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Projecting screen success

The Film and Television Institute is part of the reason WA is being recognised as a place brimming with film production specialists. Julie-anne Sprague investigates.

THE 32-year-old Film and Television Institute has spent the past three-and-a-half years transforming itself from a predominantly film equipment leasing organisation to an accredited training, research, and commercially-focused business that projects itself as a catalyst for film and television development in Western Australia.

It claims its new direction is generating significant returns for the not-for-profit organisation both in revenue and international exposure.

Yet it is still reliant on Government funding which accounts for 50 per cent of its operating revenue.

FTI chief executive Graeme Sward said escalating costs of technology placed greater demands on funding.

“We are dependent on government and corporate support so that we can offer a place for people to experiment and grow business,” he said.

“It’s a high-cost technology game to play in now and you would not find too many production companies that can invest in this research and development.”

Mr Sward said while its revenue and staff numbers had doubled in the past three years the institute was restricted in its ability to drive commercial outcomes and therefore had a reliance on external funding.

“We are not set up to compete commercially with the industry,” he said.

“But at the start-up phase there needs to be that development so that when companies come along there are the people here skilled to work with them.

“People that come through here will go on to create new businesses and we are the feeder for those businesses.

“This can only occur with strong government and corporate support.”

About 50 per cent of the organisation’s funding is from government sources – ScreenWest and the Australian Film Commission – and the remaining 50 per cent of its operating revenue is derived from its own income streams such as training fees and box office takings.

The group’s total revenue to the year ending December 31 2002 was up $575,595 to $1.59 million.

However, the company posted a $63,251 deficit last year.

The institute’s latest training facility, the Centre for Interactive Game Design and Traditional and Digital Puppetry (CADSA-GAP) was set up in September last year after securing State funding worth $199,700.

However, its start-up funds will cease in July and the institute is actively pursuing further funding for the centre.

FTI head of training Tom Lubin said CADSA-GAP was an “imagineering incubator” that provided a place for people to take risks that expanded their skill sets and evolved innovation and new businesses.

“Training drives commercialisation,” he said.

“What we are trying to do is bring people together and let the ideas germinate so that they become a viable business.

“These things take time to build but there are already smaller groups starting their own businesses.”

CADSA-GAP is just one of several initiatives at the FTI.

The Centre for Advanced Digital Screen Animation was set up in November 2001 after the FTI received support from local industry – particularly Animation Works – and a $200,310 grant from the WA Department of Training.

FTI marketing manager Jon Cope said both centres were already generating commercial activity.

“CADSA & CADSA-GAP are still very much in their ‘incubator’ stage and many projects are still ongoing,” he said.

“There are several participants that are currently working on independent projects.

“We have a major client interested in the Didjiglove digital puppet technology and we are currently in negotiations to provide a major promotional campaign but I can’t give you any further details on that one at this stage.”

Didjiglove is a glove hooked up to a machine that runs software that enables an animator to manipulate an on-screen character in real-time.

“They create a character and [the operator] has the ability to move the characters mouth and other facial movements by using the glove,” Mr Cope said.

“The animator speaks into a microphone to create the voice.”

“It has been used at conferences and as people walk in the character comes to life and speaks to them.”

FTI hosts the Western Australian Screen Awards and provides grants to promote independent film making which include Raw Nerve, Assistance to Screen Artists, One Off Members Production Fund (OOMPF), and No Frills.

Mr Sward said that creating a critical mass of expert animators and film makers meant that big business was more likely to set up production facilities rather than poaching a Perth-based director, script writer or animator.

“A lot of people claim to have experience but when it comes down to it they don’t,” he said.

“We want to have an organisation that is vibrant and that is relevant to the needs of every film and TV career and have people that are job ready for the industry.”

FTI’s reintegration has been helped by greater synergies with State arts funding body ScreenWest.

Mr Sward said a greater focus on training as well as greater synergies with other industry bodies was fuelling FTI’s growth.

“Over the past three years we have been working together. Before we were independent, and we still are, but it is much more cohesive now.”

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