Thursday, July 31, 2014


You have two choices in life when it comes to dealing with people.

You can assume the worst in their intentions. Or you can believe that people are, on the whole, going to do right by you.

You can give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove that they deserve otherwise. Or, you can live always behind the turrets.

There are arguments for both approaches. Preparing for the lowest ebb in people allows you to protect yourself, it's true. Being open to the best in your peers creates opportunity.

But openness creates vulnerability. Vulnerability can be exploited. Shielding yourself, meanwhile, creates a closed mind. A closed mind shuns fortuitous timing, for fear of risk.

No-one gets to their perspective unassisted, I'll grant you. We all have our traumas and successes.

But it's how we respond to them that defines us.

There are some individual universes that can abide a closed perspective. A detective, by experience, training and necessity, has a mindset that must doubt the purity of human intention.

But yours?

Is your world improved or degraded by how you approach the people in it?

As a filmmaker, I may not be a font of knowledge, but I know this:

Without openness towards people, you cannot collaborate. You cannot share ideas if you think they will be stolen.

Without openness towards people, you cannot ask for help. The risk of being taken advantage of is too great.

Without openness towards people, you cannot empathise. It's impossible to see the perspective of someone you have already judged.

And it is herein that the tragedy lies, when you assume the worst in people: you lose the most.

Because without collaboration, timely assistance, and the power of empathy, a filmmaker (although I would argue most people as well) is doomed.

The walls you raise become the tomb of your dreams.


But don't despair. Because, through the grace of fortune, it's not too late. Your mindset belongs to you, its lord and master.

Your outlook can be resolved exactly where it began. With a choice.

What will yours be?

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Thursday, July 24, 2014


While I can't claim to be a feminist, only the deliberately ignorant would claim it's an easier world for women.

Women are constantly on the timer. Their motivations are questioned rigorously against their biology.

We sarcastically label them 'the better half', and yet women are so enthusiastically placed into simplistic bi-polar categories: reasonableness is 'soft', resilience, 'being a b**ch'.

I am a believer in equal pay for equal work, however. If someone is paid to lift heavy things, and they can lift more of those said heavy things, then their remuneration should reflect the difference. Gender should be irrelevant in either direction.
But it's not.

And what dismays me, truly, is the bald-faced disdain that women live with. Particularly, I am ashamed to say, in film.

In 2013, The Forbes’ list of Hollywood’s Highest-Paid Male Actors banked a collective $465 million, almost two and a half times more than what the top-paid Female Actors received.

It was less than ten years ago, 2007 in fact, that Warner Brothers head of production, Jeff Robinov, infamously declared “We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead”.

Where does this kind of ignorance find its genesis?

It starts with pay, but goes much deeper. Somewhere darker, lurking in our unspoken biases.

“Movies that are female-driven do not travel,” said Krista Smith, West Coast editor of Vanity Fair, describing the broader sentiment in Hollywood. "There are almost no women who have sales value in multiple international territories, maybe with the exception of Sandra Bullock..."

'...there’s a wide-ranging perception in Hollywood that audiences — in the U.S. and abroad — simply don’t care for women in leading roles and that movies for and about men are more likely to have better cross-market appeal than movies about women.'


This is what we have come to. Where women, who make up more than half of the world's population, are so marginalised that their stories are not considered worthy of joining the cultural discourse on screen.

How did we fall so far?

Don't we all have mothers? Sisters? Daughters? Wives and girlfriends? Even female colleagues?

Could you look them in the eyes and say "your perspective doesn't matter"?

I doubt it. But this is the cultural landscape we inhabit.

Even more sadly, given their prominence, when the numbers are actually reviewed these biases are found to be also factually inaccurate.

This excellent article performs a detailed numerical analysis on films with significant female characters, and determines they perform as well, if not better than other films. I wasn't at all shocked. More troubling to me is the fact that someone felt this argument needed to be addressed in the first place. What does that say about us?

But that doesn't matter either. As much as the numbers support my case, it just shouldn't come down to algebra. Dollars cannot be given the reins to our cultural identity.

I am lucky to have many significant women in my life. I'm also recently a proud uncle and godfather.

My niece and goddaughter deserve better than this. They deserve to see a culture that respects the intrinsic value they add to the world. We all do, actually. For goodness sake, art is supposed to provide some insight into life! How can there be any insight through a myopic perspective?

“...women will go to a ‘guy’s movie’ more easily than guys will go to a ‘woman’s movie,’” said Michael Shamberg, who produced 'Pulp Fiction' (1994), 'Django Unchained' (2012) and 'Garden State' (2004).


It's all about dollars then. Bank activity drives the culture, regardless of how insidious it has become.

It's a good thing then, that 'Frozen', the Disney animated film with two female leads, just became the highest grossing animation of all time. It even overtook uber-masculine Batman in 'The Dark Knight Rises' and Robert Downey Jr in 'Iron Man 3', as the 5th highest grossing film of all time.

$1,245,064,674 reasons to start respecting women in our screen culture. I'm sure the Forbes list will look utterly different next year.


If only it were that easy. It starts with individual perspectives, you see.

We have to rebuild the culture. For women. For ourselves.

For the nieces and goddaughters, waiting to inherit the world.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014


We live in a bizarro world sometimes.

Where the truth is often bedfellows with deception. Grey everywhere. Slippery slopes at every turn. It's the natural by-product of an imperfect world, run by imperfect people.

But there are boundaries, somehow. Somewhere in the mire, there is a line. It's that point we reach where our entire being reacts in opposition, 'no, no, that's not right.'

Nothing triggers this reflex like blatant hypocrisy.

When a political leader tells us all we need to stop relying on handouts, to 'pull ourselves up by our bootstraps', only to allow his child to receive a dubious scholarship.

When a business leader claims that the general public has an entitlement culture, yet secretly expects special tax concessions for her businesses.

We react, vehemently.

And such is the hypocrisy of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) around the globe.

Again and again, ISPs have claimed no functional ownership of the internet. It's how they avoided copyright infringement claims for the piracy of their users.

'We are not responsible!', they said. 'We lay the pipe. What people put in the pipe has nothing to do with us.'

The landmark case, between ISP 'iiNet' and the 'Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT)', went all the way to the High Court; the most powerful judicial body in Australia.
And, the ISPs won.

Now, before you accuse me of inflating the importance of this one case, I am aware that this was only one legal precedent in Australia.

What you should be aware of, however, is that the iiNet case was being pursued by unseen global entities. A US Diplomatic Cable, leaked by Wikileaks, revealed that 'although the case against iiNet was filed by a number of local (Australian) and US content owners and distributors, the prime mover behind it was the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which has been active in copyright enforcement in the US.'

The plot thickens.

So, just as the film and content makers of the world were surveilling the case, watching too were the international ISPs. Over a frothy glass of vindicated evil, they no doubt breathed a collective sigh of relief at the final decision.

And that is where we are today. Ultimately the courts agreed that ISPs are simply the 'pipe layers'. In this construct, they cannot be responsible for piracy. Legally.

It is with some bemusement then, that I have watched the recent debate increase over 'Net Neutrality'.

No matter how little spare mental capacity you have, you need to know about the 'Net Neutrality' debate. It is the latest duplicitous example of powerful, monopoly/oligarchy companies trying to sneak in new laws to enrich themselves, to all of our detriment.

To arm yourself with the requisite knowledge, I strongly suggest you watch this hilarious, yet factual, clip from comedian John Oliver's show 'Last Week Tonight'. Mr Oliver decided it was time to comment on the current USA-based debate over 'Net Neutrality'.

Or, as he calls it, 'preventing cable company fuc*ery'. 

If you're too lazy, however, the simple explanation is that ISPs have been fighting since 2010 to create a two-road internet. On one road will be you and I, with 'normal' internet speeds. On the other road, will be companies, like Netflix, that will pay the ISPs to have a faster internet. The idea is that ISPs will make a fortune by charging big companies a premium to make their internet content get to you faster.

The internet will be dominated by those companies with the deepest pockets to access the best internet service from the gatekeepers: the ISPs.

And the net will be egalitarian, no more.

So, with a strong reaction to their hypocrisy, I ask you: how can ISPs have it both ways?

The central defence, in the iiNet ISP copyright infringement case, was that the WAY the internet was used was of no concern of the ISPs. They simply provide the pipe.

But the central premise of the 'net neutrality' discussion, is that the ISPs will give preferential treatment to certain content, for a price.

On one hand, they claim that they're not responsible for how the internet is used, but simultaneously they plan to extort a huge profit on preferential deals for certain content?


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Thursday, July 10, 2014


So, there I was, blinking hard and trying not to respond from reflex.

I could have told this person that he was, with all due respect, unintelligent.

It would have been easy to dismiss him with a simple "because it's your job".

It's quite rare that a cinematographer suggests that you are "wasting his time" with a safety briefing at the start of a film shoot.

But there I was.

He looked at me, expectantly. The other crew watched on.

I smiled, using the time to internally restrain my desire for sarcasm.

"Well", I said, "I want you to get on with the job as much as you do. But, just because we are on a tight budget and schedule, doesn't mean we can't do it right. Agreed?"

Lame, I know. But it was the best I could think of at short notice.

Quite by accident, however, he had taken my generality to mean that he was suggesting we cut corners. His concern instantly shifted, from wanting to play with the camera, to being perceived as a professional.

We didn't have another issue all day.

It's funny how often ego and pride can affect our judgement. In this case, his ego helped me quiet his petulance, because the last thing he wanted was to be seen as 'unprofessional'.

Unfortunately ego doesn't always help.

You may have heard about the recent death of a camera assistant, Sarah Jones, on a film set in Georgia, U.S.A.

Poor Sarah was hit by a train. She was filming a scene on an old rail bridge, over a river, that trapped the crew as the train approached. Several crew were injured. Sarah didn't make it.

While the full facts are still being determined, certain points are becoming clear. There was not a formal plan to manage all the factors involved in shooting on live train tracks. There was not a supervisor hired to monitor crew safety on the tracks and ensure that all elements, of a very risky shoot, were under control.

And, possibly worst of all, the production doesn't appear to have had permission to be filming on the train tracks at all.

There has been a lot said in the post-analysis of this horrible tragedy. Pundits have commented on process, unions, regulations, laws, regulatory authorities, lawsuits, and so on, and so on.

But to me, this comes down to an issue of ego. What kind of ego does it take to put your film crew in mortal jeopardy?

There is a lot of bravado amongst filmmakers. The idea of 'letting nothing hold you back' is often celebrated in indie/low budget filmmaking circles.

The challenge with this arrogance, is that it often ignores simple truth. A film that doesn't find an audience was unsuccessful 'because people in this country don't respect these kind of films'. Or that actor rejected their script 'because she is doing nothing but bland Hollywood sequels these days'.

Or, the crew are complaining about safety 'because they have all been spoiled and don't know how to make real indie films, where you take some risks'.

Of course, all of these responses ignore the facts. Arrogance, pure unadulterated ego, lead this person to overlook that their film was terribly made, so no-one saw it, or that their script is horrible, thus the actress rejected it.

But you can't ignore a dead crew member.

So, Sarah Jones has left us with two legacies.

First, if something is unsafe, if a corner is being cut, speak up. No-one benefits when valid concerns are silenced.

And second, ego should never be left unchecked.

There was a way that this scene could have been shot where everyone left intact. But the arrogance of the Producer/Director told him that he knew better.

Challenge this arrogance at all costs. Whether you see it in others, or see it in yourself.

Lives may depend on it.

R.I.P. Sarah Jones

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Thursday, July 03, 2014


What would the world be like without Facebook?

Like it or not, Facebook is a cultural phenomenon.

1.3 billion active users. Yes, with a 'B'. On a planet of 7 million.

Meaning, at any gathering, Snow White would have to tell at least one of the dwarfs to "put their phone away and be social". Multiply that by a factor of the entire planet, and you get the scale of this behemoth.

And it's not just for individuals to find people they dated during pubescence. There are organisations and creatives living in this social networking petri dish, all looking to engage with you.

Facebook, organisations you love, your friends, and you. One big happy family, all communicating freely with each other.


Well, no, actually.

Facebook you see, is not 'free' at all.

I know you don't pay in monetary terms, but the Faustian pact is for your data.

In case you haven't worked it out, Facebook follows your every move. Your every whim. Your every communication in Facebook. Your every search. Even the searches of the people you connect with.

Oh, and those 'private' messages? Sorry. Private in name only.

Why the violation of privacy?

Money. Always money.

Facebook went public in 2012, and is now worth something in the vicinity of $65-70 billion. With a 'B' again.

So, how does a 'free' service, become a golden goose? By selling every detail it can glean about you to marketers. That's how you 'pay' for the service, with access to your online profile.

There has been some awareness of this behaviour for a while. People, generally, are more savvy than they're given credit for. But you accepted this dubious trade-off, as long as the communications were allowed to flow unfettered. It seemed like a bizarre, egalitarian social contract, didn't it? You sacrificed some privacy in return for unfiltered updates from the people and entities you wanted.

But alas, that's not the case either.

Facebook is desperate to make revenue. After their initial IPO, the share price tanked, and a large number of lawsuits were filed. The main wound of contention was the allegation that insiders, like banks, were given a clue to the fact that Facebook doesn't make much actual money. The result was that the insiders bought and sold the Facebook stock on the first day, making a tidy profit, while the 'mum and dad' investors were left holding a dud.

It's called a 'pump and dump' scam.

Since then, Facebook has become pathological about actually providing a service that generates real revenue.

Their first brainwave was to sell your data. Not a blindingly clever idea, but with over a billion users, a cash cow none-the-less.

Their next scheme is far more suspect. I would go as far as to suggest that they have broken their part of the Faustian bargain.

'If this microcosm of statistics is taken to be broadly emblematic of the whole, then the truth would appear to be that each of your Facebook posts is now reaching only 6% of the people who Like your Page. That’s around 1 in 16 people who have actively chosen to follow you and take an interest in what you do. Conversely, 15 out of 16 of your ‘followers’ see nothing. The only way to increase that is to pay, on average somewhere between $30 and $50 per post, to reach anywhere close to 100% of your followers.'

You should read this article, whether you are an organisation using Facebook or not. Everyone should know the real terms of their deal with the Facebook devil.

Essentially, Facebook's second scheme involves them squeezing organisations to pay a fee to 'promote' their posts, to ensure that their Facebook communications actually reach their existing followers. That's right, not to reach strangers, but to reach the people who have already agreed to follow the organisation's Facebook page.

To many of you this may not be a terribly important issue.

To many filmmakers and creatives, however, not having a direct line to your audience is a serious problem. This should serve as a warning shot. Over your head as opposed to your kneecaps.

I have heard too many entrepreneurs, particularly filmmakers, boil down their promotional strategy to 'we are going to build an audience via social media'. This expression has become the mating call of people who either do not have the funds or the brains to run an effective marketing campaign.

It's an Ackbarian trap.

Acquiring 'likes' may give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it means close to nothing for the awareness of your project. Zuckerberg and his cronies have seen to that.

So, for the Facebook users out there, enjoy Facebook if you must, but know that you are selling the online version of yourself, to stay in contact with people you would probably cross the street to avoid in person.

For organisations, know that the price of using Facebook for your marketing activities just went up substantially. Whether it is more or less competitive with traditional marketing channels, remains to be seen.

And, for my fellow filmmakers, know that your work to build an audience for your film or visual story is going to have to extend far beyond the 'thumbs up' universe.

Because, for now, we do not have to contemplate a world without Facebook.

And yet, strangely, communicating with our audiences is becoming harder than ever.

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