Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Maybe I am having a bad run, but lately I end up in less and less conversations where people want to really converse. Not in the biblical sense, but the old-fashioned sharing of ideas, arguing perspectives and eventually agreeing to disagree (but that we are both better off having had the discussion).

What people most want to themselves.

Self promotion is a genetic trait. Developed in the womb and deployed when the user is fully formed. You can spot these people by the unnecessary self-adulating detail they add to a simple story.

For example, as well as making films, I am also the chairman of the Alumni Board at the Sydney Film School (SFS). Emile Sherman, the Oscar-Winning producer of the King's Speech is on the Governance Board of SFS, by the way. So, in my role as chairman, I organised a free panel discussion on film distribution basics, including distribution experts from Flickerfest, Hopscotch, AFTRS and SFS. The event was really well attended and a big success and I met the Chairman of SBS, by the way. In the midst of really productive and informative discussion, one particular person on the panel repeatedly talked about all of their wonderful achievements and how it meant they were on their way to stardom. It was the closest thing I have ever seen to showbusiness induced asbergers syndrome. Despite that, the event was a big success and I made loads of great contacts and received lots of praise from important people, demonstrating how great I am and what a big success I am going to be, by the way.

Insufferable, isn't it?

The worst part is that the above kind of interaction with people normally leaves you feeling kind of.....used. A good shower and a stiff drink are usually needed afterwards, meaning they have probably caused more damage than good with their foray into self-promotion.

Everyone else strategises to make self-promotion work.

With the advent of technology, Facebook, Twitter and the rest, self promotion is easier to distribute than ever. In fact, there is so much self-promotion now, that the only way to be visible in a crowded marketplace is....more self-promotion. That's what the experts say, anyway.

I'm not convinced.

I think you do need to have a way for people to find you, if they're looking. A conduit to communicate with you.

If all I will find when I discover this conduit, however, is a person who seems to be trying VERY hard to convince me how great your achievements are and how much better you are than most people.....I'm not interested.

It's the difference between "self-promotion" and "self-adulation".

In this day and age, what people, from you is that you must have something to say. If you jump into the bullpen with all the other filmmakers and artists vying for attention, then you had better be organic, you had better be unique and, most importantly, you had better be writing the updates yourself. 50 Cent and Britney Spears found that out years ago.

If you approach self-promotion as a way to "sell" people on the image of yourself that you have crafted, it can go very badly.......

Jeff Skilling was an intelligent, but reportedly arrogant, young man from Pennsylvania, U.S.A. When applying for Harvard Business School, he was asked the question "Are you smart?" by the admissions board.

He replied: "I'm fucking smart".

When Enron collapsed in 2001, Jeff Skilling became the face of the biggest corporate fraud in history. When interviewed in prison in 2010, serving his 24 year prison sentence, Skilling suggested one of his main failings was not "going on the PR (Public Relations) offensive" when all the trouble started.

I will leave it to you to read, but there are six pages of angry comments that suggest all the PR in the world wouldn't help.

On the other hand, when Amy Winehouse died, the overwhelming response was that we had tragically lost an artist who had a unique talent and a unique voice that made her visible in the crowd of wannabees. Amy had something to say. She let her work do the promotion. She connected with the humanity in her audience.

Then she was gone.

We live in a golden age if you actually want to connect with people; with your audience. The catch, and there always is one, is that you have to be in it for the long haul. You have to be committed to a lifestyle of connecting with people whatever way you can, not just to promote your latest film, perfume, song, sex toy (google "Kevin Smith Fleshlight"), etc etc etc

"The reason that self-promotion works and self-adulation doesn't is because self-promotion is the art of spreading ideas, concepts and a greater vision. Self-adulation is just the promotion of accomplishments, deeds that have already been done."
- Nathan Hangen (

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I finally bowed to public opinion.

Overwhelmingly I was told I needed to get healthy. To exercise. To lose some weight.

So I joined a basketball team.

Two months later and I felt a slight difference, even though my pants told me that very little had changed. It turns out, you need to eat better too.

And then, last Sunday, I sprained my ankle during a game. Badly.

Now, I can't even take the stairs.

The worst part is that the injury happened against the worst team in the competition, who acted at times like they believed they were the best team in the competition. These days, anyone with a basketball and enough spare time can convince themselves they are good at the sport.

It is the benefit and curse of the post-modern age: the 'democratisation' of dreams.

It started many many years ago with sports, the most democratic of all. All you needed was a ball and the right playing area and you could dream that you were on the way to being Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, etc etc etc......

Now, with the pace of technology, even the 'unreachable' dreams have become democratic: film and music.

There is an abundance of cheap cameras that shoot cinema quality films (google "Tiny Furniture", shot on DSLRs), cheap editing set-ups and software (thanks to Apple), crew and actors willing to work for free to get a break, and even direct to consumer video-on-demand services popping up (making it ever easier to reach an audience directly).

The result?

A sea of content. A media tidal wave that leaves the modern time-poor consumers bamboozled by options. Some of this wave of films is very good. Others very very.......very.......bad. Anyone for a screening of 'The Human Centipede'?

But that's the point. There are no gatekeepers anymore. The new wave couldn't find a way in, so they forced their way past the gates instead.

Is this necessarily a bad thing?

A friend and I chatted about what this glut of films means for our future as filmmakers. The answer, for me, is a simple one. I wish I had come up with it myself, but the credit very deservedly belongs to actor/comedian Steve Martin:

"Be so good they can't ignore you."

(He says it, 52:10 into this interview

So many people worry about what it means to have the tools of filmmaking democratised and their number of competitors dramatically increased. I keep reading this theme in blog posts and comments on indie film news articles. The truth is, though, that for years anyone could pick up a basketball and start playing. Despite this, there is still a world famous professional league and only a handful of players who have become household names, in spite of the millions who try.

Anyone can buy a camera and call themselves the second coming of Kubrick. Then there are the ones who work harder, sweat the little details and make tougher sacrifices to be considered the best at what they do. They race to the top instead of diving for the bottom.

Those are the kind of filmmakers that get noticed, that build an audience. Those are the kind of filmmakers we gravitate towards.

Except me. I'm at home. Icing my ankle.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011


You may have noticed a delay in sending out this latest newsletter, but in my defence, it took a little extra time to research. Research, you say? That's right, I am not just another whiny guy with a keyboard. I am a whiny guy with a keyboard who reads.

And so, my friends, we come to that ever divisive topic of piracy.

The arguments for and against, practical and emotional, optimistic and defeatist, are widespread.

Starting with my own bias, I must admit I am against piracy. While I understand the emotions that drive it, stealing is stealing. Perhaps it is my Irish Catholic upbringing, or perhaps I have something against Icelandic computer experts. We'll never really know.

Interestingly enough, the arguments against doing anything about piracy seem to be spurred by resignation, while the arguments for piracy seem to be based on a pseudo-punk-rock idealism: "screw the world; they earn millions; nobody says anything nice about Iceland, so we'll show them.....", etc etc etc.

The pirates come at you from all sides: emotional, economic and Somalia.

In a single, albeit long sentence, they will say something to the effect of: "If the movie industry would make it easier and quicker to get the movies I would pay (EMOTIONAL), but they don't because they are all millionaires and why do they even deserve to get paid so much for what they do when teachers get paid so little (ETHICAL), and I shouldn't have to pay $22 to see a crap movie (ECONOMIC), and if I wasn't doing it someone else would so what I do doesn't have an impact anyway (ECONOMIC)."


It is very easy to respond to all of these arguments in one go: "If you don't like film professionals being paid for what they do, vote with your feet, that is, do not consume the content they produce. No demand means less money for the content providers and more for teachers. End of story."

Don't get involved in arguments about waiting times, or economic arguments, because the only statement they make that is rational is the above ethical argument. Which you have just answered in one sentence.

You don't believe their economic or patience arguments are irrational? If you walk into McDonalds and there is a wait for your burger, can you go behind the counter and take it for free? And if you eat the whole burger can you go back and say you don't feel you should pay for it? And if 30% of McDonald's U.S.A. customers were stealing like this, will it have an impact on their business?

In America, just two years ago, peer to peer (P2P) file sharing accounted for approximately 30% of America's Broadband Internet usage. Think about that number - 30% How long would any business stay solvent when a huge percentage of their product, accounting for an approximated $16Billion in U.S.A alone, is being stolen?

So, you know the problem. You are on your yacht on the Somali Coast, and the boatload of wayfaring gentlemen heading your way look a tad on the unfriendly side. Do you open the caviar and get the Brie to room temperature, or grab the nearest spork and prepare to make your last stand?

Perhaps a bit of both.

What if, instead of the current polar debates on piracy (e.g. they're all criminals!!!! VS don't bother policing it, we should tolerate it and try and make money off of piracy!) we had a middle ground, a blend of both perspectives?

The battle to win the hearts and minds (such a wonderful American platitude) of the world regarding piracy will be fought over CONVENIENCE. These days, the population of developed world is not necessarily financially poor when it comes to spending $20 on a movie. They are, however, TIME POOR. Allow the public to easily and conveniently consume the content when and where THEY want, and watch them come to you like Lepers at Lourdes.

How do I know? Because it is already happening.

In America, the over 30% P2P broadband usage pre 2009 has been significantly reduced (with some reporting as low as 8% of Broadband now being P2P), and the majority of what is left in P2P is believed to be music. What changed?


I will not spend a huge amount of time on this, but Netflix for the uninitiated is a subscription film and television content provision service in the U.S.A. They provide TV shows and films via DVD mailing and, in their booming business, "instant internet streaming".

Netflix, and especially their internet streaming, has given internet-savvy Americans a simple, convenient and relatively cheap way to get movies online. They pay one subscription fee ($7.99 a month) and can access over 75,000 movies. Americans have responded in droves with Netflix going from 10 Million subscribers in 2009 to 23.6 Million subscribers in 2011, and over $3Billion in revenue in 2011.

Instead of fighting the pirates' way of doing things, Netflix instead did it better, and charged a reasonable price. They now have 3 billion reasons to suggest they are right.

The "they are all criminals" side of things are innovating too. In the last week, a new approach has been created: INCONVENIENCE the pirates into compliance via a deal between the Internet Service Providers (ISP's), the music industry, and the film industry. This new deal, ironically inspired by the cooperation with ISPs on the war on child pornography (far be it from music and film professionals to miss a good opportunity), means that ISPs will WARN their users who are regularly downloading pirate content. If the user ignores the warnings and continues to download pirated content, their internet speed will be slowed down to a crawl. Can you imagine the frustration of an Icelander trying to watch pornography on super-slow dial-up internet? This new accord will replace the previous media/entertainment industry policy of direct, harsh prosecution of pirates.

Can you see the sense yet of blending the approaches?

Make a web service that makes it RIDICULOUSLY EASY to pay for your content, ironically pretty much using the same model and ease of usage of the old pirate websites (e.g. Napster if you remember it before Metallica brought the wrath of god on them).

Then, make it so INCONVENIENT to download pirate content that paying becomes the easiest option.

Ignore the 2% who will keep fighting on their skewed pseudo-punk principles. They will be fighting their ethical battle on internet speeds slower than you had in the 1990s.

Get everyone else hooked on the convenience.

Wave goodbye to the smiling Brie and caviar smeared faces of the Somalian Pirates and sail your yacht to the land of the sustainable film industry.

Live happily ever after.

P.S. Just so you don't have to take my word for it, a sample of my background info.....

ISPs placing penalties on pirates:

Netflix growth startling many

Netflix Broadband usage growing

Netflix reducing P2P?

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