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.

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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.

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