Friday, June 27, 2014


It's a divisive time in Australia. The class war has finally arrived here.

And so, as one of the opinionated, you may be expecting me to break into a long political diatribe.

'Save the arts! Don't cut Screen Australia's funding!'

'Stop badgering SBS and the ABC!'

'Leave the lower and middle class alone!'

I'm tempted, I won't lie. But I have become strangely zen about the whole thing.

Don't go accusing me of apathy. I care. I believe the comeuppance of those who would harm the poor and vulnerable, will be delivered by an enraged karma.

But I just can't get flustered about politics anymore. To be infuriated about the systemic vicissitudes of politics is to become a slave to the belief that this is as good as it gets.

The more you buy into the system, the more that system becomes entrenched.

But everything is temporal. Even the fluctuations of political will.

And while it is easy to become incensed by what we see from our 'leaders', there is an easy tonic for any exasperation. Simply, watch this:

It's the live feed from the HD camera mounted on the International Space Station (ISS).

Yes, it's our home. Surrounded by an endless expanse of silent darkness.

Watch it. Study it. Bathe in this remarkable moment where video technology can take you instantly to the true perspective of our petty grievances.

I did. And I realised a few things.

First, stop worrying about 'time'. Time is a construct.

See that black edge above the Earth? That's what it is like in space, constantly. The only reason we think of 'wasting days', losing time', 'not keeping to our timed-out life plans', is because of a concept derived from the rotation of parts of the Earth away from the sun.

But in space, you don't 'waste days'. You can either see the sun, or you can't.

And yet, we burden ourselves with this micro version of time, focussing on the smallest version of the concept, so that we can feel we are getting 'the most from every day'. Is it any wonder our leaders reflect our short term view of the world?

Second, the silence in space is somewhat terrifying. There is no atmosphere to carry sound, so instead there is...nothing. If that huge vacuum of nothing doesn't make you appreciate what we have, even slightly more, you lack imagination.

And finally, nothing is permanent. Not us. Not our family. Not our friends. Not even our legacies, more than likely.

You can be disillusioned by this impermanence. I can understand that impulse. Or, you can realise that our ephemeral nature behooves you to respect the things that are most important to you: family, friends, art, smoking, money, drinking, a good cup of coffee, whatever.

Watch the Earth spin. It was doing that long before you or I were here, and it will be doing it long after. Nothing else lasts.

Not the elder experts who seem to want to stay camped in the top echelons, and keep you from your goal forever.

Not the narrow minded film decision makers who keep producing the same Hollywood tripe, instead of aiming for better.

Not the film executive luddites who resist better experiences for audiences so that they can keep extracting as much money, from an evaporating business model, as possible.

And certainly not a few small thinking, mean-spirited politicians who are resistant to the growing wave of positive social and economic inclusion that is spreading throughout the world.

You will have your day to shine, eventually. Then you too will be gone.

In the mean time, you can get mad and frustrated at the ebb and flow of micro-level happenings if you want to.

Or you can take a long-term view of things. Make the most of your experience.

While you can.

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Friday, June 20, 2014


There's something to be respected in bludgeoning honesty.

You know the kind. The brutal truth that cuts straight into the heart. It's an uncomfortable habit, no doubt, but there's an argument that it often helps more than it hinders.

Because, like it or not, we are all in a search for truth. What kind of person are we? What kind of life can we build? What kind of relationships do we engage in?

The icky questions we can't shake. The ones that take a lifetime to answer.

So we look for help along the way. We look to the trusted voices. We forfeit our perspective to the guidance of the experts.

And, with far more frequency, the experts are speaking to us. The magic of technology provides them a pulpit.

And what are they saying?

“People say ‘It’s all about the story". When you’re making tentpole films, bulls***. The story (of the recent Alice In Wonderland remake) isn’t very good, but visual spectacle brought people in droves. And Johnny Depp didn’t hurt.”


That was Walt Disney Animation Studios Chief Technical Officer, Andy Hendrickson, describing the thinking behind the studio’s film strategy. Disney also happens to be the studio that made the 'Alice In Wonderland' remake.

Yes, this is the attitude they have towards their own film.

Is he right? 'Alice in Wonderland' did make $1,024,391,110 worldwide, at the box office.

But consider 'Toy Story 3'. It has a 99% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Sound Editing. It was the third animated film (after 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'Up') to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Oh, and it made $1,063,759,456 at the global box office.

So, you have Hendrickson's expert opinion.

You also have a bundle of facts about two hugely successful films.

Are you now able to determine whether you should follow the expert advice and ignore storytelling, simply making a film with visual spectacle as its centrepiece?

Of course you can't. You don't have enough information. Making a determination now would be allowing someone else to do your thinking for you.

But this is what your peers do, every day. They parrot the platitudes of the self-appointed lords of the manor, using the expert's name as a shield against critical discussion.

And in doing so, they have put themselves on a path to mediocrity.

Yes, you should remain open and listen to people with experience.

Yes, you should heed what has been done in the past.

Yes, you should welcome unabashed honesty.

But you are not an etch-a-sketch, to be shaken clean by an expert and reprogrammed with their perspectives. Andy Hendrickson would proffer you his expert advice, and meanwhile he doesn't seem to realise that his film with a 'not very good story', is derived from a beloved and respected classic book. Two books, actually. Why would you want your thinking to be dictated by his perspective?

Become your own expert. Create your own process. Forge your own path.

Because expertise is short lived, circumstances change so rapidly, and many 'experts' clearly have no clue what they are talking about.

If you need to hear a voice of truth, develop your own.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I'm sick.

It's ironic how the body chooses its moments to acquiesce. I was reading a terrific but terrifying article, imagining a post antibiotic world. (Another great find by the ever watchful Barry)

Do you know about this story?

It's like climate change all over again. Yes, while we are all kept distracted by cooking shows, or the headline news story is an Australian billionaire engaging in a street fight with an Australian millionaire, experts are setting fire to the red flag, trying desperately to gain our attention.

Antibiotic resistance is accelerating. Bugs are mutating more rapidly, becoming impervious to treatment. The experts are moving beyond planning disaster scenarios and actually speculating of a world where the current paradigm no longer applies, replaced with a great unknown. A world without antibiotics.

You're tough, you say. Not a problem, you say.

And then you read the story about a firefighter, who lived just before the advent of antibiotics and who died from an infection for which there was no salvation.

The cause? Scratching his face on a rose bush.


And in this midst of this 'Dr Google' fueled paranoia, my body ironically decided it was time to power down the immune system.

Congested. Unable to sleep. Feckless.

When morning came, my eyes stung from a night of staring at the inside of my eye lids. Eyes closed, but never asleep. Eventually, thankfully, I passed out.

But you can't fight biology. As soon as sunlight touches your eyes, no matter how far into the well of slumber you fell, your brain reboots.

So, there I was. A head full of marshmallow fluff, but a bit better rested. Seemed like as a good a time as any to catch up on emails.

The universe has a baffling synchronicity. I read about a post antibiotic world. I become sick. I sit down to read emails, and the predominant theme is responses to my thoughts on 'The Walking Dead', a post-viral apocalypse TV show.


And there was a particular reply that I thought was worth examining. A perspective that I was being an 'apologist' for piracy, and that AMC has the right to exploit the financial returns of the 'Walking Dead' in whatever way they choose. In Australia, or anywhere else.

A fair point.

However short sighted it may be. McDonald's have a right to charge $45 for a hamburger. How long would they remain in business?

Rights have nothing to do with it. The engagement with audiences is all about RELATIONSHIPS.

This is why we have had to work so hard to bring people back from piracy, to streaming services overseas, in the first place. Audiences have been mistreated. Overcharged for a trip to the cinema. Overcharged again for a small disk worth mere cents. Blocked from accessing online streaming services that they can see online but not subscribe to.

Is it any wonder the public have no loyalty to film as an art form? It's an abusive relationship, and the audience finally found a way out via piracy.

But thankfully, filmmakers and visual storytellers have learned the error of our ways. We are trying to woo audiences back, with convenience, reasonable pricing and great content.

But not in Australia.

In Australia, audiences are still being locked in cupboards. Forced to wait longer than everyone else. Pay more than audiences elsewhere for an identical digital file. Or forced to buy the premium version of an expensive payTV service, just so they can watch their favourite content STILL later than everyone else.

And why?

Because of powerful companies, lobbying to keep the direct to audience streaming services out of Australian homes. Fighting to retain their role as middle men between the audience and the content.

Am I missing something?

We need to think beyond this paradigm. How much longer should a middle man exist when I can get the content, directly, from the content maker? Why do they have a role at all?

Before you answer, remember that no middle-man intervenes without taking their cut, adding to the overall end price. And nothing irritates an audience more than having to pay a higher price, for exactly the same thing, for absolutely no reason.

It's quite simple. Just give audiences what they want. Now. I know that's not the current model, but since when did the parasite dictate the actions of the host?

Is that the character of the Australian media distribution landscape? One giant Ophiocordyceps?

We are moving into a post-paradigm world. Either we start illuminating that great unknown, thinking about what the world can look like when the models we know break down, or we can leave it to providence.

I want an alternative when antibiotics are no longer effective. I want a new model and engaged audiences when the current content distribution models are permanently disrupted by technology.

Because I want my post-paradigm apocalypse to remain where it belongs.

In the 'Walking Dead'.

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Saturday, June 14, 2014


I have been known to have an opinion from time to time.

Lately, I have had a particular bee in my bonnet about unreliable artistes.

I have moaned.

I have whined.

And while I can honestly say that I believe there were fair points derived, and meaningful lessons extracted, I can understand if you may be a bit 'rant-lagged'.

So, I thought I would share the film with you, which was the basis of those tales of struggle. It's an animated documentary about the Production Manager, who also became MC, of the Woodstock Music Festival, who then went on to production manage and tour with the legendary rock acts of the 60's and 70's.

'Chip' screened at the Sydney Opera House, as a part of TEDxSydney this weekend, to an audience of roughly 2200 people. As part of the live event, TEDx have also made 'Chip' available to watch here: 'Chip' at TEDxSydney

And, if you're interested, you can also see my photos of the Opera House audience watching the screening: Photos of 'Chip' Screening

Whether you love it or hate it, any feedback is welcome.


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Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Happy Easter.

I hope you had a relaxing Easter break. Some chocolate too. Jesus was all about chocolate. In moderation, of course.

After the frenetic pace of the last few weeks, I took the opportunity to unwind a little. Like most people in the modern paradigm, my relaxation included catching up on some unwatched television.

In my case, I have a severe addiction to the American post-apocalyptic survival series 'The Walking Dead'.

You would think this would be an easy enough craving to satiate. It's a hugely successful program, watched all over the world and spoiled by millions of Facebook comments with as much vigour as the plot ruiners of 'Game of Thrones'.

Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

I started with the most obvious means: DVD. But no, the latest season hasn't been released on DVD yet. The slated release is in five months. Blergh.

So, much as the idea of owning digital files gives me anemia, I checked iTunes. The new season is there and available. For $20 more than the DVD costs, and you need to have high speed internet to download it. Which my holiday location doesn't.


And so, just out of curiosity, I checked Netflix. Could I be tech savvy and organise an American proxy server to access the streaming video service, thus scratching my now festering 'Walking Dead' itch?

No. Even Netflix, based in the U.S.A. doesn't have the latest season yet.

But then, a beacon of hope. A ray of light.

The pay-TV service here in Australia, Foxtel, is screening the new series.

This was it! My moment had arrived!


Foxtel still operates its service like a traditional broadcaster. Only the premium service offers 'on-demand' viewing. Which means, if you have missed an episode, there is, like the world of Sheriff Rick Grimes and the survivors of the zombie going back.

Thwarted. Frustrated. Confused. And all I want is to LEGALLY watch the show which I have supported for three seasons via DVD purchasing.

Why? When all the possible portals exist for loyal viewers to connect with the programs they enjoy, why do they make access so difficult?

Is it hubris? Or stupidity? Could this be some elaborate exercise to help me understand the desperation of the scavenger, and so deepen my empathy for the tribulations of the 'Walking Dead' survivors?

There are a number of supposed legitimate answers. The most commonly cited is that the delay in other release platforms gives AMC, the show's producing channel, the chance to exploit the programmes's popularity with its direct subscribers and premium (i.e. simultaneous release) partners.

So, in short, money.

AMC needs to justify it's subscriber fee in North America, and premium licensing fee worldwide, by restricting access to other viewers who engage with the show via secondary platforms.

And this is the ironic conundrum of The Walking Dead.

The people tasked with providing the show to its devoted audience are ensuring that it cannot be seen legally by many who want it. In doing so the Walking Dead is actually empowering, by ceding the moral high ground, the illegal means to watch the show.

Yes, 'The Walking Dead' is, ironically, actually giving LIFE.

To piracy.

When will they learn?

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Sunday, June 08, 2014


A creative project feels like raising a baby.

Sleep deprivation. Nothing ever seems to work out the way it did in your mind. A plethora of questions with few concrete answers. There are no shortage of people telling you how to make it better.

And, of course, in the end you will have to love it no matter how it turns out.

This edition is a day late for this very reason. I have been a wedded to a project, an animation, for the last two weeks, pushing against a rapidly dwindling hourglass to get it finished.

There were moments when I was certain we wouldn't finish. There was a day where I was so overwhelmed, I didn't want to get out of bed. A snide comment would have pushed me to tears.

I could sing you a tale of woe. Of the illustrator who had a nervous breakdown two weeks from the deadline and couldn't finish his allocated art. Or the young illustrator, who excitedly got involved, and then refused to be communicated with directly, only to quit, again without completing his work. Or the international illustrator, who came on board for a fee, only to quit...yes, again without delivering.

I could regale you with the horror of the horrible feedback meeting where I was left so demoralised, I contemplated pulling out of the project altogether.

I could tell you about all of that. But I won't.

And I could proclaim to you that I overcame all of these obstacles through a triumph of pure will and hard-nosed determination, forged in the fire of my good character.

But that's not the truth.

No, the truth is that I would have quit. I would have buckled. I would have cried like a freshly spanked baby, if not for a few key people.

We all want to tell ourselves how independent we are. That, when pushed, we are our greatest teammate.

But the truth is, this project only made it to the finish line, limping, battered and bruised (but intact) because a few of us pulled together and wouldn't let it fall. The Producer who refused to give up and became an artist by necessity. The animator in Queensland who cleared his schedule to be our white knight. The sound mixer who joined at short notice, and worked silly hours between existing commitments.

And me, trying not to fall apart.

It sounds chaotic, I know.

But actually, it was quite amazing. Individuals uniting to make something tangible from a pure idea. Supporting each other when it was ready to fail. And, most importantly, delivering.

So, from one creative to another, don't be afraid to be overwhelmed. Great challenges should scare you.

The most difficult feat of challenging work, however, is accepting that you can't do it on your own.

Thankfully, if you surround yourself with good people, you won't have to.


P.S. If you have any interest in watching our film that almost wasn't, 'Chip', it is screening at the Sydney Opera House at TEDxSydney on 26th April 2014. You can watch it live on the day, at roughly 2:45pm via the official TEDxSydney live stream at, or at Big Ideas ABC TV, YouTube & Livestream

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Thursday, June 05, 2014


"OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
But you're an animal, baby, it's in your nature
Just let me liberate you
Hey, hey, hey"

These are lyrics from an actual song. Drink them in. Really ponder them for a moment.

Now, tell me, what is Robin Thicke's point? What is he trying to say about the human condition?

Yes, these are lyrics from the number one song of 2013, 'Blurred Lines' by Robin Thicke. Number 1. As in, it was the most popular song, for the greatest number of weeks, in 2013.

Does this reflect poorly on us? Or on Mr Thicke?

It's a strange time for the arts. The tools of production have become so cheap, and we are swarmed by a "me too" generation, who have all decided to leave school and become famous. As if it's a choice, or even a legitimate goal.

It's a cacophony of mediocrity. The din of so many people hoping that, as long as they are blasting noise into the atmosphere, they are on the path to celebrity.

So many people speaking, so few with anything to say.

How did this happen?

Was it the rise of the cult of celebrity? Did teachers stop doing their jobs? Did the world change so drastically that critical and artistic thought is obsolete?

Part of me wishes it was a simple answer, but I have a feeling it is something more fundamental to our being, and therefore utterly complex.

It strikes me as an interesting coincidence that, at a time when information is more easily available than ever, when science is making possible things that seem like science fiction, when technology has made human discourse (over formerly impossible distances) as simple as the push of a button, we are so distracted by shiny trinkets and rutting.

We ignore volumes of information, and instead follow the simple answers of small minded politicians.

We read the blatant lies of a biased media, then espouse those lies as our own and promote them to others.

And our arts become a redundant or rehashed parody of post-modern repetitiveness, marked by endless film sequels and vapid pop stars.


Or something darker lurking beneath the surface? A deliberate ignorance, via distraction.

Because what can be more terrifying than the lifting of the veil on the mysteries of the universe? Carl Sagan once said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience, because it gives a person a clear perspective of just how tiny and insignificant we are in the universe.

What better way to avoid this realisation, of our own lack of importance in the universal construct, than to distract ourselves with trivialities and 'bling'?

One of my favourite comedians covered the topic on-stage:

"Of course, uh, the universe is gradually slowing down and, uh, will eventually collapse inwardly on itself, according to the laws of entropy when all it's thermal and mechanical functions fail, thus rendering all human endeavours ultimately pointless. Just to put the gig in some sort of context."

It was his opening line of the show.

A risk, yes, but Bill Bailey has something to say about the world. It's what makes him an artist.

And there have been others, from Oscar Wilde to Bill Hicks' 'It's just a ride' speech, delivered when he knew that he was terminally ill with cancer. But perhaps Stanley Kubrick said it best, when asked: "If life is so purposeless, do you feel it's worth living?". His answer is breathtaking.

"The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning...The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light."


And this is what artists used to do. To illuminate. To ruminate, just as we do secretly but never really talk about, on that great question.

'What is the point of it all?'

It's a terrifying thought. What if there is no point? What if everything I work and strive for has utterly no consequence?

And the easy answer is Robin Thicke.

Oh, "stop being bitter", you say.

But truly, my criticism comes from nowhere near bitterness. If anything, the ineptitude of masses of would-be artistes means that I have less competition.

The truth is, I want better from all of them. I want them to think harder. In fact, I want all of us, artists and non-artists, to think harder. Because we are all diminished by the lack of critical and creative thought that is permeating our culture.

We can ignore that darkness, that niggling doubt of our own mortality and our place in the universe, by staying distracted by meaningless fluff.

Or, with every conversation, every piece of work, every relationship, every creative endeavor, we can illuminate it instead.

Which kind of world would you rather live in?


P.S. thanks to Barry for the inspiration.

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Monday, June 02, 2014


We are surrounded by visual stories these days.

And, true to the adage, familiarity breeds contempt.

Armchair experts pontificate about how easy it is to create a screen story. These would-be auteurs walk out of films, preaching about the flaws and proclaiming they could have done better. They can shoot films on their phone, after all. How hard could it be?


Rather than argue the merits of their CV, however, a more useful exercise is to lift the curtain on some film craft. It might help you appreciate your films a bit more too.

And I say 'your' films deliberately. You may not realise it, but you are an active participant in every film and TV show you watch.

Yes, you.

Your brain is so sophisticated, that it makes films and screen stories work. Without the power of that grey mushy lump behind your eyes, the one you diminish with alcohol and poor decisions, screen stories would be an incoherent mass of images.

Your brain, you see, is a powerful information processor, which works outside of the constructs of time and space. You can recall something that happened twenty years ago, imagine something that never happened, and perceive and respond to an event occurring directly in front of you.

Such is the power of your brain, it is omnipresent. And we filmmakers use that power, most notably with editing.

But how?

Every film you have ever seen, jumps forward, backwards and sideways in time and space, both inner and outer. This temporal shifting is a necessity to tell a complex story in a short time frame. Imagine if instead you had to follow the hero home, watch him eat, patiently wait while he sleeps and then re-engage when he arises the next morning, ready to fight the arch-nemesis. The film would be three weeks long.

Instead, the hero arrives home, the lights turn off in his house, which we are watching from the outside, and the screen fades to black. We rejoin him already driving to the epic confrontation, loading his weapon in his lap.

Lame scenario, but you get the point.

And the only reason this editing technique works, is because of you. Because your brain, when given clues and a context, will join the dots to allow comprehension. All we have to do as filmmakers, is know which clues to leave, in which order, at a certain pace and in a certain tone, and the astronomical capability of your mind will do the rest.

It's the same phenomenon that leads people to hear satanic lyrics in Led Zeppelin songs. The power of suggestion, coupled with your brain's incredible capacity, and in fact compulsion, to connect seemingly disparate information into a whole, summed up in this hilarious live version of the experiment.

So, there you have it. A piece of bona fide film and screen storytelling craft, for you to share. Impress your friends. Astound your loved ones.

Or at the very least, when you have the opportunity, put the armchair expert in their place.

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