Matthew Deaner: Welcome

16 FEB 2021

William Horberg

MATTHEW DEANER, CEO Screen Producers Australia: What a year!

I’d like to start by thanking Leah for a beautiful Acknowledgement of Country.

Don’t you think Leah should be this country’s ‘poet’ or maybe ‘storyteller’ laureate?

Such an incredible communicator at the top of her game.

Welcome everybody, from every state and territory of our wide, brown beautiful land – our island home - that has kept us protected and safe during these challenging times.

Welcome also to delegates from around the world - from:

  • Canada
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Indonesia
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • Spain
  • UK
  • And the USA

Nothing I think captures the spirit of our Australian industry over the last 12 months better than the saying “the show must go on”.

Throughout the lock downs, shutdowns, cancellations, disappointments, anxieties, and the fears I have seen in many of your eyes – albeit often through pixelated screens – we have all kept going.

Here are some pictures from the set of 5 bedrooms – when they resumed production - some of the first images we started to see as to how people were actually putting protocols and protections into practice – a credit to Andy Walker and the whole Hoodlum team and crew.

The initial shock of suspended productions and the downing of tools gave way to this focussed resoluteness to adapt and adjust how we do what we do, to be safe and protect each other, whilst keeping thousands of people in work and delivering amazing stories and projects to our fellow Australians and indeed, the world.

So many of you have picked up new skills, such as how to navigate the maze of internal and international border restrictions; how to run script workshops remotely; how to pitch and to obtain finance from your homes; and how to reconcile on-screen intimacy with the need for social distancing.

We’ve formed deeper relationships with our screen agencies, who have risen to the challenge, and been key allies for an industry in crisis. In short, in these exceptional times, the response of our industry has been exceptional. And I want to take this opportunity to congratulate all of you for what you’ve achieved in evolving how our stories are told and sold.

Our resolve has never wavered, and despite our own dark moments, and personal and professional challenges we have kept serving our audiences bringing comfort, happiness, knowledge, and entertainment at such a critical time.

That unfaltering attitude has led us to this online iteration of the 35th edition of Screen Forever.

I, on behalf of the SPA Council, the Screen Forever Advisory Boards, and the SPA team - am so happy to be able to bring our industry together, and I thank our generous supporters in helping to make this happen.

You know – we went through so many stop starts to how we might be able to deliver this conference to you – and like many of our screen productions - our supporters worked through these challenges with us – adapting – pivoting - and remaining absolutely committed to what this event does – gathering the tribes, sharing knowledge, and generating business outcomes and momentum for so many of you.

Top of my list of thanks is our Principal Partner Screen Queensland and the Queensland Government – who have been walking side by side with us through the challenges that we have faced and couldn’t have been a better partner to us and our industry.

The romance is real and on Sunday, while the lucky among us were navigating valentine flowers or chocolates, The Hon Annastacia Palaszczuk MP, Premier of Queensland was celebrating her 6th anniversary as the 39th Premier of the Sunshine State.

Such an important leader for our industry, I’m delighted to welcome The Hon Annastacia Palaszczuk MP, Premier of Queensland to address Screen Forever.

Thank you Premier, and now it’s my great pleasure to welcome Kylie Munnich, the CEO of Screen Queensland, linking from QUT, where she is hosting a hub for our Queensland industry as part of Screen Forever, and from where we will be shortly broadcasting live ABC’s Screen Forever Q&A.

Kylie – we would all so much like to be with you – tell me, how is everyone doing?

Thank-you Kylie.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a committed group of partners to line up with our principal partner to support our industry in this way.

Joining Queensland as our Major Partner is the City of the Gold Coast.

No one would doubt that the Gold Coast is a really important production hub, but over the last 12 months this has gone to another level.

Meantime I love the variety of domestic and international production – dramas, light entertainment, reality that is being generated from such a beautiful part of the world.

We can’t wait to be back up there.

And our Major Government Partner is Screen Australia who are central to this industry, and central to our conference today.

Our Key Industry Partners are the ABC, Amazon Prime Video, Media Super, Netflix, SBS, Screenrights and YouTube – such a great combination of brands that partner with our industry to support careers and businesses and ultimately our stories.

We have a swag of Supporting Partners that are all thoughtful in their care and investment of time and resources with our conference which in turn is an investment in time and resources for you – so please support them as they have supported us all.

And thank you finally to our media partners – the lifeblood of communication across our sector.

The committed team at SPA have made my job here very easy, and while there are many people to thank that are listed in your program, I wanted to spend a couple of moments to single out a few: First up – the programming Team: Owen Johnston & Jessica Giacco who have designed and delivered a truly high impact, highly relevant program.

Owen in particular deserves our thanks for being so dependable to our membership and our organisation over so many years.

The SPA Connect Team: Michelle Hardy, Andrea Buch and Suzanne Ryan.

Suzanne, although not part of the official team has been a massive help in pulling together a strong Kids Market offering.

Together with Michelle and Andrea the team have overcome untold complexities to move all meetings into a digital world and assembled a global marketplace full of new opportunities.

Our Event Producer: Angus Young, who has navigated the challenges of a physical, then a hybrid, and now a fully digital event. He is always calm and has a can-do attitude to everything.

Our Marketing and Comms manager: Georgia Kinninmont, who has led comms across all channels, has had responsibility for brand development, website management, all social media – as well as handling hundreds of registration and support queries to ensure you could all be here.

Our Partnership Manager: Samantha Gill, who has brought a new focus to our partners and the critical role they play at Screen Forever to help ensure they receive a great outcome for their valued contributions.

And our Membership Manager: Brad Taylor, who many of you deal with regularly, Brad is a strong advocate for members of all levels ensuring inclusion and access for all at Screen Forever.

Let me also acknowledge all the session Producers (giving of their valuable time to produce these sessions) and the Market and Programming Advisory Boards (our panel of industry leaders who have helped shape this event and the outcomes it aims to deliver). I

want to finally acknowledge our COO: Glenn Hamilton, who joined us mid-pandemic and calmly, assuredly and with incredible good humour and capability, took over all the threads of what is a very complex undertaking and has steered it to this realisation.

Congratulations Glenn.

Together our supporters and our team are able to present to you a Screen Forever that will be unlike any that has gone previously.

Never before have we had producers pitching to buyers in different parts of the country and across the globe.

Never before have we had a digital event hub – where all your meetings and sessions can be accessed and from where your networking opportunities will occur.

Never before have we had all this combined with a customised music playlist courtesy of Audio Network.

Happy days.

The event hub – is really your virtual conference foyer.

It is where you will find industry chat rooms that will run throughout Screen Forever broken into 3 key areas: CONTENT, BUSINESS and FUTURE PROOF, where you can dive deep with other delegates and exchange ideas that align with the sessions also tagged in this way.

Remember, our live sessions all have the chance for you to engage via chats or to submit questions to the moderators – and everyone will have the chance to vote questions up or down so that the most critical questions get tabled.

And we have daily polls there for you to vote on.

It’s not all virtual.

We have sent many of you a care package with a program and a few things to make your digital event more fun – including our SPA ZOOM CARDS.

To keep you fed and caffeinated, our Australian delegates will be receiving an email tomorrow morning with an Uber Eats voucher for you to order meals and coffees as part of the Amazon Prime Video Lunch, Netflix lunch and Media Super Coffee break.

More than just a free lunch – during these times there will be the opportunity to jump into networking rooms – which are randomly allocated break out spaces to connect with delegates you may or may not know.

The goal is to try to replicate the serendipity of the connection you make over a lunch break, or drink at the bar, in any non-pandemic year – many great friendships and business partnerships have come from these chance Screen Forever encounters so give it a go.

The programming of the conference is really next level.

Here are a few highlights to help you find your way through:

If you are interested in the funding and regulatory environment, then this afternoon’s “Brave New World” session is a must.

For the best of the best, whittling down their craft to 60sec of pure impact, then go no further than tomorrow morning’s “Got a Minute?” – our inaugural pitching competition for 25 big ones in collaboration with Tik Tok and Screen Australia.

If it’s great content you're after, tune into Handmaids Tale showrunner Bruce Miller’s Thursday morning session titled “Under His Eye” or ‘The Magicians’ and ‘You’ showrunner Sera Gamble’s session tomorrow morning, and then follow that with a discussion with Australian showrunners to work out “What is a Showrunner?”.

If you want to know some of the secrets of making popular high quality indie films or just want to swap chess moves with William Horberg EP of The Queens Gambit, then Thursday’s your day for a discussion about Independent film and the Black List website for unproduced screenplays join Franklin Leonard in Conversation with Benjamin Law, on Thursday afternoon.

If you want to get a head start on banging down Jenny Buckland’s door to access some of the 20 million the ACTF have been given, listen to Our Kids Future, catch the Kids Publishers market and then snap up the option on one of their books for kids’ series.

It's a fun day out!!

As streamers help to shrink the planet, and a multitude of new specialist channels emerge, find out where the global market is going by listening to “Global Outlook”, watching “What’s Selling” or drop in on the conversation on “How Producers Can Compete in a Global Screen Ecosystem”.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

You can go Nude on Tuesday in New Zealand, analyse data with Parrot analytics, hire a robot to write your script, or do it all virtually with an Unreal Engine.

Oh, and did I mention that there’s a marketplace with over 1400 opportunities to pitch, connect and learn running across five time zones from anywhere, from 7am to 11pm?

Holding fort at SPA HQ are 12 wonderful moderators acting as concierges for each meeting to ensure everyone has a great experience and to keep things to time.

Meanwhile, I and the team will be coming back to you here from Gravity Media throughout the next few days as we bring the best of our industry together.

It’s my pleasure now to welcome Michael Tear, SPA’s President to say a few words.

Thank you Michael!

In the lead up to the ABC’s Q&A and as we focus on the big changes that are impacting our sector for the rest of the day, much of which Michael has outlined, I wanted to acknowledge the scale of change the Government is asking us to adapt to, throughout this pandemic year, in releasing the major reforms to regulation and support measures and signalling more to come.

For our screen businesses – that provide the root system to our industry’s ecology - this is incredibly significant. The shifts on a macro level are those from challenged broadcast businesses towards those streaming services that are on the rise.

According to Deloitte’s Media Consumer Survey, there was a 39% increase in time spent watching paid entertainment services during lockdown, as we looked to home entertainment for comfort, escape and connection.

And we’re not just talking about Netflix, with 46% of Australians having more than one subscription. Amongst these changes, our cinemas have been incredibly challenged – having endured many long months of closures and have re-opened where possible but with supply challenges, as international titles are held back.

This has given rise to unique opportunities for local product, and we have seen audiences respond, with fantastic results so far for Rams, The Dry, Penguin Bloom and High Ground – in fact with the last three currently the top films in the country – the first time ever that these have all been Australian – and proving once again that our industry produces world-class, compelling content that resonates with audiences.

The announcement of a fund to cover the gap in insurance caused by the lack of pandemic coverage has been a key part of getting new production activity up and running.

It also shows the value of Government and SPA with industry working together on targeted solutions.

2021 will still be shaped by the ongoing pandemic, and we therefore trust the Government will see the need for this fund to be extended, to help us keep thousands of Australians employed and the pipeline of Australian content flowing.

Combined with Job Keeper and there have been various initiatives, surveys and programs that the states and territories have driven to help keep our industry functioning.

I will single out for mention the particularly brilliant Covid Assistance tools the SAFC have released.

However, this is not to minimise or downplay the scale of the challenge that Government decision-making has created.

A snap decision in April – contemporaneously made - it seems - by both the Government and the independent regulator - suspended quotas for commercial free-to-air and subscription television, at the height of pandemic disruption.

It had an immediate impact on commissioning activity, and the uncertainty it injected into the market was damaging for the sector.

It came just as we were attempting to aid economic recovery and keep people working.

It was not a path any other territory took.

And for our Children’s producers this had been the culmination of months of frozen activity by the broadcasters as they played a game of brinkmanship with the Government, which cost our sector millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs in the process.

At the same time, the Government released an options paper for fundamental reform of screen support measures.

The industry came together to propose a harmonised system of regulation and incentives, that would lay the groundwork for substantial growth in jobs, investment and hours of content available to audiences.

What followed in the Government’s September announcement has been profoundly challenging for many in our industry.

The disparity between the vision put forward by industry, and that outlined by the Government, was at the time, disconcerting.

The impact will not be felt evenly across the sector.

SPA represents a broad church of different screen businesses across Australia.

The challenges in the Government’s package will be more deeply felt by smaller businesses, those which are in the early stages of establishing themselves, often with more diverse participants and those located outside the major population centres of Sydney and Melbourne.

Our conversations with Government about this continue.

We are, however, particularly pleased with the announcement of a 30% offset for television – this being something that SPA has campaigned for many years.

While the dust was still settling on the first wave of changes, the Government opened a conversation on how best to formalise the contribution of streaming services to Australian culture, releasing the Green Paper, that Michael mentioned.

Streaming services are tipped to draw in $2 billion of Australian revenue next year and are fast becoming the preferred destination for Australians to access content.

With such volume of content on these platforms, it is crucial that there is also the ability for audiences to see and hear their own stories and culture, and in releasing the Paper we can see that the Government recognises this too.

Congratulations therefore to Minister Fletcher and the Morrison Government in seeing this need, and congratulations to all of you that built, drove and supported the #makeitaustralian campaign.

These proposals offer hope for a strengthened and more sustainable sector, and a resulting dividend for audiences.

There is much work for us to do to make sure we get the appropriate outcomes from that process, and also influence the final shape of Offset reforms.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, as an industry it has taught us the value of having our own house in order, so that we can have success independently of what happens in other markets and countries.

We therefore, need the Government’s focus to be on strengthening the local sector and ensuring it is robust in its own right.

There has been a lot of focus in recent months on the inbound productions, and the sugar hit they bring to local employment.

In fact – would anyone disagree if I said – too much focus?

In fact, is there anywhere left to be labelled as the Australian version of Hollywood?

Making hay while the sun shines is not a bad thing.

However, it doesn’t sustain the creative root system of the Australian industry, and its ability to create local cultural content and develop the careers of home-grown talent, in front of and behind the camera.

This, and the rise of streaming platforms, really brings into focus the challenge of market dynamics.

There is a need for a governing architecture that ensures the local sector can retain the assets and IP needed to build a sustainable business.

This sustainability provides the foundation for creative expansion and growth.

If there's one thing I've learnt in this role, whatever the challenge, our sector will rise to it, and will, like a prospector panning for gold, sift and find the opportunities for success, wherever they may be.

Importantly our Governments must be open to constructive and stimulatory policy settings to help us make the most of what we hope to be a gold rush.

Getting the settings right will lead to cascading benefits in terms of jobs, economic output, export opportunities and, most importantly, a rich return to Australians in terms of the quality and quantity of culturally relevant content.

As the country continues to navigate a pandemic world, we will be there to tell the stories that make sense of our shared challenges, bring us connection and hope, and express our ideas to the world.

So, whether you are shooting in surfers, cutting in Kununarra or posting in Puckapunyal, congratulations for making it through a challenging year and now – for the next 3 days – don’t lean back - lean forward to enjoy the 35th Screen Forever.

ABC's Q&A is up next, we'll be back soon, don't go away.

End of transcript.