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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Thursday, September 12, 2013


So, it's late at night and 'Geordie Shore' starts playing on the television. 

I'm not really watching the TV at this point. I keep it on for background noise some times. I grew up in a noisy house, you see. Absolute quiet bothers me in a way I can't quite define. I feel disconnected from the world in a way that's disconcerting.

The quiet hum of the television, regardless of the program that is on, helps dissipate those childhood anxieties.

But something about this new show draws my attention. Is it the intelligent discussion? The moving relationships? The powerful storyline?

In a word, no. This reality show is a train wreck of humanity. Vapid, vain and vacuous twenty-somethings get drunk and shag each other.

And yet, from what I hear, the show is a hit. How?

There is so much to do and see in the world, how do these shows survive? Why do people gravitate towards visual storytelling?

Put another way, what is it about 'seeing' stories, even ones of questionable quality, that is powerful enough to draw people in?

Think about the amount of time, discourse, effort and resources that go into making and watching visual stories every day. It's a mind boggling level of human undertaking.

And yet, even in the poorest parts of the world, in places which define poverty, people have televisions.

In areas untouched by modernity, cultures still have visual performances.

In these totally unrelated microcosms, seemingly with no awareness of each other, still the visual story becomes integral to their human experience.

Why? Is it coincidence?

Or is there something innate to us as creatures, that somehow the visual gets pride of place on the sensory pyramid? I am not saying that the other senses are less important, but human history tells us that we perceive the visual as a far more powerful stimulus than any other.

Don't take my word for it. 'Seeing is believing', remember? I didn't invent that turn of phrase.

Is that all a coincidence too?

I'm not convinced. There is so much that is random in the world, and yet so much that seems to follow unseen or unknown conventions.

For example, all 'matter' (i.e. in the scientific sense, the general term for the substance that makes up all observable physical existence) across the known universe, including us, vibrates. Did you know that?

That may seem like a small, unrelated oddity, but it is in fact amazing. All physical reality following the same convention of vibration.

So we are all vibrating, and therefore resonating sound at different frequencies, constantly.

And here is something I didn't know. Sound can be 'seen'. It's called 'cymatics'.

Which leads to the most amazing part. Through cymatics, which is the study of visible sound, scientists have determined that different sound frequencies (e.g. different notes on a piano) create different symmetrical visual patterns of vibration.

I'll say that again.

Have you ever seen a photo of crop circles? Sound waves create distinct symmetrical patterns exactly like these, in a way that can be seen by the human eye.

Simply, amazing.

The most incredible experiment is one which uses white powder on a metal plate. The experiment then plays different sound frequencies through the plate and literally shows you the patterns formed by sound. See for yourself:

So, there are visual patterns, imperceptible to us, that come from the very core of our existence.

Visual patterns, created from the vibration that makes up our physical reality.

Is it any wonder then, that 'seeing' is so important to us? That people are drawn towards visual stories? That the ability to visually perceive the patterns that make up our lives, our stories, could be inherent to our very existence?

Why then do we waste the gift, the responsibility, of visual storytelling on stories that are undeserving?

And, most importantly, what the f*** am I doing wasting this gift watching 'Geordie Shore'?

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013


August, 2013. Two men sit next to each other on a plane.

The men have no comprehension of the series of seemingly inconsequential events that have lead to the truly incredible moment they are about to share.

FLASHBACK. January, 2008.

A young man enrolls to study film at a film school. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he is forced to delay the beginning of his studies until the next semester.

March, 2008.

The young man quits his current, highly demanding, day job and takes a more relaxed new day job at a government department. The new job will give him more freedom to complete his film studies.

July, 2008.

The young man begins studying at a film school in Sydney. Over the course of the next six months, his slavish devotion to his new studies results in the end of the young man's six year relationship with his girlfriend.

August, 2008.

Another young man, Tony, begins teaching at the same film school. Tony becomes the documentary teacher for the devoted student.

October, 2008.

The devoted student receives a promotion in his day job at the government department. He now works in the Human Resources section of the department. His mother is very proud of him.

December, 2008.

Tony completes his time teaching the devoted student. They become friends. Meanwhile, the devoted student's six-year relationship has officially ended.

December, 2009.

The devoted student has become friends with a female colleague in his day job at the HR Department. The colleague asks the devoted student about his romantic life, to which the devoted student replies unenthusiastically. The colleague suggests that she has friends who might be interested in an amorous arrangement. The devoted student replies enthusiastically this time.

January, 2010.

The devoted student is dating one of the colleagues' attractive friends, Patti. Things are going well. The devoted student discusses his developing relationship with Tony. Tony replies enthusiastically.

October, 2010.

The devoted student has finished film school and is starting to make his own films. Patti, now his official girlfriend, mentions that her work colleague, Dominic, wants a new corporate video for his personal website. Patti suggests that the devoted student and Dominic get in touch.

December, 2010

The devoted student and Dominic meet for the first time at a cafe to discuss the corporate video. The devoted student has ideas. Dominic responds enthusiastically.

June, 2012.

The devoted student, Patti and Tony all go out together for a drink. Tony and Patti get along beautifully. The devoted student is relieved and happy that the two hit it off.

January, 2013.

The devoted student and Tony are now close friends. Patti and the devoted student are still together. The devoted student, Patti, Dominic, and Dominic's girlfriend all go to Japanese dinner together, becoming quite animated after a bottle of saki. Life is good.

August, 2013.

On a whim, Tony buys a last minute ticket and departs on a sudden trip to New York, via Los Angeles. The devoted student smiles: Tony has a penchant for dramatic exits and entrances.

Tony makes himself comfortable for the long flight to L.A. He is fairly accustomed with flying by now, as long as he observes some well practiced rituals. Soon, he will be enjoying the pseudo life changing effects of an overseas holiday, with all of the forgetfulness of day to day trifles that vacationing entails. Life is good.

Tony makes eye contact with the man sitting next to him. They exchange pleasantries, culminating in the quintessential "what do you do for a living?"

Tony contemplates his answer momentarily and replies: "I work in film."

"That's interesting," Dominic replies, "do you know a guy named Pete Ireland?"

Tony looks back at Dominic, slightly stunned. He tells Dominic that he does know a Pete Ireland, who was once his devoted student, and is now his friend.

Dominic excitedly explains that he has know Pete's girlfriend Patti for eight years. Dominic is headed to Las Vegas for a buck's weekend, via Los Angeles, and booked his airline ticket at the last minute.

They stare at each other a moment. Both can sense the gravity of this meeting, but can not quite perceive why. It is electric.

And so, the two men sit next to each other on the plane. Tony and Dominic.

They can not fully comprehend the series of seemingly inconsequential events that have lead to the truly incredible moment they just shared. The sequence of choices, of life events over 5 years, that had to occur in a particular way and in a particular order is beyond improbable. Miraculous.

And, believe it or not, this is a true story.

I hear people say that 'every story has been done before'.

I say they are not looking hard enough.

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Sunday, September 01, 2013


Have you ever heard of the film 'Heaven's Gate'?

It's known as the film that bankrupted a Hollywood studio, 'United Artists'.

What came as the biggest shock is that it was the follow up for Director Michael Cimino after he had, literally, just won an Oscar for 'The Deer Hunter'.

How could it all go so badly?

All too easily, I'm afraid.

One of the worst kept secrets about making films is that, to the people willing to invest in film, it is a high risk-high reward gamble. That is why you often hear film producers using rather unsexy language like "managing risk" and "hedging".

I know, I know, it's supposed to be about art.

But how much does paint and a canvas cost? Or a laptop to write your amazing work of literary genius?

Films are a very different animal. The people playing in this world have to drive themselves partially insane learning the quirks of financial deal making. Where else do you think Producers find $25 to $100 million to make a film?

If it seems all a bit alien to you, try this. Imagine you are in the desert with three people and one bottle of water.

Desperate, desperate, thirsty people.

In the distance is a person with a sniper rifle, watching you intently. Whoever makes a move towards the bottle of water gets a convenient new orifice in their torso.

So there you sit. Mere feet from salvation that you can see but cannot touch. The desert sands whip your face. Staring at the faces of the others. Strategising to get what you need.

This is the life of Producers looking to finance a film. They know money is out there to make their projects. They can see it. They are surrounded by others who want it. But they can't touch it without someone else's permission.

And they are so desperately thirsty.

In this kind of environment, Film Producer's often get creative in how they draw money into their films. The one I hear suggested ALL THE TIME, by beginners and experienced filmmakers alike, is product placement.

It seems so simple. Just insert a watch, a car, a sugary beverage into a scene in the film, and money will rain from the heavens onto your project.

It sounds so easy, doesn't it? Why isn't every filmmaker doing it?

Perhaps that's the point.

One of the biggest to ever try it was 'Jerry Maguire'.

Reebok, the shoe manufacturer, had a large product placement deal and cross-promotional deal with the film. The idea was that main character 'Rod Tidwell' (played perfectly by Cuba Gooding Jr) tells his manager 'Jerry Maguire' (an also wonderful Tom Cruise) that he has a long running dispute with Reebok, who ignore him despite his success as a professional American football player.

To get an idea of the tone of Tidwell's angst, his summation of the story is:

"Let me boil it down for you. F**k Reebok. All they do is ignore me! Always have! Always have."

From this low point, Reebok were expecting the film to show a happy ending where Tidwell achieves redemption as an athlete, Maguire evolves as a man, and Reebok signs a shoe promotion deal with Tidwell to end the riff.

Unfortunately, as in many films, certain elements get left on the editing room floor. In this case, Tidwell's redemption stayed in, as did Maguire's evolution. The happy ending for Reebok, however, didn't make it into the final film.

So, Reebok sued the filmmakers.

And it got increasingly nasty.

Until finally, The case was settled out of court on confidential terms, after both parties spent considerable sums in a dispute that could have been avoided.

The problem, you see, was one of assumptions. Reebok expected the happy ending to DEFINITELY stay in the film.

The filmmakers thought that they had artistic license, as all filmmakers are used to having.

And of course, the written agreement they had signed was not nearly as clear on these points as it should have been.


At least the lawyers got rich.

So, filmmakers beware. I want that bottle of water as much as you do. I applaud your ingenuity to find a solution and your passion to get your films made.


If it seems easy, it's probably because you are missing a step.

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