Screen Australia to support “high end television”

Why don't we make shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Top of the Lake in Australia? And is it about to change?

2013-01-12_2053It’s always been an on-going question: why don’t we make shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Top of the Lake in Australia?

While the answer has almost always been tied back to budgets, population and risk, it could be about to change.

Screen Australia has announced today that it will launch a “landmark” program to support the development of “internationally driven high-end television drama” aimed at international audiences. Projects will tell “specific but universal stories, with a creatively ambitious vision and a cinematic sensibility to encourage the cross-fertilisation of the best Australian cinema and TV creative talent.”

The High-end Television Development Program has been set up in response to “the unprecedented audience and market growth for high-end television, and the ambitious, authorial and emotionally engaging storytelling that has connected with high-end global audiences, who flocked to shows such as Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Top of the Lake, House of Cards and The Bridge.”

It will fund up to five projects each year in two rounds, with up to $40,000 available for each successful project to develop inventive, high-end ideas from concept to series bible and first draft pilot script.

Screen Australia Head of Development Martha Coleman said, “High-end television is responsible for water cooler conversations all over the world, winning its audience with complex, nuanced stories and creative brilliance. We know that Australia has the ideas and the talent to make a global impact through its storytelling, and this fund will assist our producers and writers to rise to the challenge and engage in this space.”

18 Responses

  1. We are all aware of being in a golden period of television drama – we all enjoying watching it and this in turn raises our expectations. However it’s also pretty clear our collective broadcasters are not even trying to reach for this level of excellence. They just do not have the right commissioners and I am particularly disappointed with the ABC. With a significant injection of drama funds they were encouraged to commission a diverse rage of work, but they continue to totally ignore the 25-55 year old demographic who get their quality drama fix elsewhere – particularly the BBC. Now the ABC has lost theor output deal for quality British drama there is a real opportunity for our producers to step into this space. I congratulate Screen Australia for identifying the problem and offering a small incentive to kick-start an Australian project that is aiming to push the boundaries in…

  2. Thanks David for posting this story. Whilst watching Masters of Sex and other high end quality shows and obviously here on this site about a number of others which mainly screen on FOXtel, i have been waiting for a story like this one. The problem is unfortunetly complex. The first issue is Austraila’s small population. Witha small population we only have a certain amount of producers, screen writers and script and dialogue writers. Also there is the Ideas does australia have the right high concept ideas i dont think we do. Gone are the days off Number 96 and other shows which caused the nation to talk about things that were taboo. another problem is the audience i dont think australia has enough people who would watch High concept tv, i am sure people like myself who comment on this site aswell as peole watching high concept shows are few and far between. Anyway even if more high…

  3. Australia need to develop its writing/producing talent. But handing out $40k to mates of Screen Australia to right a pilot is unlikely to produce anything worthwhile or successful. Note how well making high concept unwatched films has worked for them.

    Somebody actually has to run the TV show, make it get a suitable return on it.

    Australian networks have a pretty poor record. International co-productions like Rome, Serangoon Road and Top Of The Lake have all been terrible and lost buckets of money.

    The Bridge comes from Scandinavia where there are still virtual public monopolies funded by large compulsory licence fees. That’s the Danish/Swedish version, the US version is a knock off.

    The BBC is struggling to make high stuff since it has been forced to decentralise and make populist regionalist stuff. Their high-end stuff is buried on BBC2 and it has been pretty awful e…

  4. Quote from the Screen Australia site.

    ‘Projects will be selected following a creative assessment but must be supported by a formal letter of interest from a major international broadcaster or major internet streaming company’

    So in other words after you and your team have done all the hard work to get a letter of interest from an iternational network Screen Australia wants to come along late for the ride and you still have to deal with their process to get 40k???? I can’t believe how lame this industry is here seriously that’s a bloody joke!!!

    You’re better off working a normal job and saving up that 40k.

  5. David, is $40K a reasonable amount to develop a script? It seems awfully low to me but I am not in the ‘biz’. And then there is the question of who is going to actually produce the series, surely we’d be wanting to keep 7, 9 and 10 out of it, I can’t see them producing anything of international interest. As much as I love Offspring, and it is brilliant, it is such a quintessential Aussie show. I hate being pessimistic but I just think our lovely country is too small to compete with the populations of the UK and the US.

  6. Well it seems all the comments above identify the problem which is that commissioning is done by the broadcasters, not Screen Australia. And most of the niche commissioning has been terrible. It ranges from the excruciatingly dull and languid Cloudstreet to the terrible Crownies or the latest ABC show Serangoon Road. Foxtel and the ABC are best placed to make this “quality” drama but if the commissioners have no idea how to recognise and develop high concept ideas with independent producers, and they’ve clearly failed so far, then what is the point of the wishful thinking of Screen Australia which is neither producer nor broadcaster. There are some much bigger questions that should be asked here.

  7. @jesicka309 – I’m not sure where that article is but $25 mil per episode is unrealistic. A typical network drama costs $1-3 million per episode, game of thrones at $10 mil could be about right but it’s one of the top tier dramas on the air.

  8. @jesicka309

    Those figures are fairy dust.

    Breaking bad does not cost $25m per episode! More like $2.5m.

    Game of Thrones costs about $6-7m per episode. The most expensive tv series was Friends and that cost about $10m per episode in 1990s money.

  9. David, this is great news and well overdue, but will depend on the decision makers being able to spot a world class idea. Maybe as a bit of homework they need to watch Todd Sampson tonight on brain elastiicity!

  10. 40 k per project isn’t nearly enough money to make high end television. Game of Thrones easily costs 10 million+ per episode. I read on mumbrella that Breaking Bad episodes can cost up to 25 million each.

    Screen Australia are dreaming.

  11. I believe that the ABC was to co-produce Top of the Lake but backed when Elizabeth Moss was cast as the ABC wanted a local actor to play that part so BBC stepped in. It would be good to produce some quality Australian programming once again.

  12. Should every producer be trying to make the best TV they can? You can’t just call something high end TV & voila every one will be talking about it (Ten are you listening?)

  13. Sounds great.

    Just really the question of how much money they will give out and if it really will be enough. Also with so few projects who is going to get the money?

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