Saturday, June 30, 2012


Shanghai is a weird place.

Don't get me wrong, travelling there was a good experience overall. I was honoured to attend the 2012 Shanghai International Film Festival. I met the Producer of 'Star Wars', the producer of the Oscar nominated short 'Raju' and a bunch of excellent short film makers from around the world. I even accidentally sassed the Director of 'Enemy at the Gates', with a question after his speech.

But Shanghai is still a weird place.

It is a city that is obsessed with appearances over substance. This obsession is so complete, that it permeates everything in the city.

The hotels look perfect from the outside, but inside they are dated and infused with cigarette smoke.

The restaurants have big glossy signs, but inside they are like cafeterias with unhappy (and largely unfriendly) waiters.

And then there was the Shanghai Film Festival itself.

The festival is accredited by the 'Fédération Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films' (FIAPF), who also accredits the Berlin, Cannes and Venice Film Festivals.

The opening ceremony of the festival was attended by film luminaries such as Jean Jaques Annaud, Jackie Chan, Aaron Eckhart, Mike Medavoy and Chow Yun Fat.

The media was there.

Glamorous sponsors.

The short film awards ceremony, which I was there for, was attended by Chinese Celebrities and was broadcast live on Chinese television.

To an outsider or a media person, it had all the appearances of prestige.

But the truth is the festival got the media showpieces right and ignored the important little details.

Like Shanghai's hotels and restaurants, the film festival had its quirks when you got inside. It was the small touches, like the fact they lost a screening copy of my film and couldn't work out what to do until I brought it, IN PERSON, one hour before the screening. Or like that televised award ceremony for the short films, where they: transported us, the filmmakers, to the ceremony; trotted us along the red carpet; sat us up front for the ceremony; trotted us back out of the ceremony location; and then transported us back to the hotel.

No drinks. No after party. Only the Chinese Celebrities were allowed in the VIP area for a drink. We were brought out for the glitzy media event, then tucked away again.

I don't think they did this deliberately, mind you. It is just a part of their innate obsession with the facade.

The Shanghai perspective, ironically, is very similar to people who are new to film.

To an outsider, a film is a glorious exercise filled with beauty, publicity, celebrity, fame and artistry.

The truth is that it is hard work. Meaningful and wonderfully fulfilling, yes, but still hard. Filmmaking is a blend of art, science and commerce.

The film I was representing in Shanghai, 'The Good Neighbour' was completed at the start of 2011. That means, from script, to production, to distribution, I have lived with the film for around two years.

In addition to making the film, the director and I spent hours creating promotional materials for the film's release. I worked on the distribution strategy and have put many hours and late nights into getting the film out for the world to see.

But that is all in the background.

What an outsider observes is me attending a glitzy awards ceremony in Shanghai, wearing a nice suit.

It looks like easy, glamorous work, but appearances are deceiving.

It's also the reason why everyone at the major film festivals appear so eager to kick back and enjoy themselves. They are eager because it is really the culmination of hundreds of hours of work behind the scenes. They've earned a drink or two.

If they are allowed in the VIP area, of course.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I am writing this through the remnants of jet lag, so please bear with me. I just got back into Sydney from Thailand and The Shanghai International Film Festival, hence the late arrival of this instalment.

It's funny how life makes a simple thing, like sending a newsletter, more complex. 

To someone outside of the world or the environment you are in, it may seem that the complexity is unnecessary.

Before I left for Shanghai, I was asked an interesting question at the premiere of a feature film ('Careless Love') that I worked on. We were drinking in the bar upstairs after the film screened and a friend of a colleague asked me about casting extras for a film.  

'Surely it can't be that complicated?', she asked. 'For instance, in the university scene, you simply show up at the uni and just ask students and they become your extras?'

I thought about that for a minute. There is comfort in that sort of simplicity. 

But I knew the answer. 

Cost. Doing things out of desperation, at the last minute, inevitably costs you more than if you plan them well in advance. 

Insurance. If someone gets injured on your set, you are legally liable. 

Reliability. You need to be sure they will be there on the day. Missing extras equals lost shots, equals problems. 

Permission. Filming somebody actually legally requires their permission. Otherwise they can bury your film or worse, hold it to ransom. 

Choice. Organise extras and you get what you want. Improvise the extras casting and you take what you get. 

Such a simple thing, with a seemingly simple answer, has so many layers. 

The truth is, most tasks are like that. 

The trick for you is to make these tasks, with their subtle layers of complexity, seem simple. 

That's the kind of person filmmakers want to work with. 

Do that, and you will have a long career. 

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Sunday, June 24, 2012


The movies are overpriced.

There, I said it.

Going to a cinema is one of the few experiences where you get a variable quality product for the same highest price. The costs of production don't factor into the final price at all.

Imagine you went to a restaurant and had to pay a flat fee of $75. For that one price you could either choose the gourmet hand-fed lobster and truffle rissoto...or McDonalds chicken nuggets.

Which would you choose? The risotto, of course, to get your money's worth. 

That is a normal economic decision of a normal human being.

And that is exactly what happens with cinema tickets. The $200 million blockbuster, with all the bells and whistles, costs the same to see as a small independent film that costs $500,000 to make.  

It is absolutely bizzare, and the end result is empty cinemas and underperforming small independent films. That is what happens when you take away real choice from a consumer group. People choose the most 'bang for their buck' option.

The other result is that many independent producers have been quite vocal in saying they will release their film in cinemas, but only for a short time as a marketing tool. The hope, the producers say, is to then actually make a profit on the other platforms like DVD and Video on Demand (VOD). The trade-off is that the film will actually LOSE money during its run in the cinema.

You may be inclined to ask, who is to blame for this situation?

It's not a simple answer, everyone wants their cut after all, but the most fault lies with the exhibitors. The people who run the cinemas.

Exhibitors are like the spoiled only child we all knew in primary school. They always wanted it their way, even when they contradicted themselves.

Like when the head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, in the USA, announces that releasing a film in cinemas should not be thought of as 'just a marketing tool'. The implications from this and other announcements by the Association is that the cinema experience is at least equal to the other platforms, like VOD and DVD.  

The hilarious irony of such an announcement is that exhibitors have shown a penchant for wanting to be held in higher standing than the other viewing platforms.

As recently as the Brett Ratner film 'Tower Heist', which the producers wanted to release onto VOD in as little as THREE WEEKS after it started in cinemas, exhibitors have threatened the boycott of a film.

It it was released on VOD in three weeks, the exhibitors said, we will not show it in cinemas at all.

In the end, Universal Pictures had to back down to the exhibitor's demands. 

So, what does this little stoush mean?

It means that exhibitors believe they are at least the equal of the other movie viewing platforms...but...they want to be first!! Don't hold them as equal to the others!


I'll cut through the rhetoric for you. The exhibitors want things to stay the same, where they have a captive audience, can charge what they want and raise prices with impunity. 

But the world has changed. 

The internet exists. Piracy exists.

The exhibitors want to pretend that the world is still flat.

How is the 'flat earth' map business going these days? 

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Sunday, June 10, 2012


At 4 years old he was diagnosed with Leukemia.

He fought it for his entire life.

At 21 years old, the cancer finally claimed him.

That could have been the story of Nick Danger.

But it isn't.

I met Nick while I studied at the Sydney Film School. We had different sensibilities, he being an avid South Park fan, and I the Irish-Catholic sarcastic humourist.

But his energy was undeniable.

He spoke early on of his heroes, Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez. The kings of low budget character-driven films that became major players in Hollywood. Nick wanted to emulate their storytelling styles for his own ideas.

For our first films at the Film School, I made a documentary about whether or not I was related to Mel Gibson and Nick made a documentary about his long term battle with cancer. Both were honest films, with some humour thrown in for good measure.

Funnily enough, both of our films were eventually selected for the same short film festival in St Kilda, Australia.

And then he was gone. We both graduated and we didn't really keep in touch.

Then, recently, I heard that he had achieved his dream of making a low budget feature film 'Sick', and that it was screening in LA as a part of the Independent Filmmakers Showcase.

Suddenly, he and I were back in touch again, trying to organise a screening of his film for The Sydney Film School community. He was upbeat and energetic, looking forward to screening and talking about the film.

I was taking far too long to get it organised, bumping it down on my priority list under developing scripts, working on my own films and other related issues. With the benefit of hindsight, I would have done better.

Then a week ago I login to Facebook for a quick check in, only to see the bulletin "RIP Nick Danger".

I thought it was a joke at first. A promotional opportunity for his film. The film was called 'Sick', after all.

But slowly I realised it was real.

As always happens in these situations, the blanks were filled in by multiple people.

Nick had become sick again some time ago. He was keeping it as quiet as possible, understandably.

Finally, it had become too much for his body to cope with. I am told he spent his penultimate night talking and joking with friends, then he passed away peacefully in his sleep the next day.

Nick Danger.

At 4 years old he was diagnosed with Leukemia.

He fought it for his entire life.

At 21 years old, the cancer finally claimed him.

He never let it get in the way of his dreams.

In those 21 years he graduated from film school, made short films that were acclaimed and chosen for film festivals, achieved his dream of making a low budget feature film, and had the feature film selected to screen in Hollywood.

He lived more in his 21 years than most people do in a lifetime.

That will be the story of Nick Danger.

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Sunday, June 03, 2012


One of the worst things that you will ever have to do is tell another person that they no longer have a job.

There is no way to put a positive spin on this sort of news.

Sometimes it's their fault, but most often not.

But it never matters. Looking into the face of another person and telling them they have lost their livelihood, their security, never goes well. The why doesn't matter at that point.

I have had to do it when I was producing a film, due to the incompetence of the person involved. She wasn't shocked when it dawned on her what I was saying, but there was a moment when she said, "Are you firing me?"

And then, no matter how detached you are from your feelings, you have to look them in the eyes and say "yes".

I have had to look a grown man in the face, a family man, and tell him he no longer has a job to provide for them. When his eyes watered slightly, and his lip trembled a little, I begged the universe to stop him from crying. I knew I would follow if he did.

You try and be the good guy. If it were up to you it would be different. You try and show that you are still "nice". It's a hard sell.

In film and media, within companies and on creative projects, there is sometimes a bravado that comes from wielding this sort of power. I've seen it first hand on several film projects. "I'll just kick him off the project," the courageous man or woman says.

But eventually, when the reality of having to have the conversation sets in, the bravery tends to diminish a little. 

Because, deep down, we are all just people. Imperfect. Trying our best. Trying to make it work.

The best people I know, the ones I would work with in a heartbeat, will preserve a person's dignity while having to give this news. It is their ability to empathise with the person losing their job that also makes them great filmmakers. Empathy. Respect. 

You should never be too quick to exercise absolute power over others' livelihoods.

Having to fire people is necessary sometimes, I know. 

But you should always hate it.

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