Save Our Stories: Union Calls For Film Industry Support
Imagine Wolverine without Hugh Jackman, Moulin Rouge without Nicole Kidman, Little Fish without Cate Blanchett, or The Matrix without Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance says these kinds of opportunities could be lost for many others under a Federal government visa review currently underway.
The review suggests Australia get rid of visa rules that regulate how many foreign performers and crew can work temporarily in Australia, with the government saying it would simply be “removing red tape”. But the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) says changes to these visas would “undermine decades of work building a viable local entertainment industry” by threatening the job opportunities for Australian actors and crew.
“The principle guiding current arrangement is simple,” MEAA says in an information sheet about the proposed changes.
“Productions funded by Australian taxpayers should create opportunities for Australian actors and crew to work, gain experience and get the breaks they need to succeed here and on the world stage.”
The current visa requirements have been in place since the 1980s, and MEAA says they have helped launch the careers of many Australian actors that are now household names, such as Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Rose Byrne and Jacki Weaver. They have also made it easier for Australian production crew to gain experience here before moving on to work on major international films.
“Government support through funding and local job requirements has been driven by the knowledge that our vibrant but fragile home-grown entertainment industry could easily be swamped by foreign productions, stories and actors,” MEAA says.
“This [proposed change] would rob us of important Australian stories brought to life by Australian actors and in time, the next generation of Australian acting stars.”
The union has launched a campaign to create awareness of the review and gain support for Australian actors and crew, taking to social media with the hashtag #saveourstories.
— Australian Equity (@ausactorsequity) May 1, 2015
Some of Australia’s most established talent have actively been involved in the campaign, including actors John Howard, Susie Porter, Geoff Morrell and Michael Caton, with The Dish actor telling media that the current system allowed for balance between bringing in big Hollywood names and shining a light on local talent.
“It has been working really well for about 20 years, so why fiddle with it?” he says in an interview with The Age.
“It’s a fairly precarious industry as it is, all this will do is make it harder to get work for everybody, crews, actors, whatever. It will hurt our work prospects.”
But not everyone in the industry is behind the campaign. As industry website IF.com.au reported in May 2015, actor Roy Billing was actually a key person to call for reforms of the visa process. He says the MEAA campaign is “misinformation and deception”. IF contributor Don Groves explains:
“In an email to friends and colleagues Billing says, “It is not the Abbott government driving this, it is the wider screen industry. No producer is going to fill all lead and major support roles with offshore actors. Why would they want to and where would the money come from? And what Australian producer in their right minds would want to import an entire production crew?”
Billing also notes that while MEAA represents most Australian actors through its Actors Equity arm, it represents “only a fraction of crew”.
“This latest step in the campaign seems designed to garner public support and to also further influence Senators,” he says.
“It is very serious stuff and unless our industry galvanises together and runs a similar campaign there will never be any changes and the Oz screen industry will not be able to grow and develop, and private finance for government- subsidised films will dry up.”
MEAA has more information about the Save Our Stories campaign on its dedicated website, while the Screen Producers Australia website provides information on the “sensible reforms” it would like to see take place. Details about the visa review are also available on the Ministry for the Arts website.