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PSYCHIC INCOME – AUSSIE FILMMAKERS’ SECRET RESOURCE

The phrase ‘psychic income’ has all the possibilities that English words can offer – but in this context it refers to millions of dollars that have now been quantified by two specialist researchers into our filmmaking business, Simon Molloy and David Court. This edited extract is from their paper published in the 20th Edition of the classy AFTRS Lumina (June 2012), which is now available [free] at the iTunes store.

In three recent surveys, [film industry] respondents were asked about the things that motivated them to pursue a career in their chosen field. A long list of factors was offered to respondents, for example, ‘satisfying your creative vision’, ‘the creative stimulus of collaboration on set’, ‘winning the respect of your peers’, ‘influencing public opinion’, ‘the pressure and/or excitement’, ‘flexible working arrangements’, and ‘the chance of a big hit’. (The list reflects discussions held with a focus group of producers during the design of the first survey.)

Among producers, ‘satisfying my creative vision’ was by far the strongest motivation, with 71 per cent of producers reporting that this ‘drives me a lot’. ‘Contributing to the art form’ came second, at 43 per cent, and ‘helping others realise their creative vision’ third, at 42 per cent. AFTRS alumni reported an even stronger commitment to these values. Seventy-three per cent said ‘satisfying my creative vision’ was ‘very important’ to them. Next came ‘contributing to the art form’, with 52 per cent of respondents nominating this as very important. Third was ‘the creative stimulus of collaboration on set’, at 48 per cent (equal-placed with earning ‘a steady income stream’). These answers reflect the professional culture of the screen content sector, with its strong emphasis on teamwork and creativity.

But for our purposes in this paper, the most interesting result was the very low ranking given to ‘making a lot of money’. Only 11 per cent of AFTRS alumni said this was very important, while an equal number said it was not at all important. Producers were even less interested: just nine per cent said that making a lot of money drove them a lot. Yet even as they played down the money, many producers (37 per cent) reported that they were very driven by the prospect of having ‘a big hit’. Putting these together, we can see that it is not the money consequences of having a big hit that drives these producers, but the psychic benefits. 

"the opportunity to pursue a creative vision"

In this picture of people working less for money than for the opportunity to pursue a creative vision, collaborate with others, and contribute to the art form, we see psychic income being created and transacted at a very significant level. It is so prominent that it makes sense to consider that this is a sector of economic activity where not one but two currencies are being transacted. Indeed it is difficult to make sense of this sector in terms of money alone. To leave out psychic income is to ignore a key driver of economic activity in the sector.

In short, our estimates yield an aggregate value of almost $295 million dollars for sector-wide psychic income. Note however, that this is an upper bound. To determine a lower bound, we would need to know to what extent workers were foregoing income with the expectation of future compensating earnings. We do not have data to directly answer this question but we do know that producers and AFTRS alumni report a surprisingly low level of interest in money. This would lead us to expect that rather more of their foregone earnings relate to psychic earnings than to possible future money earnings. On this basis, we feel justified in proposing a lower bound of $150 million, or half the upper bound figure.

Clearly, whether the figure is $150 million or $295 million or somewhere in between, we are talking about a significant sum. By way of comparison, Federal funding for Screen Australia was $90 million in 2010-11 and the Producer Offset commanded $128 million from the public purse in the same year. And to put these numbers in perspective: the total value of Australian drama and documentary production in 2010-11 was $628 million, according to Screen Australia estimates.

If our calculations are correct, then in aggregate the sector’s workers are prepared to put in an extra $150 – 295 million worth of effort every year just for the love of what they do. If that passion and commitment did not exist, the government and ultimately taxpayers would have to find another $150 – 295 million a year to elicit the current level of production from the screen sector.

"such a high level of psychic subsidy relative to output"

Put another way, consumers of Australian screen content (and Australian taxpayers) are the beneficiaries of a $150 – 295 million annual subsidy based on the passion and commitment of workers in the sector. Although many sectors attract a level of passion and commitment — the not-for-profit sector comes to mind — there are probably few that could claim such a high level of psychic subsidy relative to output.

Published July 7, 2012

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Simon Molloy is managing director of research and consulting firm Cumulus Insight. David Court is Head of Screen Business at AFTRS. Their paper is based in three different but related survey results over the past three years.







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