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FILM IN THE AGE OF DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION

Richard Harris

Platform Paper 12

The Challenge for Australian Content

Richard Harris

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Australian audiovisual production faces an uncertain future. New forms of digital delivery offer both promise and threat to filmmakers and pose challenges to established forms of government regulation. Many ambitious predictions have been made about the impact of the internet, where the explosion of user-generated sites and the investment of moguls like Murdoch and Packer warns of profound change. But how much is real and how much is hype? What are the future business models? How much of a threat does it pose for conventional media forms? And, most importantly, where will Australian content be in this new media landscape? 
Richard Harris attempts to navigate the internet’s hype curve by examining new media trends and global developments. He finds that while the internet offers great hope for independent filmmakers, and is fundamentally changing existing business models, it is still in a nascent phase. Conventional media will not disappear but rather move increasingly cross-platform, and will need to remain the focus of content policy in the short to medium term. He argues that public broadcasting has a special role in providing a place for Australian content in a fragmenting media space, and concludes that industry and government need to plan for the future by looking in a holistic way at the broader structural issues that affect content—at development, production and delivery. It is by getting the overall settings right that Australian filmmakers will meet the challenges of new media and take advantage of the rising opportunities. 

 

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About the Author

Richard Harris is Executive Director of the Australian Screen Directors’ Association and project manager for the Australian Screen Council.

Ultimately, the issue is one of scale. Concentration in a small market like Australia’s has allowed sufficient aggregation of mass audiences across existing platforms to underpin a critical mass of production. Fragmentation, on the other hand poses a challenge, not only to sustainability but also, arguably, to diversity.

Comments

Dr Brian ward is Manager of the aFtrs Centre for screen Business in Victoria.

I came to the Australian Film, Television and Radio School from a ten-year career in academic and business publishing. I'm a great client of the film and television industry: I go to the cinema twice a week and am addicted to media entertainment.

In delivering education and training to media professionals, I am constantly amazed at the diversity of their experience in managing their careers. Some creative individuals seem only to do-to work, to create-and rarely seem to reflect on or to analyse their performance, what they do. For some creativity is king, and there can be no question of altering the creative process. These people do not believe that inspiration can be improved upon.

There are other kinds of people, other filmmakers and industry experts, who are able not only to undertake the rarer, but vital, process of reflection and critique that leads to change, development, growth and longevity, but also able to communicate their ideas and their passion for change to their peers in the industry, to the government, its agencies and their people. The Australian Screen Directors Association can count itself fortunate that its director for the past eight years, Richard Harris, is one of these.

At the Sydney launch of Richard's Platform Paper, Film in the Age of Digital Distribution, the audience at the Chauvel Cinema was treated to a great 'double act'. Producer/director Robert Connolly launched the essay with a powerful, and at the same time charmingly delivered, critique of the current production methodology. Robert, like Richard, is as keen to think through the processes and the problems of making better films as he is to make them.

A reliance of luck is not going to result in sustain-ability. What is needed is thought, management and pragmatism-rather more than simple inspiration. I'm writing this letter on Tuesday 8 May, in anticipation of this evening's federal budget speech, in which Treasurer Peter Costello is expected to announce significant changes to the tax treatment and investment opportunities for film and television.

At this moment we are all poised, ready to act. Before we can do so, however, we need to consider carefully the implications of the new tax and investment regulations. Industry leaders like Richard Harris have a vision of sustainability that all of us want to see realised, and their leadership is well able to inspire others to bring it about.

The role of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, particularly the newly-established Centre for Screen Business, is to deliver knowledge and skills to improve the sustainability of screen businesses and the expertise of their leaders. Robert Connolly has already spoken at some of the Centre's events this year and in June-July Richard will lead our new seminar, Business Models for Digital Distribution. Partnerships such as these form the basis for the effective transfer and dissemination of ideas. I should like to thank Richard and Robert for their contribution to our activities, and Currency House, whose current issue in their excellent series of Platform Papers is stimulating the kind of debate amongst industry professionals that is vital to our future development. Richard Harris's essay could hardly have been better timed: we should all re-read it in the light of tomorrow morning's report of tonight's budget speech.