Australian documentary makers are struggling to make a living and are losing the grip of their rights to their own intellectual property, Kingston Anderson, GM of the Australian Directors Guild told the Australian International Documentary Conference.
The comments came after Ruth Harley, Screen Australia CEO on Tuesday told the Adelaide conference the value of documentary production was the highest on record and driven by more hours of high production value series.
In her address, Harley said: “It’s been a great year for documentaries with 430 hours of Australian documentary projects made in 2010/11 and a total of $133 million spent on documentary production. This is above the $118 million five-year average for documentary production.”
Anderson’s point was backed by an ADG survey which showed that the income levels of documentary makers have declined further in the last 12 months, from 55.5% of 2011 respondents earning less than $45,000 compared to 58.6% of respondents in 2010 earning less than $60,000 per annum. This is below the average Australian wage for August 2011 of $68,700.
The other point the survey made was directors successful in reserving their Collecting Society Rights decreased from 30.2% to 24.2% while the number of directors receiving residuals was down by 20%.
Anderson said: “It is great to see that the increase in production across the board has seen the highest number of hours (of produced content) for documentary. It is great that the Producer offset is working and that the Enterprise Companies are surviving and growing. The picture presented by Screen Australia is an optimistic one, but it is an optimism not shared by ADG members.”
Anderson said: “It is clear that directors have been unable to secure their position as both owners of their work and beneficiaries of their work.”
The problem was that national broadcasters, Anderson said, without who most documentaries could not be made courtesy of funding, have changed from commissioning a majority of one-off individual documentary maker films and programs to commissioning series that are most often produced by larger production companies rather than individual filmmakers.
Anderson said: “The national broadcasters have the right to produce the content they feel is required if they want to chase audiences and, in the case of SBS, the commercial imperative has become part of it charter. But the losers in this new approach are the one-off individual documentary producers who make programs about ideas and issues that they see affecting this country and Australian audiences now and into the future who will lose the opportunity to watch programs of this kind of depth and relevance.”
Anderson called for legislative change to ensure that Australian directors were given the same authorship recognition their colleagues in most other territories including Europe, Ireland and the UK receive, where directors are given a first economic ownership in the films that they direct.
Anderson said: “We hope to get the industry, especially Screen Australia, to support our campaign to get these rights. It is time for directors to be recognised as the creators of much of the content on our screens and not be treated as ‘guns for hire’.”