Estimates Committee B
Wednesday 25 June 2008
1.6 Film, TV and multimedia industry development
Mr FINCH - Reports, Minister, about the filming of South Solitary in Tasmania are very encouraging and it is great news. Of course, we will be the perfect location for that film.
Ms WRIEDT - Absolutely, but we cannot confirm anything further while negotiations are at the stage that they are.
Mr FINCH - What role will our very small Tasmanian industry play and would you consider some extra funding for the project to perhaps get more involvement by Tasmanian components in the development of this film?
Mr McILFATRICK - We will put funding into any film that is really focused on generating local content. In a film like South Solitary, which is a $10 million film, we would see probably about 20 per cent of the local content in that; production needs to happen in other places. We would only give support with local content into the bargain. It will provide lots of opportunity for actors, maybe people being seconded on production - a range of opportunities for location, providoring and a whole range of things. It is a huge economic benefit for us to have the film produced here, let alone what happens after the film is made and the promotion that goes with it.
Ms WRIEDT - The guidelines of grants from Screen Tasmania are already very specific in terms of what percentage of work needs to be done in the State in terms of pre- and post-production as well as filming, depending on what grant they are applying for.
We already specify the amount of work because the idea is obviously to maximise the employment of Tasmanians and to be able to build the Tasmanian screen industry by having production work undertaken by locals. The only way they are going to develop their skills and we are going to grow the industry is to have that done here and not just somebody flying in and filming and flying out again - that participation in pre and post production.
Mr FINCH - What stage are we at in negotiations with the film?
Ms WRIEDT - At the stage where I would be very hesitant to say much more about it. Negotiations have been under way for some time. The style of the film we cannot confirm at this stage because there have been some changes to the stars. We are still talking about some fairly well-known Hollywood names, albeit not the ones that have been promoted in the media. It is a film worth more than $5 million. That would make it the largest feature film made in the State and one that I think will give us a very good case to be able to show that Tasmania is ready to cope with that level of production here.
Mr FINCH - How were we sourced as a location for the film? Did they come to us? Did we go to them? How did it work?
Ms WRIEDT - It was a bit of both. Screen Tasmania is a member of Ausfilm. Ausfilm are the equivalent of Austrade but specifically for the film industry. Through them we promote Tasmania to the North American film industry. We had representative of Ausfilm down here recently for a few days. One of them was the LA-based person; we spent some time with her as part of G'Day USA - Screen Tasmania takes part in that and has done for the two years that we have been there. The director of Screen Tasmania at G'Day USA this year went along to that and met a number of studios, executive producers and production companies. She also went to the Sundance Film Festival to get contacts there and to build the networks. We have a whole range of information that Screen Tasmania has now prepared. We are told that Screen Tasmania, through Ausfilm, gets about 100 enquiries from - it does not say what period - a year North America alone regarding filming in Tasmania.
Last year at G'Day USA, Screen Tasmania unfortunately were not able to be there but I attended a major screen industry breakfast with a lot of producers and so on. I had a lot of people come up to me and say, 'I am writing a film about such-and-such and I need a location'. Some of them are just not compatible. One of them needed a western ghost town but had a very tight filming schedule. I automatically said, 'On the west coast we would have some areas', but they wanted to come in the middle of winter. They said, 'We want to come in July', which is their summer. I said, 'That is our winter' and he said, 'We need to come somewhere I am not going to get any rain'.
Ms WRIEDT - There can be various specific timings that we cannot unfortunately fulfil. There was some interest in filming an episode of Survivor here in Tasmania where they maroon 16 scantily clad people in a remote location. They were very interested in Tasmania as a location but this is where we hit the snag: they are scantily clad for a reason - that is what provides their ratings and you will notice that the scantily clad people are always of a fine stature. We explained that in our climate they would have to rug up in polar fleeces and they would not be sitting around in bikinis and so on.
Mr WING - From December to May they would not have to, with our sublime weather.
Ms WRIEDT - There was effort made to point out that we did have warmer periods but not quite as tropical as they were thinking for the lack of clothing they were hoping that their participants would wear at all times. That could have been a great opportunity.
Having said that, we have other things that will be filmed here. We have National Geographic Kids Challenge about to start filming in the State next week. It is not a feature film but it is a high-profile television series that airs in North America. We have a particular niche market and if we cast our net widely enough there will no doubt, given the diversity of the film industry, be interest in Tasmania for different things.
Mr FINCH - I cannot help but feel, when I look at the allocation here in the Budget of $1.214 million, that it is a paltry amount. Is that fair or unfair to say that?
Ms WRIEDT - That is not the only source of funding. That is the allocation to Screen Tasmania; however, when for larger projects it is clear that Screen Tasmania cannot provide the funding through their processes, they can make application to the TDR board and that has happened in the past. Grants can be provided from that source as well.
Mr FINCH - So they are not limited to that budget allocation?
Ms WRIEDT - No.
Mr McILFATRICK - One emerging issue is about getting tax rebates. We have helped one company, and we will help more, with short-term loans that can be rebated against the tax rebates, so that gives them the cash flow to get production going. That will be through the TDR board. We are not limited, this is effectively the funds that were managed by the Screen Tasmania board for grants and operating process. If we get a $20 million film we will have to go to the Treasurer and ask for more money.
Mr FINCH - There has been talk for years, Minister, about the potential for multimedia training in a State like Tasmania.
Ms WRIEDT - Oh, the ghosts of Estimates past! I just saw my first Estimates coming back this year. We talked about this in terms of training.
Mr FINCH - What is going to be allocated to multimedia development? Where is that on the radar as far as the Government is concerned?
Ms WRIEDT - I cannot talk about the training aspect of it because that still very much sits with my colleague, the Premier, under Education and Skills. We do not specify within the funds available for Screen Tasmania a specific allocation for multimedia, but that area is emerging as a real success for the industry. Screen Tasmania just supported a key player in digital media production recently. He is a games guru, Matt Costello. If you are into computer games, you will be in awe: apparently that he wrote Doom 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean. He had a forum here and it was quite well attended - there were 20-25 people. The idea was to help some of the talent here and guide them if they have an idea - and there are some very talented young IT-focused people here who have the potential to develop ideas that could become commercialised. It is a very lucrative area. We are doing some work in that area.
There is a program coming to Channel 9 shortly called Pixel Pinkie. Here is some trivia for you that I learnt on Monday: the voice of Pixel Pinkie is Nick McKim's partner, Jane, so when I held this up in estimates on Monday he said, 'My partner is Pixel Pinkie'. That is being done by Blue Rocket supported by Screen Tasmania and I think they did 24 episodes of that. Pixel Pinkie has not gone to air yet but Channel 9 has already commissioned them for a second series. I think over 40 jobs have been created by that initiative alone.
Mr FINCH - In Tasmania?
Ms WRIEDT - Yes, totally in Tasmania. That is Blue Rocket. That is a really good example of something that has the potential to be really commercialised with merchandise and all sorts of stuff should it take off when it goes to television. I can see my daughter and I can see the Chair's daughter really taking to it.
CHAIR - I am. I was thinking I would take that home for my little girl when I return about next Tuesday.
Mr FINCH - That sounds like an exciting project. Of the 40 people who are now employed there, did they have their skills developed here in Tasmania or are they people who have come to Tasmania to take up this work?
Mr McILFATRICK - The original company, Blue Rocket, was attracted here by the Tasmania Development Board and the department helped with its relocation with a small amount of money. They have since recruited people within the State. Obviously they recruit casual and full-time workers and at the moment I think they have about 50 people on staff for the second series, the majority of which are Tasmanian and some who have relocated here to work permanently. Once you get that sort of scale of operation it becomes almost a small industry in its own right.
Mr FINCH - I would be interested to see if we are able to attract this movie South Solitary to come to Tasmania just to see whether we are suffering from a lack of skilled people here and I am hoping, Minister, that if it does become obvious that we do not have the people to support a movie like this, perhaps there needs to be some strong discussions with the Department of Education and TAFE. I know it has been a bit of a hobby horse of mine over the years but I just think there is an opportunity for us to build on the skills of Tasmanians who are interested in this sort of venture and also to attract people to come to Tasmania to learn these skills. I think we can really build on this film, television and multimedia area.
Ms WRIEDT - I think you are right, and once again it is a portfolio that I no longer hold, but I am aware that in 2005 TAFE Tasmania began an initiative relating to staging, production and lighting and those sorts of things. That was something they were running in conjunction with the Salamanca Arts Centre and I am pretty sure that is continuing because we now have, of course, film studios set up at Goodwood that the government invested in so there is a working film studio that those students can also get their experience in.
I think if you looked back at what occurred in about 1997-98 when there was a substantial amount of money put into training for what was at the time thought to be the next big thing, and that was digital media, it all fell apart because it was almost trying to create a false environment for something that did not really exist yet. Now we have an opportunity to build on this because we actually do have investment in projects that have been successful. We have the people here. Blue Rocket are not the only ones. There is also Adam Walker, who has had success with Piccolo, a very cute short animated film that has been shown at film festivals around the world. I have visited him years past at his business over in Salamanca and he has increased the number of staff he has there. I think he does in-house training along with a training provider so that those employees come out of the work they have done on his films with some sort of qualification.
Mr WING - It's very creative work.
Ms WRIEDT - It is very good. He comes from creative family, of course, being Steven Walker's son.
Mr WING - Oh, is he? I should have twigged to that.
Ms WRIEDT - Yes, so there is a lot of stuff that is going on in that digital area. Certainly TAFE has become more active in that area than they were in years past.
Mr McILFATRICK - It is interesting how it has gone over into the education sector as well. Some of our companies are working both in film and in education; for example, Roar Film has gone into the education sector.
Mr FINCH - There is something I would like to ask specifically on digital media and training. The industry has been pushing this agenda for quite some years now. In fact, the budget was cut before but the minister has just explained that it was not really there, but I suppose I am wanting to put training for digital media back on the radar with you, Minister.
Ms WRIEDT - Yes, there has been a successful collaboration with the Australian Film Television and Radio School on something called the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production - or LAMP - and they have been doing workshops here in the State in relation to digital media. We are happy to get some further information for you if it is an area of interest.
Mr FINCH - I think I have made my point. I think that we need to keep it on the radar because I think the opportunity is there for Tasmania in this field, particularly with training and education and developing members with skills in that industry.
Ms WRIEDT - Can I do an infomercial now as we are about to go to a luncheon break because this will be of interest to members? Beaconsfield is in your electorate, isn't it?
Mr FINCH - It certainly is.
Ms WRIEDT - It is, well you would be interested then in Alive and Kicking which is a four-part series that Screen Tasmania assisted with the production of. It is the story of football teams in Queenstown, King Island, Woodsdale and Beaconsfield. Currently it is at the State Cinema but it is actually going to be broadcast on the SBS Inside Australia program on 27 August. The documentary series about craftsmen and apprentices in the Huon Valley, The Passionate Apprentices, actually premiers tonight on SBS, so at the end of a long day at Estimates you can go home and watch this.