Thursday, August 28, 2014


So, last week I wrote about that fact that Jimmy Fallon is now making jokes about how backward thinking the film business is.

What saddened me was not that a comedian would find humour in our pain, but more that a mediocre comedian would discover this joke. How bad can it be if a late night yuckster has figured it out?

In the week that followed, I wondered whether I had been too harsh in my final assessment: that the movie business had become a bad joke.

Well, more news has arrived. And no-one is laughing anymore.

'The (USA Summer Film) season is expected to finish down 15 to 20 percent compared with 2013, the worst year-over-year decline in three decades, and revenue will struggle to crack $4 billion, which hasn't happened in eight years.'

One part of the article is so adorably pathetic, however, you will struggle to stifle a chuckle.
Laments one studio executive, "I wish I worked at Netflix."


And this is what it has come to in the upper echelons of the industry. No innovation. Just 'grass is greener' pining.

3D was supposed to be the prodigal son. A returned sideshow that had matured to the point of respectability. Because nothing says respectable like seven foot tall, blue people with Australian accents.

Never-the-less, the modernising of 3D was going to be the talisman that made cinema an 'experience' again. And yes, the audiences would flock back in droves, heralding a new Eden of theatrical film prosperity.


All these years later, after we have overcharged people to sit through bad movies, with even more expensive overbuttered popcorn, we are still not thinking of our audiences. The flaw is in where most analysis starts: the golden age of cinema. When cinema was respected. When children watched quietly, rather than talking and texting through the second act climax.

The golden age.

Oh, how quickly we forget our history.

The golden age of cinema, used as the thoroughly outdated yardstick of success, was based on a FALSE scarcity. Audiences had to go to the cinemas because you couldn't see the film by any other means. That the cinemas were the glorious theaters of yesteryear, red curtains and all, was a throw back to the times rather than any decision about audience engagement. If cinema owners thought you would watch a film in a card board box, with yesterdays popcorn, and pay $24 for the privilege, they would usher you to your seat in row F of the Westinghouse refrigerator packaging without hesitation.

And, as the cinema owners of the past realised they had a captive audience, the prices of cinema tickets went up, while the cinema-going experience became more and more generic and low frills.

This is the audience we have inherited today. Abused. Exploited. Pillaged. Ready to take control of their experience via the new delivery platforms like Netflix.

There is no loyalty from these audiences. Nor should there be, based on their continued treatment. And so the box office crumbles.

Surely, all is lost.

Or is it?

What if someone began to truly think about how to make cinema more engaging? More immersive. Preferably without needing cranium accessories to make it work.
What could an unfettered mind create in the cinema experience, if only thinking about making it better for audiences? Making the act of going to the cinema mean something, aside from just seeing the film earlier than everyone else.

What if?

And into the breach, appears Screen X.

Screen X is what occurs when someone actually starts to contemplate why people might go to the cinema. 270 degrees of screen, along the walls of the cinema, making you feel immersed in the action on the traditional primary screen.

But don't take my word for it. See for yourself.


Before the cynics chime in, yes, this exists. It's not like the overstated hype of Asimo. Screen X premiered at a huge film festival called Busan, in Korea late last year.

And suddenly, there is a point to being in the darkened theater again. This is what an audience will respond to.

You can keep masticating the same old cinema distribution model, squeezing every last nutrient until its over. But do you really want to compete with Netflix the day 'simultaneous release' arrives?

Or, you can innovate and give cinema audiences a reason to walk into that hallowed ground again.

Yes, I know it will be painful to evolve. But the well-worn path is fading very quickly into oblivion. It's time to adapt or fail. Be the piper, or be the rats.

Is it about what you want, or your audience?

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Thursday, August 21, 2014


"Here’s a little bad news for the movie studios. I saw that this year’s box office revenue is down 20 percent from last summer. I’m not sure why that is, but I bet you there’s a documentary on Netflix about it."
                                                                         - Jimmy Fallon, 'The Tonight Show', 8th July 2014

Then he gave a wry smile.

This was a part of Jimmy Fallon's opening comedy monologue on 'The Tonight Show'.

But he's not alone.

Louis CK, the now famous stand up comedian, was asked about the bizzaro world of the internet; where willing, paying audiences are geo-blocked from accessing content they can simply steal online.

Namely, Australia:

"The whole country pirates there. (In the US) weirdos pirate things, but in Australia, moms and dads pirate video, because we’re not letting them buy it. We’re keeping it from them. Everybody in the world is like "take my f**king credit card and just let me have the thing, and I’ll pay". But if you’re going to be a pain in the a*s, f**k you! I can steal all of it!"

Now, Louis CK is observant, intelligent and business savvy. I am not surprised he has a perspective on the piracy issue, nor that he has noticed the disparity in treatment of Australian audiences, in particular.

But Jimmy Fallon?

Jimmy Fallon is still doing jokes about Rob Ford. The "crack smoking Mayor of Toronto". Yes, Mr Fallon is still wringing this punchline for every drop he can get. Ironically, the first time Rob Ford was mentioned on the Tonight Show was in May 2013.

When Jay Leno still hosted it.

Since the Shakespearian days, comedians have been among the most insightful of players. Who can forget 'Feste' in 'Twelfth Night'? Cutting to the quick with razor observation; a mantle now taken up by Louis CK.

But late night talk show hosts?

They're the court jesters.

And that's when you know this whole piracy/access to content issue has become totally absurd.

The film industry is, officially, a bad joke.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014


You have a fan.

Yes, you. Regardless of your vocation.

We all do. People who support us, in our professional lives, and believe that we can deliver. They believe in us.

This belief scales. The belief that a respectful colleague has in you to deliver is actually no different to a ‘Beliebers’ perception that simply touching Justin Bieber will make their life better. Sure, one is more based in logic, but there is no distinction, quantitatively, between the two levels of belief.

It’s akin to happiness. Over a drink in Shanghai, a Producer and I were sharing stories about people we had encountered making films. His work had taken him to Afghanistan quite a bit, and he had avoided the temptation to watch the Afghan life from a safe bubble. I had observed a myriad of people through my work as well. Our common point, was what we had seen first hand.

Happiness scales.

The joy that someone in Afghanistan feels when their child is able to be educated, is no different to the joy you feel when you get a promotion here. That your microcosms are different sizes, economically, has no bearing if you aren’t aware of it. Joy, is joy.

And these commonalities are more important than you think. When you think of delivering on your expectations at work, regardless of what you do, you share the same expectations as Bieber has to his audience. The audience size is different, of course, but neither one of you will have a job if you don’t perform.

We all cultivate these fans. When you go to a job interview, you put on your costume and you gambol and dance to the delight of the onlookers. If they enjoy your performance, you make fans, and money flows in. If not, hit the pavement.

We live through these routines and rituals for our entire lives, filled with uncertainty and doubt about our ultimate fate, without ever asking ourselves a simple question.

How many fans do you need to live comfortably from your work?

One million? Two hundred thousand?


I’ll grant you, it’s a more difficult question than it seems. But surely the peace that can come from understanding this point makes it worth asking?

For most people, it’s usually one audience member: your immediate boss.

But for an artist?

Scratch the surface and there are layers you have never considered.

The depth of the connection. How niche is this audience? How long will they be your audience member? How much access are you willing to give an adoring fan?

Will you be as cold and distant as Avril Lavigne? Or as inappropriately, hilariously, gropey as Rhianna?

A friend and colleague recently started experimenting with this very notion. He’s using a range of content to try and build and audience on Instagram. When the people are gathered then, in front of his soap box, he will test what level of engagement they show towards him and his work.

It’s a wild west, in this regard. Rules are being made on the fly. Some experts proclaim that building an audience must be a structured process of analysis, planning, and well executed strategy. Others suggest that good work will build your audience for you. Neither one is incorrect.

Realistically, the answer returns, inevitably, to you.

What level of income do you need? You would be surprised how you can make freelancing work when you are willing to scale back on your spending.

Most importantly, however, what kind of work are you producing? Lamborghini, prior to 2003 when they were bought by Audi, used to make only 250 cars per year. Justin Bieber, on the other hand, has 52 million followers.

Recently, a guy from Ohio created a Kickstarter campaign as a satire of crowdfunding. His ‘project’ that needed funding was to make a potato salad. That’s it. Just potato salad.

5,953 backed the project. It has reached $49,070 of a $10 original goal. That’s roughly $9 a person.

Could you live on $50,000 a year?

I could.

So, there is a starting point. That’s my tribe. In a world of roughly seven billion people, I need to find at least five thousand committed fans who are willing to give me a minimum of $10 a year for my work.

How many do you need?

This will be your base. As long as you keep your tribe happy, you are free to court more fans with the quality of your work. 52 million fans, at $10 a year…

But you have to perform. You have to maintain the integrity of your work, to keep your tribe happy rather than lose them while chasing a bigger audience.

Because you have dedicated fans now.

Your fans believe in you. Your responsibility as an artist is to them.

And so you have to deliver.

Even if it’s just potato salad.

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Thursday, August 07, 2014


So, you're a Hollywood screenwriter.

You have worked many years and developed your craft.

You have some excellent PRODUCED credits, including 'Tropic Thunder' and 'Catch Me If You Can'.

You are at the top of your game, and you have been hired onto the latest installment of a Hollywood film franchise that has grossed US$1.3 billion worldwide.

Your time to shine, right?

And then, there's a delay.

The film's star, Will Smith, is not happy with the script.

There's a further delay. Still no agreement.

Time passes in multitudes. What is going on?

Suddenly, a shadowy figure emerges in the distance. He's not on the project. But he is. But he's not.


Who is this Soccio?

He worked with Will Smith as a writer on 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air'? So?

And then, you realise. Will Smith has brought in this man. This Soccio.

A usurper! A new writer! What can he possibly contribute to the 'Men In Black' franchise?

Word reaches you. Soccio has worked with Smith for years in the shadows. Soccio is someone Will Smith brings onto projects to alter dialogue and make Smith's characters sound like 'Will Smith'.
Because, you sigh audibly, 'Will Smith' is a brand now. A brand that Will Smith, himself, protects.

And now, you have a question to answer.

Because, as the article says:

'But it's unlikely any of the other writers would care to make an issue of it. (After all, Koepp -- to give an example -- pulled down more than $250,000 a week for his services.)'

There's the line. You've worked hard for your craft. You are staring down a horribly delayed film, with a script in transit.

And you have been sideswiped, by Soccio.
But the money is SO good.

This is your trial as a screenwriter, perhaps as a human being. The question only you can answer.

Do you want to enrich yourself, or do you want to be the one with the real power?

The lame duck or the Screenwriter in Black?

That's your choice.

Welcome to Hollywood.

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Saturday, August 02, 2014


Rejoice friends!

Netflix, our noble savior has arrived!

No more shall Australian audiences wait six months for the same TV shows as the rest of the world.

Never again shall a DVD be a more viable option than simply staying at home and using technology you already own.

The prices shall be lower. The entertainment plentiful.

And the convenience, oh the convenience, shall be the likes of which we have never seen.

A new golden age. Eden renewed. The cornucopia arrived at last.

And if you believe any of that, you are living in a fool's paradise.

I have two words for you. Rupert. Murdoch.

Yes, that Rupert Murdoch. The one who owns both a Hollywood major studio, 20th Century Fox, and an Australian cable television provider, Foxtel. Oh, and that same Australian cable television provider is trying to create a streaming service for its licensed content. In direct competition with Netflix's business model.

The same Rupert Murdoch who, in 1975, ordered his newspaper editors to 'Kill Whitlam', the Australian Prime Minister at the time. Of course, he meant politically, not literally.

The effect, however, was almost literal. Ten months later, Gough Whitlam was ousted as Australian Prime Minister.

When a man this powerful is lobbying against you, how easy do you think business becomes?

But Rupert's not alone. Did I mention the other Hollywood studios, complicit in denying Australian audiences convenient access to content? Those same Hollywood studios, who decry Australian piracy publicly, then resist easier online access to content for Australians because the current system means Hollywood can extort a higher price from antipodeans.

I wrote about this extortion, this 'dirty little secret', previously:

So, before you plan your 'Welcome Netflix' party, imagine this.

A group of Australians are stuck on a small island in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

There is a plane, flown by an independent pilot for a price, which airdrops supplies to the stranded Australians, at an inflated cost. Let's call this independent aviator, Rupert.

Meanwhile, on the distant mainland, a group of large organisations have built an enormous catapult. This catapult launches important perishables to the stranded Australians, again for a hugely inflated price. Let's call this group of organisations, Hollywood.

For many years, Rupert and Hollywood have been making a very, VERY comfortable living charging inflated prices to these marooned Australians.

But suddenly, a new structure appears on the mainland's shore. It's the foundations of a bridge. The construction trajectory is the island. At last, the Australians will be free again. Free to make choices. This bridge is called, Netflix.

Rupert and Hollywood soon realise what is happening.

Rupert diverts his flights to drop explosives on the expanding bridge construction.

Meanwhile, the catapult turns. Salvo after salvo rattles the bridge.

Still construction continues.

Rupert doubles his efforts. He calls in favours. The bridge has its building permit rescinded.

Relentlessly, the plane drops waves of bombs. The catapult seemingly never rests.

The bridge builders fight back. The permit is restored. The Netflix bridge continues to grow.

Frantic now. Attack after attack. Destruction. War.

But to no avail. Netflix arrives on the island.

The stranded Australians are free!!

But wait.

Enduring and perseverance came at a cost. The bridge toll, which was supposed to be affordable to the stranded Australians, is now more than what they would have paid for the airdrops and catapult deliveries.

And that bridge? After the campaign of punishment it received, the foundations are shaky, at best. The bridge is a mere shell of what was originally planned.

Because war takes a toll. And Rupert Murdoch, his Fox empire, and the studios know how to fight it.

So if you think, for one second, that the major studios will deign to lose money through a lower wholesale price for content in Australia, or that Rupert's 20th Century Fox will allow Netflix to open in Australia, without a fight of unholy armageddon proportions, you too are living on a fantasy island in the middle of the Pacific.

Yes, Netflix may arrive here. It will, however, be a shell of the American service.

But all is not lost.

The bridge will be shaky. The journey perilous. But we'll get off the stranded island.

A better future will come for Australian audiences.

And when it does, we won't forget. We'll never forget.

Who built the bridge to save us.

And who tried to tear it down.

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