thought better of it when I saw he also had a new suit, as did his nephew and the accountant, and pretty well everyone else in the building.
Pat Forster had a constant battle trying to clothe people, with hardly any budget. She wheeled and dealed to make sure everyone was dressed correctly, but the egos of some actors were another thing. One leading actor in a police series refused to believe that his waist measurement was 38 inches [about 96cm], which was what Pat had written down. She had to put up with constant harassment from this actor, who asserted that the tape measure was wrong. In desperation, Pat changed all the labels on his clothing and that did the trick.
I was the Equity deputy for Crawford Productions on Division 4. In 1968-69, there was a great deal of controversy about royalties. Actors in America and Britain were paid royalties for their work on television programs but not in Australia.
In conjunction with Equity’s Victorian secretary, Vic Arnold, I called a meeting of all the actors at Crawford’s to discuss this injustice. After much heated debate, it was decided, to the credit of our members, that we should campaign for more Australian content, and that the royalty question should be put on hold ‒ for the moment.
Out of all this, we eventually established the ‘TV Make it Australian’ committee to lobby the government and public servants. Our boss, Hector Crawford (the Silver Fox), turned a blind eye to what we were doing, which was using his phones, office equipment, secretaries and writers, having endless meetings with the Broadcasting Control Board and lobbying politicians.
Politicians … my God, have we got to be careful of them. I am sure most of them go into politics with the best of intentions but the reality of their world is that you have to toe the party line, and who knows when the line might change to suit their own ends or those of their friends. It seems difficult to believe that Australian politicians took so much convincing of the merits of Australian production.
Although I didn’t realise it at the time, on reflection, those were wonderful years at Crawford Productions. I think we all owe so much to the founders of the company, Dorothy and Hector Crawford. They were the real pioneers of Australian television because, against all odds, they survived to prove that the public wanted to see locals on our screens and, because of their efforts, on the screens of the world.
Terence Donovan has been a proud member of Equity since 1960. This article was originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of the Equity Magazine to commemorate Equity’s 75th Anniversary.