Wednesday, December 25, 2013


The holiday season is all about traditions.

Some have developed over generations of family gatherings, broken bread and, inevitably, annual drunken feuds. Loathe or adore them, they're our customs, and that makes them special. Part of our DNA.

Even here, in our little micro-community of 'Tales From the Opening Act', we have our own tradition. You've waited almost a year, but it's finally returned.

The year in review.

For those of you who have joined us this year, I take a different slant on the annual review genre. You see, most pundits use November/December to review the year that is winding down.

I contend that this is folly.

The past is over and, as I wrote when I started this little tradition, 'The time to reflect, and the lessons you feel you need to learn, surely are your own.'

Instead, I review the year ahead. Call it an existential exercise in looking back on a year that hasn't yet started. Call it prognostication, if you prefer. I call it 'Looking forward with an open mind, instead of backward with nostalgia.'

And so, getting finally to the point, I bring you 'The 2014 Review'.

What to expect over the approaching new year?

Let's start with the big picture.

On the economic front, all important for the film/content industries given people need to have spending money for our survival, the global situation will actually have improved dramatically. The U.S. will have had significant job and economic growth, and the first push for a rise in the minimum wage in years. Europe will have stabilised as well, although the difference between Germany and Spain within that overall stability is still an enormous chasm of unemployment.

Which brings us to Australia. I would like to tell you that 2014 will see 'The Great Southern Land' progressing at a boringly comfortable rate, however the new Australian government's economic policy impacts are not clear as yet. A focus on mining expansion may offset the inevitable austerity measures this conservative government introduces, but we'll have to wait and see. In the mean time, you'll have all year to enjoy the effects of the enormous expansion in Australia's coal production on the world. Who needs lungs anyway?

Now, the bad news.

For film-goers, it's going to be 'sequel-o-rama' in 2014, as the major studios aim to play it safe. Captain America, Optimus Prime, Caesar the Ape, Spiderman, Xmen, Bilbo Baggins and Katniss Everdeen all make a big-budget screen return.

For film-goers wanting original fare, or for those who simply abhor the wet sock beating experience of Hollywood franchise marketing, this will be a difficult year in cinema. On the other hand, if your heart sang with delight at each of the character names I mentioned above, then you are either 14 years old, or you enjoy spending $24 on a film where you inevitably say 'the original was better'. Perhaps this won't be such a bad year for you, after all.

As always, there will be flops. Big budget flops are the ones that ripple the most, because they cause general risk aversion in film investors and scare away flighty audiences. While there seems to be a fairly vanilla approach to blockbusters in 2014, the one that stands out, and the one that I think will wear the dunce cap of box office failure, is the 'Robocop' remake. It pains me to say it, because I am a devoted fan of the original film, but I just don't see it making a dent against such well founded existing franchises. With a reported production budget of $120M, I think it's only a matter of how much Sony/MGM will have to write off.

And speaking of blockbusters, be prepared for more, more, MORE.

'Sequels and blockbusters' will be the 2014 ethos for cinemas, as the Hollywood studios try to minimise risk, yet make a massive financial return. Historically, there have been roughly 9 to 13 blockbusters released during the U.S. summer. There were 17 blockbusters released in the U.S. summer in 2013.

There have been 14 announced for 2014 already, with more announcements to come.

If you thought there were too many trailers, TV ads and billboards now, be prepared for mass marketing that never ends.

In an area that has actually been quiet for a while, 2014 will also see the 'filmmakers vs piracy vs internet service providers (ISPs)' tussle, move to the UK. While ISP's have, globally, resisted attempts to make them responsible for piracy conducted on their internet services, the UK is finally implementing a new enforcement law, The Digital Economy Act. The DE Act contains a requirement for online copyright infringers to be given 'three strikes' before facing internet disconnection and ISP blacklisting. The ISPs, in this legal framework, will of course have to play a role, but are still resisting.

Many industry players are watching this situation as it evolves, because it will be the test tube for future laws worldwide. Watch this space.

And finally, 2014 will also see the bad news of the virtually global roll-out of Netflix, the leading streaming video-on-demand (VOD) service. Netflix is in America and Scandinavia, completing its roll out in Europe, and will likely start its Australian expansion early, in 2014.

Why advance their Australian plans?

Because 20,000 Australian subscribers already exist, having individually worked out ways to avoid geo-blocking. Clever Aussies.

The Netflix expansion, however, is horrible news for every existing provider either offering or developing VOD in Australia, including: Foxtel ('Presto'), Dendy Cinemas ('Dendy Direct'), Quickflix, and Telstra ('Bigpond Movies'). What is also unclear, is how the Netflix arrival will affect existing deals film/content makers have with current Australian VOD providers, particularly if, god forbid, it's an exclusive arrangement?

But enough of the anxious hand wringing.

If you've made it this far, you deserve a dose of positivity. Don't fret. There will be good news amongst 2014's banal content, piracy debates, disruptive business moves and blockbuster flops.

Ironically, the good news is actually the inverse of the bad news.

'Sequel-o-rama 2014' will produce some of the most highly anticipated films of the year, not just by 14 year olds, but by critics as well. 'Hunger Games 1' received a very positive 84% rating on the critic's site 'Rotten Tomatoes'.

'Hunger Games 2'?

An outstanding 90%

So, as much as my cynicism is my finest asset, 'sequel-o-rama' seems to be producing films actually worth watching. Cliche's were made to be broken, after all.

And, while the combination of sequels and blockbusters may seem enough to make your eyes bleed, it was the blockbusters that actually rescued the 2013 U.S. summer from being 12-15% down at the outset, to a record year at the box office. While 2014 won't hit those record numbers, because there just isn't a franchise big enough to match the heady heights of Iron Man 3's $1.2 billion box office gross, expect the blockbusters to again buoy the box office worldwide and continue to keep the industry profitable.

That's a good thing for audiences and filmmakers alike, in case you were wondering.

My very flimsy prediction is for 'Hunger Games 3' to be the biggest box office smash of 2014, however 'The Hobbit 3' could just as easily sneak in; given it's the concluding film of the trilogy. If 'Transformers: Age of Extinction' is the highest grossing film of 2014, at least Michael Bay will finally stop making films, having been at last claimed by hell for his Faustian success contract.

Meanwhile, on the classier end of the spectrum, the 2014 Awards contenders will be difficult to separate.

While 'Gravity' and '12 Years a Slave' are the favourites, the momentum seems to be with 'American Hustle' for the 2014 Best Picture Oscar. Never underestimate, however, the power of Oprah Winfrey and the Weinsteins to wrangle 'The Butler' into the winner's circle.

On the Australian front, the Australian Academy Awards (The AACTA's) are shaping up as a battle between the overcooked drippings of 'The Great Gatsby', and the quirky Laotian charm of 'The Rocket'. If its industry and audience response at the Sydney Film Festival premiere are anything to go on, look to 'The Rocket' to sweep the AACTA's in 2014.

Which leaves us, finally, with the good news of Netflix's expansion into Australia. But how can the bad news of Australian VOD providers' business disruption in 2014 possibly have an inverse good news story?

For audiences, of course.

While Foxtel, Telstra and the rest treat Australia like their personal ant farm, where they can experiment with video-on-demand but not provide a service anywhere near what the audience wants, Netflix arrives and blows their experiment to pieces. Audiences will finally be able to really experience the service of: content they want; when they want it; how they want it.

And trust me, audiences will be hooked; which is only good news for film and content makers.

So, are you now suitably confused? Wondering what this murky 2014 picture of interrelated good and bad news stories mean for you?

The easiest way to comprehend it is in the continuum.

2013 was the year of 'question everything'. There were so many unanswered riddles, so much uncertainty, so many changing paradigms, that the only real approach was to interrogate the entire mess, and see what truths fell out.

2014 will be the year of 'perspectives'.

The global economic recession is receding. Money is flowing again. Tentatively, but it's flowing.

There are a lot more answers than there were a year ago. For example, regarding the prevalence of blockbusters, on the health of the box office, and on the level of demand for video streaming services like Netflix.

What determines whether these answers are 'good' or 'bad' news, however, is you.

It depends on your chosen circumstances.

How adaptive you can be.

How open to taking the new opportunities, and running with them, you are.

In short, your perspective counts now more than ever. It's the prism by which the events of 2014 will either be a blessing or a curse.

Yes, the bleak shadow of the GFC is finally behind us. But now the work really starts.

2014 can be a big year for you. But are you ready?

- - - - - -
The 2013 Review (written in 2012)

The 2012 Review (written in 2011)

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Sunday, December 22, 2013


No, I haven't lost my mind.

I am empathising with President Barack Obama.

Everywhere he goes.

No matter what he does.

He is shadowed. By fake people.

No, this is not a political statement. It's a fact.

19.5 million fake people follow the President every day.

On Twitter.

Yes, of the 36 million Twitter followers the President has accumulated, over half are considered fake. 'Fake' meaning 'one which has one or no followers and follow less than 50 others. It can also be one which is used to send spam tweets or one which has never tweeted at all.'

But in the digital wild west of social media, is this distortion really a moral turpitude? Are there any truths to be gleaned from this revelation?

Has the freedom of free conversation, the legitimate virality of great content and ideas, been co-opted by marketers using shady ways to stay at the top of your Twitter Feed?

Yes, yes it has.

And it means that Twitter is officially extinct.
Because the driving force behind Twitter is 'trending'. The infamous hashtag. Twitter was supposed to be the free flow of short bites of wit, knowledge, truth, feeling, etc.

Between PEOPLE, not between MARKETERS.

With marketers buying Twitter followers to totally manipulate social media, the whole point is lost. It means that, realistically you can't be heard, because the marketers control the message. And even if, but it's a BIG if, you can break through the din of fake Twitter users, so many real users have tuned out by that point that no one is listening anyway.

But surely that couldn't mean that Twitter is marching towards doom? Surely this prognosis of extinction is sensationalism?

Sensationalism, maybe, but it is certainly interesting that Twitter has decided to become a public company now, as these revelations are starting to appear. The public share offering for Twitter, of course, has earned billions for the founders of the company.

Yes, Twitter has become public, just in time for the masses to not have realised that Twitter is over.

The President shouldn't feel too bad though. He's in good company.
Justin Bieber is followed by 19.5 million fake people too.

Take note too, filmmakers. How much time and energy are you going to put into becoming a social media sensation, again?

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Friday, December 20, 2013


My first Tropfest experience has resulted in a sunburn that radiates with the heat of a thousand suns.

Yes, Tropfest, the largest short film festival in the world, is on again. It's a beautiful summer day in Sydney, and the outdoor Tropfest site is brimming with a festival atmosphere.

I'm assuming.

I didn't stick around for the big event this evening. I took my horrific sunburn and left.

Call me a party pooper, but I wasn't there for the main event. I was there for TropJR, the Tropfest category for filmmakers 15 years and under which runs earlier in the day.

A group of young filmmakers I supported to enter TropJR were finalists, and I was there to support them. They didn't win the major prizes, but the audience response to their film was terrific. There were sighs and laughs, more than enough to inspire these kids for their future films; and make some of us older filmmakers slightly jealous. I was very proud of them.

Most importantly, the kids had a terrific experience in their first major film festival.

Good filmmaker experiences are not necessarily mandatory at film festivals, you see. Filmmakers can often feel used and abused. In that sense, it's an odd world, the film festival circuit. You are often left wondering who the festival is for. Filmmakers? Audiences? Celebrities? All three?

I was chatting to a filmmaker friend of mine recently, Mark, about the weirdness of this film festival cosmos. Mark has made documentaries good enough to be licensed by major news channels around the world, but he still gets the occasional film festival that promises 'exposure' for the chance to show his films. What organisation would offer 'exposure', when another organisation is willing to pay for the same content?

Film festivals. They occupy this strange limbo.

Many are genuinely wanting to encourage filmmakers' careers, and yet they charge those same filmmakers 'submission fees' to enter their festivals. This conundrum becomes murkier when these festivals also charge their audiences to attend festival screenings of the films. Everyone is being charged a premium to participate. Are the festivals having their cake and eating it too?

And so, as I slowly deep fried myself today, I thought about Tropfest's place in the bizzare oddworld of the film festival circuit. I was surrounded by the trappings of what they had built, after all.

And if you have never been, or have no intention of going, I have to tell you, Tropfest is a film festival on an enormous scale. Huge audience areas. Numerous big screens. Huge VIP tents. Food and beverage stalls as far as the eye can see.

Oh, and crowds this size:

Interestingly, to build this Xanadu of the short film world, TropJR doesn't charge entry fees to filmmakers. Get them hooked while they're young I guess. On the other hand, Tropfest, the grown up section of the festival, charges all filmmakers a submission fee.

The public, however, can attend the massive final event for free. And they do, in droves. The effectiveness of this strategy, therefore, can't be questioned.

A fair question, though, is how big does Tropfest have to get, with its numerous sponsors and partners, before it declares that it will no longer charge filmmakers to enter? Could they, god forbid, charge an entry fee to audiences instead?

These ideas only lead to more questions.

Would an audience ticket price destroy the Tropfest final event? Is it exploiting filmmakers to charge them for the opportunity to screen their film to an audience, when the demand level shows that audiences could be willing to pay for it? Or does charging audiences miss the audience engagement point entirely?

The answer to these questions really depends on how you view the world of film and entertainment.

If you are a SUPPLY SIDE thinker, then you believe that the making of a film, which people might enjoy viewing, means the film has an intrinsic value that should be paid for. The supply side approach is the one that has driven the traditional film and television creation model for years.

If, however, you are a DEMAND SIDE thinker, then you believe that a film only receives value by how it engages with an audience. This model is the one that creates gatekeepers/curators, like film festivals, who have built an audience which filmmakers fall over themselves to get to.

So what does this mean in the context of Tropfest?

If you are a supply side thinker, the idea of a filmmaker having to pay to get to an audience is abhorrent. In this scenario, the film festival should be recognising the value of the film up-front (that the film festival doesn't exist without the filmmakers, in fact) by paying the filmmakers for the privilege of screening it. The film festival would then charge audiences, or sponsors, to recoup the cost.

If you are a demand side thinker, then the film festivals have curated an audience, and a filmmaker should be grateful, and pay, for the right to get to that audience. If the audience then responds well to your film, you have a chance to make money off the film through prizes and further licensing.

Personally, I think you can end up at either scenario, depending on a number of factors.

For example, an established filmmaker, who is known and beloved to audiences, and who has a film with actors that draw an even larger audience, should be recognised for their ability to draw their own crowd. In this hypothetical, the festival would be cynical to suggest that their curation alone is what will bring audiences to this film, and should rightly pay the filmmakers a screening fee for what their film brings to the table.

By contrast, a completely unknown filmmaker, with a completely unknown cast in their film, can trade on the reputation of a festival to boost their film's ability to reach audiences. In this case the film's curation, and access to the audience the festival has built, is tangibly beneficial to the filmmaker; and a fee, charged by the festival, could be considered fair.

The issue, therefore, is not the fees, the filmmakers, or the festivals.

The element that makes the film festival circuit the bizzaro world it is, is the lack of communication or a consistent approach to these scenarios. If a film festival simply made it clear that they believe in the demand side value they bring to the table, and perhaps were then instrumental in helping filmmakers monetise their films, then the debate would likely be over.

It should be a simple fix.

Instead, film festivals often say things like "we couldn't exist without the filmmakers" and then proceed to charge the filmmakers to enter.


And in that confusion, I'm not the only filmmaker who is left feeling burned.

Thankfully, I have Aloe Vera and a cold shower to help.


More info:

My very talented friend, Mark:

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013


A leading light in the film world, someone who's work has impacted many filmmakers around the world, has shuffled loose his mortal coil.

No, not Paul Walker.

Apologies if you enjoyed his movies, but I couldn't honestly describe Mr Walker as a film industry guru.

I am referring to Mr Syd Field.

Who, you ask?

I suppose that's the point.

I don't know if it's the speed with which time seems to be passing, or the couple of important people I lost this year, but I have been really mulling over legacy quite a bit.

It's a part of life that things get taken away, eventually. When you are younger, they come in abundance (if you are from a 1st world country). You are like a suckling pig, engorged with love, education and opportunity. Or perhaps a combination of these.

Then you get older.

Yes, new doors open. But others close.

And the hardest part, the one that can't be repositioned as a 'growing experience', is when people get taken away. Important people. Ones who made you who you are.

You feel their absence when you achieve a success that they played some small part in. That moment of distracted amnesia passes, and you remember they are not here anymore. And they never will be again.

If you let it, this moment can take you down a rabbit hole.

'Will they be remembered?' 'Will I?' 'Does it even matter if anyone remembers us when we're gone?' 'If it doesn't matter, what's the point of it all?'

I wish I could tell you that pondering these thoughts for long enough gives you answers, but it doesn't. You end up with more questions.

And then, in the midst of the emotional descent, an email arrived.

It was a newsletter from Michael Hauge, a Hollywood script pitching guru, who was a personal friend to Syd Field. Amongst a long and beautiful message, he wrote about Syd's book 'Screenplay':

'And, as it was for almost everyone in Hollywood, it was the first screenwriting book I ever owned.'

This struck a chord with me. 'Screenplay' was the first book I ever owned on screenwriting as well. I remembered, when I first read it, that I was so moved I wrote to Syd Field:

From: Peter Ireland
Subject: A personal thank you (from Australia)
Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2008, 6:16 PM

Dear Syd,

While I am almost certain you will not have time to read this, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your book. My name is Pete Ireland; I am from Australia; and I am just starting out in the film industry.

While a lot of focus is put on the practical skills your book teaches to developing screenwriters, I think the power of your work lies far more in the intangible.

To me, reading your thoughts and experiences filled me with hope about my ability to actually make my dream become reality. Too often in this industry (and this world) there are large numbers of people who say: "Don't bother, everyone is already doing it and there is no room for you". What your book has the courage to say is that it can be done - it is possible - and if you work hard and persevere (and get a little lucky), you can make it happen.

Personally, this message is far more powerful than any paradigm or inciting incident. It is a message that especially struck a chord with me, and it is the reason why I felt compelled to say thank you.

Because of you, I feel inspired.

Many thanks


While a gushing email would seem like a waste of time, it was a feeling I genuinely had to express. While I never expected a response, I was content just to put it into the universe. Gratitude like that shouldn't be bottled up.

But then, one morning, I opened my email, where I was stunned to find:

Subject: A personal thank you (from Australia)
To: Peter Ireland

Dear Pete,

I want to thank you for your email. I appreciate your thoughts and feelings about my books.

I want to wish you the very best in your career.

Good writing,


Now, to be honest, I have no idea if Syd himself wrote this. It could have just as easily been his intern.

But that's not the point.

Many of you may not have heard of him, but Syd Field's book, 'Screenplay' is one of the bibles of screenwriting. His writing and teaching has inspired a generation of screenwriters, including the likes of Alfonso CuarĂ³n (of the recent 'Gravity') and James L. Brooks (the name you always see in 'The Simpsons').

But that's his resume, and that's not the point either.

What matters most is that Syd made an impact on me that I carry to this day. His voice cut through the din and made me know it was possible to pursue this crazy idea of filmmaking as a lifetime passion. In a world of "no" Syd Field has united a worldwide disparate group of dreamers. He was the better angel of our nature.

How do I know that Syd impacted so many people? Because Michael Hague articulated it best:

'Syd passed away 10 days ago, just hours after the rest of us finished presenting the Summit in London. Linda opened the event with a message from Syd - as always he was the one who welcomed everyone - and then the four of us did what we could to make it a fulfilling and inspiring event. But for us it was very sad, and unreal. He was a part of us, and he was there, but he wasn't. To me it was like we were spokes on a wheel that had lost its hub.

And that's how it will be from now on, I guess. Syd will always be a part of all of us - the millions of writers and filmmakers and moviegoers who have been touched by his ideas, and his humanity, and his love of story, and all of us script consultants and authors and screenwriting teachers who follow the path that he created.

But he's here, and he's not here. And I miss my friend.'

And that's the point. That's Syd's legacy.

How we impact other people. How we improve each others' lives somehow, with a kind word, a profound thought, or a cup of tea.

Syd did that for me. So did the two people taken away from me this year.

It's the only legacy that really matters. Because in the fullness time, none of us are likely to be remembered.

Except by the people who's lives we affect for the better.

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Friday, December 13, 2013


I was at a wedding yesterday. There was no time to write in the midst of the joy and subtle family feuds that were going on around me.

Lucky I had a date. That song gets it right " I am, stuck in the middle with you."

In any case, it was fortuitous. I was going to write about something totally different this week, but the wedding presented an observation particularly worth sharing.

No, it's not that you should get married. I'm the last person who should give relationship advice to anyone. I'm a child of two divorces. I'm built for cynicism.

As I sat in the uncomfortable wooden church pew, adjusting my seating position in a regimented rotation to avoid damaging my tailbone, I was struck by how many photographers and videographers there were. I can understand a wedding photographer or two, but this was a personalised paparazzi service.

Not to mention the relatives snapping pictures and videoing on their phones.

It reminded me of every music concert I have been to in the last 3 or 4 years. When I first started going to concerts, a smattering of people would hold up their phones. Not to record anything, of course. The technology wasn't there yet.

They had someone on the phone. On a call to hear their favourite song via the now archaic magic of a phone call. Hilarious when you think of it in the modern context.

Today, everyone is an iVideographer (sorry Samsung people). Tweens shooting live video of their favourite bands and posting them to their private Youtube channels. No wonder MTV's ratings have been falling steadily.

But this wasn't a concert. This was a wedding.

And yet, there they were. Two photographers. A videographer operating two fixed cameras. A videographer with a camera on a small steadycam rig. A data wrangler on a Macbook, checking the feeds and reviewing footage on the go. There were so many AV people, in fact, that they actually obstructed the view of the proceedings somewhat.

My last documentary had a smaller team, and it screened in film festivals in Australia and overseas.

Oh well, at least the loving couple's memories will be captured with beauty and an abundance of detail.

Do people even watch their wedding video again?

I digress.

The main point worth sharing, particularly for visual storytellers but also for audiences, is what this wave of participatory video means to us all.

Is the way that audiences expect to receive visual stories changing as the culture becomes more participatory and there is a video of everything? Or is a wave of cat videos and selfies unlikely to change the way audiences engage with the content they demand?

It's actually an ongoing discussion, for the global film and content industries, in which there are two clear schools of thought.

One, that new technology has ultimately changed everything, and visual stories going forward will need to have large elements of participation because audiences will demand it. They will not engage with stories in which they can have no input. Video games, transmedia and augmented reality will all overtake, and eventually make obsolete, traditional visual storytelling.

Or, two, that audiences will always respond to well told and engaging visual stories, told in a traditional screen/audience setting, to the point where they now 'binge' on them in ways never before seen. The breakaway success of 'Breaking Bad' and 'House of Cards' marathons will become the norm for great stories, regardless of whether audiences can be 'involved' in the actual telling of the story or not.

Both ideas have their merits. Both have far reaching implications for visual storytellers.

But which perspective is right?

Well, the bride and groom had just finished their first dance. The speeches had concluded too. Thank the gods, the speeches had concluded. Dessert was being served and women across the room were slipping off their heels in preparation for the dance floor.

Then suddenly, the lights dimmed. A screen unrolled on the far wall. A projector descended from the ceiling. The groom's face appeared. Nervously dressing for his wedding. The bride was getting her hair tousled.

It was a wedding highlight video, of the day that had just been.

The videographers had shot beautifully. From many angles, unsurprisingly. What was most interesting, however, was the room we were watching in.

It was silent. And still. A sea of rapt attention.

What had moments before been a roar of activity, chatter, and pre-dance stretching, was now a constellation of shining eyeballs. Glued to the screen.

They had all participated in the day. They had their iphone videos and photos. And yet, like statues, they watched the whole video on the traditional big screen as well.

It was the kind of attention that would make any filmmaker weep with jealousy. And, for any filmmaker looking for conclusions in the 'great participation debate', it actually left you with more questions than answers.

Because both perspectives appear to be right.

"Stop being Switzerland!", you say. Pick a side.

I would be lying if I did.

The only answer I have, if you're a filmmaker or visual storyteller, is that now is the time to be experimenting with all the different ways of engaging an audience. Create both participatory and traditional visual stories. Build your skills.

Do it now by the luxury of choice, rather than by the threat of necessity in the future. Your audience will likely thank you for the consideration.

Assuming they're not still hungover from the wedding, of course.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Paranormal activity! In a mid-size, suburban town called Parramatta, of all places.

I was at a film festival called 'Best in the West', celebrating filmmakers from Western Sydney. I was invited, which was nice, and was attending because I wanted to support Western Sydney filmmaking. It's a cultural wasteland an hour west of Sydney Harbour, I know because I grew up there, so any event trying to improve the situation should be supported.

I didn't expect a supernatural experience, however.

Now, to be clear, I had been drinking. Two scotches. So, I was a bit wavy, but not sloshed. The first 45 minutes of the film screenings had concluded and I was enjoying the second beverage during intermission, while being roundly ignored by everyone there. It was actually quite fun, drinking and people watching. Young filmmakers screening their early work, taking photos with their crew and actors. Student filmmakers chatting happily with their classmates before the student film section of the program. It was nice to be a witness to people just enjoying filmmaking.

Then, amongst all of this joy, I spotted a familiar face. My stomach dropped.

It couldn't be. He died a year ago.

Nick Danger.

I even wrote about him:

But there he was.

I was glued to my seat. Horrified.

How was this possible? Had he faked his own death? Why would he do that?

And then, I lost him. He mixed into the crowd and was gone.

With a shaky hand I finished my scotch. Suddenly, a loud voice announced the end of intermission.

I shuffled back into the theatre, hesitantly. I looked for Nick. No trace of him.

Was my mind playing tricks on me? After two scotches?

The films began playing. I refocused my attention to the screen. But I was distracted. Rattled, even. Through the first two films I kept surveying the crowd. Nothing.

A trailer began to play for a feature film. The festival didn't have time to play the feature, but wanted to promote it by playing the trailer. Title cards splashed on the screen in red script.

'A Danger Film'. I couldn't believe it. How was this possible?

The remaining films played through. Lights came on dimly. I leapt to my feet and scanned the audience.

There he was. Centre row. Chatting happily to friends.

I hustled in his direction, catching them all mid-conversation. Their confused faces stared at me. I scanned only one.

And I realised, despite looking freakishly similar, it wasn't him. I asked if he knew Nick Danger. He was stunned a moment.

"Of course, he was my brother".

That's how I met Tom Danger. We shared some pleasantries. I congratulated him on keeping up the family tradition by still making films. We both smiled and I moved on.

Mystery solved.

I've been thinking a lot about Nick Danger since then. I wrote about him last year, in June. He had just passed away after a long battle, from the age of 4 to 21, with cancer. It struck me then how his story could have been tragic, but that he had made the most of every moment he had. He had studied film, made a well received documentary, and even made a low budget feature film, like his heroes. His time was cut short, but he lived more than most people do in a lifetime.

And I couldn't help but think about what I have done with my time since then. It has been over a year since he was taken so young. In this time, he would have probably achieved more remarkable milestones, as he was prone to do.

But what have I done with the gift of life? Have I honoured his memory by using my time well?

I'm not sure that I'm fit to judge my own efforts. I'm biased, after all. And I'll spare you a cataloging of what I've done in the last 18 months. It's more of an internal discussion, really.

Instead, I wanted to remind you of a guy named Nick, who took on the world and succeeded in his own way. He was dealt a bad hand and he still managed to come up almost straight aces. By my logic anyway.

In the modern world, it's easy to get distracted. It's easy to spend too much time and energy worrying about what you haven't achieved, frowning at your to-do list, rather than focusing that energy on being productive.

Nick didn't have that luxury.

And that is his legacy, from my perspective. Nick will always be a reminder that you can sit around, buried in consternation about the difficulty of the challenge ahead and what goals you haven't achieved, or you can just start climbing.

OK, I didn't see a ghost. I saw a memory.

But I got the message Nick was sending, regardless.

- - - - - - - - -

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


The first time I pitched a film, I was wearing a kilt, a wig, and I had the 'Braveheart' theme music playing behind me.

True story.

There I was, standing in front of my classmates at film school. Their mouths agape. My teacher looking at me, like I was insane, as I dove into the pitch.

'Family legends. Mine being whether I am related to Mel Gibson or not. The journey I would take to find out the truth.'

Yes, I really did that. I screwed any courage I had into a tight ball and threw myself at this bizarre pantomime.

In all honesty, I was slightly terrified. Not of whether I thought the film could work, of course. I was confident in the concept.

I was worried about embarrassing myself.

I look back on it and now and I am absolutely certain I did, in fact. But I also look back now and think, 'so what?'

Too often when I am speaking to people about their work, they clearly have the capability to do something incredible, but they hold back. It is not for lack of work ethic. Ultimately, it always comes down to two words: "how embarrassing".

Ironically, embarrassment is not something that can be forced upon you. You ALLOW yourself to feel embarrassed.

Why is that important?

Because it means the only thing holding you back from doing something totally remarkable, is you. Your pride is an anchor around your neck.

When Shakespeare was at his most successful, in Elizabethan England, women were not allowed to perform on the stage. Boys played the women's parts instead. Did these actors have time to be embarrassed?

No. They were too busy performing the work of the greatest playwrite of all time, at the peak of his powers.

Can you imagine the conversation if they bowed to pride? "Sorry Mr Shakespeare, but I would be too embarrassed to perform the lead for you. Will Romeo become available soon?"

To hell with your pride. Be passionate! Do your best work, even if (no, especially if) it means going out on a limb.

Imagine how good your presentation/film/email/report/tender/etc can be if you stop worrying about being embarrassed and just made it great?

Yes, it means taking a risk.

Yes, I may have made a fool of myself. In a kilt.

I may have been embarrassed, even if only for a moment.

But, I was also selected.

'Chasing Mel', directed by Pete Ireland.

- - - - - - - - -

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


It's been a busy year. Everyone I know is EXHAUSTED.

When I was a kid, I used to laugh at that whole 'time is money' concept. Growing up in Australian suburbia, all I had was time. 'How could this be worth money?', I thought.

Now, I get it.

And everyone gets a bit more frazzled as we get to this part of the year. Time is running short before the Xmas holidays. Tempers fray. You remember the list of things you wanted to get done this year. You frown as you realise that you only got through a portion of said list.

So, given we are all a bit world-weary, I thought I would share a good-news story. Something to remind you why you keep working at it, whatever 'it' is in your case.

I know, it often seems like you are making no progress. That no matter how much you swim, the shore seems to get farther and farther away.

Nothing could be more removed from the truth.

Assuming you are always pushing yourself to do your best work, always attempting to make something remarkable, you are making progress. You may not see that progress bear immediate fruit, of course, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

So, with that in mind, the other day an email popped up in my inbox from a friend. He is a photographer and documentary maker who has been pushing his limits and making better and better work over the years I have known him. A few times this has lead to some mainstream media exposure, but it hasn't converted completely into full-blown success. Yet.

He was slightly confused about an email he had received. He was concerned it may be a scam. The email read something to the effect of:


I have just seen your amazing (SHORT FILM/PHOTOGRAPH/ETC) online and wanted to get in touch.

I was really impacted by (SHORT FILM/PHOTOGRAPH/ETC). I and my team are really interested in you and your work. We thought it would be great to hear more. Are you interested in having a meeting or a phone hook-up to chat about your work and future projects?

At this point, I guess I can understand his caution.

But then, it finished with:

All the best,



The hilarious part of this whole story is that my friend had NO IDEA who they were.

I had to explain it to him. That is how focused on the quality of his work, rather than networking, he is.

The good news, for you and for him, is that his work has spoken for itself. It is garnering attention for him. As your work will for you.
So, enjoy the rest of the year. Do as much of your best work as you can in the last two months.

And remember, just because it feels like you are treading water, doesn't mean that the current isn't taking you somewhere great.

- - - - - - - - -

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Once upon a time, there was a 79 year-old woman who received third-degree burns from a spilled cup of McDonald's coffee.

It was 1994, and I was 12 years old.

Funnily, I remember the story being on the news when it happened. Not just because the old lady, Stella Liebeck, was burned by coffee, of course. The story was a sensation because Stella had just received a court judgement of $2.9 million in damages.

It was a lightning rod.

The case prompted a worldwide media frenzy about whether a company should be held liable for a person spilling hot coffee on themselves. The huge compensation amount kicked the hornet's nest even more.

Endless news reports followed. Like a game of whispers, the facts of the case changed ever so slightly with each telling.

By the time the news cycle was finished, the old lady had been driving her car, holding the coffee between her legs, taken the lid off, and then spilled some of the boiling coffee onto herself.

Outrage! Horror! Rabble!

How could a person, even an old lady, not be held responsible for such personal negligence?

But instead, a United States civil jury rewarded her with the $2.9 million dollar judgement.

And, despite some media and public backlash, the old lady took her vast new fortune and lived happily ever after on the duplicitously-gotten proceeds.

Thus the story remained. A victory in the civil courts but a loss in the court of public opinion. For many years, in fact.

But then, the internet arrived.

And some solid facts of the story, or so they seemed, started to wobble.

Until finally, years later, another version of the story emerged via documentaries online.

The old lady was the passenger in the car, which didn't have cupholders. The car was stationary, parked in the McDonald's parking lot. She had indeed removed the lid, and was holding the cup between her knees. While pulling the far side of the lid off the cup, she spilled the whole thing onto her lap and groin. The burns, ultimately were to 16% of her body. She spent a week in hospital, incurring a $10,000 medical bill. Her ongoing medical expenses, for skin grafts and rehabilitation, pushed the total medical expenses up to $20,000. Her family wrote to McDonald's and tried several times to receive only a recompense for the medical costs. McDonald's offered $800 to close the matter. McDonald's were aware that they served their coffee extra hot, requiring 'franchisees to serve coffee at 180–190 °F (82.2–87.8 °C). At that temperature, the coffee would cause a third-degree burn in two to seven seconds', and a McDonald's representative 'conceded that McDonald's coffee would burn the mouth and throat if consumed when served.'

Oh, and that $2.9 million the old lady received?

Reduced to around $500,000 by the trial judge.

Quite a radically different story now, isn't it?

Once upon a time we were in the era of propaganda. Whatever stories were made and told became the single voice on the subject. The 'voice of God', almost.

Leni Riefenstahl made a career out of it, directing propaganda films for the Nazi's like 'Triumph of Will':

The power of the filmmaker was excessive in Riefenstahl's case, allowing her to shape a false, positive image of the barbarous Nazi regime.

It's a lot easier when you are the only voice in the room.

Then came an era of diverse artistic voices. More filmmakers arrived, each with different perspectives. The lone authority, the 'voice of God' was no more.

And then, 'filmmaking democratisation' happened. Suddenly, cameras were cheap. They didn't even use film anymore. Editing could be done on cheap computers now too. DVD's could be created by anyone, not just Hollywood studios. Youtube videos, as well.

A rapidly evolving media landscape. From one voice, to a few voices, to too many voices. All clamouring to be heard.

In this new environment, the crowded room, you can start to doubt yourself. A filmmaker can start to wonder, why does it matter if I have a story to tell at all?

And the answer is Stella Liebeck.

An old lady who endured 3rd degree burns and a wave of unwarranted public outrage as her story was warped and twisted against her by a small number of powerful voices: the media.

The same old lady who, through the amazing new capability we have to make films more cheaply, and to make them available online so easily, can finally have her story told correctly.

It just had to wait until we were ready.

So much content is not discovered by audiences instantly anymore. Only the biggest players are in the instant attention and hype business. But hype doesn't last.

If told well, your film simmers. Passing organically from audience member to audience member. Growing in awareness and reaching more and more people over time.

That it is not an instant sensation does not diminish the quality of your story.

So, yes, your story matters. If it is good. If it is told well. It may just have to wait until we are ready for it.

Have a cup of coffee...err...water...cold water, while you wait.

- - - - - - - - -

Thursday, November 07, 2013


Why do writers get all huffy about their "respect"?

Writing scripts is easy.

You just need a cup of coffee, an idea and something to type it with.

Hell, with today's screenplay formatting software, you don't even need to tinker with the different formatting between dialogue, description, and character names. The writing software does it all for you.

So, even a monkey could write a script, if given a laptop and enough bananas as incentive.



No, actually.

And sadly, I come across this attitude towards writing quite frequently.

I'm not talking about ambition. The idea of someone saying they can do something difficult is very different to declaring that same challenge is easy.

Ambition still implies respect.

Declaring the pursuit of writing as 'easy', on the other hand, is akin to the broadest disrespect for the craft. And it is a craft. You have to sculpt characters, create narrative, bound them together in structure, and, if that wasn't difficult enough, make the reader/audience care enough about the whole endeavour to actually FEEL something at the conclusion of the story.

Noah had an easier job.

And yet, still, the writers are taken for granted.

Take this scenario: do you think, from a sample of 16 million people in the general public, you would be able to source a script good enough to be made into a film?

If your answer is no, what if that same group didn't have to come up with the original idea, just to write the script based on a story idea they are given? Would that change your mind?

Surely, given writing is so easy, someone would have submitted a script of notable quality. A secret enclave of talent was finally discovered?


And I can say that with authority because it has been tried. Recently, in fact.

Paul Verhoeven, the noted director of 'Robocop' and 'Basic Instinct' completed this experiment in his native country of Holland.

The results were, to put it delicately, awful. But I will let Verhoeven speak for himself on the quality of the submissions:

“You know,” he says, “there may well be some talent out there waiting to be found. But frankly – I doubt it...We actually found the whole process a headache. Because no, the public can’t write – not professionally, anyway..."


But that's for a feature film. Perhaps if it were for something more free-flowing, and a little crass, like a 'Simpson's' cartoon? Surely, someone from a large sample of the public could produce a 'Simpson's' script worth making? How much skill does it take to make Homer Simpson look like an ignorant and oafish middle-aged man?

'Without doubt, the most mathematically sophisticated television show in the history of primetime broadcasting is The Simpsons...Al Jean, who worked on the first series and is now executive producer, went to Harvard University to study mathematics at the age of just 16. Others have similarly impressive degrees in maths, a few can even boast PhDs, and Jeff Westbrook resigned from a senior research post at Yale University to write scripts for Homer, Marge and the other residents of Springfield.'


Apparently, the Simpsons is written by mathematical prodigies and geniuses, who have made a career of inserting complex mathematical equations and theorems amongst the numerous witticisms on Evergreen Terrace.

'The first proper episode of the series in 1989 contained numerous mathematical references (including a joke about calculus), while the infamous "Treehouse of Horror VI" episode presents the most intense five minutes of mathematics ever broadcast to a mass audience. Moreover, The Simpsons has even offered viewers an obscure joke about Fermat's last theorem, the most notorious equation in the history of mathematics.'

Maybe this writing business is not as easy as is often suggested?

Perhaps, to be good enough to capture the attention and mindshare of millions of people around the world, writers have to develop a skill level that goes beyond strong coffee and formatting software?

Now, that shouldn't be a deterrent to anyone who wants to write for a living. It just means that, if you are serious about it, you must realise that great writers make it look easy. But it's not.

You have to make mistakes. Develop your skills. Learn the craft.

But learning always starts with acknowledging the skill that we don't yet have and admitting that these gaps need to be bridged. That takes humility.

And it starts with respect.

- - - - - - - - -

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I've got to stop getting into internet debates.

There's not enough hours in the day.

It always starts so innocently. Someone posts an article and there is some friendly banter. Differing views, perhaps, but still cordial.

And then one genius always joins in to spoil the broth.

When it is simply their opinion, I usually just let it slide. But when the proselytiser claims something blatantly false as fact, I can't help but get involved. I consider it a civic duty. It's our responsibility that Trojan horse half-truths are corrected when they are aired publicly.

So, the latest debate has been occupying me on and off for hours, particularly because it is about the future of content in a streaming world.

As background for you, streaming services for music have been quite a battleground of late. The most famous of them, Spotify, seems to polarise the most; garnering serious praise and serious criticism in equal measure.

The latest salvo was fired by successful musician David Byrne, with his recent diatribe about how Spotify is bad for emerging musicians, given the amount it pays in artist royalties is so low.

This was the article that began the Facebook debate.

I took interest because film is going through the same transition with the growth of streaming services like Netflix. My response was, as I said, respectful:

ME: Good article. Problem is we won't know the answer for quite a while. The article says Spotify has 24 million users. In a world of 6billion, that's a pittance. Until these services hit real critical mass, and have revenues worth sharing with artists, then we won't know if they are a force for good, or not. A services that has 2 billion users, and shares the revenue from them with artists on a proportional/popularity of streams basis, could be something really great for artists. Watch this space

The responses I received were equally thoughtful, but polite.

And then, the zealot decided to speak up:

ZEALOT: 100 million listens (to a song on Spotify) equals $26K (in royalty payments to artists), that is not a sustainable model by any stretch. he isn't jumping the gun, he is trying to enact a change which needs to be made for future generations. he states he isn't writing the article for himself, it's for other artists, up and coming artists that aren't being allowed the opportunities that he was fortunate to have. it's a good thing to have the old guard defend the new wave, hopefully it is a discussion that will lead to a more equitable system.

Seeing an opportunity to correct a misunderstanding about how the royalty payment system works, I responded:

ME: It's not about the number of plays, it's about the number of paying subscribers. That's what determines the revenue pool to be distributed to artists. Currently that sits at only 24m active users and 6m paying subscribers for Spotify ( 6 million paying users is ANEMIC in a possible pool of so many in the 'developed world'. Again, until these services hit critical mass, there is no point making a judgement against whether they are good for artists or not.

Cleared that up, I thought. Not to be deterred, the zealot replied:

ZEALOT: 6 million paying users at $10 a month is 3 quarters of a billion dollars a year, i mean i don't know what critical mass means to you but how much should they be making before they should start paying artists more than 0.009 cents a stream (i.e. per song play)? 5 billion a year? 10 billion?

Seeing the tone change, and noticing this starting to turn into a conversational loop, I replied:

ME: you're missing the point. Only 6 million people pay to use the service. How many artists do they need to pay out? It's simple mathematics: smaller pie, divided by many artists = smaller pieces for all. If they hit mass, and 6 million is nowhere near mass (one album used to sell 6 million records) then it will be big pie divided by artists = bigger pieces for all.

Now, becoming frustrated, the zealot upped the ante:

ZEALOT: 26 thousand dollars for over 100 MILLION listens. you're just hearing what you wanna hear, i get what you are saying but you aren't listening to my point

Do I walk away? Do I take a nap and ignore the response?

No. I was too too deep into the rabbit hole to leave now. So I responded:

ME: You're not listening. It's not about the plays. The plays are irrelevant. The plays determined the proportion you get. The size of the pie, i.e. how much there is overall to distribute, is determined by the number of subscribers.

To give the zealot their credit, this last point finally seemed to have sunk in. But defiance is a strong mistress, leading to this reply:

ZEALOT: what you're saying is all these artists on there now should just wait around like idiots until it can be equitable, the service just shouldn't exist if it's like that.

Finally sensing that this could be a debate with no end, I thought it time to deliver something with a little more certitude:

ME: Yes, the artists will have to wait around ('like idiots' if you want to call it that) for the service to be stronger financially. Just as it was when CD's replaced vinyl. VHS took out Beta. DVDs wiped out VHS etc etc. It is not a new phenomenon that platforms take time to find their footing. It's only in the current period that everyone expects an instant payoff. But it doesn't work that way, and it never will.

And with that, I was free.

Now, you can take two points from the above discourse between a random internet stranger and I.

One, I like to debate. A lot.

Two, moaning about the current market situation for the film, content and music industries, as if it's the new normal, is a serious waste of your time.

It's not the new normal. The current environment for filmmakers and visual storytellers will not be the final paradigm - we are in transition!

Are you old enough to remember when movies were only available via VHS tapes? Then DVDs came along and made VHS extinct. Yes, there was short term pain and expense in updating your VHS to a DVD player during the transition. But, over time, we realised that DVDs could be cheaper and the visual quality was better. Who would go back to VHS?

Times change, however. DVDs are on the way out. Now it's online, streaming services and mobile devices taking over.

Yes, there is some transitional pain again as DVDs fade away into retirement. DVDs made a A LOT of money for the film and television industry, because they were popular and cheap to make. But that's in the past, and no-one is served by lamenting this lost love affair. The DVD cash cow is gone. Forever.

Streaming services will pick up the slack, but it will take time. Streaming services only provide a viable financial return when there is enough paid subscribers to the service. For filmmakers, Netflix is starting to become a viable option, care of it's 36 million paying subscribers. It can only get better from there.

The same for Spotify in the music world. Once more people, than a paltry 6 million, start paying for the service, everyone will win, audiences and artists alike.

That's the only certainty when it comes to transition. The other side has always been better in the end.

Change is hard. It always is. But there will be a sunset.

Then, a sunrise.

- - - - - - - - -

Thursday, October 24, 2013


We didn't win the best documentary award on the weekend. But we did get quite rollicking drunk, for free, so it wasn't a total loss.

Hence the tardiness this week. I just got back from a wonderful three days at the Blue Mountains Film Festival. The film I produced, 'Part One: Love', was nominated for best documentary, and we went along for the screening and the awards event.

But we didn't win.

At which point I am obligated to tell you it was an honour just to be nominated.

You often hear filmmakers say this. Sometimes it's true. Sometimes not.

The deciding factor is most often the respect with which the filmmaker is treated by the festival. If the festival ensures the filmmakers have a good experience, particularly in relation to their film screening, then a loss on the podium can be taken with good grace.

Thankfully, it was actually an honour to be nominated. The Blue Mountains Film Festival is one that respects filmmakers.

But there are plenty of others that do not.

Some festivals are just bad mannered. Others are downright scams, preying on emerging filmmakers desperate to find an audience. One filmmaker actually wrote an article on his nine worst festival experiences. My favourite is:

‘I know you have flown across the world for the gala opening of the festival, here’s your ticket for the party… that’s $50 please…’ Yes, you get there and they charge you to attend YOUR party and watch YOUR film.'

Oh dear.

These experiences are actually good for filmmakers sometimes. They teach you the value of doing your research and avoiding the pitfalls of unscrupulous people. I wrote about one such scam film festival, back in 2011:

Since then, it appears that enough word has spread about these scammers to halt their predatory operation.

But for every one that shuts down, there are others still running. Operating with impunity. Ironically, no filmmaker ever thinks to fight back using the power of filmmaking.

Until the Swansea Bay Film Festival.

In what can only be seen as the greatest 180 manoeuvre of all time, a group of filmmakers decided to make a documentary on the horrible experience they had at the Swansea Bay Film Festival. The blatant disrespect shown to filmmakers by the festival eventually made headline news on the BBC, and shut down the scammer.

You can watch the short documentary, for free, at It's worth the 14 minutes.

What can you learn from their experience?

Trust your instincts and do your research.

These days, there are loads of ways you can learn about whether something, even a film festival, has a sordid history or not. If you don't scratch the surface beyond the hype, which is usually hype the scammers have created themselves, then you are the perfect prey.

But your extra efforts will ensure you end up at film festivals that respect you and your work. Festivals where you will have an amazing experience and engage with appreciative audiences. Maybe you'll even win an award.

Or you won't.

In which case you'll get drunk instead.

And just be honoured to be nominated.

- - - - - - - - -

Monday, October 21, 2013


I know, I know technological change is hard to process sometimes.

You finish a boozy weekend, your spacial awareness is cloudy, at best, and then your piece of technology starts yelling at you, like a Tamagotchi, for attention.

I don't know what it's like to have a baby. I'm assuming it's worse than how often my iPhone wants its Apps updated. But only marginally worse.

Part of our angst is an aversion to change, change being anathema to the natural human impulse of 'knowing where everything is'.

The other portion of our torment is created by the actual difficulty in navigating the new. Take the recent Apple mobile operating system update, iOS7. The change was enough to bring this kid to tears:

Funny, then heartbreaking on some level.

But when the tears dry and the shortcuts are discovered again, all will be forgiven. Because, unlike adults, children have a short memory for their concerns around technological change. Once they get over the initial shock, they are like a freshly shaken Etch-a-Sketch.

And that's why children get interesting new technology.

Sure, adults do too, to a lesser extent, but only because we have the wallets. If children had money of their own to spend, the vast majority of human technological innovative effort would be aimed at satisfying their wants and needs.

Weeks later, you won't hear kids saying, "Mummy/Daddy, I really miss the old user interface on my iPad." No, as long as there are still the Apps they want, children will survive.

By comparison, Apple were the first to get rid of the 3.5 inch floppy disk drive on their first iMac, released in 1998. Adults STILL talk about it today.

Kids are early adopters. We would have flying cars by now if it were up to them.

Instead, we still have DVDs rather than online streaming services; televisions that still don't properly connect to the internet; and a whole host of other backward facing technology. The adults keep resisting.

To our own detriment.

We miss out on innovations like an augmented reality children's book. It is, truly, incredible:

A child simply holds an iOS device, like an iphone or ipad, over the pages of the book, and they can see the 'hidden' content in the pages. Characters, literally, come to life and dance via the screen. I found it utterly amazing, but you should watch the video sample at the link and see for yourself.

And for filmmakers and visual storytellers, this would be an extremely powerful new way to tell stories. The catch, however, is that you would be restricted to telling stories to kids. Children are the only ones interested at this stage. The adults are not ready.

But thankfully, children's ability to adapt so quickly to new technology is not a skill.

It's an attitude.

And attitudes can be changed, or even emulated, even by adults. So, there is hope for us all yet.

Assuming we can ever get over the new iPhone software update, of course.

- - - - - - - - -

Thursday, October 17, 2013


One thing you learn pretty quickly is that Murphy's Law certainly is in full effect.

'If anything can go wrong, it will'.

I say this not to be overly pessismistic, or even bleak, but because I want you to be prepared.

Pragmatic, not defeatist.

Anything worth doing, any piece of work, any great endeavour, any life decision that has the potential to give us meaning (e.g. having a child), has a large element of risk. That's what makes them feel like big moments. It's the act of staring into the abyss, the chance of failure, or pain, or grief, and saying 'it's worth the risk'.

No matter how big or small anyone's life is, we all get to have these moments.

In filmmaking, there are so many elements to bring together, so many people to wrangle, so much good fortune that has to befall you (the weather is a cruel mistress) to allow this remarkable collaborative piece of art to happen, that it can seem like a fool's errand.

In my case, I can simply say that Angelina Jolie stole my cinematographer.

How improbable does that sound?

A Hollywood superstar shooting her latest film in Sydney, and my friend and collaborator gets a job on the production.

At the same time he was meant to be shooting my latest film, pro bono. True story.

What are the chances?

Quite good actually.

Because, if you are serious about making something great, you try your hardest to collaborate with hard-working and talented people.

And hard-working, talented people get snatched up for jobs on major productions with Hollywood superstars.

But that's the point. If you are really aiming high, the risk of problems increases. Great work only comes from taking those kind of chances.

I'm not saying it's desirable to have issues when making a film, or any other something. Far from it.

But I am saying that pushing towards a something that is remarkable is worth the challenges that come with it. It's you that has to be adaptable to overcome them.

Be pragmatic, but not defeatist.

Understand that having more challenges to overcome likely means you are on the path to doing something really memorable.

And, above all, always check whether Angelina Jolie is in town before you schedule your film.

- - - - - - - - -

Monday, October 14, 2013


Sometimes you wonder whether people have heard of the internet.

I'm not talking about third world countries, mind you, I'm talking about in places like California.

Do people there realise that we can talk to each other worldwide?

Do they comprehend that I can't tell you something is worth $50, when you can easily find out I sell it for $10?

In what dimension could you possibly engage in that brand of two-faced commerce and expect to succeed?

This one, apparently.

I'm not talking about some viagra derivative seller out of Sierra Leone, by the way, I am talking about one of the world's largest companies.

Unfortunately, it's Apple.

It seems that Apple has been in bed with the major Hollywood studios and the music labels so long, that the tech company has started to act like them.

I wrote earlier this year about the 'Dirty Little Secret' of the cause of regional price differentials for movies and music on iTunes.

The case study I discussed, was the revelation that Australians pay 30% to 70% more on iTunes than Americans do for the same content. Everyone blamed Apple for the higher prices but, ironically, the tech company pointed out the real culprits.

The copyright holders.

The music labels and the studios. Forcing higher prices, for exactly the same content, on audiences in far flung geographic regions. Extracting more money out of dedicated audiences in places like Australia. Why?

Because they can.

Apple claimed the moral high ground and were rightly exonerated in this case. It's a good lesson for anyone, even you, on how to do business in the modern, connected 'Google' era. You can't run from transparency anymore. Wikileaks showed us that.

In business, as in life, honesty, it seems, is the best policy.

But unfortunately, Apple's benevolence was short lived.

This week, the new iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C were announced for release. Their retail prices in America were US$649 for the 32GB 5C, and US$849 for the 64GB 5S.

In Australia?

AU$869 for the 32GB 5C, and AU$1,129 for the 64GB 5S. For exactly the same phone.

Even if you add in 10% GST and adjust for the exchange rate differences, the American price is STILL cheaper by over $100, for both versions of the phone.

And it amounts to little more than a 'you aint from around here, is ya?' tax.

It's a levy on customers who are not in America, for the sole purpose of gouging people for as much money as these companies can get away with.

Are they so stupidly short sighted?

It's like politics these days. The powerful people shut themselves off from other views, demonising the 'foreigners', while their citizens actually talk to each other online. That's why the citizens never want to go to war, but the politicians do. We know these, so-called, 'foreigners' aren't the enemy. They're our Facebook friends.

It's totally backward. A tech company either not caring or not realising that people from different countries would talk about the price they are charged for exactly the same phone.

And while Apple's leaders sit in a plush room, congratulating themselves for their genius idea to make an extra $100 per unit for the same phone in Australia, the citizens are talking. They've noticed the regional price difference.

And the citizens are turning against the once infallible iPhone.

How do I know?

'Android' phones now account for 80% of all smart phone sales in the world.

Play regional politics all you want, but ignore the citizens' voices at your own peril.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

OA FILM NEWS - Our founder, Pete Ireland, is a finalist judge for the ATOM Awards for Screen and Media 2013.

There's not enough hours in the day. 

And yet, our founder, Pete Ireland is also a finalist judge for the ATOM Awards for Screen and Media 2013. The quality of the finalist films were exceptional. Filmmakers and visual storytellers, everywhere, are really lifting their game in an increasingly competitive world for artists. 

Everyone wins as the quality goes up. 

For more details about the Awards, visit:

Thursday, October 03, 2013

OA FILM NEWS - Our founder, Pete Ireland, is presenting a session on documentary development at the Blue Mountains Film Festival - 3:30pm, 6th October 2013

For those of you who want to see our founder, Pete Ireland, in person (though for the life of us we don't know why you would), here is your chance.

Pete will be be presenting a session on 'an introduction to developing documentary concepts' at the Blue Mountains Film Festival. The session will be at The Carrington Hotel in Katoomba at 3:30pm on Sunday 6th October.

The session will cover:

"A practical introduction to developing documentary concepts into a format that can be made on any budget"

- techniques to develop documentary concepts;
- techniques to prepare concepts for production; and
- tips and hints to help get your documentary project moving.
- case studies with discussion panel members.
- Q&A

More details, and how to book, can be found at:

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

OA FILM NEWS - 'Part One: Love' nominated for best documentary at the Blue Mountains Film Festival

2013 is rolling quickly to a close, but the good news keeps coming.

Our film, 'Part One: Love' has been nominated for best documentary at the Blue Mountains Film Festival.

This is a wonderful compliment to our film from an excellent festival that is dedicated to cultivating film culture and supporting filmmakers.

And a special thanks to the team at Metro Screen for a special congratulations they gave us on their website:

Our screening is this Friday 4th November at 8pm. We hope to see you there.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


So, it's Election Day +1 in Australia (NOTE: I originally wrote this on 8th September).

A victor has been crowned. Champagne is being packed away. Excuses are being formulated on the losing side.

On the more personal level, individuals are getting out their last rant on social media. Some are enjoying a satisfying victory gloat. Others reminding us all why we will regret this decision in the months to come.

Personally, I have a view on the election outcome, but it's all a moot point now anyway. I've taken to making fun of the whole absurdity on Twitter.

Made me laugh. Humour always seems like the best response to me.

Regardless of the election outcome, however, there is one overall element I observed that was extraordinarily encouraging.


Isn't this supposed to be the era of the apathetic?

But there it was, on full display. Genuine passion about the election from people of all credos, professions and demographics.

There was a lot of parochial disagreement, of course, but the level of audience engagement with the overall election should make any filmmaker jealous.

The obvious explanation is that politics is an unusual beast, capable of stirring a more fervent response in people. That may be true, but why then are Australians forced to vote?

What if it's not just about politics bringing out the zealot in everyone? What if the passion we see at election time is about something fundamental to engaging with people's innermost thoughts and desires? What if the reason that elections inspire such passion, is because the discussions they engender provoke thought and emotion in people?

And isn't that exactly the goal of a filmmaker or visual storyteller: to connect with people and provoke them to think and feel something?

That's what was wonderful, for me, about the election. The audience responded.

Why is that wonderful?

Because for filmmakers and visual storytellers, including me, who are out in the world trying to connect with audiences, it is easy to get disheartened. It's a difficult task engaging with audiences. They have so many options these days. After a while, you can start to assume that there is no audience for you out there.

And then you see the response from people the election creates.

And you realise that you should never, ever, confuse the difficulty in finding and engaging with an audience with a lack of demand.

Audiences are out there. They want to be provoked. They want to respond. They want films and visual stories BADLY, as long as the quality is high enough.

But you don't have to just take my word on it. Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey very recently gave a terrific speech on how enthusiastic audiences respond when given great stories.

They binge on them. (video excerpts of his speech)

He was speaking about his recent hit show, 'House of Cards'. In a departure from the norm, Netflix released all of the show, every episode, at once. No more waiting for next week like on traditional television.

And, just like in the election, the audience responded with gusto. With passion.

They binged.

This is the goal for filmmakers to aspire to. To tell stories that create this kind of engaged response.

It's not easy. Just like the election, there are winners and losers from the speed dating between filmmakers and audiences. Especially in this era of far more choice than ever.

But the good news is that the audience is definitely out there.

They're waiting.

Waiting, for us to make the first move.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013


The audiences of the past were like battery hens.

Forced into the cages of limited options, they were told what to watch, when to watch, and how to watch.

New audiences are a swarm.

Freed from the cages, they can't be controlled. Can't be hemmed in to limited choices. Can't be fed rubbish and told it's great.

Facebook. Youtube. Twitter. Netflix.

These platforms don't control the swarm. They just provide a comfortable hive where the swarm can rest. A place to gorge themselves on the sweet nectar of quality visual storytelling.

Then they move on. Remember the demise of Facebook's predecessor 'MySpace'?

The swarm goes where it wants.

And that's not a bad thing. Because the swarm, alive and free, has many more members than the battery hens ever did.

There are vastly more opportunities, therefore, to find an engaged audience.

For visual storytellers, however, the challenge is now greater. There is no longer a captive audience. You have to attract the swarm.

You have to make something great.

'Tastemakers' can help you a little. A traditional media story. A blogger with a large following. Jimmy Kimmel and other celebrities, with a tweet or two.

But, for you visual storytellers out there, don't be confused. Help from a tastemaker will not make you a success.

The only power of the tastemakers is knowing where the swarm is.

Attracting the swarm, giving the swarm quality visual stories to encourage them to stay and binge...

...that's up to you.

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