Research Presentation, Christina Alvarez, CEO Metro Screen

By November 11, 2015 Blog
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Full transcript of the speech given by Christina Alvarez, Metro Screen CEO, presenting the Emerging Visions Report at VALE Metro Screen. 11/11/2015

I’m going to keep to the script tonight because I can too easily go off on any number of tangents. So you’ll have to bear with me. I also confess that I’ve peppered some of the findings with my own opinions, which won’t be found in the documents, but I’m going to take that liberty.

We’re very proud of this original research that we’re sharing with you tonight. It is the result of a survey of relevant literature, crunching the numbers, and interviews with a range of industry practitioners. You’ve just seen some clips from some of the interviews we did – and we deliberately pulled out some Metro Screen items in honour of this evening’s event, but we will be releasing five longer compilations of the interviews through social media over the coming weeks that go to the broader issues raised in the report.

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Whether you’re an emerging screen practitioner or an established industry professional, we hope you take the time to read the full report. Tonight we’ll give you a snapshot only.

Both the full report and Key Findings will be available to download from our website this evening for your bedtime reading pleasure.

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So the aim of the research was to;

  • Identify and profile the emerging sector
  • Identify the career success factors needed to transition from emerging to professional status.
  • Describe the current production environment & implications for emerging practitioners

So what is the emerging sector? That was our first challenge. Everyone seems to have a different definition. We define emerging as generally the space that lies between learning and earning…

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This graph gives you a simplistic overview of the pathway – from entry to established. Just to pull out the definition for emerging…

  • You have produced work but not in a paid capacity
  • You have some professional industry or production experience
  • You’re not yet endorsed by the broader marketplace
  • You have some reputation and industry networks – but probably not with the people that matter.
  • You have a demonstrated commitment to a career over the long term and have formed a specific career goal.
  • Emerging pathways are generally unstructured, with difficulty accessing opportunities to demonstrate capability.

A word on the Entry level stage. These are generally students and non-graduates with little to no production experience, and with little to no industry networks. The majority of students, especially those undertaking their first degree, do not usually identify their career ambitions until they graduate. And as we have seen in the media today – the time between graduating and getting full-time employment is now 5 years across all sectors (it was 1 year a few decades ago) – and we know its longer time span in screen. Once you’ve graduated that’s when you generally enter the emerging space – when you are between learning and earning. As quoted in the SMH this morning “The idea that you come out of high school, finish university and get a job is not the case anymore.”

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So going from the theoretical graphic to real life matrix. This data image can be a little off-putting at first but it has become a key touchpoint throughout the research – the graphic represents real project networks that exist between screen writers, producers and directors in Australia.

You can see the established core at the centre and the mid career as they make their way closer to the epicentre. Emerging is the outer ring and you can see those who are in the process of crossing the wilderness. Entry level is not included as they are not connected.

Its worth noting that although some of the research material refers to above the line roles – the producer, director and writer (because this was the bias of the available literature) our aim, as much as was possible, was to include all roles. Above and below the line. Its not hard to imagine all below-the-line roles conforming to a similar pattern.

And when you look at that outer ring, there’s a lot of activity going on each year.

  • 700 – 800 short films. Our research shows that screen resource organisations are in some way associated with around 300 of these shorts each year.
  • 100 low budget webseries.
  • 24 low budget features
  • The Aust Bureau of Stats reported that 64,000 people work in an unpaid capacity in screen production in a 12 month period.

The report overviews how we reached the $ values. As you can see its a reasonably significant micro industry.

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So this provides a brief overview of what constitutes the emerging sector.

As the second goal of our research, we wanted to look at the challenges that emerging screen practitioners face in getting from learning to earning – and six success factors floated to the top from the research interviews.

These are the factors that interviewees kept mentioning when asked about how to get ahead, how to progress your career. When you see them displayed like this, they seem kind of obvious and intuitive – but often the most insightful observations are simple. Each of these areas come together to form your reputation.

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So looking at Education first. The message from the interviews is that although education is an advantage it is not essential to a screen career. As described more fully in the report, as entry level jobs have dried up over the past two decades, people have increasingly turned to education for their entry-level experience and to get an advantage.

So back in the early 90’s you were unusual if you were working in screen and actually had a screen media degree (17%, that’s about 1 in every 7 screen practitioners). But over the past 20 years we have seen almost a tripling in the number of screen practitioners holding a screen media degree, to 43% – almost half the screen workforce. As a result screen education is now the norm. Anecdotally we are now seeing more people completing multiple screen degrees in an effort to get an advantage.

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When we began our research we knew that there were a lot of institutions offering screen media qualifications but there was no simple answer to how many screen media students graduated each year. Even ASPERA, the Australian Screen Production, Education & Research Association – the peak body of Australian tertiary institutions teaching screen studies couldn’t tell us. It took considerable effort to identify that figure – 7000 – the number of tertiary screen media graduates each year.

These student numbers equate to $250 million in federal taxpayer support to screen media education. This figure doesn’t include an individual’s HECS or VFH fees which average around $20,000 per student for a three year degree – that goes to the institution on top of the $250mill. As we know, many people can’t afford a three year degree, either in time or money or both. Do we want a situation where only those with possibly multiple screen degrees are deemed fit for an entry-level job in screen? In the report we raise whether this trend is resulting in emerging screen practitioners being overqualified and under-skilled.

Production Experience was the 2nd success factor. This was viewed as essential as screen credits and on-the-ground experience is the currency of a screen career. The earlier slide we saw referencing the 700 short films, 100 web series and 24 low budget features reflects the emerging sector’s understanding that on-screen results is what ultimately matters.

Slide09

David Michod offered the following advice based on the practice makes perfect approach. “Keep making them until one of them lands – and you know it when a short film lands. I had made about five short films before I made Crossbow and the difference in reception was profound and palpable”.

Its becoming harder to produce a series of quality short films or web series to prove your abilities, especially as production funding starts to dry up. Access to resources is the third success factor.

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Access to resources encompasses so many issues – access to the gear, access to advice and expertise on how to improve your craft or achieve your vision, access to time where you work unpaid to get up your credits (given you’ve got to pay the rent), access to audiences through online and festival channels. And, at some point, access to cash to tell your story in the way it needs to be told.

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Development and production funding for the emerging sector has never been so tight. This research found that since 2007 federal support to the screen industry (including the Producer Offset) has increased 90% – yet in the same time we have seen an 82% decrease in targeted funding made available for emerging practitioners. If you remember one set of figures from this research, its this one – that federal funding support has almost doubled, whilst federal funds for emerging screen has reduced to a point where its almost negligible.

And we all know that the remaining funds for emerging screen production are extremely competitive with the bar constantly being raised higher. When we talk about funding for the emerging sector we’re talking about funds that are directed at emerging filmmakers to practice their craft and vision, not for an established company to employ a younger person to work within their structures.

As you can see State agency support is also in decline as state budgets contract.

We simply don’t accept that new talent is now expected to develop with crowd-funding, YouTube and cheap gear when every other aspect of the screen industry has benefited from thoughtful and strategic investment.

Slide13

The next success factor is Networks – the most commonly cited requirement for success in the screen industry.

Think back to the original data matrix – the large circle – its about the chain reactions that go in your networks that can push and pull you towards the core or keep you on the outer. Networks are about working on the right projects with the right people at the right time. And its about the quality, not the quantity of those networks – how close are these relationships – how meaningful?

Personal Qualities are also key.

You can have several degrees, wide networks, cash to make your films, but if you’re asshole or just unreliable then its likely that opportunities will be limited. We’ve all known one or two. And talent is not enough on its own (more on that in the report).

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None of us ticks all these boxes but screen production is hard enough work as it is – we want to work with good people and we want to have a bit of fun doing it, if possible.

Your reputation is shorthand for the sum of the previous five success factors. A good reputation gets you access to resources, more experiences and opportunities, good cast and crew, industry goodwill. It’s your brand.

So now to the final research goal – the current production environment and the implications for emerging practitioners.

A screen career – even for those who have many of the success factors in place – is not for everyone. It’s super competitive throughout the span of one’s screen career. When you look at Screen Australia’s credit analysis of above the line talent, in order to produce ONE filmmaker with 5 feature credits, 80 emerging filmmakers need to have a chance at making their first feature.

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Although its important to understand this pattern for establishing realistic career expectations and career benchmarking – its also important to understand the implications for managing programs for emerging practitioners, so we have a really great pool of people seeking these first-time professional opportunities.

To identify 80 emerging practitioners to make their first feature film, you need a truckload of filmmakers making short films and other non-professional content to demonstrate their talent and capability. This only makes for a healthy screen industry.

At each stage, people who don’t go on to make a next feature will find other roles on other formats in the industry, work on screen in other sectors, or drop out of screen practice altogether. Again, although this research reflects data for above the line roles, we know it is not radically different for below the line roles.

The Success Factors provide the key to what the emerging sector needs to span from learning to earning – access to resources, production experience, networking opportunities, competitive experiences so you can benchmark against your peers, essentially opportunities to demonstrate your abilities and further build your reputation.

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These support services might sound familiar? Screen resource organisations, such as Metro Screen in NSW, have been providing these kinds of support services for years – to bridge the space between learning and earning. We didn’t create these programs based on research but by talking to emerging filmmakers about their needs, day in and day out. We might not get it right all the time but that’s usually due to the lack of resources rather than the lack of expertise or commitment.

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But when we look at the annual distribution of federal funds aimed at screen, this is what it looks like. It seems incredibly inefficient to be investing $250m in education and $368m in screen production for the established industry each year and then only $2m in connecting the two, especially given the size of the emerging sector -and that the journey of the emerging practitioner often spans several years. This is particularly frustrating when you recall that overall federal funding for screen production has almost doubled since 2007, yet we have seen an 82% decrease in funds available to the emerging sector. It makes you want to cry, and we have.

This research is not aimed at keeping Metro Screen’s doors open – it’s too late for that. This is genuinely about ensuring that as competition for opportunities intensifies it is critical that the filters that operate at different stages of a screen career are equitable and merit-based, so that those individuals with merit can ‘emerge’ to realise their full potential as industry professionals.

But this doesn’t happen on its own – it needs strategies and programs in place informed by those who understand this area of activity.

Screen Australia has stated that the emerging sector is the responsibility of the State screen agencies and the education sector. However state screen agency budgets for the emerging sector have also reduced. The education sector is happy to help while an individual is enrolled. But once they graduate, they’re on their own.

As an industry we must be capable of working together to create equitable structures and pathways that span the space between learning and earning. We’re not saying that everyone deserves to make it – it is competitive, but we can’t leave this totally up to survival of the fittest or cream rising to the top, because we know that will always preference the privileged.

The arts community has risen to a very similar challenge in recent month, with Brandis’s substantial cuts to the Australia Council budget. Virtually the entire arts sector, from emerging and established artists, from industry guilds, through to the major traditional performing arts organisations, have fronted up to recent Senate Hearings around the country, to argue passionately in support of emerging arts practice as critical to creative infrastructure and talent renewal.

Slide20

The screen industry might take a cue from this real example playing out before us in our sibling sector.

An industry-wide screen strategy encompassing the education sector, production sector and funding bodies is required.

How can we make this happen? If Screen Australia isn’t responsible for taking the lead, who is?

I hope you’ve found this research useful and interesting. Some of the content is challenging, even depressing, for those aspiring to a screen career – but we need to understand the landscape if the right policies are to be put in place.

Before I finish up I’d like to thank some key people behind the research. We commissioned Craig Rossiter to lead the project so just a bit on his background.

Craig has worked at Ronin Films, Roadshow, Dendy Cinemas and Screen Australia.  During his time at Screen Australia, where he was a Senior Analysis for five years, Craig undertook the economic modelling for the Producer Offset.  He also initiated the Post, Digital and Visual Effects Survey in 2007 and ran the 2010 Screen Business Survey.  Craig is currently Principal Advisor in the Innovation Unit for the Queensland Department of Transport and teaches marketing at Griffith University.  He has graduated with a Master of Business (in Research) and a Bachelor of Arts, which included film studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Huge thanks also to Cathy Gray our editor – who’s understanding of the issues, her patience and her keen eye has been absolutely invaluable. It’s been great working closely with both Craig and Cathy. And, they might not want me to share this, but I know that a very large number of uncharged hours went into this project.

Thank you also to the Working Party who scoped the parameters for the report and provided feedback on the early drafts and also to all the interviewees who so generously gave their time to this research project.

And finally thanks to emerging filmmakers and the Metro Screen community.

We’ve had the privilege of being part of many screen journeys and we’ve witnessed your resilience, creativity and entrepreneurial ways. Let’s focus on the great times spent experimenting together, what has been achieved and what will continue through your stories. Continue to embody the Metro Screen ethos by being part of something larger, and when you make it, remember those who are coming through behind you and give them a hand. We wish you all the very best. Thanks very much.

Read the full Emerging Visions report.

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