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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.