Saturday, December 29, 2012


Last year, I noticed that columnists and pundits in December started reviewing the year that was rather than thinking about what was ahead.

I thought this was an exercise in futility. Like being the person you saw a film with, who then quotes the film back to you like you haven't seen it.

In response, I reviewed 2012 instead. That was in December 2011.

Now, before we start on 2013, how close was I with the 2012 review?

I'm not going to tell you. That would make me a hypocrite.

I do have all the answers and research on how close I was with my 2012 predictions, but I'll only share them if enough readers ask for it in the mailbag. (P.S. You can subscribe to the direct email version of this newsletter at Only subscribers receive the coveted 'Tales From the Opening Act' Mailbag)

So, now that we have survived the Mayan calendar scare, what can we expect in 2013?

2013 will be the year where big problems are solved...or...they won't be.

If no solutions are found, these big problems will turn into bigger problems.

I am, of course, referring to the US 'Fiscal Cliff'. Watch this space, because if the Americans can't get something sorted out, they will face huge automatic government spending cuts that will ripple throughout the world economy. Everyone, including the slowly recovering film industry (particularly the acquisition and film financing side), will feel the impact.

Luckily, or unluckily depending on your world view, this can be solved via political negotiations within the US. Hold your breath.

2013 will also be the year where the technology for online video streaming improves. There have been many reported problems with the quality/usability of the online streaming platforms, with customers 'switching off' if the platforms are not intuitive and reliable. This problem will be fixed in 2013, mostly as a result of the need for survival by the stronger platforms, given that more and more competitors are entering the market (e.g. Amazon and HBO). This can only be a good thing for consumers.

As a result, more of you will buy your music and movies online. I know some of you will shake your head at this, but the global data, showing big increases in online content purchasing, doesn't lie. For a quickly growing number of people, onlinepurchased content is the highest quality, safest and easiest way to get your movies, TV shows and music.

On that note, watch the online video wars really heat up in 2013. The battle for your hearts, minds and eyeballs is coming. Netflix, the American video streaming provider is expanding worldwide and even commissioning a new series of the hit show 'Arrested Development' so that it has exclusive rights to show it. But rest assured, the other big hitters (Disney, Apple, Amazon, HBO) all want a piece of their pie. The counter-strike will come, which again is only good news for consumers, who love content at a reasonable price.

Most surprisingly, 2013 could really be, and I can't believe I am saying this after watching 'Daredevil', the year that Ben Affleck wins his SECOND Oscar. It will be as a director, not an actor however, for his film 'Argo'.

While the hot favourites, if there is 5 nominations for Best Picture, are: 'Lincoln', 'Zero Dark Thirty', 'Argo', 'Les Miserables' and 'Silver Linings Playbook'; I think 'Life of Pi' will squeak in and pip 'Argo' for the Oscar.

As far as the biggest grossing film of 2013, it will be tough to predict given the number of franchises releasing new installments. 'The Hobbit 2: Desolation of Smaug', 'The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire', 'Iron Man 3', 'The Wolverine' and 'Thor 2: The Dark Worlds' are all being released in 2013. Based on two very good trailers, the big surprise could be 'The Man of Steel', the Superman reboot. If I had to bet at this stage, however, I would give it to the 'Hobbit 2', based on the size of their in-built audience and the record box office returns on the first installment this year.

I could go into the suggested declining relevance of film and the Oscars at this point, but I will save that for a later date, because I am not convinced. Save to say, a major debate in 2013 will be the fact that films deemed as 'successful' are drawing roughly 10% of the audience size of single episodes of major television shows like 'Breaking Bad'.

And then of course there is China. The worst kept secret in the world.

China is very near to an awakening of their middle class to mass consumer culture and content providers worldwide are literally drooling at the possibilities to sell movies to the Chinese. Watch for 2013 to be the first year of consistently large box office returns from China, flowing from the 2012 quota increase in foreign films allowed to be shown there.

In Australia, the National Broadband Network (NBN) will start to switch on in urban areas, finally delivering internet speeds that the Swedish have enjoyed for the last decade. Better late than never, I guess.

The NBN poses a paradox of enormous risks and possibilities for the Australian film industry. If we are not ready in 2013 with ways to deliver reasonably priced content to our audience, then they will turn to piracy and the NBN's high internet speeds will make that easier than ever. In that sense, 2013 will be an enormously important year to make sure that people form the habit of purchasing their content, rather than the tendency to steal it.

On the Australian awards circuit, look to 'The Sapphires' to sweep the Australian Academy awards in January. I'll be there, so I may be able to celebrate or eat my words in person.

So, what does this interesting and complicated picture of 2013 mean to you, exactly?

First, for everyone, it means this will be a tumultuous year. So question everything, even this newsletter.

The landscape has shifted so much, that there are less and less gurus in the world. That doesn't mean that there is less information and fact, however, so there is no excuse for you to be uninformed and have your opinion led by the whim of others.

We live in an information age.

Use the tools at your disposal and prosper. Or be apathetic and fail.

Second, for film and content makers, the paradigm shift is creating a new normal of ABUNDANCE. The world is becoming saturated with content, to the point where people can't keep up with the amount of film, television, music, theatre, books, etc; that are being released.

So, film and content makers must start to respect marketing. You must learn everything about it and be strategic with how you use it. You must think of marketing as a tool to find that audience who will love your work. Otherwise you are just shouting in a crowded room.

Third, film and content makers must cultivate an audience. Connect with your audience. Find out who they are. Communicate with them. An audience who looks forward to your work, and who promotes you through their enthusiasm for your art, deserve to be thanked and rewarded. Having them is the difference between releasing one movie, and a long term career.

And finally, know that, despite the economic despair on the news, there is plenty of money floating around the world and good quality content is being demanded at greater rates than ever before.

This huge demand is wonderful for filmmakers, content makers and audiences alike.

The removal of barriers between us, brought about by the rise of the internet, is having far-reaching social, political, economic and cultural consequences.

2013 will be a year that the dust settles on some of these changes, and the picture is slightly clearer for the years ahead.

But you have to stay active and informed, to benefit from these opportunities.

It is hard work, but the rewards can be substantial, financially and existentially.

It's a great time to be alive, at the cusp of something new.

Thank goodness the Mayans got it wrong.

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Monday, December 17, 2012


I have been struggling for the last couple of days.

I am a filmmaker who has depicted the death of a child in a film.

A little girl, aged six.

The film I produced, 'The Good Neighbour' is broadly about child abuse, after all. We needed to see the consequences to understand that doing nothing is not an option when it comes to child abuse.

The great thing about making a film is that the little girl can wake up at the end of the scene.

She goes about her life.

She interacts with her friends and family.

She has hopes and dreams.

In short, she has a future beyond her death on screen.

On some level I worry about the desensitising effect that my film may have on people.

I want the audience to wake up out of apathy, not fall further into it.

And the argument about mass violence has too often reared its head in the context of the impact of media violence on would-be killers. The Aurora Cinema killer was dressed up as the Joker, from Batman, when he shot and killed those 12 people in a cinema in Colorado, USA.

The film they were watching was The Dark Knight Rises.

I have younger brothers and sisters. Each one of them is absolutely precious to me.

I saw them in the faces of the children in Connecticut, USA.

20 children who will not go on with their lives.

They will not interact with their friends and family.

They will never achieve their hopes and dreams.

They have no future beyond their death on screen.

I broke down and cried.

How do we keep moving after something so awful?

I feel like the arts have a part to play. A method of expression and meaning in a world that can sometimes seem so cruel.

Somehow, we have to play our part in humanising the world. Economics and politics don't do this. The arts do.

There are few more powerful feelings than connecting with the humanity in a piece of art; be it music, film, literature, theatre, painting, sculpture, anything.

I still shed a tear at the end of 'The Good Neighbour' when the little girl dies.

For some reason I feel that this emotive power in art can be a part of the healing.

I hope so.

But that is the future.

For now all I can feel is grief for the innocent lives blinked out without reason.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012


It's funny how context and time changes things.

If you are in a doctor's office, or an inhabitant of Sub-Saharan Africa, the last words you want to hear are: "You have a viral hit".

If you are an internet marketer or a filmmaker trying to get word of their film out into the world, 'virality' is a big success.

The common thread between these negative and positive versions of "going viral" is that both are fairly dependent on luck.

Contemporary filmmakers often rely on the luck of social media, rather than marketing, to hope that they find an audience.

It is something I have noticed happening more and more frequently. A couple of weeks ago, I shared my radio interview with you where I mentioned that Australian Filmmakers' regular weakness was marketing.

My point was that, in a rapidly converging world, where Australian films will be up against international blockbusters in online catalogues, we need to respect marketing as a way to make Australian films stand out.

The challenge I see is that Australian filmmakers rely on social media to make up the difference when they have cut their marketing budget down to nothing.

By way of example, recently I was in contact with a pair of critically acclaimed Australian filmmakers who were about to release their latest feature film. These filmmakers wanted help raising awareness for the new film via social networks because they had little to no marketing budget. I spread the word as much as humanly possible, hoping for the best for them, but suspecting that they had a difficult road ahead. Sadly, despite the film winning major awards and, from all reports, receiving good reviews, at last check it has returned less than $50,000 at the box office.

The question all Australian filmmakers should be asking themselves at this point is: how can people see my film if they don't know it exists?

If your answer is 'virality' or social media, consider this...

Recent, very basic, case study analysis of social media has showed that, of your friends/followers on the social media platforms, approximately 30-40% are 'active' users of the social networking site (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc). 'Active' means using social networking every day.

So, your audience who are actually reading your regular Tweets or Facebook posts are far less than your actual number of followers.

Of your friends/followers, approximately 10-20% will be friends or followers of an excessively large group of people. On Twitter for example, one case study revealed that approximately 10% of followers also followed over 1000 other Twitter users.

The result of following large numbers of people on Twitter or Facebook is that individual Tweets or Facebook posts become a tiny drop in the ocean of information that user receives. This exponentially increases the chance that your Tweet or Facebook post will go unseen by that individual.

So, if you are expecting to use social media to plug the gaping whole in your marketing budget, think again.

Also, keep in mind that the Americans, in particular, go WAY overboard in their attempts to turn their films into viral hits. They are your competition in this area, and they are formidable.

To prove the point, I give you 'The Dark Knight Rises'. This film earned a mammoth $1.08 billion worldwide at the box office. What you may not have known, however, is that the film had an extensive viral marketing campaign in the lead up to the film's release.

Do you think no-one would have heard of the film, if not for the viral marketing?

That was rhetorical. I think this was overkill by the Americans on a film that had a massive built in audience.

But it also shows the lengths they will go to to ensure that the audience is aware and engaged with their film.

And this is what you are up against when you try to use nothing but social media to promote your film.

There has to be a middle ground between the Australian Filmmakers who don't take marketing seriously and the Americans who are so cashed up they take it to extremes.

Australian filmmakers have to get this right, for our own survival in the years to come. We need to embrace the regular use of hybrid marketing strategies combining traditional marketing and social media.

In short, we need to make sure we have done everything to ensure people have heard of our films.

Or, you can just rely on becoming a viral hit.

Assuming you feel lucky, of course.

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Friday, December 14, 2012


I can readily admit, I used to enjoy Adam Sandler movies.

'Billy Madison' was funny.

So was the 'Wedding Singer'.

And then, at some point around 'Little Nicky' it started to slide.

'Anger Management' was OK, but that was more Jack Nicholson's help than Sandler.

And then he squeezed out the $90 million 'You Don't Mess With The Zohan'. Good god that was awful.

But he topped that with the absolutely abominable $79 million 'Jack and Jill'.

And of course recently, the universally panned $70 million 'That's My Boy'.

The last two are particularly significant.

'Jack and Jill' was the first movie EVER to win every category at the Razzie's, the anti-oscars that recognises the worst movies and performances. It even won Adam Sandler a worst actress and wost actor gong, because Sandler played both roles of the titular sibling pair.

Sandler has never been a critics darling, but 'Jack and Jill' also scored a terrible 3% on film rating site Rotten Tomatoes. This marks the first real turn against Sandler by his audience.

To be sure, the film still made a healthy profit at the box office, as did the other films I mentioned. In that sense, Sandler didn't have to be too dissuaded.

Until 'That's My Boy'.

'That's My Boy' marks the first of this recent string of films to show poorly at the box office, returning only $58 Million of its $70 million budget.

So what happened?
Did Sandler have his 'jump the shark' moment, officially running out of ideas?

I stumbled upon an interesting analysis which suggests something different.

In their analysis, these guys suggest Sandler has found a way to use product placement and p*nis jokes to guarantee that he will be paid millions of dollars.

You see, Adam Sandler gets paid $25 million a movie up front. That is regardless of how it performs at the box office.

After his golden years, when Sandler made half-decent and commercially successful films, he has a built-in audience, to some degree. These are people who will come and see his films because they are 'Adam Sandler' films.

So, the analysis suggests it is simply a form of mathematics:


For this, Sandler can charge his $25 million producer's fee up front and live happily ever after.

My favourite quote from the article sums it up best:

The $79 million question is, as Jay puts it: "At what point does something like this cease to be able to be called a 'movie.' And I think this is it." "Jack and Jill" cost more than half again as much as last summer's $50 million comedy "Crazy, Stupid, Love," which had more stars: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone... and yet, as Mike says, it looks like it was shot over the weekend. Maybe in somebody's garage. Jay says he he has nothing against product placement, but "Jack and Jill" seems to have been designed around the ads: "They literally stop the film to have commercial breaks."

So, is it possible that they are right and that Sandler has decided to stop telling stories and just make a lot money?

Yes, it is absolutely possible.

What you may not realise is that generally a film producer gets paid on the size of the budget. A usual 'Producer's Fee' is 2-5% of the production budget. The bigger the production budget, the bigger your actual fee becomes in dollar terms.

In one of my previous newsletters I told the tale of a feature film producer who I met, who had turned filmmaking into a day job in the worst sense:

This producer talked about finding ways to get your film's budget level higher so you can charge a higher fee and make a living. My argument was that, if all you want is money, there are much more financially stable ways to make a living. If you are not interested in good storytelling, become an accountant.

What this producer talked about is exactly what Sandler is doing on a much larger scale with his films.

Sandler assembles a semi-attractive looking film with enough names attached and crass humour to look like it will draw a crowd. He fills it with product placement, bumps up the budget level and charges his big fee.

From this, he lives very comfortably.

However, where the...


...equation has started to fall down is in the 'Sandler's Audience' part.

You see, if you disrespect the audience long enough, they will stop being your audience.

One could suggest that a film winning EVERY category of the worst film awards is a big step in that direction.

Sadly, I think Sandler is a talented guy.

He was wonderful in 'Funny People', 'Punch Drunk Love' and 'Reign Over Me'.

Unfortunately for Sandler, however, is that the common thread between these better films is that none of them were 'Adam Sandler' films, in the classic sense.

So you have a choice.

Stay humble. Stay true to your storytelling. Never lose sight of your audience.

Judd Apatow is a respected filmmaker and millionaire doing it this way.

Or you can forego good storytelling and try and fleece your audience for as much money as possible.

Just hope you make enough money before your audience turns on you.

Oh, and be sure to keep shelf space aside for your Razzie.

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Sunday, December 02, 2012


I thought I would try something different this week. A change, they say, is as good as a holiday.

So, I revamped the subscription version of my Newsletter. This is the archive, so if you would like to subscribe so you get it hot off the presses, go to

I was also recently interviewed on a Radio Adelaide show 'Behind The Screens' about my work and film issues generally. During the show they asked me to give one rant on something that needed to be said about the Australian Film Industry.

My answer was on marketing, or rather, the lack thereof.

Rather than write a long spiel here, I thought you might like to listen to the short interview instead, which 'Behind The Screens' has posted on their website:

You will need to scroll down a little until you see my face and my interview, ready and waiting to be played.

You can listen to the whole thing, or simply skip to the salient points I make about marketing, from 7:15 to 11:04.


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Monday, November 26, 2012


I have to quickly point out how much I love the above image. Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins as a one-man band, playing all instruments simultaneously. Get it?

Back to the point at hand, I have said before that exhibitors are the biggest problem facing filmmakers in the evolving entertainment landscape:

In a changing world, exhibitors (the cinema owners) are in the 'flat earth map' business.

They keep resisting improvements that would make the film business relevant again, maybe even economically sustainable.

One such improvement is 'Simultaneous Distribution'; the act of releasing a film in all forms (in cinemas, online, on Blu Ray, on DVD, etc etc) at the same time.

This idea goes against the traditional release windows, where a film would be in cinemas, then video stores, then for retail sale, then TV, then Pay TV, etc etc.

The traditional release windows, of course, represent a pay wall, intended to keep the movie business profitable.

But times have changed. Audiences have changed.

The pay wall in movies is KILLING THE MOVIE BUSINESS.

Audiences have less time.

They have more forms of entertainment than ever before.

They have piracy.

And what do the movies do?

Make it HARDER for audiences to get to the content.

How does this make sense?

Instead of being more creative by making the audience experience better in the different delivery mechanisms (e.g. an easier streaming movie website to navigate; or a better cinema experience) we instead are entrenching the pay walls that protect scarcity in movies, thereby hoping to protect the economic viability of cinema.


If you want to read up on this, I found an excellent article in the NY Times on the subject. The overall article's message is average reading, it goes to great lengths to labour a point we understood in the title, but it's the tidbits scattered throughout that should make the hair on filmmaker's necks stand up. I'll share the best ones:

'Films, while in theaters, live behind a pay wall; television is free, once the monthly subscription is paid. And at least since “The Sopranos” sophisticated TV series have learned to hook viewers on long-term character development; movies do that mostly in fantasy franchises like the “Twilight” series.'

'After the shock of last year's decline in the number of tickets sold for movies domestically, to 1.28 billion, the lowest since 1995...' 

'As the awards season unfolds, the movies are still getting smaller. After six weeks in theaters “The Master,” a 70-millimeter character study much praised by critics, has been seen by about 1.9 million viewers. That is significantly smaller than the audience for a single hit episode of a cable show like “Mad Men” or “The Walking Dead.”'

There is so much entertainment available to audiences, that the one who makes themselves the hardest to reach...loses.

Less people are going to the movies, but exhibitors keep raising cinema ticket prices to...stay profitable.

More and more audiences are watching movies on phones and tablets. Instead of making the movies readily available on these devices from day 1, to engage both the audience who wants to go to the movies and the audience who prefers to watch in their own space, we have 'release windows' that ensure that you can only see the movie at a cinema. This preserves a false scarcity for cinemas to help them...stay profitable.

When did cinema's need for profitability overtake the need for the film industry to stay relevant and connect to their audience?

While exhibitors fight to stay profitable, they are creating a smaller and smaller pie overall for the movie business. They are winning battles, but really losing the war. Badly.

If a film could be in cinemas and available to tablet watchers at the same time, the filmmakers would actually be better off. But somehow it's not even about the filmmakers anymore, much less the audience.

Yes, the exhibitors may suffer a little under simultaneous distribution, so it seems that they are therefore shouting the loudest, and thus getting the most consideration. For now.

But what would happen if they embraced simultaneous distribution instead?

What if they realised that there are some people who just don't like going to the cinema? They prefer their living room.

These are the people who are most likely to pirate films, because they were never going to go to the cinema anyway, and they don't want to wait for the film to be legally available.

Or they give up on the film and get their entertainment from something else instead: games, television, real life...

So, we lose this person's purchase of a legal copy that they can watch at home, so that the exhibitors can keep trying to force people to go to the cinema.

That is the real effect of the pay wall.

Exhibitors are actually harming the industry they rely on. It is absolutely ludicrous.

Breaking down the pay wall, brick by ridiculous brick, needs to happen. Embracing simultaneous distribution will force cinemas to do something positive: offer a better service or experience to their customers, to stay in business.

Rather than relying on a false scarcity, exhibitors will have to justify their price increases by making the movie-going experience more enjoyable for the audience.

Because, in the end, without an audience, we have nothing.
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Sunday, November 11, 2012


So, President Barack Obama won reelection.

Four years ago I shed a few tears when he walked onto the stage and gave his acceptance speech.

It seemed to me that a decade of a world that had become hate filled, corrupt and insular was coming to an end.

And they had.

Yes, we had the GFC, but you can't undo 8 years of damage overnight.

Four years later, as he walked on stage again, I was watery, but no tears.

It's not that I wasn't happy that he won. Quite the opposite. It was more that my expectations of the U.S.A., to make a sane choice of leader, have grown since they elected President Obama four years ago.

I have been asked why I care quite a few times now. I am based in Australia after all.

Why is this even important to you?

A small part of it is that I eventually would like to make films in America. Self-interested, I know, but true.

But a much MUCH bigger part is something more intangible.

In a world seemingly becoming increasingly divided, you have the leader of the most powerful country in the world being elected on the strength of white, black, asian, brown and hispanic voters.

In a world where some people say I have to step on your throat to achieve my dreams, Obama proclaims that we thrive together, when we push for shared prosperity and inclusiveness.

And when faced with the politics of hate, Americans showed they can see past the lies and elect a leader based on facts and achievements rather than ideology.

As a filmmaker, I need a world that respects education and culture, because that ensures I have an audience. In the present and the future.

As a filmmaker that wants a long career, I need a strong middle class, because they are the ones who spend their disposable income on the movies. The wealthy buy yachts, not cinema tickets.

Obama, as well as being a leader who believes in empowering all people, not just the wealthy elite, delivers on these tangibles and intangibles.

But, even more fundamentally, it is a simple equation:

President of America = Laws of America = America's policies = Wall Street crisis = GFC = impacts you.

The GFC ripped money out families, businesses, governments, film financiers and potential cinema audiences alike. A recession followed shortly after.

We are in a connected world.

So, President Barack Obama won reelection.

That's why I care.

Why don't you?

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Saturday, November 10, 2012


You are on the train coming home.

Imagine hearing about a film from your friends, searching for it on your phone or ipad, finding it, and then putting it on your playlist via your film viewing platform subscription. When you get home, it is waiting to stream on your synched IP enabled television.

Then you get a call, you forgot you had to meet a friend tonight. 

But you are already two thirds through the movie, and loving it. You don't want to stop watching.

Imagine you could watch the rest on the train on the way to meet your friend, streamed via the same subscription to your ipad. No extra cost because you already pay the subscription fee.  

When you get there, your friend is so interested by what you say about the film that you decide you want to see it again with them.

This time, however, you want to see it on the big screen, with the extra content that enables.

Imagine you go to the cinema, using the heavy ticket discount you get for already 'owning' the film, via the online movie club you are a part of. You also passed a fan quiz on the film to win free popcorn. Nice.

As you are watching the film, you get a vibrate notification on your phone that this part of the film has extra content. 

Imagine using your phone to actually 'look around' the environment of the scene that is playing. Seeing things the character sees in their world, using your phone as your own personal viewfinder. Immersing yourself in the story world, for a truly amazing experience. 

Imagine telling your friends about it online, because the experience was so incredible, so that they can all be a part of it. Because your group is so large, you get a satellite delivered 'demand it' screening at your local cinema, again for a heavily discounted price because many of you 'own' the film and have become champions of it to the world.

Imagine that you are now a part of a community of fans, cultivated by the filmmakers providing an incredible story telling experience on film, who are then welcomed as a part of the film's tribe to special events for free. As a fan you not only engage with the story world, but you convert others, because you believe in the filmmaker's work and the experience you receive in return for your loyalty, fandom and a reasonable amount of your hard-earned cash.  

For the filmmakers, imagine you achieve all this by making great films, caring about your audience, engaging with your audience, and thinking outside the box when it comes to innovation and new technologies. 

It may shock you to know that the technology to do everything I suggested above, exists already. It's true.

With so much focus on the negatives in today's society, it is easy to forget that we are in an amazing era of change, technology, ideas, innovation and mass consumption of culture.

Recognising and making the most of the incredible opportunities on offer, as people and as storytellers, is the greatest challenge we face.

There is a world of opportunity to tell stories that engage and delight an audience. Connecting with them in ways we never thought possible.

All it takes is a little imagination.

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Monday, November 05, 2012

ARE WE RUNNING OUT OF TIME? get people to think of film and TV as a paid commodity first and free second?

The music business is suffering because they missed the opportunity, as piracy grew, to make people think of music as something you still pay for.

Now, music industry pundits like Bob Lefsetz (who has an excellent newsletter, by the way) are saying that music has missed its chance. For the new generations, music is something that is usually free, with the live show being the commodity worth paying for.

As films become more commonly viewed online and internet speeds increase, the Film and Television industry is facing this same problem. 

The more I see, the more I interract with people, the more I realise this same shift is happening for Film and TV audiences. We are in a watershed moment that will define how people think of their content, and therefore how likely they are to pay or pirate in the future.

This was crystalised for me recently, via the cornucopia of humanity, Facebook.

Someone posted:

Does anyone know of a good site where I can download tv shows? 

I was, of course, both annoyed and curious at this person's motivation so, with some pressing, I received this explanation:

My only gripe with authorised or legal downloading is the price charged for Australian consumers. I will pay for downloads, but not when I'm being gouged. Itunes being the example.

And this is the tipping point. The new audience who feel they can consume film and television content, yet they get to decide whether they should pay for it or not. 

So I responded:

Not your call - price is the price. You don't like it, don't buy. Skydiving is overpriced, but that doesn't mean you get to do it for free

The person didn't respond after that. I don't know if I changed their perspective. 

I doubt it.

But even if I did, this is only one person. We are faced with an entire generation who think it is OK for them to decide whether they should pay for content AFTER they have watched it. If you did that at a restaurant or, like my example, skydiving, it would be considered stealing.

And remember, movies are not like musicians. We can't tour with a live show to make up for the lost income from piracy.

And there won't be DVDs for much longer. It will be all online eventually: both paid and pirated content, side by side.

What then, if audiences don't think film and TV content shoud be paid for?

What then, if we have not captured the audience's hearts and minds?

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

OAFILMS NEWS - 'Part One: Love' screening in the Sandfly Film Festival!

Fresh off our successful screening at the Antenna Documentary Festival, 'Part One: Love' will be screening in the Sandfly Film Festival 2012!

We will have two screenings, one at their Newtown event and one in the big finale and awards night in Jervis Bay:

Newtown Rooftop Cinema, Newtown, Sydney, NSW
Entry via Shenken Espresso Bar (formally The Old Fish Shop Cafe), 239A King Street Newtown

Huskisson Picture Theatre, Huskisson, Jervis Bay, NSW

For more details about the other great films, and for tickets to the event, check out:

Sunday, October 28, 2012


There has been a murder.

The DVD lies dead in the library, with a blunt force trauma wound to the head.

The culprits are lined up.

No-one saw the murder happen.

But one of the assembled here is the murderer.


Was it Netflix and other online distribution platforms that made it easy for people to get their films and television online?

Was it piracy?

Was it the retailers who charged too high a price for the DVD's themselves?

Was it the public, who stopped buying DVDs; preferring BluRays and online video?

Was it colonel mustard in the library with the candlestick?

If you didn't understand that last one, or any of the above, you are under 25 years old. Google 'Cluedo'.

Back to the murder, NO, it was none of these suspects.

The murderer is none other than....

...the studios!

Yes, that's right, the ones who actually make the films and TV shows.

Preposterous, you say! Why would they kill the very thing that has made them so much money?

It is very simple. They did it by accident.

You see, viewing preferences have changed. Once, people would watch a TV show ONE EPISODE at a time on television. This was the norm for a very long time.

And then, DVDs arrived. Suddenly, the idea of a DIY '(insert beloved TV show name here) marathon' was created. Audiences, alone or in groups, could watch entire series' of their favourite shows in mammoth, multi-hour sessions.

Marathons already existed, of course, but only at the whim of the television stations. Now, you could have a marathon of YOUR favourite show, when YOU wanted.

And believe it or not, people have now developed an appetite for watching their favourite programs on their terms.

Hence why audiences have become less patient waiting for new episodes. They want it now!

And so the studios, seeing this as a perfect opportunity to make MORE money, started producing countless DVDs of TV shows. Season after season of your favourites became available in a few small discs at your local DVD retailer.

And people bought them, in droves, to watch at their convenience in the comfort of their own homes.

But then, online video arrived. Suddenly, audiences didn't need to even go the DVD store anymore!

They could stay in, watch on their own terms, and stop filling up their shelves with DVD packages.

"But what about DVD's?", the studios said.

"We don't need DVD's anymore." the audience replied, "we have streaming via the internet."

And that is where we are now.

Yes, DVD's are on the way out.

Their sales have been steadily declining for a while now.

But don't take my word for it:

And no matter how much they blame everyone else, it was the studios that killed the DVD. In a quest for more money, they changed audience behaviour.

And now internet streaming is the next evolution of the convenience of DVD. Internet streaming is also a much better fit for the new audience behaviour/demand.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, by the way. It's just new.

And new is always scary, at first.

- - - - - - - - -

Saturday, October 27, 2012


No matter what anyone says, you sometimes have to make sacrifices to pay the rent and keep food on your table.

This is especially true if you also have mouths to feed.

Filmmakers are no different, especially in Australia.

You may want to make nothing but idiosyncratic art films, but if it means you starve to death, you may have to make different choices.

The balancing act is avoiding making ALL of your choices purely on what will garner you a fee or increase your film's budget level. That can be soul destroying.

It is one of the reasons why I try and limit my attendance at industry events. There are always too many people there who have been forced to make too many choices against their creative desires.

It changes them. Their perspective becomes far too pragmatic, and it seriously saps your enthusiasm to be around them.

With that in mind, I recently attended a forum on how to put together an international film co-production (i.e. a film where it is officially considered the product of two or more countries). It was put on by the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA).

The workshop itself was actually very informative. It highlighted how complex these international co-productions are, given they are governed by international treaties.

One speaker in particular was a successful active producer who was very energetic about the opportunities international co-productions presented. He was very inspiring.

And then there was the excessive pragmatist. He spoke after the inspiring producer guy.

When asked why a filmmaker should consider utilising an international co-production, he said "to get more money into your budget".

No cultural aspects. No audience engagement.

Just money.

Interestingly, I had some insight on this topic from my experience at the Shanghai International Film Festival this year.

You see, everyone wants to get into China. Australian film producers, American film producers, European film producers and even other Asian film producers. The worst kept secret in the world is that China is evolving a HUGE middle class.

Middle class means you have disposable income above your basic necessities. What do people spend a large proportion of their disposable income on?


The Americans are the most assertive in this space. They even remade the Disney film 'High School Musical', with Chinese teenagers for a Chinese audience.

The only problem? The film tanked. No-one went to see it.

And herein lies the problem.

Films are supposed to find an audience. If you make a film and add a 'token cultural element', hoping that the local audience will adopt it as their own, you are setting yourself up for a catastrophic failure.

This was the overwhelming message from the discussion panels on international co-productions in Shanghai.

Audiences are so experienced with film and media now, that you can't hand them any old garbage and tell them it will 'speak to them'. It won't pass their radar.

It has to be organically theirs, with elements of their culture and/or experience woven into the very fabric of the story.

In a way, however, this is one of the big risks, but also big opportunities with an international co-production. To tell an interesting story, with a unique blended cultural perspective, that therefore garners support from the audiences of the co-production countries and becomes a critical and financial success.

Tough to do, certainly, but doesn't that tell you it could be great if you pull it off?

And so, back in the present day, I wanted to give the excessive pragmatist a chance to redeem himself. Surely, I thought, he couldn't have been serious when he said it was just about getting a bigger budget, so that he could charge a Producer fee and eke out a living? Surely, I thought, it is about storytelling?

So I asked: given the negative experience of the Chinese High School Musical, with their 'cookie cutter' approach to story and incorporating culture into the film, had he incorporated the idea of international co-productions as a way of better engaging with these diverse audiences and organically developing stories that speak to different cultures into his process for creating an international co-production?

This is it, I thought. A chance for him to say that he was being overly practical. A chance for him to say that, as well as a larger budget, that he really does want to use these co-production mechanisms to tell stories that genuinely engage with audiences, from different cultural perspectives, all over the world. A true cross-cultural storyteller.    

His answer?

"In a word, no."

As a producer he was not interested in exploring cultural aspects, but needed to make a living so his kids don't eat catfood.

That is not me taking creative license. That is what he said, verbatim.

And I realised, he has turned filmmaking into his day job.

For him, it was about putting food on the table first, with a passion for storytelling second.

Why? What had caused him to imbalance his perspective too far towards money?

I don't know.

Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge him for that choice. I even understand it on some level. He has kids after all.

But, my god, there are far easier and more lucrative ways to make a living.

If you aren't in this because of a passion for telling stories, and finding an audience who responds to them, then what's the point?

- - - - - - - - -

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


Oh dear.

I remember when the only mobile phone anyone had was a Nokia. The Nokia 5110, now the equivalent of a telephone housebrick, was in everyone's pocket.

Then, phones started to get smaller.

And smarter.

Nokia fell behind.

First only a little, but then...

...the iphone. And the Android.

They changed everything.

Now Nokia, once THE telephone giant, is struggling to survive.

So Nokia went back to the drawing board. They came up with a new phone that they believed would launch their comeback. The Nokia Lumia 920.

The big selling point on this new Nokia is, believe it or not, the camera. Apparently, it has impressive image stabilisation, which has long been the weak point of the iphone camera.

So, to prove the point, Nokia shot a video. A demonstration video to show how good the images from the new Lumia 920 phone camera can be.

At their press conference, Nokia lauded the new phone's camera, playing their demonstration video proudly. The video wowed the assembled journalists with its image quality.

Nokia were so happy with it, they even put the Lumia 920 demonstration video online.

Big mistake.

You see, they faked it.

A keen eye online spotted a reflection in the video. The reflection clearly showed that the camera used to shoot the video was not the Nokia phone.


Nokia, now in damage control, released the following statement:

"In an effort to demonstrate the benefits of optical image stabilization (which eliminates blurry images and improves pictures shot in low light conditions), we produced a video that simulates what we will be able to deliver with OIS."


Rather than use your phone to shoot the video, you use a completely different camera (not even a phone camera!) to 'simulate' it?

Why haven't they learned? In the internet age, you will get caught out.

But that's not what actually amuses me about this story.

I find it more interesting that this is even a scandal.

Why does anyone care? It's a phone, not a video camera.

The reaction to this issue is an indicator of the future. There is a new wave coming.

Young people have no issue watching content on their relatively tiny phone screens.

It stands to logic then, that they will have a better tolerance to content that is shot on mobile phone cameras.

Currently, shooting on a phone camera is a poor man's way to shoot a film. That's the general attitude, anyway.

However, a phone screen is only 4 inches across, generally. Do you need to invest the same in shooting the film for a mobile screen as you would if it was going to be on a 22 foot cinema screen?

Keep in mind, that a cinema quality camera rental for a 6 week film shoot can cost in the vicinity of $50,000, including lenses.

$50,000 or $700, considering it will be watched on a VERY forgiving 4 inch screen?

There is even already a film festival for films shot on mobile phones.

That's why this is even a scandal. Because, in the future, a lot of content will be shot on mobile phones. The phone camera is becoming essential.

If only Nokia realised. Perhaps they would have been a little more honest.

Oh well.

- - - - - - - - -

Saturday, October 06, 2012

OAFILMS NEWS - 'Part One: Love' screening in the Antenna Documentary Festival!

Feel like being informed AND entertained? Then check out our short doco, 'Part One: Love' in The Antenna Documentary Festival at 3pm this Sunday 14th October. It's screening at the Dendy in Newtown with the feature documentary 'Over My Dead Body'.

Or lay around on a Sunday and stay ignorant. Your choice.

OAFILMS NEWS - Opening Act Films is on Facebook...finally

That's right, Opening Act Films has finally joined the ranks of social media.

Check it out for an easy way to get updates about our films and other assorted goodness.

Monday, October 01, 2012


In any field, there are people that love to get buried in the details.

Ask an architect about the 'materiality' of a building, if you don't believe me. But be prepared to lose hours of your life that you will never get back.

In filmmaking, with so much technology around cameras, lighting, sound, editing, SFX, VFX, etc etc, there is an absolute plethora of 'techies' willing to speak about their given field of expertise.

Now, understanding certain elements of the technology is important. As a storyteller, you need to know what tools the technology gives you to actually tell your stories. 

You also need to know how to speak to the specialists who will help you achieve your vision. I believe it's called 'speaking techie'.

But keep in mind that technological knowledge can go too far.

Often, extreme levels of technical knowledge are simply a way to feel better about the fact that filmmaking is an ethereal business, where no-one really knows what will be a hit or not.

It's easier to memorise the technical specs of a new camera, rather than accept that, despite your best intentions and depthless technical knowledge, an audience might not connect with your work.

It is a powerful narcotic. A semblance of control in a frequently unpredictable industry.

The irony of course is that technical specs and cameras change quickly and frequently, but storytelling is timeless.

Keep in mind, however, that I am a writer and producer, not a camera person. I speak techie, but I am most certainly not a techie.

So, to all of you fellow non-techie people out there, I offer this advice. 

Respect the technical knowledge of your supporting experts, but don't be intimidated by it. Know your limitations and develop a process to mitigate them while harnessing the abilities of your experts.

For example, rather than memorising a camera spec sheet, you can do a camera test.

Just ask these experts in their annual 'Camera Wars' event.

They don't talk about camera specs. They talk about the final product as it appears on the screen. 

And these are camera people, so they would be even more tempted to obsess over camera technology details.

But they don't. 

So remember, the only thing that is really important when it comes to film technology is how the final product looks.  

- - - - - - - - -

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Sometimes life sends you a sign.

I was going to write about something else completely different this week. I had it all prepped and ready to go, warm and toasty into your inbox.

But then, a nagging doubt.

Not because I didn't think you would be interested in what I had written. Quite the contrary.

But I saw a story that evoked a reaction. I had a 'hmmm, that's interesting' moment. These moments, I feel, should always be shared.

So, it was sunny. I was drinking coffee. I was lamenting missing out on tickets to legendary Indie Film Producer Ted Hope's producing workshop in Sydney. Oh, the missed opportunity.

A friend forwarded an innocent story about Australian TV stations starting to 'Fast-track' more of their foreign TV shows. I try not to follow too much news these days, too depressing, but sometimes you'll do anything to get the synapses firing.

For the uninitiated, TV stations 'Fast-track' foreign TV shows, usually American shows, to get them onto Australian screens just after the newest episodes have screened in their home countries.

Suddenly, something clicked.

I tracked down an article that I had read previously. Netflix, the film and TV internet streaming service, is going global, beyond American borders.


And another, this time from Australia. Quickflix, the Australian direct mail DVD supplier who is looking at building an online streaming business, are working constantly to secure more licenses and expand their catalogue of television shows and films.

Just in the last month, Hoyts, the Australian cinema chain, announced they are launching an online film streaming service.

HBO, the maker of hit TV show 'Game of Thrones' announced they are now looking to stream their own content directly online, rather than through a third party like Netflix.

The online retailing giant, Amazon, announced they are trying to become a streaming service in direct competition with Netflix.

And all the while, Apple, despite their enormous success, still can't get into the film and television world (the way they did with music) because the content makers don't like Apple's negotiating attitude, characterised as "our way or the highway". But they are still trying, represented in their Apple TV device, iTunes and iCloud.

And it is all capped off, of course, by the original article that traditional free-to-air and pay TV providers are looking to 'Fast-track' shows in Australia. It's their attempt to stay relevant.

Everyone is playing catch-up. This race has escalated extremely quickly.

I first wrote about it a year ago:

And then again, earlier this year, when I heard that Netflix have started making their own exclusive original content :

And now, finally, the sleeping giants have awoken. Powerful media companies who have realised we are in the on-demand world now. Audiences demand the content that THEY want, and they want it NOW. The media companies want to cash in on this revolution.

And this is good news for filmmakers.

The public's appetite for film and TV shows is voracious. If it is great, or really, really good at the least, they will watch your program, for hours, in their millions.

So, what will these media companies need in this revolution?

Exclusive content!

Films and TV shows to put on their TV channels and online distribution platforms to satisfy their viewers.

The more exclusive the content is for them the better.

And that is, of course, your cue.

- - - - - - - - -

Friday, September 21, 2012

OA FILMS NEWS - 'The Good Neighbour' screens in New Zealand!

As many of you know, our talented director, James Crisp, is from New Zealand. 'The Good Neighbour' was also inspired by true events that occurred in New Zealand.

With that in mind, we were especially pleased to learn that 'The Good Neighbour' had been recently selected for a special screening for the Queenstown Film Society, in New Zealand.

In their own words, the Queenstown Film Society 'is a non-profit incorporated society and a registered charitable organisation. (They're) supported by the NZ Film Commission and a part of the New Zealand Federation of Film Societies, providing access to an amazing collection of movies, documentaries and short films from New Zealand and around the world.'

James attended the screening on 18th September 2012, and spoke about the film afterwards. From all accounts, the film was exceptionally well received, and we thank the Queenstown Film Society for the opportunity to present the film to their dedicated audience of film lovers.

For more information on the Queenstown Film Society, go to

Saturday, September 15, 2012


You audiences are tough.

We filmmakers have to sit in the room with you, with our baby on the big screen.

You don't know it, but we listen attentively to every reaction you have to our film.

Why did they laugh there?

Why didn't they laugh at that?

Why aren't they crying at the dramatic finale?

If we are really unlucky, we get to hear your sarcastic comment you think no-one can hear.

Or we can have that amazing moment when you erupt into applause the instant the credits roll.

It's life on a knife edge, especially as audiences grow more and more savvy and refuse to accept anything but great.

Truth be told though, the hardest thing we have to do as filmmakers is take an honest look at our own film. This is an absolutely essential step, to take stock of its strengths and weaknesses.

Assessing your own film honestly is the only way you can start to think about distributing and marketing it, realistically.

If you are not willing to accept that your low budget zombie-apocalypse-coming-of-age-period-drama is anything but an instant Oscar contender, you may have a long and difficult road ahead of you.

We had to do it for the short film I produced, 'The Good Neighbour'. It got us thinking about what Film Festivals we should target and also helped us to understand when we were rejected.

It is a difficult task, that applies to all filmmakers - the big names and the newcomers alike.

Even George Lucas, the legendary Oscar nominated creator of the Star Wars franchise.

Mr Lucas' latest project 'Red Tails' is a high flying blockbuster based on the stories of the American Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American aviators in the U.S. armed forces.

But Mr Lucas struggled to get the attention of Hollywood distributors for the film. One of the studios didn't even bother to show up to the official preview screening, eliciting this response from Mr Lucas:

“Isn’t this their job?” Lucas says, astonished. “Isn’t their job at least to see movies? It’s not like some Sundance kid coming in there and saying, ‘I’ve got this little movie — would you see it?’ If Steven (Spielberg) or I or Jim Cameron or Bob Zemeckis comes in there, and they say, ‘We don’t even want to bother to see it. . . .’ ”

Lucas goes on to say that he doesn't believe it has anything to do with racism, but simply a lack of understanding from the big players on what makes a successful 'popcorn' film.

But is it that simple?

With all due respect to Mr Lucas, he is one of the greats after all, but could it be that the film is just...ahem...not very good?

It is currently sitting at 39% on film critic site Rotten Tomatoes, and top critic Roger Ebert, among many others, gave it a less than favourable review.

Looking at your film honestly is tough.

Even for the greats.

But films are not inexpensive to make.

And audiences have a lot of other options to entertain them (e.g. high end TV, Youtube, Apps, Games, real life, etc etc) if you are delivering anything but great.

You have to know your film better than anyone and know who your audience is.

It may be tough to judge your baby.

But it's necessary.

- - - - - - - - -

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


You are a good person.

Really. I honestly believe that simple statement.

In the pursuit of selling something to you, there are many people who will say the opposite.

Of course, their product is the answer. It will fix you.

Or, you should watch their TV show, so you can see people who are equally as flawed as you. It's a race to the bottom.

I have had a lot of arguments over the years about whether humans are intrinsically good.

I get into this debate especially around piracy.

Many filmmakers argue that people are cheap and just want to steal content, i.e. films and TV shows.

But I'm not convinced.

Yes, there are exceptions. Bad eggs, if you will, but exceptions always exist.

I believe there is an element of people who steal content simply because they can. I also believe they are in the minority.

The other element, the majority, is the group who want to get their content - safely, legally and in the highest quality form - but are blocked by poor delivery mechanisms and ridiculous restrictions.

For example, an Australian wanting to access American TV shows or films legally, paying the requisite fee for the content, is blocked by outdated release windows and geographic restrictions.

I am referring to the American TV and film streaming website, Netflix. Netflix offers a safe and affordable ($10/month for access to their massive content library) way for an audience to get their content legally. It is available on this new invention called 'the internet', which you may have heard of.

But an Australian (or many other audiences from other countries) is blocked from using the site due to geographic restrictions forced on Netflix by the content makers. This mirrors the region restrictions that still exist on your DVDs if you buy them from another country.

So, a person wanting to legally access the content, and pay for it, is turned away.

Meanwhile, that same person can instantly just use that same 'internet' to steal the content and watch it anyway.

This situation is the pinnacle of stupidity.

Even more hilarious is that these shunned audiences have not been deterred. Rather than simply illegally download the content they want, people are finding technological work arounds to get to the US site.

So, faced with having to possibly steal the content simply to watch it, people get creative and find ways to get to the paying site instead.

Do you see now why I believe people are good?

Interestingly, despite restricting foreign users, the Netflix site accepts foreign credit cards for the payment side of the transaction. It's almost like they want to make the content as available to paying customers as possible.

What a crazy idea!

Or is it crazy to make your audience engage in online espionage just so they can have the opportunity to pay for it?

- - - - - - - - -

Friday, August 31, 2012


Talking about yourself is a high wire act. 

It is also part of the weirdest experiences I have had at film festivals or networking events. How to talk about yourself enough to establish credibility, but not so much that you become the guy who everyone assumes has narcisissm or special needs.

Everyone wants to feel like they are achieveing something, after all. That applies to more than just film. 

In a room full of peers, family or friends, when someone asks, 'are you setting the world on fire?', you want to be able to say 'of course!'.

And, quite frankly, the ability to talk about your success is important. Successful people I know own their success as much as they own their failures. You should be proud of your achievements and be able to articulate them. 

Succinctly, of course.

It's an art form.

Remember, you are building relationships. Relationships that may only ever be cordial, but you never know what could develop professionally. 

But you must also remember, there is a golden rule when building relationships. 

In the film world, where so much effort is spent in the ethereal realm of story development or rumoured productions, there is a razor thin line between talking about your achievements and overblown hype.

This may seem an obvious statement, but it is absolutely critical you be aware of the line between hype and truth.

There is one thing that the majority of experienced professionals develop, and that is the ability to spot a fake or overblown story. This is because spotting hype can be the difference between developing a strong collaboration or achieving nothing.

The most common example is the sin of omission. 

For example, if you leave a few key words out of a film festival title, it is the difference between suggesting your film was selected for the Cannes Film Festival (the official one) or the Cannes Independent Film Festival (the recent addition which I strongly believe is a scam).  

And if you get caught on a lie, not only will it get pointed out, but it is hard to recover.

A recent example was when an Australian horror film, 'Muirhouse', travelled to Cannes this year to screen at the Cannes Film Festival's Film Market. 

A story appeared in Inside Film, headlined: 'Aussie horror film Muirhouse to premiere at Cannes'.

Not an innacurate statement.

Except that the prestige of being selected for the Cannes Film Festival is very different to the experience of screening at the Cannes Film Market. The market is still an excellent milestone for the film, but alas, different.

The comment section of the article reflects exactly the reaction I am talking about:

"Cannes" and "The Cannes Market" are two very different things and the title of this article is quite misleading. You shouldn't have the heading of an article as "premiering at Cannes" as this suggests it's in the line up proper, not the market. No offense to the filmmakers, I'm sure it's a great film, but the the heading shouldn't be so misleading." (Bill. 02/05/2012)"

"Premiering at Cannes and screening in the market are two very, very different things. Misleading headline. (Harry Newt. 02/05/2012)"

"I look forward to seeing articles on the other 20 or so Aussie films "premiering" in the market at Cannes. (Anonymous)"

An innocent mistake in this example, surely, but it shows how highly attuned people are when they suspect liberties are being taken with the truth.

So, what is the easiest way to avoid this kind of trouble altogether and to be held in the highest regard by your peers?

Follow the golden rule.

Be proud. Be articulate. But, most of all, be honest.

- - - - - - - - -

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Just give up!

It's hard.

Everyone is smarter and more talented than you. Better looking too.

You will never get a break. 

Everyone you are competing against is miles ahead of you.

Really, you should just give up.


Will their looks fade, while your unique perspective remains?

Will your struggle teach you the craft and make you better in the long run than any of these overnight successes?

Will you get your break, as long as you endure?

Anyone taking on a film has these thoughts. Actually, anyone endeavouring to do anything inspired by their passion has these thoughts. Whether it is painting your first canvas in your living room or writing a script. 

I've had them.

It's an internal struggle, borne of never really knowing if your work resonates with anyone. 

Does anyone reading this really connect to it the way I want them to?

When faced with that kind of uncertainty, and watching the apparent success of others, it's easy to contemplate giving up.

You haven't really risked anything if you have never, even briefly, contemplated giving up.

But what if you persevered?

Samuel L Jackson is a household name today.

He was still acting in Hamburger commercials in 1975, when he was 27 years old. Still waiting for a break.

14 years later he played the 'black guy' in 'Sea Of Love'. That was his actual character name. 

But it didn't matter. He was still working towards his dream.

That same year, 1989, Samuel L Jackson finally got his big break in Spike Lee's 'Do the Right Thing'.

At 41 years old.

22 years later, Samuel L Jackson became the Guiness Book of Records 'Highest Grossing Actor of all Time' in 2011. 

His films have grossed an INCREDIBLE US$7.4 Billion.

That's about double the entire economy of Fiji. 

It turns out you can learn more from Samuel L Jackson than just a "Royale with Cheese" is the French term for a McDonald's Quarter Pounder.

Perseverance pays off.

- - - - - - - - -

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I worked unpaid on a feature film once.

It was an excellent experience and I walked away with a film credit for my trouble too. The film got a theatrical release as well, which was even more exciting.

For anyone looking to get experience working on a feature, I would recommend it.

But beware. There are predators out there.

Wolves who offer things like "exposure" and a "foot in the door", when really they are simply looking to exploit people desperate for a break in the competitive film industry.

It's dangerous mixing predators with the desperate.

I had the chance to see this predatory behaviour up close in the last week. Essential Media, a big company currently producing the feature 'Saving Mr Banks', starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, put up a notice on the Facebook page of my old film school. It read:

'We're looking for an unpaid intern to assist while our office manager takes 4 weeks of annual leave. I wondered if any of your students might be interested? 

It would be answering phones and arranging travel and couriers but it's also a foot in the door, the opportunity to see how the business works and to make some great contacts. There would also be some fun and creative jobs like designing DVD slicks and whatever skills the person has to offer. It could also lead to more interesting roles on future productions.


Associate Producer
Essential Media and Entertainment'

Now, I'll be honest I wrote a pretty scathing reply to this. Something to the effect of: 'Dear Essential Media, making your coffee and answering your phones is not an internship. Spend $300 less on coke for your Christmas party and pay these hard working students for taking on the role as your receptionist.'

That's not verbatim, but you get the idea.

Somebody administering the film school's Facebook page must have felt my reply was too scathing, however, and they removed the comment.

So I commented again.

This time it was a little more reserved.

'My original comment got deleted, so I will keep this one simple - what they are suggesting is not legal. Filling in as an employee is not an 'internship'. An internship is something specific under employment law where a person can expect to get training or experience, not just fill in as your receptionist so you can not pay a desperate film student looking for a break:'

At this point, someone responded with an 'Are you serious?'

To which I gave my final comment:

'100% serious. I have worked unpaid on a feature, but I received actual training on a feature and a feature credit out of it. That's an unpaid internship. This one is calling itself an unpaid internship, but really you are just working as a receptionist for free. I want to make sure the SFS students know the difference and don't get exploited.'

And that sums it up, really. People deserve better than to have their dreams dangled in front of them so that someone else can get slave labour.

It's just wrong.

And I am not the lone voice on this.

Right now in the USA, Fox Searchlight Pictures is facing off against a lawsuit regarding unpaid interns.

In 2009, the two interns worked on the smash hit film 'Black Swan', but claim that, instead of receiving experience in entry level film production, they were allegedly simply told to make coffee, answer phones and occasionally do some janitorial work (i.e. cleaning and taking out garbage). They are now suing Fox to argue that, for this sort of work where they were not learning anything, they should have been paid a wage instead.

The lawsuit started in October 2011. Now, just in the last few days, the suit has added more plaintiffs: a "corporate intern" at Fox and a "production intern" who worked on "(500) Days Of Summer". These new plaintiffs are alleging that they too were promised a learning experience, but instead were simply used as unpaid labour to replace paid staff positions.

Collectively, these interns have finally said enough is enough and ignited a debate on the long running practice of unpaid internships in the film industry.

But while some might think the interns taking a stand is courageous, they are not without their detractors.

Since scratching the surface on this issue, it has been suggested to me that this case is an example of the 'new generation's' greed, wanting to avoid paying their dues and not willing to put in the hard work.

I completely disagree.

If you agreed to teach an aspiring filmmaker something, anything, valuable about film production to fast-track their career, do you really think they would refuse to answer a phone or make a coffee? Do you really think they would sue you for making them take out some trash when they were mostly learning on a production what would take years to learn in film school?

Of course not.

But if you promise someone an ice-cream and they get a slap in the face instead, they are bound to be upset.

Now, my colleagues have worried out loud about me writing this newsletter on an active and seemingly powerful production company. They think it could be a career limiting move.

And, in a way, that is exactly why I wrote it.

There are real unpaid internships out there. Valuable experiences that I completely support, offered by the likes of excellent Australian Producers like Jenny Day, or the Australian Distribution guru John L Simpson.

Then there are 'internships' like those offered by Essential Media. Thinly veiled slave labour.

Pointing this out so that aspiring filmmakers, chasing their dreams, don't get exploited shouldn't be considered a revolutionary act.

It's just the truth.

These companies know they are not doing the right thing.

How do I know?

Because actions speak louder than words.

No one has admitted anything, but...

...Fox now pays its interns $8 an hour.

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