A shortsighted view on film in SA

Behind the scenes of ANZAC GIRLS by Matt Nettheim
Behind the scenes of ANZAC GIRLS by Matt Nettheim
Behind the scenes of ANZAC GIRLS by Matt Nettheim

On Thursday the South Australian government delivered a state budget it believed would generate jobs. It was not generating jobs by increasing the public service workforce, putting more money in to NGOs who employ staff on frontline services or by even subsidizing any particular industry.

It believed it was generating jobs by shaking “off the state’s reputation as an expensive place to do business.” They believed this was done by abolishing taxes that impact on small businesses.

Another job generator the Weatherill government delivered was a $918,000 set construction workshop to be built at the Adelaide Studios. While it was not sold as a jobs creator it will in fact help attract bigger productions here.

When the studios were being built and the industry was consulted on what it needed, a separate set construction area was made abundantly clear. However as the project went over budget cuts had to be made and in true production style it went from the art department.

This meant despite having state of the art studios to shoot in, we had nowhere for our set designers and construction crews to build them. While some may think you do this in the studio that is not always the case. Sets are moveable beasts in film production and there are lots of reasons why you need to build them and their elements off stage.

So how did we get by up until now? Well basically we have two sound stages at the Adelaide Studios. Studio One, the largest being used for filming while its smaller companion Studio Two was being used for set construction. This model of filming had clear limitations.

Primarily it limited two productions going on at once as both sound stages were being used for the one film. So now you can see how the state government finding money to finish the job is a ‘job generator’ opening up sound stages to do what they were built to do.

However I’d like to probe a bit further in to the kind of job generator our studios are. Films like The Water Diviner would have had real limitations doing its entire production here in South Australia. A film of that scale would need both sound stages and a dedicated workshop space to keep production flowing.

Now Russell and his big budgets can come here. That’s great for photo opportunities with the Premiere and work for local crews for at least eight weeks. However just because it’s a big budget does not mean our crews are rolling in the cash. Far from it, you see the SA film industry has more than adequately shaken off the view that you can’t do business here.

In fact if you want to spend your big budget wisely or cheaply, you do come to SA. Our locations are cheap and easy to get to and crews are renowned for forsaking their commercial rates for the much lower award rate.

And it’s that last point which should cause us the greatest concern. Our crews are world class, they are professional and hard working so finding the talent here is not the issue. However while we are told we are world class, interstate productions struggle to pay us world-class rates. Sadly, it is hard to argue otherwise as we have the potential of losing the work.

But when the work will only last six to eight weeks and may only happen twice, maybe if you’re lucky, three times a year you need to think about how you’re compensated. Sure it is better to work than not at all, but when there are so many other savings you can make to film here, and incentives to boot, why should those who need to put food on their families tables lose out?

When Doilette released its report commissioned by the SAFC the Corporation and government announced the “South Australian screen industry contributed $77.2 million to the state’s economy in 2013/14 and supported full-time employment for 754.”

Drilling down it claimed “the screen industry directly employed 515 full time employees and indirectly 238, with much of the benefit flowing to regional South Australia.” How many of those 515 full time employees are still working?

You see while interstate productions like The Water Diviner and ANZAC Girls generated work for crews our local production company’s contributed less than 1% of drama production in the whole of Australia.

And right now those Studios are sitting empty, so all that employment that was generated needs an update as to how much unemployment currently exists. Now I am so pleased our Studios are finally getting that workshop that was promised over 5 years ago, however the business model behind why they exist needs a rethink.

I have said many times that making us the state that you do film business in is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Our long-term problem is that our local productions are not using those studios at the same rate. Sure we are a small pool in a big industry but the state agency here to support us is the least funded in the country.

So while it is great to complete our facilities so they bring in more work, for the short term we need that $918,000 to be pumped in to the local industry so we can generate our own productions and employ our crews.

That just may get that award-winning Director off the dole or stop that Grip from mowing lawns or avoid that Gaffer from selling his gear or better still that Producer from moving interstate.