By Lachlan French
While the news of a large-budget production being shot in Australia is welcome to film technicians at risk of long-term unemployment, the Disney-produced film, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, is bargaining with union representatives of the MEAA and local film technicians to agree to move crew to US contracts. Such measures would result in cuts to penalties for night shooting and an increase to the daily travel radius, equalling a speculated 15 per cent reduction of daily pay.
“We’d rather 85 per cent of something, than 100 per cent of nothing,” says Sydney key grip Toby Copping. Other technicians currently at risk of ongoing unemployment agree, “The situation is desperate and we have to be prepared to negotiate, in order to secure work,” says assistant director Joshua Watkins.
Given this is not the first case of US productions requesting Australian crews sign US contracts, a recent example being the Steven Spielberg-produced television series, Terra Nova, it does appear to be a trend in a bid for Australia to remain competitive in attracting big-budget films. “Australian agreements that look the same as the US and Canada will allow Australian technicians to remain globally competitive,” says Mal Tulloch, director of the Entertainment and Crew section of the MEAA. Mr Tulloch also suggests that Australian technicians are no worse off under US agreements, “Australian and US conditions equal out to be roughly the same, when you consider all the entitlements.”
The main challenge for Australian film technicians working on international productions is finding the work itself. In 2012, Australia hosted just one large-budget international film, The Wolverine. The current incentive offered by the Australian Government to international productions appears to be the biggest obstacle facing the industry, with calls by the MEAA and technicians to lift the location offset of 16.5 per cent to 30 per cent.
The recent unveiling of Creative Australia, the new national cultural policy from the Australian Government, seeks to address the uncompetitive climate. The Federal Government has offered $20 million in funding to attract international films.
Former Arts minister Simon Crean has said the funding boost would be a precursor to the location offset being permanently increased if the Australian dollar remains high. Mal Tulloch says, “The Government has left the door open to lift the offset and we are hopeful that they will.”