Saturday, June 29, 2013


Do you run on autopilot everyday? Wake up, do the 'get ready' shuffle, leave the house, take the car/bus/train, arrive somewhere, do something for a while...

...then actually wake up and wonder where the morning has gone?

It's a tough balance. You weigh getting a running start to the day versus actually taking in the precious moments we are all lucky to have.

When I was a kid, I had all the time in the world. Now there are not enough hours in the day. That's life, I guess.

And in that rush, do you notice the tiny pockets of life that go on around you during those waking hours? Don't feel bad if the answer is no.

It's a quirky world we live in. We cross paths everyday with people who represent their own microcosm of relationships, stories, problems, desires, hopes and dreams.

But we never enter their universe, and they never enter ours.

Occasionally, something hits our frequency and breaks through the din. For me it is usually a busker. Most often at a train station. If I have a coin and they are half decent, I will usually toss it in their hat. Paying it forward, I guess.

So, imagine you are on your way to work. On the way, you see a busker playing a violin, near the entrance to a train station. You couldn't be sure, but you could tell that this busker was particularly skilled on the violin. Much better than your average train station loiterer with a guitar.

Would you stop?

Or are you too busy and focused to take the time?

How would you feel if you then realised you missed the chance to hear one of the greatest violinists in the world? A man who usually commands roughly $1000 a minute for his performances?

Yes, unfortunately this is a true story.

At a subway in the United States, world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell performed incognito to test whether people would stop for a busker of his extraordinary ability.

They didn't.

The meaning that was extrapolated from this experiment was that people do not pay attention to the tiny details of life, even when something truly incredible is on offer. We are, apparently, too busy to see the beauty around us.

Personally, I think that conclusion is a stretch.

There are, however, a few lessons for you from the impromptu concert of Mr Joshua Bell.

First and foremost, for the filmmakers and content creators amongst you: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!

If you are trying to appeal to everyone, you will dilute the message of your work and appeal to no-one. If you are writing a horror film, write it for people who like horror films. It's fairly simple, but content makers get this simple idea wrong all the time.


How else will they find you in the sea of content? If you are playing classical violin music, play it where there are people who appreciate and want to hear classical violin music. If you are making a comedy film about two caucasian men who banter about their jobs and smoke weed, make the film available in places/platforms where audiences who love 'stoner comedies' congregate.

Don't play classical music in a train station. Audiences there are looking for, well, trains.


We really are lucky to be the evolved monkeys we have become, floating on this magical dirt ball in space. It can only help you to appreciate it, enjoy the little details, from time to time.

You are unlikely to see a world famous violinst being ignored at your local train station.

But it can't hurt to pay attention, just in case.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013


We are all doomed!

The film industry is going to implode!

The sky is falling!

One of the above is a true prediction of film industry legends Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

Not really what the audience at the University of Southern California expected when they invited the two Hollywood giants to speak, I'm sure.

So, we have two Hollywood legends, titans of the medium, suggesting that the studio system will implode and the film business will radically change.

Lucas even suggested the cinemas will turn into Broadway, where people pay $50 to $150 a ticket for a theatrical show.


I am really trying to think of a respectful way to phrase my reaction. It's not that I think that the legends themselves will read this, it's your bad language email and web filters I am worried about.

All I can really say is WOW.

These two legends are, I'm sorry to say, totally lost as to where the film industry is headed.

Comparing a cinema ticket to a theatre ticket? In the age of piracy and home cinemas?


Are they even reading the data that is available?

Audiences are consuming more content than EVER before. EVER.

The demand is there. Yes, that content is being viewed over a number of platforms, but the cinema is still very much a part of that spectrum. The problem is not that people don't want to go to the cinema to watch movies.

The problem is that, despite incredible technological improvements that should have significantly decreased the cost of making movies, there is huge amounts of waste on a big budget film. No business could survive burning through as much money as a major Hollywood production. If this problem is solved, it would actually be a wonderful change of a wasteful culture.

The problem is that exhibitors keep indiscriminately raising prices with no matching improvement in the experience of going to the cinema.

The problem is that the price of the cinema ticket does not reflect the cost involved in making that movie, and therefore a true economic choice by an audience member is distorted. If the $200 million blockbuster and the $200 thousand independent film cost the same to watch, I will choose for my 'money's worth' without making a real choice between the films.

Imagine you went to restaurant. Now imagine that the restaurant charged you one price, $75, no matter what you eat. On the menu are two choices: a plate filled with lobster, caviar and truffles; and a McDonald's hamburger. Which would you choose?

Of course, you will choose the fine dining option, for the sake of value. And that is the decision we force people into, every time they go to the cinema. Why are we surprised at the result?

What really surprises me is that, despite this severely flawed model, people are still going to the cinema en masse. So much, in fact, that it flies totally in the face of what Lucas and Spielberg are saying.

Don't believe me? Well, the year 2012 in cinematic terms:

- had the greatest number of films crossing the $1 billion mark, with four films. It is also the second year in which two films released by the same studio have grossed over $1 billion, after 2010;

- is the only year that eleven films have earned more than $600 million worldwide ('Life of Pi' also grossed over $600 million); and

- has beaten the record for the greatest number of films earning more than $500 million, with thirteen films ('Ted' and 'Brave' also grossed over $500 million).

So, where are Spielberg and Lucas getting their information?

I would much rather ask an actual cinema owner who is also a filmmaker. Love him or hate him, Michael Moore and his team have built the Traverse City Theatre in Michigan into the most highly regarded cinema in the world. So says the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

Mr Moore was also generous enough to share his blueprint for success in an interview. My favourite quote:

'We don't rip people off. You can see a first-run movie for $8 and $6 (kids are less). Late night on the weekend is 2 for $5. We have 25-cent kids matinees on Saturday mornings (often packed with 580 people in attendance) and 25-cent classic movie matinees on Wednesdays. As for the concessions: No $10 popcorn at our place! Popcorn is as low as $2, soda $2 and candy as low as $1. We believe everyone should be able to afford to go to the movies.'

Charging people less so they can actually afford to go to the movies? How revolutionary.

So, is the world of film and television changing? Of course it is. The whole world is going through rapid, destabilising change as a result of technology.

But that doesn't mean that we are set for a catastrophic implosion. It means that we have to evolve. It means we have to show people that art, movies and storytelling are valuable to their human experience. It means we have to stop ripping people off in the name of excessive profits.

That is what these two legends should have said.

Instead, they accidentally revealed what we all really know. What is not being said. The elephant in the room.

They revealed that the world is changing in ways that defy prediction. No-one has the answers. Even legends aren't experts anymore.

You can be paralysed by terror at this fact.

To me, it is an exciting new era. The rule book has been cast aside. You are free to build your own career and create your own paradigm.

But are you ready for the challenge?

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Sunday, June 16, 2013


So, I was standing on the street after the Australian-premiere screening of 'The Rocket' at the Sydney Film Festival, hoping for an invite to the after party.

Wait, I'll go back a step.

The Sydney Film Festival hosted the Australian Premiere screening of 'The Rocket' on Saturday night. It's a new Australian film, set in Laos, that won a Crystal Bear for best debut feature at the Berlin Film Festival, and the Grand Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival.

It's a 'boy from Laos overcomes horrible circumstances by building a rocket' story, and it's really quite good.

The film ended to rapturous applause.

A question and answer session followed with the adorable kids from the film, the other cast, the Producer Sylvia Wilczynski, and the director Kim Mordaunt.

Then, we were all on the street.

The next event after a premiere screening is almost always the after party. A chance to have a drink with other filmmakers, hear stories and do some networking. A chance only if you have an invitation, of course.

I had received a last minute invite to one earlier in the week, after the opening night film of the Festival. So, I thought lightning could strike twice.

At this point, I was looking around for a familiar face. I knew a couple of people who had worked on the film and I VERY VAGUELY knew Kim and Sylvia, the Producer-Director team. Not nearly enough to have any real connection to the film though.

I bumped into some people I knew from the film world. Polite chat ensued.

Suddenly, the Executive Producer of the film walked past, on the way to the party, and tapped one of our group on the shoulder.

"You're coming to the party", he said.

With a shrug and a smile at us, they walked off together.

The rest of us looked at each other. Silence. Then polite good-byes.

So, there I was, standing on the street after the Australian-premiere screening of 'The Rocket' at the Sydney Film Festival, hoping for an invite to the after party.

And I suddenly realised what you already know as you are reading this.

I was acting on a stupid impulse.

I was behaving like a 'hanger-on'; someone who wants to be invited to the parties even though they have no real connection to the film or the filmmakers. 'Hangers-on' want to be 'picked' by those who are successful, to be around them, rather than use their time forging their own destiny.

The after-party is not supposed to be some sycophantic gathering of self-indulgence. It's supposed to be a celebration for the filmmakers after a successful screening of their film; somewhere the team can come together to acknowledge each other's hard work that lead to this moment.

Why on Earth would I want to get in the way of that?

I had been beguiled by the glamour. The thrill of feeling like you are 'in' the group.

The most ironic part of all this being that I revile 'hangers-on'. It's total hypocrisy on my part.

Mind you, I don't rebuke 'hangers-on' for indulging that impulse. If there is anything that high school teaches you, it is the positive/negative reinforcement that comes from being invited to/excluded from a selective group.

What I disagree with, is directing your energy and effort to 'being picked'.

The successful people most 'hangers-on' want to be around didn't wait to be anointed by someone else. They earned their success through achievement. They picked themselves.

For some reason, I had been distracted from this simple fact.

And with that simple realisation, the witchcraft of glamour was broken. I remembered who I am.

I said a quick congratulations to Kim on the film and the audience response.

Then, I walked away from the crowd outside the theatre.

I had a quick bite to eat nearby, and I went home.

When I arrived home, even though it was late, I worked on one of my own film projects. Because the next after party I go to, I want to be hosting not 'hanging-on'.

I will not wait to be picked ever again, and neither should you.

Choose yourself instead.

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Saturday, June 08, 2013


Do you remember your childhood dreams? What you wanted to be?

I wanted to be a mad scientist. I don't know why it had to be a 'mad' scientist. Maybe they just seemed to be having more fun.

Or I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. That's a legacy of Bill Murray. I loved 'Ghostbusters'.

And, if I had the time between all that comedy and mad science, I wanted to be a writer.

Then you start to grow up. Influencers tell you that you need 'goals' not dreams. Everything gets turned into a process. Soon, if you have too many 'goals' there are too many processes you need to complete. So, you have to start sacrificing dreams.

It's called making choices and being a grown up, apparently.

Grown ups have to do grown up things. These get added to the pile. You have to "start families" and "make homes". Breeding and buying makes you an adult.

Often, where I live, I see the refuse of 'home making'. At any given time you can walk the streets and find an entire household of discarded furniture and home items. There are a lot of renters where I live, you see. Renters have a tendency to downsize everytime they move; which can be often. It's not like households are breaking down, it's just the gypsy life of the inner city.

Hence the poor man's Ikea on the sidewalks.

On a warm night a few weeks ago, I was walking around my neighbourhood. Nothing suspect, I just like to walk sometimes. It keeps you in touch with humanity.

I came across a pile of stuff someone had thrown away in haste. I usually do a quick check to see how long it has been there and if there is anything worth taking. Don't judge, these days people throw away perfectly fine items all the time. I have a footstool in my living room that I acquired that way.

So, I quickly scanned the pile for anything worthwhile. It was mostly used Ikea furniture. Nothing worth lugging around.

And then, I spotted an old whiteboard.

It had obviously been thrown away in a rush. The previous owner hadn't even cleaned it. On it was a list of their goals.

Their dreams.

'By 2007, I will have directed a major motion picture for Dreamworks'.

But that was not the most ambitious.

'By 2009, I will have won at least one Oscar'.


I couldn't help but wonder. What happened to this person?

Did writing their dreams onto a whiteboard, framing them as specific goals like grown ups do, help them find success?

Or did it just serve as a constant reminder of the goals that were going unachieved?

Sure, they were ambitious goals, but there is nothing wrong with aiming high.

On one level, it made me sad. Why did they throw this whiteboard away? Did they throw their dreams away too? 


Maybe they had to throw out the whiteboard to relocate to LA for their Dreamworks feature film debut. Maybe they were in such demand, they didn't have time to clean the whiteboard as they rushed for the airport.

I hope so.

But even if that didn't happen, I hope they learned something simple.

Goals are helpful, but being too scientific with your dreams is a mistake.

Work towards them. Put in the effort. Think harder. Absolutely, these are all essential.

But never forget that dreams are meant to inspire. Not to be analysed. Not to be broken down into tiny pieces that make you feel like you're not a failure because they are on a list with ticks next to them.

Dreams are meant to be big. They are meant to scare you and excite you at the same time. They are the things that drive your passion, and passion, my friends, is all that matters.

Don't ever let them go.

Even if you only scrape your fingertips on your dreams, you will feel an achievement that can't be measured or compared. And you will inspire others to chase theirs.

Don't ask yourself what you want to have and by when.

What do you want to be?

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Sunday, June 02, 2013


I used to work in a video store. Have I ever told you that?

I'm not trying to claim any kind of post-modern Tarantino cool. I was a teenager living in Western Sydney.

I needed the money.

We've all had our odd jobs. It's one of the commonalities amongst disparate people. We all do what we can for a little extra money.

Sometimes these can be formative experiences. Sometimes not.

Often they are the basis for our first engagement with the wider world.

Scary when you think I was occasionally renting porn to middle aged men in those days.

And I was talking to someone from those days recently. It's funny to talk about video stores now. It's like a lost art.

Back then, we rented out VHS tapes. Yes, tapes. This was the world before DVD.

When DVD arrived it was like a godsend. Have you ever had to rewind a pile of VHS tapes?

You don't have to rewind a disk. An old lady asked how to, once. True story.

And the tapes were expensive. Not like the $30 home videos you bought at KMart. Video store tapes had to be played over a hundred times. They were the special forces of VHS tapes.

And if the tape broke, or someone's broken down video player chewed it up, we had to know how to fix it. Cutting out the damaged section. Splicing it back together.

Sure, you would lose a few hundredths of a second between when the TRex eats the goat and breaks out of its enclosure, but only a hummingbird would notice.

These were good times. It felt tactile. It was real. A skill.

And as we reminisced about those days, we realised something. Those jobs don't even exist anymore.

Sure, there are a few video stores still dotted around, but they are getting fewer and fewer.

Once upon a time, every local shopping village had a video store.

My old store is a discount shop now.

But it's the pace of this change that is so astounding.

My stories are not from the 50's. I was working in the video store in 1997.

In sixteen years, whole industries have disappeared. There were companies that exclusively sold VHS tape cleaners and rewinders.

No more.

And with a head full of these freshly revived memories, I was bemused to see a fully refurbished video store in Sydney.

Yes, they are renting out DVD's, but the medium was never the problem.

It was always the cost and the convenience.

Sure, some people like going to a store to read the slicks on the DVDs and picking from a wall of new releases.

But some people still like vinyl records too.

Is that proof that vinyl is going to take over digital sales of music?

No, some people just like vinyl. They're a niche.

Are refurbished video stores proof that the DVD is making a comeback over the growth of online movie sales/streaming?


They're proof that some people prefer the simplicity of the past they understand than the convenience of the future.

And this is the lesson for all of us.

You can be too focussed on the future to reap success in the present.

And you can be too tied to the past to see the opportunities ahead.

In this era of transformation, your success will lie in somehow navigating both of these competing forces.

Be prepared to utilise the technology of the future to help you reach your growing audience.

Embrace the idea of throwing out the old rules and building something better.

But also realise there are plenty of people still buying DVDs and Blu Rays. Ignore them at your own peril.

Because until that generation passes, video stores will exist. For now.

Just don't build your business model on them.

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Saturday, June 01, 2013


Smart is sexy again.

Take a look at the metaphorical rockstars of today. They are all in tech. Have you ever watched a Steve Jobs Apple presentation?

Lose the shirt and add some hair, and he's more akin to Robert Plant than Bill Gates.

Yes, the geeks are inheriting the Earth and I, for one, couldn't be happier. After all, the greatest challenges we face as a species can only be solved with great ideas. We need brain power in spades.

And then, on queue, being smart becomes in vogue again.

The timing couldn't be better, really.

So often I see people dig themselves into enormous holes, all because they are striving for easy or convenient rather than working smarter.


Too often I hear people complaining about the achievements of others. Too often I hear these same people suggesting that they have paid their dues and earned success. Too often, when I ask around, I find out that the complainer is actually unreliable and does the bare minimum in any job they are given. They may have been around for a long time, but the quality of their work is sorely lacking.

The complainer prefers trying to bring everyone down to their level rather than strive for greatness.


This is my new slogan. My new mantra. My version of the famous inscription on the 'Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy': DON'T PANIC.

I want to put it on t-shirts and billboards worldwide.

It has started to become my standard answer for a lot situations. Not for the purpose of being dismissive, but simply because, surprisingly, it is often the most appropriate answer.

"Oh, so you think you should send out that first draft of your script, that you wrote in a day, without reviewing it yourself for rewriting potential, or even basic spelling mistakes?"


"Oh, so you haven't done a shred of research on that key subject, even though it is simply a Google search away?"


You get the point.

It's an age of opportunity, like the gold rush, because the old rules are being rewritten as we speak.

You can make of your life and career what you want. Isn't that remarkable?

But the key to success, is being willing to think harder than the people you are competing with.

For example, I have written before about relying too heavily on viral marketing to spread the word on your film. It's not a great idea:

It's not only about the competition you face for 'virailty', but also the amount of investment it takes to become a 'viral success'.

Take 'The Dark Knight' and its viral marketing campaign.

Or 'Become Iron Man' for 'Iron Man 3'.

Would no-one have watched these movies without a grassroots/viral marketing campaign?

Before you answer, remember these are two major Hollywood franchise films, and both highly anticipated sequels. There was already a very strong built in audience awareness.

Who gave the approval for these marketing initiatives? Who thought it was a good idea to spend MORE money (i.e. Iron Man 3 had a reported production budget of $200M) to sell the film to an already sold public? Is this a waste of marketing dollars?

I know, I know, 'Iron Man 3' has made a billion dollars at the box office. But can you honestly tell me that is because of expensive viral marketing initiatives?

I'm not convinced. It's old school 'overwhelm them with advertising' thinking in an evolving world.

We are entering an era of abundance in entertainment, with huge volumes of games, movies, music, etc available almost instantly. This abundance only makes it harder for audiences to decide where to spend their precious time, and thus fragments our possible audiences even further.

It's not like the days when there were only three television stations and 4 radio stations to spruik your new film through. Catching people's attention is becoming more difficult.

It's a war for audience attention.

In that environment, resources become tighter and every expense, especially marketing investment, becomes critical.

Yes, you could spend a small fortune on viral marketing initiatives that you hope will help, OR you could use that money strategically and maximise the audience engagement from your marketing spend.

Which all leads us back to the same point.

Getting your hands on the kind of financial resources that the studios have to market 'Iron Man 3', or the Batman films, is unlikely for the vast majority of filmmakers. And the studios will spend this money, whether they need to or not. This crowded marketplace is where you will be trying to make your voice heard.

But that doesn't mean that there is no hope for the rest of the filmmakers out there.

It does mean, however, that your work is going to be fiercely competing for attention. The only way you succeed in that environment, and find your audience, is to make smarter choices than your competitors.

You have to avoid choosing the easy options, like a lot of viral marketing initiatives. Don't just buy a bigger megaphone.

You have to THINK HARDER.

I believe you can do it. What do you think?

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