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Screen Australia now prefers Australian accents in animation

Animated TV shows that don't feature Aussie voices are on notice. But what's an Aussie accent?

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Animated TV shows shooting for an international market will need to feature Australian accents, not North American, if they are hoping for future funding from Screen Australia.

New guidelines for Children’s Animation now stipulate preference will be given to programs with Australian voices, or else consider a separate Australian voice track.

Tim Phillips, Investment Manager with Screen Australia, told TV Tonight many animated TV shows for primary-aged children were being produced with an international audience in mind.

“Animation in particular is inherently suited to co-production. The vast majority of animations occur as a co-production between creative teams in different countries. Quite a common one is Australian / Canadian co-productions,” he said.

“But what often happens is that the voices get done in Canada.

“Distributors like to have Atlantic accents because they can find it easier to sell. But I guess the trick for us is we are, unashamedly, a cultural organisation. Our mandate is all about Australian stories, perspectives and voices on screen.”

Phillips says where two projects are seeking funding and one has North American accents, funding will now favour the project with “an Australian look and feel to it.”

Jenny Buckland, CEO of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, supports Screen Australia’s focus on high quality, distinctive programs, and is pleased to see a $100,000 licence fee has been maintained under new guidelines. But ACTF has other concerns.

“I don’t think the requirement around Australian animations having ‘Australian voices,’ is particularly clear, but think it is an acknowledgement that they don’t want to support programs that don’t look or feel Australian or that the audience wouldn’t recognise as being Australian,” she said.

Sources tell TV Tonight broadcasters are increasingly reluctant to pay a $100,000 licence fee for children’s animation and requiring a second voice-track for the Australian market could mean local actors receive a reduced fee.

The term “Australian voices” may also be ambiguous in a multicultural environment, with a diversity of accents. Tim Phillips maintains that reflecting a modern society should still be achievable.

“We’re not talking about Barry McKenzie-style accents. I don’t see any reason why a diverse, multicultural Australian society can’t be represented in an animated show, and yet still to the viewer be completely understandable as an Australian show,” he explains.

“We would inherently take a very broad view of it.”

Australian voices, even those not ‘ocker’ in style are readily recognisable, even in animation, he says.

“You can pick it. It’s very different to a Nickelodeon style show. They feel very different to a lot of the stuff coming out of Canada.”

The assessment would also apply if the accents were predominantly UK in style, given a lot of pre-school animation emerges from the British market.

“It is worded as a preference and it’s not us saying ‘Don’t come in.’ There might be creative reasons for having ‘neutral voices’ in animation.

“It’s a broad guideline preference that will be applied project by project.”

Voices aside, children’s television still faces other challenges with Live Action Drama rarely commissioned beyond 13 episodes any more. The ACTF is pleased to see Screen Australia extend its support but hopes it won’t prove to be obsolete.

“It is interesting that they will give consideration to funding children’s dramas beyond 26 viewing hours now,” says Jenny Buckland, “but with the commercial broadcasters pulling out of live action drama or only doing it very rarely, and the ABC commissioning 13 half hours at a time at the moment, that issue is a lot less pressing than it was a few years back.”

10 Responses

  1. It’ll be interesting to see how this fits & where this clashes with the TPP & existing FTAs, which have already clashed with local content laws etc.

    But it’s so vaguely worded that it could simply be a pre-emptive “don’t worry, we’ll still be relevant!” statement.

  2. Fair enough (for them to refuse funding) but I’ll tell you what the most cringeworthy cartoon on TV at the moment is Dennis and Gnasher – Ocker accents that are so unrealistic you’d be hard pressed to find a real person who speaks like that!

  3. What is an Australian accent anyway? is it the monotone one? the ocher one? or a bit of both. Not many Australians speek like Paul Hogan or the way they did years ago since the 90s Australia has more of a neutral accent. I would like to see decent animation for australian kids shows. The animations these days is ordinary at best.

    1. The challenge with the wording in my view is the situation of a multicultural classroom. If we have Australians of Asian, African, Middle Eastern heritage, for example, what accent are they supposed to demonstrate? Screen Aus says it can maintain diversity, but the wording is very vague.

      1. Oh c’mon David, let’s not get too pedantic here. An Australian accent is an Australian accent, no matter what the speaker looks like. Someone speaking English with a Vietnamese accent doesn’t sound Australian, or anything other than Vietnamese. Ditto all other ethnicities, although those Oz-born with a Lebanese background have their own peculiar accent which presumably they wear as a badge of honour. There’s a very middle of the road accent, which most people on TV have, without going overboard in either direction. If people are going to get picky in such matters, we may as well forget the whole idea. Although there’s nothing worse than an animated koala with an American/Canadian accent, for the poor dears who can’t understand us. We all have to understand them!

        1. Agreed we know what an Australian accent sounds like. But if animation guidelines prefer these, I still don’t get what animated multicultural characters are supposed to have. Again, the wording is too vague and does not fit with diversity on screen.

      1. So what do we do when there are characters of Aussie-Asians or Aussie-Middle Eastern? What accent then? Also need to be careful guidelines are not targeting North American accent. The intent is fine, not sure yet about the execution.

  4. The local commercial free to air broadcasters have been buying this animation for years paying a lot less than the licence fee Screen Australia insists upon if they want their subsidy. The broadcasters must buy 32 hours per year of first run local children’s drama under the local television licence rules but have no interest in children’s drama at all and if they can get it cheaply they will. So the local producers are just really the minor partners in international co-productions that qualify as Australian drama under the quota. The Canadians are swimming in subsidy and they often are the co-producers. It is all pretty cynical really and has virtually killed live action children’s dramas on commercial channels. The only way to deal with this is to limit the amount of animation can form part of the children’s quota. Otherwise the only time you’ll ever see live action kids drama…

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