TRACEY Vieira has recently stepped onto the stage as the new Screen Queensland CEO, complete with a set of new developments to address the ongoing challenges the local screen industry faces.
Brisbane-born Vieira brings with her the Hollywood touch, having been based in Los Angeles with Ausfilm as the Executive Vice President of International Production over the past nine years.
Despite having a wealth of experience in film, Vieira is all about the business over the limelight, and admits to being a little camera shy. She considers herself the Director of the film that is Screen Queensland, and shows no signs of a Hollywood complex as she discusses the dynamic future of Queensland’s screen industry. Vieira talks to Brisbane Business News about the programs she will be implementing to keep the industry attractive, and ensure the retention of talent and investors in years to come.
Besides the top role, what else brings you back to Australia?
Firstly, I was born and bred in Brisbane and have a soft spot for its industry considering I started my career here. I am also extremely passionate about financing and bringing in development partners. By the end of my role with Ausfilm in Los Angeles, this probably comprised 80 per cent of it. So I am happy to be back home, and focused on the part of my job I love the most by working on attracting large-scale productions.
How does the Queensland screen industry compare to the rest of Australia?
To start with the good news, we are renowned for attracting international blockbusters because of our cinematic locations around the state. From the Gold Coast Hinterland to the Great Barrier Reef, and everywhere in between, film crews are increasingly showing interest in our spectacular shooting locations. This brings great benefit to our local economy, with over $52 million of production expenditure being spent here in the year leading up to July 1 2013.
However, Queensland’s television industry has some challenges compared to its New South Wales and Victoria counterparts. These states are the homes of long-form television series such as Home and Away and Neighbours, and as a result have grown into highly creative spaces over the years. Long-form series provide incredible training grounds. This particularly rings true with writers, who we are continually losing in Queensland, as they are able to work more consistently interstate. Retaining talent will be a key focus of Screen Queensland going forward.
How exactly does Screen Queensland intend to retain local talent?
This is where two of our new programs come into place, the Emerging Program and Enterprise Program. These major initiatives are completely focused on making the local screen industry more sustainable and commercial, as well as broadening its focus.
What is involved in the Emerging Program?
The program is centred on giving local talent a solid starting ground. Funding of up to $480,000 will be awarded to Queensland-based screen practitioners and businesses that meet strict requirements and have proposed clear programs to foster talent. We have just finished receiving expressions of interest for the program and I’m so excited by the initiatives that have been brought to the table. In addition to the financial requirements, short-listed applicants will now be heavily assessed on their program’s capacity to meet industry needs, particularly needs which are currently unaddressed.
What is involved in the Enterprise Program?
The Enterprise Program is an equally important initiative and is anticipated to launch before the end of the financial year. The program will primarily serve as a launching pad for Queensland screen businesses across film, television, and multiplatform production alike, helping them take their projects to the next level without having to leave the region. It will especially benefit businesses that are having some successes, by further marketing them and thus bringing more talent into the fold. Grants will be provided of up to $150,000 for both local and interstate companies that show the promise of viability to encourage setting up shop in Queensland. Once again, as the case of the Emerging Program, this is in an effort to cultivate the talent Queensland produces and encourage their retention.
Will the programs centralise their focus on any particular aspects of the screen industry?
We are heavily focused on multiplatform initiatives going forward, which I have witnessed firsthand the growth of in the United States over the past few years. Multiplatform initiatives will be top of mind when selecting recipients of the Emerging and Enterprise Programs funding, and comprises of areas such as animation, online content and gaming. This aspect of the screen business currently has lower barriers to entry for aspiring industry practitioners, while also being widely identified as a huge growth market – so it’s a win-win situation.
People are increasingly recognising the industry is much larger than conventional film and television, and Queensland universities and training programs are doing a great job at preparing talent for this market. However, the talent often leaves upon course completion or goes onto neglect this skillset entirely due to a lack of industry support. Our goal is for the Enterprise and Emerging Programs to help counteract this.
Is the ideal situation growing Queensland’s screen industry into a ‘mini Hollywood’, or would you rather keep the industry as a niche?
The ideal from an economic and consumer standpoint would be integrating the best parts of Hollywood into the Queensland screen industry. Hollywood is fantastic because it treats the film industry like a business. I would like this to ring truer in Queensland, and I think it will as time goes on and people are given more power to keep their businesses profitable. Adopting a commercial outlook is the only viable way for the Queensland screen industry – and Australia’s as a whole – to grow to its full potential. While it’s great our talent are succeeding in Hollywood, such as the Wolf of Wall Street female lead Margot Robbie and the highly sought-after cinematographer Dion Beebe, it would be equally as beneficial for Queensland to step up its mark.
How is Screen Queensland funded, and is the industry volatile or stable in nature?
The majority of our funding comes from the state government, as well as some income coming from return on investments.
The industry can be volatile. The GFC, resulting weakening of the US dollar and global competition really made for a challenging landscape. Australia became uncompetitive by American standards. To put this in perspective, only four states in America offered film incentives in 2002, with this number growing to 44 states in 2009. In a broader sense, this obviously highlights a real shift of the economic benefit the screen industry generates.
The dollar became extremely strong in 2009, so it was hard to bring international finance into Australian productions when American states were set on keeping work over there. In fact, this was largely the case until the start of this year.
Fortunately, the federal government introduced the Producer Offset initiative in 2007, which sanctions a 40 per cent tax rebate for Australian productions that meet a certain criterion. This ensured Australia remained competitive to at least some degree during the GFC.
The Producer Offset is also responsible for blockbusters such as The Great Gatsby reaching Australian shores. While this film was American financed, Baz Luhrmann wouldn’t have brought its filming to Australia without the Offset’s existence. Even more recently, Angelina Jolie brought Unbroken’s set to Australia and the Dwayne Johnson film San Andreas will soon follow suit.
Things are definitely looking up for Screen Queensland and our financials prove it. This will be our third best year in the past eight years.
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