A new report released today by Screen Australia shows a record-breaking level of expenditure on drama productions in 2020/21, but Screen Producers Australia (SPA) has rung alarm bells as most of the growth has come from foreign productions.
Screen Australia’s 31st annual ‘Drama Report’ found $1.9 billion was spent on drama productions in Australia, made up of $1.04 billion on foreign productions produced or post-produced here, and $874 million on Australian-backed projects.
This compares to a pre-pandemic spend of $413 million on foreign productions and $797 million on local content in FY19.
The organisation describes the result as “unprecedented”, with expenditure nearly doubling on last year and more than 50 per cent above the five-year average.
Screen Australia says the increase was driven by a range of factors, including projects postponed into the year by COVID shutdowns, low levels of COVID-19 making Australia a popular destination for producers, and the strength of local teams and infrastructure.
“It is pleasing that the production of local Australian content has had its biggest year, in addition to Australia’s notable success attracting foreign productions, which have provided valuable jobs and training opportunities to the industry,” Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher said.
“It is pleasing that the production of local Australian content has had its biggest year, in addition to Australia’s notable success attracting foreign productions, which have provided valuable jobs and training opportunities to the industry.
“This achievement reflects the hard work and skills of our screen professionals and the talent of our storytellers, along with the success of the targeted incentives with which the Morrison Government supports this key industry.”
The 95 Australian-backed titles that began production in 2020/21 generated $874 million of spend in Australia, up 57 per cent on 2019/20’s result and setting a new record for spend by Australian titles. This included a record $125 million on local online drama titles, up 20 per cent on last year.
63 foreign-backed projects, including titles that only had post, digital and visual (PDV) effects activity in Australia, generated $1.04 billion spend, more than double that of 2019/20 and a new record for spend in Australia by foreign titles.
This included a record spend of $793 million on three features, two TV dramas and five online dramas that commenced shooting in Australia. Spend on foreign PDV-only titles also reached a record $246 million, up 48 per cent on 2019/20’s result.
While Australian local titles accounted for 46 per cent of the total expenditure in Australia, industry peak body Screen Producers Australia (SPA) said the expenditure level represented a “concerning trend”.
“Whilst we welcome the overall strong result, the $874 million in Australian content expenditure was in fact only a modest rise on pre-pandemic levels ($797 million 2018/19),” SPA CEO Matthew Deaner said.
“This is of concern given this year’s figure would include a substantial number of projects which were delayed in 2019/20 and which subsequently commenced in 2020/21.”
SPA says the largest increase in the total investment figure was generated by a marked uptick in foreign productions, which it claims does not contribute to the local industry’s strength in the long term.
Further, whilst top line figures for feature film look promising, SPA notes these numbers are substantially influenced by the inclusion of studio backed productions such as Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, and George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing.
“Whilst this activity offers a welcome economic boost, it does not provide any local upside in terms of intellectual property generation and fewer opportunities for local creatives and cast,” Deaner said.
“These productions contribute a minimal amount to the building of sustainable local production businesses and do not enhance our ability to create Australian cultural content that speaks with a genuinely Australian voice.
“We need to treat the Drama Report numbers with caution, because whilst they present a very strong top-line figure, a closer examination reveals challenging conditions for local Australian productions.”
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