Sunday, July 29, 2012


Imagine there is an old colonial town, with a massive bucket of gold in the town square.

The bucket of gold belongs to the entire town.

Bizarrely, however, the bucket of gold is left open and unsecured.

Now, there is a sheriff in this town.

Rather than lock up the gold, the sheriff in town is responsible for tracking down anybody who steals it.

How well do you think this system would work? How long would the gold last?

Or, put another way, how well did 'voluntary regulation' of financial companies work in the lead up to the GFC?

Our media landscape, responsible for bringing us news and entertainment (yes, I think of them separately) is our bucket of gold.

Currently, we have a lock on our bucket of gold: the laws that regulate our media and media ownership.

With the laws regulating our media, no large ambitious media company...cough...Fox...cough...Murdoch...can own more than two of the three major media mediums: TV, Radio or Newspapers.

Times are changing, however. The internet, that universal gamechanger, has made us start to rethink whether we need a lock on our bucket of gold.

Right now, the Australian Government is mulling over The Convergence Review, a review of the laws that govern media provision in this country.

If you haven't heard of it, you should really be paying more attention. The proposed changes will affect us for years to come.

There are many things to come out of the Convergence Review, but the most interesting is the idea to abolish media ownership laws and replace them with a "public interest test" decided by the Government.

So now, if these changes are accepted, there will no longer be a lock on our bucket of gold, but instead the Government will decide if stealing the gold is a good thing or not.

Why dilute the laws that regulate our media and media ownership?

The Convergence Review argues that, with the internet turning everyone into their own newspaper (blogs) or TV Stations (YouTube), limiting media ownership is pointless. 

I think this conclusion overlooks one MAJOR point.

The conclusion that media ownership is pointless works in a world where there isn't already entrenched powerful media barons. Sure, in a world without Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch, the only thing that matters is how big a media company becomes. 

But Packer and Murdoch have existed. 

And they have created companies with huge power bases and almost unlimited media resources. 

And their companies have not shied away from using this power to influence how the news is presented.

Maybe the idea of a free press is dead, but do we really have to help bury it too?

At least the Convergence Review got one thing right, recommending to keep content quotas for Australian programs.

Content quotas force broadcasters to show a certain percentage of Australian content. This is because, despite Australian content regularly rating in the top 20 television programs, Australian programs cost a lot to produce. 

American TV shows, by comparison are relatively cheap for broadcaster to buy and show in Australia. Approximately, it costs three times as much to make Australian content as it does to buy it cheap from overseas.

Without a content quota, broadcasters would just programme endless cheap American sitcoms instead of making Australian shows.

Luckily they saw some sense.

So, did you know all of the above?

My apologies if you did.

But I doubt it.

The more people I talk to, the more I realise the majority are not paying attention. 

But you should care. Not just because I think you should.

Because the bucket of gold belongs to you too.

And the thieves only steal from the bucket when they think no-one is watching.

So, guess what?

In the real world, you're the sheriff too.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Money. Fame. Respect.

The power trifecta.

Plenty of people opt into entertainment to achieve one, or all, of these milestones. You only have to watch a musical talent show like 'Idol' or 'X Factor' to see the crash and burn parade.

Some of these people have talent. Most don't.

The bad news for a lot of newcomers is that the barriers to the 'in-demand' careers in the arts are very high. That's not a new idea, but in the world of the internet it is harder for people to accept.

Yes, just like it was in the many years past, the overwhelming consensus is that your artistic work has to be 'good', whatever that means, to achieve any semblance of real success. The power trifecta demands quality!

But what if you are good at your artistic profession and accolades still elude you? Is that even possible?

Australian films in 2011 had their most critically successful years ever. 'Australian films featured in all six premiere international film festivals with the standout achievement of Sleeping Beauty screening in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival'.


How much did these Australian films gross at the $1.09 Billion Australian Box Office in 2011?

$42.9 Million. Or, put simply, a paltry 3.9%

One film, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2' exceeded that on its own, with $52.6 Million at the Australian Box Office in 2011.

So, critical success equated to what, exactly?

The same trend can be seen in the latest announcement of Nominees to join the American Academy. Two notable nominees for this year are actor Andy Serkis and director Terrence Malick.,0,2076864.story

The role that transformed Serkis' career, and indeed how we view 'acting', was his motion capture performance as Golumn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Serkis' star turn impressed audiences and critics alike, and led to further critically acclaimed performances in King Kong and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

So, Serkis' most acclaimed role was in 2003. The Academy recognised him with a nomination in 2012. That is almost a decade of difference, for the mathematically challenged.

For Terrence Malick, his Oscar nominated (yes, by the very same Academy) film The Thin Red Line, was released in 1999. 13 years ago.

If you are good at your artistic profession can accolades still elude you?

Yes, yes they can.

Martin Scorsese was first nominated for the Best Director Oscar in 1980 for Raging Bull. It took another 5 nominations and 27 years for him to actually win the Award for The Departed.

What does this mean to you?

It means, if you want to be an artist, you can't do it for accolades that can be denied or taken away from you.

It has to be about something simpler than money, fame and respect.

Quite simply, like air, you just have to need it.

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Monday, July 16, 2012


I was having a lively discussion with a friend about submitting scripts to producers.

He was a touch annoyed about the 'no unsolicited submissions' policy most producers have. The policy generally means that, if you send in your script that they have neither asked for, nor been recommended, the producer will very likely return it to you unread and, in most cases, unopened. 

Their fear is being sued for plagiarism.

My friend felt this was an overly bureaucratic response to a small risk, and unnecessarily created an industry for 'middle men'. like agents. 

It's a tough argument to win, either way. Yes, you could argue that adding too many processes and 'filters' diminishes our ability to see, and therefore produce, new and interesting work. You could also argue that being sued for plagiarism, losing and being declared bankrupt also diminishes your ability to produce anything.

To get us both thinking, I told my friend about a case of alleged story theft that I had heard of. It relates to the Tom Cruise blockbuster film, 'The Last Samurai'.

The Producers of the film, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, were sued by two brothers, Aaron and Matthew Benay. The brothers claimed they wrote a script called 'The Last Samurai', also about an American war veteran going to Imperial Japan to train the Japanese army, and pitched it to the Producers verbally. 

The brothers claim their story was then used as the basis for the eventual film that Zwick and Herskovitz produced, 'The Last Samurai'. They were paid nothing.

Warner Brothers, the studio involved, argued that it was coincidence, and that multiple writers accidentally developing similar storylines is common place in Hollywood. It is part and parcel of having so many writers trying to get their work produced, in a world where only so many films are made a year.   

In what would be especially upsetting to the brothers, the film went on to make over $400 million at the worldwide box office. Ouch.

And here is where it gets really interesting. 

On the eve of the trial, an anonymous letter arrived, purporting to have emails showing the Producers' guilt. 

The brothers argued it was damning evidence, with emails clearly showing theft and deception.

The studio argued that they were forgeries and that the brothers had not taken any steps to verify the documents were not tampered with. In fact, the studio alleged, it was likely that the brothers had played some part in the creation of the anonymous letter an the forged documents.

The brothers claimed they played no part in the letter and alleged the documents showed handwriting and email signatures that demonstrated their authenticity. 

In response, somewhat dramatically, the studio had the documents forensically analysed to show they were forgeries.

At this point, it no doubt seemed like the case had reached the peak of its intrigue.

But the most dramatic allegation came next.

The brothers alleged that the studio, after a meeting, took the glasses of water they were drinking from and sent them for DNA testing. The DNA evidence was to be used to show that the brothers had a connection to the anonymous letter.  

Amazing stuff.

In the end, however, the Producers, Zwick and Herskovitz, were vindicated and won the lawsuit.

When I finished telling the story, my friend blinked really hard and said: "Nice story, but what does that have to do with the whole 'unsolicited submission' problem?"

I thought about it for second.

I said: "It shows how complicated the whole unsolicited submission process can get when it goes badly, hence why they don't take the risk."

Not a bad answer.

Ironically though, it actually shows that the stories behind making movies in Hollywood, can be far more interesting than the movies Hollywood is actually making.

It's great fodder for writers.

If you can get anyone to read the script.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Can you hear about a person you know having success and be genuinely happy for them?

What about if they are a peer? Or, put another way, a competitor?

A lot of people struggle to give a straight answer to these questions.

With the new online world for content creators, the idea of the 'personal brand' has grown more pervasive. As it takes hold of a filmmaker, they start to believe they are in competition with everyone.

If you get funding for a feature film, they didn't.

If your script gets bought by a major studio, theirs got left on the shelf.

If your film gets selected for the Oscars, theirs goes straight to an unwatched DVD collection.

It doesn't matter how true any of these statements are. They might not have even finished their script, or cut their movie.

But your success means their failure.

I have met these people. They exist.

But what if, and bear with my overwhelming optimism here, we were all in it together?

What if we looked at ourselves as a community of artists, where the success of one enables the success of others?

Imagine cheering for your filmmaking peers, and having them cheer for you in return. Or supporting another filmmaker with their dream project, knowing that this is the kind of working environment you want to create.

I am not a lone idealist on this thought.

And it is not just because I am not an Oscar winner (yet) or earning millions producing Hollywood films.

The producer of Terence Malick's 'Tree of Life', Sarah Green, believes in the community of filmmakers supporting each other too. Ms Green gave a wonderful and inspiring key note speech at the Sundance Film Festival this year that sums it up far better than I could.

In case you're feeling lazy, the best quote from the speech is:

"So give some of your time, your expertise, your energy to mentor, to train, to advise and to cheer. What benefits one independent film benefits us all. Who hasn't referenced "Brokeback Mountain" or "Little Miss Sunshine" or "Precious" when trying to explain that our "female-driven," "period," "coming-of-age," "Americana" (oh, and here's the real eye-roller in a pitch meeting) or "drama" was going to make pots of money. A truly successful indie gives us all something to point to when pitching our own film, and makes it easier to get another independent film made." 

Giving more than you take.

A crazy idea?

The cynics will object and say this is all great in theory but impractical in the competitive film business.

But what if I told you this cooperation already existed?

In Australia, there is a group called Blue Tongue Films. They are a small, loosely organised commune of filmmakers who work on each other's projects.

Writing, directing, producing, acting, editing, etc. Whatever needs to be done to get the film made.

So far, they have had Oscar nominations, a Sundance selection, a Cannes selection and long list of other accolades.

Technically they should be in competition. Instead they support each other to make better and better work.

It is possible.

Ghandi said: 'Be the change you want to see in the world.'

So filmmakers, and everyone really, where does this better world start?

With you.

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