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Local reputation growing

The WA film and TV industry is producing content that is broadcast into lounge rooms around the world. Tracey Cook looks at what is driving the industry’s growth and the niche position the WA industry has found in the international market.

IN an age when American sitcoms dominate our daily TV fare, it comes as some surprise that the Western Australian film and television industry is successfully cultivating a top-notch reputation in the international market for cost effective, quality productions.

Growing numbers of WA film and TV production companies are successfully selling their work around the world and racking up export dollars by tapping into the insatiable appetite of cable and Pay TVs for content and taking advantage of the huge English-speaking global viewing market.

Those apt to complain about society being rife with Americanisms in our youth should take note that Australian producers frequently sell numerous children’s drama productions into 52 different countries with each production having at least a 10 year lifespan. 

Children around the world may be able to enjoy more WA children’s drama if news of a new production company setting up in WA eventuates. 

It is understood a WA syndicate, Great Western Entertainment, plans to set up a children’s drama production company in the State in the near future. 

The move would bring further production dollars into the State, provide year round employment for screen industry workers and increase the exposure of WA overseas.

A confirmed coup for the local industry is the recent announcement that major Australian media company, Southern Star, will produce its new children’s television drama series, Foreign Exchange in the State.

The co-production with Ireland will have a $9.3 million budget – $4.5 million funded by Ireland – and is expected to generate significant employment and exposure to WA locations. Dollars spent on film and TV is good news for employment rates because the industry is labour intensive. For every $1 million spent in the industry 37 jobs are created.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the numbers of production businesses in WA is rapidly increasing and in the six years between 1994 and 2000 the level of income generated by the screen industry in the State increased from $15.5 million to $32.3 million.

While State funding body ScreenWest does not invest in every project that is produced in WA, the total production value of investments the body has invested in over the past two years has increased by nearly $9 million, giving some indication of the growth of the industry.

During 2002-03 ScreenWest will invest nearly $3 million into 31 projects with a total production bud-get of more than $22.5 million.

While the eastern States have concentrated on the fickle world of feature films by injecting large sums of money into studio facilities and trying to attract big offshore films, the WA industry has positioned itself in the market as a producer of high quality factual programming, children’s drama and independent films.

The rise of cable networks such as Discovery and National Geographic has enabled WA producers to sign lucrative international deals allowing some to move away from Government funding assistance and offer real returns for private investors.

ScreenWest executive director Tania Chambers said there were large amounts of export dollars in the TV and film industry, particularly with the growth of pay TV channels in the Asian market.

The main drivers to why people chose to subscribe to pay TV are sport, children’s programs and high profile documentary channels such as Discovery and National Geographic.

Ms Chambers said as well as documentaries and children’s drama, WA was attracting independent film productions because in comparison to most other States the costs of filming here was much lower.

In eastern seaboard cities such as Sydney and Melbourne location fees are increasing, the size of the cities makes logistics of moving a large crew around difficult and costly and generally higher living costs on the east coast have enabled WA to find a niche place in the industry.

Ms Chambers said one of the main reasons why people chose to shoot a film in a particular location was whether it was a distinctive site.

WA is in a unique position because it has so many varied environments to choose from within a relatively short distance.  From the period buildings of York to the misty mountains of the Great Southern Stirling Ranges or the stark landscape of the Pilbara, the full potential of WA is yet to be fully tapped by the film industry. 

Recent films shot in WA have been the Gecko Films production Japanese Story, starring Toni Collette that was filmed in the Pilbara and Thunderstruck by Eddie Wong Films, filmed in Fremantle.

WA production company Soul Films is currently filming its first feature film Roll.  The film will feature a raft of WA talent both on and offscreen.

Japanese Story, which featured at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, was picked up by major North American distributor, Samuel Goldwin.

“The film sparked a bidding war and generated $1.2 million from its initial release,” Ms Chambers said.

She said it was unusual for an Australian film to be picked up first by a North American distributor and that there would be a huge flow-on of tourism benefits for the Pilbara region following the film’s release.

The showcasing of regions and products in WA productions opens up many opportunities for business to reap benefits of the potential international exposure the product will receive.

A recent example of this is the financial contribution the WA Tour-ism Commission, Department of Industry and Technology and the Fisheries Council made to local independent film and TV company, Mago Films cooking-travel series Surfing the Menu.

While some commercial producers have managed to attract private investment, the 1980s rorting of the 10BA tax deduction has left scars on the investment community.

The tax deduction has been reduced from the previous 150 per cent tax deduction with a two-year honeymoon on returns to 100 per cent tax deduction with no honeymoon on returns.

Ms Chambers said despite the maturation of the industry and the large numbers of companies producing solid and genuine products, the Australian Tax Office continued to release statements warning investors to beware of rogues in the film industry every year.   

“It is entirely inappropriate…and seems inconsistent with the Federal Government’s aim to build the industry.”

Despite these warnings the WA film industry is coming of age and the more traditional older companies are becoming more financially secure.

“I believe the wave of new talent coming through are much more savvy.  They have a stronger business sense and are aware of the industry realities,” Ms Chambers said.

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