by DEREK STRAHAN
A comparison of the totally different funding mechanisms currently in place for the Film and Music Industries in Australia
Approx 4410 words
All Rights Reserved Copyright (C) Derek Strahan 2002
The purpose of this article is to contrast the entirely different mechanisms available to the film and music industries for obtaining a cocktail of government and private funding for development through to production, manufacture, distribution and sale of artistic product. Modern technology, convergence of media would all seem to indicate that there should be a parallel convergence in funding structures and the methods applied to consider funding applications from the respective industries and their practitioners. Instead, separate structures with entirely different philosophies and methodologies persist, and the reason for this is , in essence,quite simple - although to disentangle the webs of self-interest which maintain the separate bureaucratic worlds would be extremely complicated. - which explains why it has not yet been done!
The simple, but true explanation is that once a bureaucracy is created, for any purpose, that bureaucracy becomes co-dependent on itself for its continuing existence. To be less paradoxical, the bureaucracy, being set up for a purpose, becomes dependent upon the continuing promotion of that purpose for its own continued existence. When that purpose is, for example, the funding and promotion of the arts in Australia, the organization fulfilling that purpose must constantly justify its existence by proving its relevance. In the case of the Australia Council, this is done by constantly pre-empting criticism by re-inventing itself to prove that it is equal to the task. Because its funding budget is inadequate to meet the needs of its clients (applicants for funding), the proof of relevance is not primarily found in the efficacy of its funding methods or the results thereof, but through persuasion achieved by a massive output of self-promoting literature and by undertaking hugely expensive research projects the outcome of which always (coincidentally) suggests (strongly) that the Australia Council is still needed to fulfill the objectives which its research reveals as essential, and which will be defined as achievable by the outcome of its own research - research which is funded from its own budget!
I recently attended one of the Australia Council's self-promoting open days, and found it to be even more blatantly self-serving than on previous occasions. They must be getting nervous.
They had hired Saatchi & Saatchi at enormous expense as consultants to come up with what was sold to the audience as an epoch-making investigation into the "state of the arts", and which had come to the amazing and unprecedented conclusion that the general public in Australia was "out of touch" with the arts. And that therefore something had to be done! Also, by an amazing coincidence, it was reported by a parade of bright-eyed council employees (trooping up successively to the podium) that several committees (of salaried Australia Council staff) had (independently of the highly paid Saatchi & Saatchi experts) also been researching exactly the same question! It was then breathlessly revealed, by an even more amazing set of entirely unexpected coincidences, that each of these committees had (independently of each other) come to exactly the same conclusion as Saatchi & Saatchi!!
It was then represented that the result of this research proved beyond all doubt that Australian artists badly needed help in "getting in touch" with the Australian public. And who was going to provide the help? I waited expectantly for some mention that artists would be called upon to be their own advocates. But no! Who was going to be the heroic advocate for "the Australian artist"? Why, the staff of the Australia Council, of course! - as part of their paid duties. They would set up the interface between the public and "the arts". There was vague mention that selected artists might be called upon as "guests" at such events; but it was clear that the essential tasks of communication would be performed by those trained to "communicate" - the salaried staff of the Australia Council. And that this "policy" would be put into effect by (yet more) newly formed committees.
I found it hard to avoid the conclusion that, having spent a vast amount of tax-payers' money determining that there was a need to act (in the cause of Australian art, of course), these well-off functionaries had created job descriptions for themselves and, by extension, had created jobs to fulfill that need. The Australia Council also took care to plant people in the audience who, during question time, hogged most of the time by getting up and making long speeches - mainly about the use of arts in education. When question time seemed in danger of being hijacked by people with raised hands who wanted to ask questions, one of the planted speech makers leapt to his feet again and unprompted, and unselected, gave a second very long speech to use up the rest of question time, thus leaving the Australia Council's new policies safely unquestioned.
You will gather that I maintain a total scepticism about the value of arts conferences, and will continue to hold this view unless and until I am invited to attend a conference which has, as its central theme, "funding for the individual creative artist - how to improve the present methods and how to extend the funding basis to integrate government, private and corporate funding."
The following article was originally published in October 1994 in the Journal of the Fellowship of Australian Composers. Since I launched this website in 1996 I have been thinking about posting it, since the basic thesis is, I think, worth discussing. What held me back was the need to update sections pertaining to Australia Council Assessment Procedures, and a reluctance to give my time freely to a thankless and unrewarding task. Since then I have found the time to post two related articles on this site, to which I can refer you during the course of reading "Creaky Machinery" - should you choose to read it.
These two articles are:
"No Reasons For Saying No"
"Register of Primary Creators"
Open debate is encouraged.
At the time of writing "Creaky Machinery" the Australia Council had a policy of not allowing composers to apply for Composer Commissions. Someone else had to apply on their behalf. (See Postscript - past imperfect for details of this bizarre and long-standing policy quirk). After some agitation (in which I took part) this policy was, reluctantly, changed, and composers were allowed to apply along with other applicants in other newly devised grant categories. It was a Clayton's change, since the new categories include other kinds of art practitioners besides composers, but the amount of grant money available has not changed, thus reducing even more the chances of success of a composer commission!
Please now read on ...
by DEREK STRAHAN
On the one hand we have the Film Industry. On the other hand we have the Music Industry. Both industries are enormously wealthy, internationally pervasive, enjoy ubiquitous planetary patronage, and give employment to vast numbers of people in the production, distribution and sale of art products.
In the twentieth century all art forms are subject to industrialisation: that is, an art work is sold by being replicated in an industrial process, and the resulting artifact, known as a product, is the form in which the artwork reaches most customers. As in the fashion industry, there are exceptions to this form of outreach. The exceptions are in the form of the one-off product. An original fashion garment is a one-off. An original painting is a one off. A live performance of a concert work or music theatre piece is a one off. A one-off is always more expensive than a mass-produced replicant, but the value of the one-off is measured, in terms of its uniqueness, by comparison with the replicant. It is important to bear in mind the nature of the industrial process, and its impact on art, in the analysis which follows.
Let us now analyse and compare the two different sets of support structure which have grown up in Australia to foster, respectively, the Film Industry and the Music Industry.
The Film Industry
1) Development: The development of product involves a writer writing a script. Support for this activity comes federally from the Australian Film Commission (AFC), and from the various state film bodies.
2) Assessment Procedures: The following report appeared in the (1993) December Edition of Viewpoint, the journal of the Australian Writer's Guild:
"The Australian Film Commission (AFC) took a number of decisions about the operation of Film Development at its November 16 meeting, two of which are detailed below. The AFC will no longer provide anonymous assessments to applicants, with the exception of those provided by aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander assessors. This exception will be reviewed from time to time. Assessments will be made available to applicants except in exceptional circumstances."
In the December edition of Viewpoint the following comment was made:
"The standard of script assessments and the anonymity of script assessors have long been leading concerns of Guild members. At its most recent meeting the Guild's Management Committee re-confirmed its commitment to improve the quality of script assessment obtained by State and Federal funding bodies. Guild policy is that applicants to funding bodies have the right to expect automatically to receive a copy of all assessments of their work and that they should be signed by the assessors."
3) Production Funding: The principal burden of production funding is carried by the Film Finance Corporation (FFC), but the AFC and State film bodies also contribute, sometimes independently and sometimes on a collaborative basis. The AFC has a special charter to promote funding for experimental projects and minority groups.
4) Marketing: The AFC has offices in various major international film centres devoted to the marketing of Australian films.
5) Tax incentives: To take advantage of available tax incentives all Australian productions seeking funding from Government sources must hold what is known as a '10BA Tax Certificate'. This entails the production company giving a commitment about 'Australian content', that is, a commitment to employ a significant number of Australians in the process of production. Certification also enables the production company to offer a tax benefit to both private and corporate investors in the film. Investors receive a 100% tax write-off on the value of their investment, and a further tax benefit on the repayment of their investment (that is, no tax is incurred until the repayment moves into' profit). (Parallel arrangements to encourage foreign inventment in Australian films are available under other section of tax legislation. This article is concerned only with arrangements for funding from Australian resources).
It can be noted from the above that funding for the Australian Film industry is organized on a rational basis, taking into account the various steps by which an art product is derived from:
** the initial concept (treatment and script) to;
** the performance of the script (acting, staging, direction) to;
** the recording of the performance to;
** the marketing of the "recording" (which can now be either a traditional film print, or a digitised replicant).
The Australian Music Industry is, in every respect, analogous to the Film Industry. One would therefore reasonably expect to find that the funding structure which has evolved to support the Music Industry is also organized on a rational basis, in which all of the steps are seen as interrelated and are encouraged to progress in a logical sequence.
One finds no such thing.
One finds instead an antiquated, cumbersome and inordinately costly bureaucracy which, at times, has shown itself unwilling to moderate the actions of its committee members to avoid allegations of inappropriate behaviour (see Postscript - past imperfect) and which cannot promptly account for its decision-making processes to its clients ( See Assessment procedures (below) and my article "No Reasons For Saying No")
The following analysis will make clear the validity of the above assertions:
The Music Industry
(as supported by successive Music Committees of the Australia Council)
1) Development: The development of product involves a composer composing music (sometimes in collaboration with a writer writing words.) Support for this activity (for composers) comes from the current Music Committee of the Australia Council, either directly to a composers or through an application made on the composer's behalf by a performer or by a performance organization.
2) Assessment procedures: Whereas Australian writers are fortunate in enjoying the advocacy of a strong industrial body, the Australian Writers' Guild, to battle on their behalf for a fair go, Australian composers have no such body. Perhaps that is why we have been lumbered with the form of peer group assessment that we presently have.
As we have noted (above) it is now accepted in the Film Industry that writers no longer receive anonymous assessments of their work. Previously, for the past two decades, writers always received written assessment of their work, when applying for Script Development funding. Even when these were anonymous, they were always explicit and informative. Composers are entitled to ask why it has never been thought appropriate for them to have written and explicit assessments of their work when applying for Music Development funding. Composers are entitled to expect that they now begin to enjoy the same degree of respect in the Music Industry, that writers have for decades, enjoyed in the Film Industry.
"A Commonwealth statutory body is required to provide reasons for rejections of applications". This applies to the Australia Council. A composer commissioner recently received the following (second) reply to a "request for a Statement of Reasons Pursuant to the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977":-
"I refer to my letter dated 20 April 1994 in which I advised you that the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act requires that the Statement of Reasons be provided 'as soon as practicable, and in any event within 28 days after receiving the request'.
Please note that the Statement of Reasons is currently under preparation. However, as Section 13 of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act requires that the Statement of reasons be provided by 'the person who made the decision', the Statement will have to be endorsed by all members of the Committee. As you are aware, there were eleven Committee (members) which assessed your application for a Composer Commission. These members are located in various states throughout Australia. In addition, the Chairman of the Committee and one of the members are currently overseas.
For these reasons the Statement of Reasons will be delayed. It will, however, be provided to you at the earliest possible time."
Further investigation of the content of this strange Kafkaesque correspondence elucidated the following information which I pass on in good faith assuming it to be valid, indeed strongly suspecting it to be so since exactly the same scenario was replayed several years later, as recounted in my article "No Reasons For Saying No".
The responsibility to provide reasons in accordance with the Act (see above), falls upon the permanent staff of the Australia Council. The data upon which they must draw for provision of reasons is the minutes of the deliberations of the Music Committee. The members of the Music Committee, having deliberated, immediately disperse to their various points of origin, that is, to all points of the compass on the Australian continent (and associated islands) or overseas. It takes a full week to prepare the said minutes for endorsement by the said Committee. By the time the minutes have been prepared for endorsement, the Committee has dispersed. The said minutes therefore, cannot be immediately endorsed. Indeed, it appears that they cannot be endorsed until the said Committee meets again, which may not be for another six months. Thus, although the information needed for the provision of reasons is there, it cannot be used by staff for provision of reasons, because it has not yet been endorsed for use. The information is supposed to be provided on request within 28 days.
The "earliest possible time" proved to be five months later. The reply revealed that the Performing Arts Board (as it then was) had evolved a formula for giving a "statement of reasons". The result was a 10 page document in legalese in which 99% of content was was devoted to a generalised summary of Committee procedure. The 1% which contained reference to the specific application gave percentage marks of blind tape assessment, and stated: "No Committee member spoke out in support of this application. There was consequently no further discussion." Since, according to the statement, there was no discussion, and therefore no minutes to sign off on regarding this application, it hardly seemed an outcome which required a five month delay to reach.
Evaluation of this response: a Clayton's statement, the purpose of which was not to give the client helpful feedback but to defend the bureaucracy: a triumph of Kafkaesque double-think in which a question was answered, finally, by providing a re-statement of the question.
May one conclude that, since its inception, the Australia Council, at least as regards its Music Board, has been operating in such a manner that it has never been capable of acquitting itself of its responsibility as a Statutory body under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act (Section 13)? I offer no answer to this question. I merely ask it. (For a more detail exploration of this topic I refer you to my article "No Reasons For Saying No".)
3) Production Funding: Pursuing our analogy with the Film Industry, and consistent with the trend of the (nearly over) twentieth century, one must define production in respect of music, as being the production of a replicant form of an art work. In respect of film, the replicant form is film or video, lazer disc, CD rom or DVD. Live performance of theatre/music theatre, though highly valued by some sections of the population, falls into the same one-off category as originals in, say, paintings and fashion and carries the equivalent expensive price tag in both production and client cost. In respect of music, the same replicant forms apply, to which one must add, of course, audio recording. (Audio recording in film, is a spin-off marketing form, as in 'movie music sound track', an established album genre).
The funding philosophy of the Australia Council has been updated to acknowledge the existence of the new forms of replication, but there has been no accompanying reform of funding procedures to bring music funding in line with the procedures used to fund film.
A composer should be able to apply for Musical Development (Composing) to be followed by Production (Performance and Recording), just as a writer is able to apply for Script Development (Writing) to be followed by Production (Performance and Recording - still known as Filming! though this term will soon be an anachronism). To a limited extent it is now possible to achieve this process in a cumbersome fashion through a combination of some Australia Council funding categories, but there is no allowance for interface with direct complementary funding of projects through corporate and private investment as there is in film - and the Australia Council is certainly not empowered to provide tax incentives for "investment partners".
It is particularly important for composers of 'difficult' contemporary music to have access to modern forms of replication of music for marketing, as this mode of presentation renders such music very much more accessible without any need to compromise content. We also have the prospect, through CD rom and DVD, of synthesis between music and image. No serious composer wishes to write music which is image-dependant; however, it would be foolish not to acknowledge that image is a useful adjunct to marketing, just as it would be foolish to deny that, in a live performance, the spectacle of an ensemble forms a subliminal element in the experience of the music.
4) Marketing: The Australian Music Centre (AMC) offers composers a much valued retail outlet for scores and recordings, personal representation in Australia and overseas, and a link to similar bodies internationally. The AMC does receive ongoing funding from the Australia Council which is subject to periodic review. But the function of the AMC only applies to retailing music product after it is created. It has no capacity to provide funding to enable composers to compose, nor is it empowered either to act as a conduit for such funding or to provide a tax incentive to donors or investors wishing to provide direct support to composers. A better funded marketing outlet for art music would be able to encompass video presentation and full advocacy in all media (including especially Television) thus complementing what is currently achieved by the AMC, and providing the same kind of client reach already in place for popular music. This kind of client reach is appropriate for art music which has the very important long-term commercial advantage that it does not date, an advantage not enjoyed by pop music. For a more detailed look at problems associated with tax deductible funding for primary creators, see "Register of Primary Creators".
5) Tax incentives: There is a startling contrast between the kind of tax incentive available to the Film Industry, and that available to the Music Industry.
As we have seen, the Film Industry is entirely investment-driven, with the 10BA tax incentive still in place. (It may be necessary soon to update this paragraph since there is constant debate about the efficacy of 10BA funding for film. We don't know how long it last!) 10BA funding provides a 100% write-off for Investors on the value off their investment. This inducement does not offer the same magnetic draw as in the early days (when the write-off was 150%), however, the incentive is still substantial.
In contrast, the Music Industry is almost entirely donation-driven, with 100% write-off offered for donations made to a registered art organization. It should be noted that a condition of receiving a tax benefit for a donation is that it should be 'unconditional'. Certainly, unlike in the Film Industry, individual donors retain no benefit as investors.
It has been put to me that this is appropriate since no one expects 'the arts' to be profitable, unlike the film industry. At the risk of sounding cynical, I point out that most film investors know the risks involved in film, are well acquainted with the conventional wisdom that only 10% of films return a profit, and that, of films which do, only one dollar in seven of profit is returned to the investors (creative accounting permitting). The Australian Film Industry is, in effect, subsidised as a cultural flag-waver, and there seems no reason why the 'art-music' segment of the Music Industry should not be regarded in the same light, and enjoy a similar regime of support, with similar incentives for a partnership between government, corporate, and private money. It is to this end and espousing this kind of practical overview that the Australia Council should apply its bureaucratic brains, and not to the defense of its present outmoded and spectacularly creaky machinery.
Conclusion: Perhaps it is a waste of effort to try and activate, energise and reform the Australia Council. Perhaps what is needed to steer the Australian Music Industry towards the twenty-first century is, at the very least, a structure similar to that which now supports the Australian Film Industry.
This would entail creating:
1) An Australian Music Commission, responsible for assisting Music Development from Conception (Composing/Libretto-Writing) to Production (Studio/Stage Performance and Recording/Filming) to Marketing.
2) An Australian Music Finance Corporation responsible for financing music art products in all genres ranging from audio recordings to film/video/DVD versions of Australian Concert/Music Theatre compositions. This body, like its prototype, the Australian Film Finance Corporation, would be empowered to promote partnerships between Government, private, and corporate funding sources. To facilitate such partnerships...
3) ...tax incentives for Music Development and Production similar to those currently available to the Film Industry, would need to be in place. These arrangements would put funding for the Australian Music Industry firmly and appropriately on an investment basis.
It remains to consider what kind of support structure to have in place for live performances of music. In enabling such events to take place a body such as the Australia Council might have a role in conjunction with activity already undertaken by the registered art organisations which currently promote, manage and stage such activities funded by a combination of Government and donation-driven private and corporate support. On the other hand, the Australia Council has enjoyed a virtual monopoly in arts funding for so long that its is unlikely that it would agree to having its role diminshed - as this would lead to loss of jobs.
In this context it is perhaps relevant to note that the major flagship performance organisations are now funded directly by Government.
POSTSCRIPT - past imperfect
For many years, composers applying to the Australia Council for Composer Commissions were not allowed to apply for funding on their own behalf. The application had to come from a third party. The Council was obdurate in its refusal to change this condition. Having once changed it, it then reverted to the old practice before being, finally, obliged to "reform" as a result of a press campaign.
The press campaign arose because the guidelines of the (then) Performing Arts Board (PAB) permitted a standing Committee member to benefit from an application lodged on his/her behalf by a third party. But since all composers had to apply in this way, these guidelines were tantamount to allowing standing Committee members to apply (through a third party) for funding from the Committee on which they sat. For years Committee members showed no unwillingness to qualify for what was described as 'indirect benefit'; with results, during 1994, so extraordinary as to elicit widespread comment from press, radio and TV throughout Australia, culminating in the then director of the Australia Council receiving a "Please Explain" note from the Minister.
At the time, as reported in the June 1994 Sounds Australian Update (of the Australian Music Centre), we were assured that, "the PAB supports the creation, presentation, distribution and promotion of the best of Australia's dance, drama, music and the hybrid arts". Many Australian composers, at that time, found it hard to reconcile these noble aims with the reality that in the recent funding round a large percentage of available funding for composer commissioning went to members of the Music Committee. It seemed a strange coincidence that the best of Australia's composers were found where they were found.
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