Celebrating 60 Years

In 2016, Screen Producers Australia celebrates 60 years since its inception.

Around The Industry

We reached out to the Australian screen industry; to its many and various representatives and impact-makers, asking them to refelect upon Screen Producers Australia's past and our role currently and into the future.

“Over many years I have been privileged to work with some of Australia’s finest Film Producers and as well as being my best friends they have inspired me and contributed to my commitment to our local Industry.

I have always described the “Producer” as the “parent” of the Film project as their responsibility is to bring all sections of the “Family” together and ensure its happiness and success. What our Industry much continue to support is genuine and productive communication between all sections and Producers as without this it will not prosper and SPAA is a key player in this developing and maintaining this essential activity.”

“On your sixtieth birthday the subscription television industry congratulates Screen Producers Australia on your success in building a vibrant and creative local production sector.

As the peak body representing subscription television, ASTRA is an enthusiastic partner of SPA. Your success      enables our members to invest $800 million every year in local television production, providing our nearly eight million viewers with bold stories told in creative ways.

SPA and ASTRA have a proud history of working together. Each year we jointly advocate for regulatory changes to foster growth and create jobs. We each contribute to programs that develop the skills and experience of our country’s talented producers. And we help one another highlight the sector’s many accomplishments.

At its simplest, our success depends on your success.

On behalf of ASTRA’s thirty member organisations – television platforms, channels large and small, and the organisations that support them – we celebrate your achievements and look forward to your continuing success.”

“I joined the Film Production Association of Australia  (FTPA) in 1976; served on FTAP council from 1979 – 1981 and as President of SPAA from 2008 – 2011. 

41 years and 66 films later I am very proud of my SPA Membership Number: 41

At the time I joined FTPA the new Australian Film Industry was in the very early stages of renaissance and the producer class in the country for feature films was a very small group.

What attracted me then is still as relevant today;

a)    The strength we have as a collective in working to maximize opportunity and protect members both industrially and creatively from the power within the ecosphere of government agencies; unions and the seismic shifts in the funding landscape that can leave many of us vulnerable.

b)    The opportunity to experience the shared passion, friendship, knowledge and commitment of other like-minded individuals

The industry for 40 plus years has battled for its survival in the face of economic change; content distribution change and political ebbs and flows. SPA over that period has advocated, informed and defended its constituents and continues to do so.

Many of the issues that confront us today are not new and have taken a long time to resolve. 

During my presidency my key issues included the push to raise the offset levels, the push to finally resolve the imported performers issue and break the Department link with the MEAA; the need to increase content and spend levels in free and pay TV and of course the push / pull between art and commerce that conflicts us all. These issues remain current concerns. 

We have largely managed as an industry over 40 plus years to avoid political polarisation and my hope is that all key political parties remain committed to and increase their enthusiasm for the film and TV and content industry which is so vital to Australia’s sense of itself at home and out there in the world.

SPA is a broad church and it is a tribute to its executive directors over the years (Geoff Brown during my presidency) and now Matt Deaner that they have been able adroitly to balance the needs of the biggest TV producer with the smallest micro independent.

Long may that continue.

Lets plan our celebrations for SPA 75!”

“It is a great pleasure to be asked to contribute a commentary for SCREEN FOREVER 2016, particularly as we come together to celebrate such a significant milestone. Australian screen professionals inspire,   engage and inform audiences the world over, and for sixty years, Screen Producers Australia and its predecessor organisations have championed the vital role the screen industry plays in Australia’s creative           economy, and have often been among its most            passionate advocates.

A vibrant arts sector is an intrinsically worthwhile thing – one which requires no justification other than the good which it itself brings to a confident, sophisticated and liberal society. Even so, there can be no doubt that Australia’s success on-screen continues to create exciting opportunities for tourism, employment and the broader economy as a whole, and that much of this success is owed to the tireless advocacy that organisations like Screen Producers Australia undertake.

The Turnbull Government is committed to celebrating Australian storytelling, and we will continue to play our part to ensure that Australia remains a global leader in the screen industry, both in front of and behind the camera, in the years and decades ahead.”

“The Australian screen production industry has come of age over the past 60 years, and throughout this period the Screen Producers Association has been a constant presence.

From its beginnings as the Film Production Association of Australia in the late 1950s through to its current incarnation as the S.P.A. it has given a voice to Australian production businesses, negotiating commercial and industrial agreements that set the base for the industry, and providing an important voice to Government.

From the TV Make it Australian campaign, to 10BA, from the formation of the FFC to the creation of Screen Australia, the organisation has made a significant contribution to the continuing development of the industry and been a strong advocate for policy interventions that have underpinned Australia's global growth. 

Over time it has moved from its origins in feature film and television, to include documentary, commercials and increasingly members working in the online digital world. Its membership also includes production facilities working in visual and sound post-production.

The Screen Producers Conference, which kicked off in the mid 1980s, has become the single largest industry forum, bringing together practitioners from around the country and the world to discuss ideas, and concerns and identify new trends and developments. The conference has become the must-attend industry event and regularly sets the temperature for the industry for the next year.

In an industry that is as engaged with Government as ours, it is vital that industry presents a strong, coherent voice to Government and we look forward to working with SPA to continue to do so as we face the challenges and opportunities ahead.”


“Between its formation in 1956 as the Australian Film Producers Association (AFPA) and the first federal government financial support for Australian filmmaking in 1970, the organisation that ultimately became Screen Producers Australia played a pivotal role in lobbying for that support. What helped ensure AFPA’s early durability was public insistence that Australian life should be far more visible on our screens than the first several years of Australian television (introduced 1956) had allowed.

In 1960, as a result of AFPA lobbying, the Postmaster-General ordered that every commercial on television and radio should from now on be of Australian origin. In 1963 AFPA persuaded the federal government to hold its landmark Vincent Inquiry into the television and film industry. When the government did nothing to enact the Vincent Report’s recommendation of financial aid to the industry, AFPA was one of the industry and broader community bodies which increased pressure on politicians to remedy that neglect. In 1968 AFPA joined the politically potent Australian Film Council, and from the early 1970s they were represented on the Television: Make it Australian Committee. By this time AFPA had more than achieved its 1956 aim “to promote, foster and encourage the Australian film industry and to undertake all necessary steps to achieve these objects”.”

“Over its 60 year history SPA has long played an important role in the development of the national screen industry, and been a meaningful advocate for Australian independent filmmakers. The deals struck with MEAA, the ABC and other organisations have been crucial to streamline the business of making film and television in Australia.

SPA has campaigned hard in Canberra in lobbying for the direct and indirect financial support of the industry. 

In addition, practitioners have benefited significantly from the connections forged through networking opportunities facilitated by SPA, including the internationally respected Screen Forever Conference. Many now established producers were given chances when just starting out in their careers through SPA’s initiatives such as the Emerging Producer’s Scheme. The value of this kind of exposure to WA producers especially is not to be overlooked.”

“Congratulations to SPA for sixty years of industrial support and industry advocacy for the Australian film and television industry. The Australian screen industry is largely an outcome of public policy interventions and without strong policy settings and constant advocacy its future is not secure. Across the years SPA has contributed to the formulation and the implementation of       the policy framework that supports and sustains our industry. Direct and indirect funding, content quotas and expenditure measures for broadcasters, funding for our national broadcasters. My engagement with SPA has been around trade agreements that put at risk our local content measures, funding for the ABC and the expansion of independent commissioning, establishing fair and sustainable terms of trade. These and other measures can be the underpinnings for a creatively vibrant, commercially sustainable, productive and culturally impactful screen content industry.  However, the component parts are never certain and in many respects an industry is only as strong as its peak body and its capacity to articulate a vision and advocate on its behalf. Sixty years of advocacy and the road ahead remains as challenging as ever. Congratulations SPA, but double down and keep at it!”

“I had many vigorous encounters with SPAA as it then was, first when I was CEO of the AFC from late 1983 through 1988 and then as the foundation chairman of the Australian Film Finance Corporation through until 1991. Those encounters subsequently continued very colourfully as CEO at FOX Studios Australia from 1995 until 2001 and then again from time to time when I ran FOXTEL from 2001 until 2011. 

I can confidently say that over those two decades and more the relationship always has been distinctively memorable – from wonderful to frankly terrible. I        particularly remember the 1988 conference in Thredbo         when many were incandescent with rage about the new FFC and almost wanted my personal effigy burnt.

Times change, people adjust, vast quantities of production give rise to industrial maturity where passions mellow and memories glow. So much so that my last encounter with SPA with my Hector Crawford Address at the 2013 conference was a really pleasant and wholly constructive experience. One which reminded one of why Australian production matters.

On reflection I would say my diverse encounters with SPA always have had at core a spirit of wanting to make real things happen and last.

May the next 40 years be every bit as spirited and committed. Australia needs you all.”

“Congratulations to Screen Producers Australia as it celebrates sixty years as a major contributor to our cultural landscape and history. 

SPA has overseen the growth of Australia’s production industry from local content shops to a globally competitive creative powerhouse. Its work supporting the local industry has played a key role in establishing and nurturing a rich and vibrant national screen culture. 

SPA has been a key partner to the ABC in continuing to serve its Charter and deliver content that informs, educates and entertains Australian audiences. SPA has been an ally and formidable advocate in Canberra and together we have achieved enormous change like the $70m funding boost for drama and children’s production that has enabled Australia to fully participate in the global boom for scripted content. 

SPA has been a highly effective defender of producer’s rights and while we may not always see eye to eye, it has always put the interests of the industry first and we have achieved great outcomes together.

At the same time SPA has been a coach and mentor to the industry and has helped create career pathways for both ambitious young talent and more seasoned professionals trying to keep up with the pace of change.

In short, SPA has been a great friend to the ABC and all our staff who work directly with the industry.”

“In the late 1970’s, a group of Sydney feature film producers met at the house of Hal and Jim McElroy in Nerida Street Chatswood, and formed IFFPA – the Independent Feature Film Producers’ Association. Everyone contributed $1000. A lot of   money at the time and an indication of the seriousness of the enterprise. 

From virtually no feature film production in the 1960’s, the industry had taken off in the 1970’s. A viable TV commercial production industry was flourishing under legislation introduced by the Menzies government at the start of television in Australia in 1956. 

The big production houses – APA, Artransa, Eric Porter etc – whose viability was enhanced by the enormous budgets of cigarette commercials nobly supported by beer commercials - had their own organization, the Film & Television Production Association of Australia.  It was the registered film industry employers’ body for arbitration purposes, and retained an arbitration officer. The studios and their F&TPAA existed in a parallel universe to the young feature film producers, who all worked as independents.

However, after a few years of very lively feature film production, there were a growing number of issues to deal with. 

The unions were picking producers off one at a time, so a group approach was called for. It was also a more effective way to lobby the government for continued subsidy to the industry and to deal with the film funding agencies with a united voice.

The unions were particularly militant throughout this period. Most producers were single operators without capital, battling to survive and to run businesses on their quite small fees, much of which went back into development for the next film, as the government agencies were notoriously unhelpful about funding producer’s overheads. The technicians’ union – the A.T. & A.E.A. – was aided in its militancy by the fact that the head of the union was a member of the board of the NSW Film Corporation, which would not cashflow its investment in a film unless the crew were 100% members of the union. As many technicians were not union members, this led to ongoing conflict. (The actors’ union at that time was the separate Actors’ Equity, equally difficult to deal with). 

The initial IFFPA group which came together that day at the McElroys included, along with Hal and Jim McElroy - Tony Buckley, David Elfick, Matt Carroll, Patricia Lovell, David Hannay, Michael Thornhill, Margaret Fink, Joan Long, Tom Jeffrey and me. We met and plotted regularly.

Because we had no legal status, we eventually approached F&TPAA for help in our conflicts with the unions. Initially they refused, making it clear they considered us too insignificant to bother with. But once IFFPA’s membership grew and it started to make its presence felt, F&TPAA changed its tune and began putting pressure on us to join F&TPAA.

As you would expect from a bunch of self-driven individuals, the decision about whether to join or not divided the members. Eventually it was agreed to join. In fact, we had little choice, if we were to operate in the arbitration environment. 

A Feature Film Division of F&TPAA was created, absorbing IFFPA, and in time it came to dominate the Association, as the drama production industry grew and the importance of the old studios declined. The banning of cigarette advertising, the growth of independent production companies and the implementation of the free trade agreement with the USA which meant that big budget commercials could be imported rather than shot here, eventually sent the old studios out of business. The F&TPAA Divisions were widened to include Facilities, Television, Documentary and Commercials along with Feature films.   The Council had representatives from each division. 

Later the name of the association was changed, at the suggestion of John Weiley, to the Screen Production Association of Australia – SPAA – and now to SPA.

In one capacity or another, I spent ten years on the council of F&TPAA/SPAA and it was never dull. Monthly meetings of the Feature Film Division were well attended and the membership was volatile, opinionated and outspoken. There were constant staff problems and money was always tight. The unions were better funded and spent much of their time dreaming up ways to outsmart us. Usually, they succeeded. A bunch of volunteers who were frantically busy just staying afloat were no match for dedicated full-time union employees. However, the actors’ Feature Film Award was negotiated along with ATTRA, and lobbying continued with successive governments to maintain and expand the financial structure of the industry. The SPAA Conference began after my time on Council but I attended many of the early conferences.  In those days there were more producers attending than government agency staff and lawyers, and the parties were legendary.  Like everything else the SPAA Conference has evolved and has, I believe, been an important part of the Association’s survival.

I congratulate SPA and its current management for keeping the show on the road, not easy even now I’m sure.”

“As the Chief Executive of a Government owned screen agency, I often spend a lot of time working with other departments or businesses from outside screen who often ask me, “so what does a producer actually do?”

To be fair, it’s probably easier and a lot faster to answer with what they don’t do! Given that Screen Australia data shows that from July 2010 and to June 2014, more than 85% of Australian films had budgets of $10 million or less, it is likely producers do a whole lot more than they ever knew they were going to when they signed up for this path in life.

Our history is screen in Australia is long and passionate and for a small country who compete against much bigger English speaking nations, we have done exceedingly well.

There is no doubt that for our producers, the backbone of support has for 60-years been the Screen Producers Association who have strengthened the industry through collective advocacy, industrial and commercial negotiations and through providing a forum for learning and sharing.

It goes without saying, that our stories are stronger, our industry respected and our voice is louder when we speak together. I congratulate SPA on its 60-year history as it continues its work towards a better future for all in the industry.”

“Channel Seven has a rich and deep commitment to creating, producing and commissioning original Australian programs. We like to say it is woven into the fabric of our brand. We are essentially a story-telling company and we have always taken our commitment to the local production industry extremely seriously.           

That commitment had its beginnings at the writers’ table in the early 60’s with shows like Consider your Verdict and Homicide, and continues today through the current slate of ratings winning and award winning productions. Shows like Home and Away and 800 Words.

From the Chairman’s office down, we have a passion for the creative process that is at the heart of every screen minute.

We still get excited at the prospect of starting a new Australian show. Over the years, they have become the foundation pillars of our network and the industry we have built, together, today.

We are so proud to have been the starting point of many brilliant careers, so many of which have gone on to be played out of the international stage.

Today we employ both directly and indirectly through the independent production sector, thousands of Australians originating and creating television shows. Over the sixty year journey, it has been tens of thousands. We salute and thank each and every one of them.”

On behalf of everyone at the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance - our heartiest congratulations to Screen Producers Australia on your 60th birthday. This is a great achievement and a tribute to the durability and forward-thinking of your organisation.

Our Equity and Entertainment, Crew and Sport (ECS) sections have had long and mostly productive relationships with SPA and its predecessors over those six decades.

Of course, we have not always seen eye to eye and we’ve had some major disputes over the years, but our organisations share a joint commitment to making our nation’s screen industry as good as it can be and showcasing Australian stories and talent to the world.

A good example is the recently completed negotiations between SPA and Equity for the renewed Australian Television Repeats and Residuals Agreement.

There is a long history of dispute over residuals and repeats, going back as far as 1974 when the cast of the top-rating soap, The Box, refused to sign contracts unless repeat runs were limited. In 1980, Equity officials risked jail after advising members to boycott contracts with no-reuse fees. That eventually resulted in the first ATTRA in 1982. Again in 2003, Equity members engaged in a one-day stoppage during negotiations for a renewed ATTRA. 

This time around, despite our different constituencies and this history of disputation, we shared a determination to establish a new agreement that adequately reflected the realities of the contemporary digital environment and changed audience patterns.

It took almost three years of negotiation to reach a position we could each confidently take back to our constituents for endorsement. What we now have is a strong ATRRA agreement that will deliver greater flexibility and revenue to producers while fairly remunerating performers. 

In the same spirit, MEAA’s ECS section is pursuing standard market rates for crew employed on offshore productions. We expect to have some robust arguments about this issue, but at the end of the day there is respect for the positions taken by both sides because we both want what is best for our industry. 

Indeed it is this commitment to the industry which ultimately outweighs our disagreements. Our organisations share the desire to see a vibrant, flourishing industry. For our interwoven histories we have often been on a joint ticket, whether it be pushing for home grown content quotas, fighting for better funding or lobbying for tax incentives to boost production.

Congratulations for the first 60 years – we look forward to working with you well into the future.

Bringing us up to now, our current member showreel: