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.

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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.

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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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Wednesday, August 08, 2012


Money clouds your judgement.

You think it is just you who can have your better judgement swayed by a paycheck waved at your desperation.

People like us who have to make a choice about taking that freelance job on an awful corporate video, just to pay the rent.

You think it only happens to us mere mortals.

But you're wrong.

Even for the greats, money clouds your judgement.

Even for someone like Marlon Brando for his legendary, Oscar-winning role as 'Don Corleone' in 'The Godfather'.

I love this story. Especially since it relates to the secret wrangling behind the scenes of the iconic film (one of my personal favourites).

The fact that the story is about shady deals involved in making an iconic gangster movie just makes it better.

So, imagine it's 1970 and 'The Godfather' is in pre-production.

Apparently, the studio making the film dislikes both the Director, Francis Ford Coppola, and the proposed lead, Marlon Brando.

Brando, however, had given an early preview of how he thought the character would speak and conduct himself. It was so good, allegedly, that his transformation into 'Don Corleone' (including tissues shoved into his mouth for the jutting jaw) was dubbed 'The Miracle on Mullholland'.

Brando was in.

And then came the touchy subject of pay.

The studio still disliked Brando on some level, so apparently they offered him 'actor's scale (note: minimum wage for actors) up front and 5 percent of gross receipts when the film grossed $50 million. He would also have to put up a bond against any cost overruns caused by his bad behaviour.'


But Brando needed the money now. So, he sent his lawyer back to the negotiating table with the studio, where he 'pleaded for at least $100,000 to help the actor avoid tax delinquency. In exchange Brando agreed to return his points (note: percentage of the gross box office) in the movie'.

The studio agreed.

As we now know, the Godfather was a huge hit.

This deal, where Brando handed back his possible percentage of the profits for more cash upfront, ultimately cost him at least $11 million.


The reason why this is a cautionary tale, and not just a random tidbit, is because Brando had an inkling that 'The Godfather' would be a hit.

You never really know, but the book 'The Godfather' was based on had been an enormous success, and had a large and loyal following.

Brando had also indicated, to his advisors, that he knew 'The Godfather' had the makings of a spectacular success.

But, knowing this, he let money get in the way of his decision making.

What if he had believed in the possible success of the film just that little bit more, without the money clouding his judgement?

He would have had $11million in his bank account instead of $100,000.

Learn from Brando's mistake.

Do your absolute best to ignore the money.

Trust your judgement.

Believe in your work.

P.S. For more reading on this story:

'Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob (and Sex)' by Peter Bart

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012


I remember having to show my grandfather how to use a mobile phone.

He is one of the smartest people I know. Ask him about Shakespeare or W.B. Yeats and he can quote their entire collected works to you. And yet, a lump of plastic with 17 buttons completely baffled him. 

Talking to him on it is even funnier. He always sounds like he doesn't really believe that he is talking to me. It's too weird for him.

And don't even get me started on getting him onto a computer. 

He owns one. I think it gets turned on roughly twice a year.

Given this has been my experience, I thought this was was the norm with older people.

As it turns out, I was wrong.

I was looking into the demographics of tablet users, given the ipad and its friends have a massive impact on how films are being purchased and consumed (look up 'multi screen content' if you don't believe me).

Ironically, I had just talked to my Grandfather in the preceding days. His latest big issue was the unexplained change in flavour of Heinz's 'Baked Beans in Ham Sauce'. 

They weren't as "ham tasting" as they used to be, apparently.

Keeping this in mind, my mouth fell open when I read that older people (50-65 and 65+) are one of the large growing markets for tablet computers. Apparently, the oldies like the intuitive touch screens and the high resolution.

My shock turned to borderline disbelief with the next stunning fact:

'As of April 2012, 53% of American adults age 65 and older use the internet or email.'

...and THEN...

'As of February 2012, one third (34%) of internet users age 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18% do so on a typical day.'

As if that wasn't enough, it turns out the numbers of older people using social networking sites overall are growing significantly. Of ALL AGE GROUPS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE USERS between 2008 and 2010, over 65s jumped from from 2% to 6% of total users. More significantly, over 50s went from 9% to 20% of total users.  

Simply, wow.

SO much of the wisdom and education around using the online world to attract viewers focuses purely on the younger generation.

Is this a subtle form of age discrimination? Not letting older people play the game, even though they want to?

It's counter-intuitive too.

Think about it: how many older viewers, and therefore how much money, are we leaving on the table because we don't engage with them, even though they are there?

I don't have the exact answers, unfortunately. There is enough information there to make a case, but we need more data to be absolutely sure.

And perhaps I don't have the perfect personal example. The last time I spoke to my Grandfather, he told me he was watching French news, to try and help him learn French. 

He couldn't understand much though, he said.

But that's my Grandfather, the lovable luddite.

There are plenty of other older people who are online, on their tablet or computer, looking for content to consume.

Think about how much disposable income and leisure time these older people have. Who better to be a viewer of your film online or a regular viewer of your work?

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