Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Sometimes, you are lucky enough to be spoilt for choice. 

Sometimes choices get taken away from you.

This week, I have two gems for you, to the point where I couldn't really split them. So, I am giving you both.


Ripped off.

That's how I feel.

So do a lot of other filmmakers.

The self-touted 'people's choice awards' of the Australian film industry, the 'Inside Film Awards' have cancelled their 2012 awards run.


With their decision, everyone who had a chance of being nominated for the 2012 awards was given the shaft.

I understand economics are involved.

The Australian Academy Awards (the AACTAs) were a bigger success than anyone imagined.

Sponsors for film awards in Sydney are therefore thin on the ground. They put all their money into the AACTAs. Geoffrey Rush was there after all!

I get it.

But Inside Film doesn't.

If you take on the important task of recognising an industry with awards that have become 'accredited' via esteem, then you actually have a responsibility to them.

The awards are not your plaything to make money out of.

If you needed to scale back the awards, then you should have done it.

You should have taken a financial hit.

But instead, you chose to breach a trust that came with being a recognised accolade.

Now, I'm afraid, I actually hope you don't recover.

You don't deserve it anymore.


She won!!

Lee Storey, the filmmaker I wrote about in March...


...has won her case against the IRS and had her documentary film declared a 'for-profit enterprise'.

This avoids any chance of her work being declared a 'hobby', which would have made the expenses associated with the film not tax deductible.



Mrs Storey, inadvertently, has done more for filmmakers by being taken to court by the IRS than many government film agencies. Her case sets a much needed precedent for the long process of film development and production to still be considered a for-profit exercise. This precedent was needed, given the length of time it takes for many films to be completed, let alone profitable.

Interestingly, the case also touched on another important subject, the reality of filmmakers having 'day jobs' whilst they complete a film. In Mrs Storey's case, she is a water rights attorney for a law firm named Ballard Spahr in the USA. Apparently, this day job is quite lucrative for Mrs Storey, and the IRS was suggesting that this showed her filmmaking was an 'expensive hobby'.

Did you hear that sound?

That was the filmmakers who are reading this spitting out whatever they were drinking.

The practice of having a 'day job', while getting a film production moving, is common practice. If this suddenly became the standard by which a film was determined a hobby, a lot of filmmakers would be, quite frankly, starved to death.

But thankfully, Mrs Storey and her team won a victory for herself, for filmmakers and for good sense. Judge Kroupa, to her credit, fully admitted that she now understood that documentary filmmaking was definitely a for profit exercise, and not just to 'educate', as she had previously asserted.

It is slightly concerning that a victory in today's film industry is simply being recognised as a profession at all.

But every little bit helps, I guess.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Together, we glimpsed into the future.

I thought you might like to know, it looks like we were right.

Last August, I wrote to you about the impending death of traditional broadcast television.


I suggested that, once you can plug an internet cable into your television, broadcast television will become the Tasmanian Tiger. Extinct.

Extinction will come because, in an internet enabled world where you can watch content you want at any time, why should you be 'told' by the broadcasters what to watch? The traditional TV broadcast schedule becomes irrelevant.

And so do the traditional broadcasters, unless they evolve.

My suggestion was that, in this new world, the traditional broadcasters will have three main roles:

1) commissioning new original content (i.e. pay creatives to make original shows that they have exclusive rights to);
2) curating a catalogue of programs that they offer on demand (e.g. channel 7 will become the home of reality television shows that they buy in bulk from Producers); and
3) uploading their shows online.

Much quicker than expected, Netflix in the USA is doing just that. For the uninitiated, Netflix is a subscription service where you can watch movies and TV shows legally online for a monthly fee. Business has been booming, as viewers in the USA have embraced subscription 'content streaming' services over traditional 'hard' media, like DVD's.

For a while now, Netflix has simply been buying existing content in bulk from film and TV producers, or making exclusive content deals with major producers like HBO (who make favourites like Sex and the City, The Sopranos, The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, and True Blood).

Now, Netflix has decided to start commissioning original content.


The reason is obvious.

If you make the TV show, and it is a major hit, then you have the exclusive right to show it. Anyone who wants to see your TV show, and this could be millions of people, has to subscribe to your service to get it.

Netflix is leading the way into this revolution. First with streaming of movies, legally, to replace traditional DVDs. Now original content.

Watch for the major broadcasters to follow or fall.

If only we could predict lotto numbers this well.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012


Right now, a huge wall is being slowly erected that will affect you and a lot of people you know.

It is being constructed slowly, so that you won't notice. Until of course, you do.

The wall is not something you can see or touch. But it exists.

It is the 'paywall'.

You see, in the new frontier of the internet, there are no experts. This includes from the ranks of the experts in the 'old world' of TV and radio.

The possibilities, and the risks, online are just so vast, that no one has really worked out the rules yet.


In a world of infinite choice online, you can vote for what you like by very easily shopping elsewhere.

As you can imagine, getting paid for your creative work in this new world is very difficult. Why would I pay for your news website when I can get it for free from somewhere else?

Why would I buy a movie from your website when I can download it for free?

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

This has been the thinking pattern on the internet for years. The status quo that internet users have been operating under.

Until now.

With DVD sales dwindling, newspapers disappearing, and more people owning internet-connected devices (like the ipad), the content providers have seen enough. They want to start taming the internet beast and making online content generate more revenue.

And how do you do this? With a paywall.

Picture this. You hear about a great news article. You rush over to the site. You get the headline and the first three lines and then....


Then a box appears.

"If you would like to continue reading, you can subscribe to (insert name here) for the low low price of $X's per month."

The New York Times has done it. They lost nearly 600 million monthly online readers overnight. But they did it.

Variety, the trade publication for the Hollywood Film Industry, did it too.


In the USA, Netflix has exploded as a way for people to legally pay for the films they watch online, via a subscription, rather than download a pirated version.

Quickflix, the Australian version of Netflix, and Bigpond movies are looking to do the same.

The film 'Melancholia' grossed as much money through paid online viewers as it did in traditional cinemas.


What does all this mean?

It means that you will still get things for free online. They will be the cheap and easy things like news headlines or movie trailers.

But the really good content, the in depth news article or the film you want to watch, will no longer be free. Unless you want to steal them of course.

This change will be introduced very gradually, to get you used to the new 'status quo' of paying for things, but take heed. It is coming.

Personally, and I am biased I know, being a filmmaker, but I can't help but think this is a good thing.

I actually want my journalists to be able to pay their rent, so that they don't have to have a second job at McDonalds to house their family. That way, they can focus on what I want from them: in depth and good quality news articles.

It is a double edged sword, however. In a world used to free, you will have to produce very good quality work, consistently, to keep people paying.

You also have to make sure the access is convenient and the price is reasonable. Netflix seems to be doing this in the USA, hence why they are adding millions of subscribers at an impressive rate.

So, the paywall will mean the content producer gets paid, but with it will come the heavy responsibility to keep your interest. You have many other options online after all.

But I'm a filmmaker. For the most part I am on the other side of the wall to you. Trying to make you love me. Hoping you will support my work because you believe in it.

And then there is you. Looking through a gap in the wall. Trying to decide if you want to save a few shekels, or to support the content makers who enrich your life through words and film.

Whose side are you on?

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Sunday, April 08, 2012


When it came to girls, I was never the most popular kid.

A lot of other guys had charm and charisma. I had a quirky sense of humour and 20 extra kilograms.

Sure, give me enough time to chat to a girl and I could make her laugh, but the funny fat kid doesn't get much in the way of valentines cards.

Skip forward to my early twenties, and I had lost 27 kilograms. I had also scraped together enough for a new wardrobe. The things we do for love. Even brief, morally ambiguous love.

The realisation that took years to come to me, was that overcompensating is a band aid. If the situation requires you to become an extreme version of yourself, it is probably time to ask why you want to be there in the first place.

The famous Groucho Marx quote says it best: "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member." 

Somebody needs to give this same lesson to the filmmakers making music videos.

Making music videos has almost become an extreme sport, as the filmmakers involved have to work harder and harder just to get attention.

You may remember the 'golden age' of music videos, somewhere in the 80s and 90s, where every band HAD to have a great music video. And people actually WATCHED music videos, ad nauseum, via dedicated music video TV channels, like MTV, Channel V and Rage.

Not any more.

The channels still exist. But the viewers are dwindling. MTV programmes mostly reality TV shows now; dreadful stuff like 'Jersey Shore'.

And for the filmmakers still making music videos, they are having to go to EXTREME lengths to get anyone to pay attention. 

The best example is OK GO's latest music video. You have to see it to believe it.


They use a car, driving on a specially constructed course, to play their song by bashing on instruments, at speed, placed along the course. Not just a few instruments either: xylophones, 280 guitars, pipes, pianos, and the list goes on.

But that wasn't their first extreme effort. Their previous video was an outdoor, choreographed stop motion performance over 24 hours.


And before that, an amazing giant machine, running like cascading dominoes over two floors of a warehouse.


And before that the choreographed, one-take, multiple treadmill dance that took them 27 takes to get right.


These were all very impressive efforts.

But where does it end?

Do they stop at one point and say, "OK guys, maybe we shouldn't fire the rocket, shaped like a unicorn, into the sun?"

Once upon a time, a good music video could help launch a filmmakers career, like Michel Gondry, Spike Jonz or Brett Ratner.

But those days are pretty much over. There is no future in music videos anymore.

If you have to fight this hard just to get attention, you should stop and ask yourself if you want to be in this club.

Instead, use your creative talent where you'll be appreciated and where your good work will be recognised.

Even I got the girl in the end.

I just had to change clubs.

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