Briege Whitehead, founder of Australian producer White Spark Pictures, tells TBI how the past year has transformed the TV business – and why her home state of Western Australia is benefitting.
2020 has been a historic period for the television industry, seeing more change in the past six months than in the past six years.
But much of it has been positive: producers have demonstrated great ingenuity to deliver shows within new health and safety protocols forced by Covid-19; brilliant ideas have been developed during lockdown downtime; and different conversations are now being had about where and how to produce, opening up new opportunities outside the traditional hubs.
Many Australian producers, myself included, are open to fostering partnerships with international producers who need our versatile backdrops, wildlife or talent to produce or complete shows. And the same is certainly true in reverse.
Opening up to collaboration, researching available rebates and thinking laterally about productions should keep us creating content through this pandemic
White Spark Pictures is based in Perth, Western Australia (WA). While the state may have flown under the radar compared to those on the other side of the continent, WA has a growing, world-class creative community that has supported numerous documentaries, plus critically-acclaimed movies such as Breath and Rabbit Proof Fence and internationally broadcast series including Itch and Mystery Road.
Baz Luhrmann and Ben Elton have directed here, and we’ve welcomed international talent from Ewan McGregor and Simon Pegg to Kate Walsh.
Significantly, what Western Australia also has is a state government truly invested in helping both the domestic and international production sectors and this has become particularly evident during Covid.
Plans are now taking shape for a huge, state-of-the-art studio complex to complement our production boom and, with two new incentives launched in August, there’s never been a better time to produce here.
The new WA Screen Fund (WASF), administered by Screenwest, can support productions with up to A$2m (US$1.4m) in funding and even provides additional contributions for location scouting. Screenwest also announced a WA Post-production, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) rebate of up to 20% for the first A$500k of expenditure, plus a further 10% for qualifying tasks on all expenditure over A$500k. If you add that 20% figure to the federal government’s existing 30% PDV offset, administered through Screen Australia, producers could receive up to 50% of their qualifying post-production budgets.
At a time when broadcaster budgets are suppressed, meaning production budgets are tighter than ever, this is a significant benefit. Local productions seeking investment will be more attractive with up to half their post budget locked-in, while out-of-state and overseas producers can save the same sums by bringing their post work here.
During the pandemic, producers everywhere realised that post-production work can be done remotely, provided you have skilled operatives. So even if they can’t travel, the second incentive should be appealing, especially given WA is in a different time zone to the east of Australia, allowing greater overlap with working days in much of the rest of the world. Production may soon be easier too as WA has had zero community transmission of Covid-19 for more than 100 days.
All of this means Western Australia is one of the world’s most competitive places for production and will make the region an even more attractive proposition for both international and domestic producers looking to make the most of their budgets. We all need to be open to different ways of doing things at the moment – and if new opportunities come with a highly-skilled workforce and a huge incentive attached, it should be a no-brainer.
The rapid spread of Covid-19 has reinforced just how small the world is and how inter-connected we are. It doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon, so opening up to more international collaboration, researching available rebates and tax breaks, and thinking laterally about undertaking different aspects of productions where there are obvious advantages should keep us creating content through this pandemic – and ensure we emerge more robust and resilient on the other side
Briege Whitehead is founder of Australian producer White Spark Pictures, which yesterday won the Extended Reality Award at TBI’s Content Innovation Awards. Watch the full ceremony here.