Screen Australia’s annual Drama Report for 2018/19 shows expenditure on drama production in Australia has exceeded $1.17 billion, made up of a record $768 million spend on Australian stories including official co-productions, and increased foreign production spend of $410 million.
The expenditure on Australian titles was the highest in the report’s 29-year history, driven by an all- time record spend on Australian television and a five-year high spend on Australian features.
The Drama Report measures the health of the Australian screen industry by detailing the production of local and foreign feature films, television, and online programs plus PDV (post, digital and visual effects) activity.
“Drama” refers to scripted narratives of any genre and the report tracks productions from the commencement of principal photography, with some titles yet to be released. PDV is reported using two different methods.
The 2018/19 record expenditure on Australian titles included 37 TV dramas such as The Hunting, Five Bedrooms and Total Control and their combined spend was $334 million, up 13% on last year and above the five-year average. Spend on Australian feature films was up 15% on last year to $299 million.
Thirty-three Australian feature films were made including True History of the Kelly Gang and I Am Woman which recently had their world premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Fifteen Australian children’s television programs went into production with $95 million spent on the likes of Bluey series 2, Alice Miranda Friends Forever and The Unlisted. This is the highest spend on children’s drama since 2008/09, and a 95% increase on last year.
Twenty-eight Australian online drama titles with durations of half an hour or more went into production (up from 21 in 2017/18), collectively spending $40 million.
New South Wales accounted for the largest share of total expenditure in Australia (31%), closely followed by Victoria (30%), and then Queensland (24%). South Australia and Victoria set new records for expenditure in their states.
Of the titles featured in this year’s report that have already released, there have been a string of hits including The Hunting which became SBS’s most successful commissioned drama of all time, Disney’s acquisition of Bluey series one and two for international release and Seven’s Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries which has sold into 26 international territories.
Michael Brealey, chief operating officer of Screen Australia said, “To have 65% of total expenditure driven by our home grown stories is remarkable and illustrates the immense demand for Australian content.
“It’s fantastic to see titles showcasing the diversity of landscapes and depth of talent from around the country. In the past 12 months H is for Happiness filmed in Western Australia’s Great Southern region, The Gloaming in Tasmania, Robbie Hood in Alice Springs, The Dry in regional Victoria, Stateless in Adelaide, Total Control in Canberra and Winton in Queensland, not to mention a second series of fan favourite Bluey being created in Brisbane.”
Australian TV drama production had a record high $334 million spend, with 37 titles generating 441 hours of content produced. Hours were up on last year due to the production of longer-running mini-series such as My Life is Murder (10 episodes) and Les Norton (10 episodes). Across the total TV drama slate the hours, budgets, spend and average cost per hour for all titles increased year-on-year.
New titles in production included the forthcoming Upright for Foxtel, Stateless for ABC and The Secrets She Keeps for Network 10.
Fifteen children’s TV dramas entered production in 2018/19, including two official co-productions. Of the 15, seven were for the ABC, one for NITV, six for the commercial broadcasters and one for Foxtel. The 15 titles generated a five-year high of 132 hours of content at a total cost of $105 million. The number of titles, hours, budgets and spend for the total slate were all above the five-year averages, and live action production significantly increased to 61 hours, the highest level since 2012/13.
Thirty-three Australian features went into production including three official co-productions, with a spend of $299 million being driven by the production of titles including Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, The Dry and Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears. Three official co-productions started production in 2018/19 including Dirt Music (UK), Escape from Pretoria (UK) and Buckley’s Chance (Canada).
The 33 features that started production in 2018/19 had total budgets of $316 million, with the largest proportion (79%) being made for under $10 million. The 2018/19 feature slate saw fewer titles in both the upper and lower budget ranges with 6% of films made for under $1 million (20% in 2017/18) and 21% for over $10 million (25% in 2017/18).
The Drama Report measures online dramas that were a single episode or series with total durations of 30 minutes or more that have premiered in Australia online. Online titles can premiere on social platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, subscription services such as Stan and Netflix, and broadcaster platforms such as ABC iview.
In 2018/19, 28 Australian titles were made for first release online including two single-episode and 26 series titles, an increase on last year’s 21 titles. Overall budgets remained steady at $53 million, however Australian spend of $40 million was down 25% on last year due to some titles spending a significant amount overseas.
Titles in production included ABC iview’s Content and Sarah’s Channel, Robbie Hood for SBS On Demand, Stan’s Bloom and The Other Guy series 2, and Australia/New Zealand Netflix Official Co-production – The New Legends of Monkey series 2. Titles made for release on YouTube included Aunty Donna’s Glennridge Secondary College and Canneseries Best Short Form Series winner, Over and Out.
Total spend on foreign shoot and PDV-only titles totalled $410 million in 2018/19, more than three times higher than 2017/18 ($111 million), and well above the five-year average ($378 million). Causing this spike was expenditure of $297 million on 11 foreign titles shot in Australia including Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Monster Problems and Godzilla vs Kong. $113 million was also spent on 26 PDV-only titles, up 16% on 2017/18.
Foreign feature expenditure totalled $296 million in 2018/19, almost three times higher than last year. Contributing to the result were seven foreign features shot in Australia as well as 21 PDV-only features that included Men in Black: International, It: Chapter Two and Jumanji: The Next Level.
Total foreign TV drama activity accounted for $115 million in Australian expenditure in 2018/19, up significantly on 2017/18 ($4 million) and the strongest result in more than a decade. Nine titles contributed to the result, including five PDV-only titles, however the increase was driven by the second-highest spend on record for the four foreign TV series shot in Australia – Reef Break, Preacher series 4 (US), If Time Flows Back (China) and Nirasha (Sri Lanka).
Several factors contributed to the growth in foreign production such as the fall in the Australian dollar, the Federal Government’s $140 million Location Incentive announced in May 2018, and the introduction of 10% PDV rebates by the NSW and Queensland state governments, to match those already offered by Victoria and South Australia, and which complement the 30% Federal PDV Offset. Additionally, the Australian Government announced in April 2019 that television series and mini-series for online streaming platforms are eligible for the Location and PDV Offsets.
The Location Incentive has already had an impact on future production with six titles announced as shooting in Australia – Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Thor: Love and Thunder are headed for NSW, while TV series Shantaram and Clickbait will shoot in Victoria. The Federal Government has also announced it will be providing $30 million to Dick Cook Studios to shoot two new adventure/fantasy films, Ranger’s Apprentice and The Alchemyst in Victoria and other locations in Australia.
Screen Australia’s Annual Report was tabled in Parliament on 22 October 2019, and revealed that the agency provided nearly $48 million in production funding for drama titles. That included $19.57 million for television drama, $13.98 million for features, $6.86 million for children’s television, $4.33 million for online productions and $3.23 million for Indigenous productions.
Of the Australian productions tracked by the 2018/19 Drama Report, 61% of feature films, 54% of television shows, 60% of children’s television and 86% of online projects received production funding from Screen Australia.