16/01/2019 - 11:56

Screenwest moves on from drama

16/01/2019 - 11:56


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Screenwest’s new CEO anticipates a strong project pipeline will allow the organisation to move past a period of instability.

Willie Rowe says Screenwest has reached a period of organisational stability. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Screenwest’s new CEO anticipates a strong project pipeline will allow the organisation to move past a period of instability.

Western Australia’s screen funding and development agency is advancing several new projects despite recent management upheaval and a fall in revenue during 2018.

Recently appointed Screenwest chief executive Willie Rowe told Business News that, with revenue down from $21 million to $15 million last year, the agency was using its new capacities outside of government to become more entrepreneurial after a turbulent 2018.

Screenwest emerged as an independent not for profit in 2017, transitioning from more than two decades as a government body.

Mr Rowe officially took the position in December, after holding an interim position since the sudden departure of Seph McKenna in September, just nine months in to a five-year term.

While unable to comment on the departure, Mr Rowe said his top priority had been stabilising Screenwest following the leadership change.

“It all moved very quickly,” he said.

“So one of the keys for me was to settle the organisation down, to keep working with the industry, to say everything is okay.

“Our funding is still strong, we’re not going broke, people aren’t not going to lose their funding, the staff aren’t leaving.

“It’s pretty much business as usual; there was just a change at the top, which was quite sudden.”

Mr Rowe said the Screenwest board was in a better position now than in previous years, as it had struck a balance between members within and outside of the film industry.

Before Screenwest’s structural shift to be an independent body, representatives of industry had dominated the board, Mr Rowe said.

“When the board was considering particular funding opportunities, quite often you would see members coming and going because they were part of the production, and couldn’t be involved in the decision making,” he said.

Screenwest is now anticipating the release of a number of major projects both in television and film.

“Over the last 18 months to two years there’s been a strong pipeline of projects because we’ve got the money, that’s one of the keys to it,” Mr Rowe told Business News.

“Coming out of 2018 we’ve just finished work on some really big productions.

Dirt Music has now wrapped, H is for Happiness, which was filmed down in Albany, and RAMS, which was in the Great Southern as well.”

Mr Rowe said Screenwest was attracting recognition across Australia, as well as internationally.

WA-produced ABC TV series Mystery Road and The Heights have garnered significant audiences overseas, he said, with a second series of both possible to cater to demand in the UK.

“That’s what those markets look for,” Mr Rowe said.

“Not just a one-off series, but repeats.”

Mystery Road has now been sold to UK station BBC Four.

Documentaries are another popular international product, he said, as Europeans in particular had demonstrated a high demand for outback-related series.

“If we can keep that momentum going over the next two to three years, and there’s no reason to say that we won’t, that will provide the level of organisational stability,” Mr Rowe said.

Mr Rowe described the $16 million Western Australian Regional Film Fund launched in the 2016-17 state budget had been a game changer for the industry.

The fund not only highlights regional areas, he said, but has allowed the production of projects that otherwise would not have occurred.

This stream of funding will conclude mid-2020, and Mr Rowe said he was currently in talks with government to ensure it could be extended.

Screenwest draws its revenue from three major avenues, heavily relying on government support.

Lotterywest provided $7.5 million in the past financial year, with a further $4 million sourced through Royalties for Regions, and $3.6 million from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

Despite the fall in revenue during the past year, Mr Rowe was confident of the continued support of government.

It had resulted in an internal analysis of company efficiency, however.

The next step would be to expand into other markets, such as virtual reality and gaming.

“Not every investment in a game or VR technology will deliver a big return, but if you pick a winner, it can have a huge return for quite a small investment,” Mr Rowe said.

“That’s what we’re looking at in terms of how we develop a fund that can invest in those sorts of areas, as well as the traditional screen, that will deliver a return to us.

“That would give us the opportunity to have an independent film fund.”


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