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Screen Australia now prefers Australian accents in animation

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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.”

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