Monday, October 20, 2014


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Thursday, October 16, 2014


"I made my film!"

Such is the mating call of the early career filmmaker.

Their enthusiasm can be contagious, I'll admit. More experienced, and inevitably more jaded, filmmakers often linger around these bright faces, like nostalgic succubus'. The cynical filmmaker wants to be reminded of that feeling of pure creative joy. Lightning in a bottle.

Years later, however, these same exuberant, emerging creatives are often battle weary. The unicorn of their breakthrough success still as elusive as ever.

"I've made films, of better and better quality, but still am no closer to leaving (insert day job here), and living as a filmmaker".

As the frustration mounts, with the passing years and the seemingly dwindling probability of success, there are many who surrender.

Sometimes, that's not actually a bad thing. It takes a severely stubborn attitude to handle the cacophony of rejection you face as an aspiring creative.

It's not the life for everyone. You have to know what you're getting into. You will shed previous incarnations of yourself as a content creator, and have to toughen your hide again each time.

First, the goal will just be to make something. To take the ethereal concept of an idea, and make it tangible. Despite all the challenges, the doubts, the lack of resources, and the sleepless nights, your prize is to finish the film.

The problem I see, quite frequently, is that often a person's development stops here. Their mindset becomes fixed. The lack of recognition becomes an offense.

"But I made a film!"

Congratulations... what?

You MUST break through this plateau. It's debilitating. A self-imposed cage.

If you push through, you will find yourself in the second chapter for a creative: making something that engages with an audience.

This seems obvious, but there is a litany of walking cliches in the creative world. Filmmakers who consider the audience as an after-thought only. Visual storytelling is an expensive, public, masturbatory exercise for these people, sans trench coat.

Don't be that person. Build your audience. Think of them as you struggle and toil to execute your creative vision. You need them to engage with, to fulfil the greatest purpose of your art; and they need you, to challenge their perceptions and awaken their soul.

But be warned, this stage of your creative journey will be the longest and most arduous.

You will have successes and many failures. False starts and faux breakthroughs. There will be sycophants and saviours.

Most of all, you will consider, many times, giving up.

But take heart, if you haven't seriously considered quitting by this stage, you're either a billionaire's child or a lunatic.

And at your lowest ebb one lonely night, when you are lamenting (to your half-finished red wine) the sacrifices you have made for this gargantuan failure of a career, left only with a mindset and capability that has been honed through thousands of hours of work and learning, your phone rings.

It's your mother.

"Are you OK? We didn't see you at the party."

"I was working," you'll reply.

"On a Saturday night?"

And you'll explain that you were working on an important pitch, that you probably won't get it, but that you really believe in the story and the project regardless.

She'll say that's nice, you'll exchange some pleasantries, she just wanted to make sure you were alive after all, and the conversation will be over.

The red wine will taste slightly better, now that its had some air. Your phone will ring again.

"Yes, mum?"

But it's not your mother. It's the person you pitched your project to.

They love it.

They want it.

They want to be in business with you.

Because you have a perspective, and a way of storytelling, that is engaging and entertaining.

You hang up the phone. Your hand is shaking.

You have finally broken through. You'll be an "overnight success", apparently.

This moment is the final epoch for a creative: a period where you are creating stories, that delight audiences, and that are SO GOOD people feel compelled to pay for them.

'House of Cards'. 'Breaking Bad'. 'Frozen'. 'Game of Thrones'.

Can you make make visual stories of this quality? That engage millions, if not billions, of people around the world?

Thankfully, you don't have to.

You simply need to overwhelm your audience with work so impressive, that they would feel guilty not contributing to you as an artist.

But are you pushing yourself to reach this point?

Or are you still celebrating that you finished a film at all?

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Thursday, October 09, 2014


What does it mean to support an industry?

What is an industry anyway?

Buzz terms are thrown around like 'the film industry', 'the entertainment industry', and 'the dream factory'. Like secret societies that operate in the shadows.

Why do industries need support? Is it a purely economic argument? Is it social?

If they can't support themselves, shouldn't they be allowed to fail?

Ask a random sampling of people and you will get vastly different answers to the above questions. Save for one.

What is an industry?


An industry is the aggregation of the people within it. The practitioners.

People like you and I.

People who have a shared vocation. A congruent passion and goal.

For filmmakers, this goal is to tell visual stories, engage audiences, and make a living doing it. That's our industry, in a sentence.

And it's changing.

Technological disruption. Piracy. Global homogenisation. The changing habits of audiences.

All of these disruptions must be confronted by filmmakers to ensure we remain a relevant art form for our audiences.

But it's not a level playing field.

The United States has a heavy advantage, with huge existing financial resources to promote their industry's chance of success. We see these deep pockets in the marketing of American blockbusters, especially.

But Australian audiences want their own stories. We enjoy American films, certainly, but we like many others (the French, the British, the Indians, the Spanish, the Koreans, etc etc), want to see ourselves reflected on-screen.

And in this desire, this need to ensure that our screens are not totally dominated by American accents, the role of 'Screen Australia' is born.

To the uninitiated, 'Screen Australia' is the Australian Federal government screen industry agency. Their mission is to support the industry to grow and develop.

Why should the Australian screen industry receive government support, you might ask?

Because of the cultural desire to see Australian stories on screen. Because our industry is, relatively, very small and needs support to mature. Because the rewards of a successful 'dream factory' are lucrative, like the recent 'Marvel' films making over a billion dollars in revenue, each.

But I would ask you a similar question.

Why shouldn't the Australian screen industry receive government support?

The Australian mining industry receives AU$2billion (yes, with a 'B') a year via a Federal Government fuel tax credit. Government support for an already hugely profitable industry.

Shouldn't industry support go to an industry that actually needs it?

By comparison, how much did 'Screen Australia' receive in funding in 2013-2014?

AU$100.8million. With an 'M'

And, in the recent Federal Government budget, 'Screen Australia' received further funding cuts. It's a tough position to be in, certainly, and 'Screen Australia' has had to 'pass on' their funding cut to reductions in their industry support programs.

The 'flow on' decisions by 'Screen Australia', however, go right to the heart of this entire question: why support an industry?

In response to their reduced budget, 'Screen Australia' has levied the largest proportion, of the flow-on cuts they have to make, to their programs for new and emerging filmmakers. Kicking the little guys.

Of the roughly AU$5million in planned cuts to their programs, AU$2million has been cut from programs that will directly support early career filmmakers to get their start in an already tough industry.

Specifically, 'Screen Australia' cut money from their 'Talent Escalator' program, supporting emerging filmmakers to make high quality short films on their way to a feature film. They have also cut all of their funding to the state based 'Screen Network' organisations: Metro Screen (New South Wales), Media Resource Centre (South Australia), Wide Angle (Tasmania), Open Channel (Victoria), and The Film & Television Institute (Western Australia).

These 'Screen Network' organisations directly support emerging filmmakers with: small amounts of project funding; career and craft advice; cheap gear hire and facilities; networking and professional contacts; and accessible learning and development for their filmmaking capabilities.

And now, all of that support is under threat.

Yes, in a Government agency that is supposed to be about developing the Australian screen industry, they have decided to kill the future of our 'dream factory'.

And yet, the Federal Government is willing to offer Disney a AU$21.6million grant to shoot the next 'Pirates of The Caribbean' film in Australia. When 'Pirates 5' makes a huge profit for Disney, its creators and the Producers, how much of that will flow back in to the Australian industry?


So, I ask you, what is the point of supporting an industry?

Is it to give out taxpayer money to foreign companies, so that they can employ Australians for six months then leave?

Or is it about developing the current and future talent of this industry so that our filmmakers, and our films, can compete on an international level? To grow our industry both from the roots and the canopy?

I am lucky enough to make films and to support other filmmakers to make theirs. I still shake my head occasionally that I am fortunate enough to be in this position.

Through Opening Act Films, I get to tell stories that audiences all over the world have seen. I live two lives in film, however. I also work at Metro Screen, where I get to provide career planning and coaching to early career filmmakers.

Have you ever seen the look on a person's face when you help them get a tiny bit closer to their dreams?

It is, without a shred of doubt, magic.

I have sat across from a young guy in his early twenties, dumbstruck, as he cried at the possibility that he might actually make his dream to be a filmmaker a reality.

What am I supposed to tell him now?

That 'Screen Australia' doesn't think he deserves support? That the industry has shut the door on him?

I won't, because there are those of us who are going to fight for the future of emerging filmmakers in Australia. We are going to shout from the rooftops that supporting an industry is about creating opportunities for new and early career talent, not a cloistered elite hanging a 'NO VACANCY' sign.

This is about the priorities we elevate as a society via our government. Art or mining?

But it's about more than that. This is about the future of the Australian screen industry.

Will it be humbled with a whimper, or defended with a cacophony?

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If you want to have your say on the abandonment of Australian emerging screen practitioners by 'Screen Australia', there will be a peaceful protest event at The Chavel Cinema in Sydney on Tuesday 2nd September, 6pm.

To register, check out:

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Thursday, October 02, 2014


Being the third, and final, part in this series, what follows will make infinitely more sense if you have read the previous Tales From the Opening Act: A View of the Future - Part 1  and  A View of the Future - Part 2

By now, what to expect from the future is either somewhat clearer to you, or even more clouded in impenetrable fog.

You may feel emboldened by your future prospects, or distraught at the fact that you can't comprehend where you fit.

Either is a natural reaction, to be truthful. Epochs of dramatic transition spawn many a mood swing. Navels worn from gazing.

Apparently, we are in an unprecedented, unheralded era of change and disruption. The old rules are either dead or dying. Even for the macro thinkers, there can be some anxiety at the idea of a complete paradigm shift.

But before you grab for the brown paper bag, there is a simple idea, worth considering, that should give you some peace of mind.

'Same as it ever was'.

Quality rises to the surface. People want something that is good and cheap, but will accept one or the other. A hit is a hit. Supply and demand.

Fundamental principles that are immovable, because the paradigm is, ultimately, built to service the whims and desires of people.

And, while the changes we face appear unprecedented, at their core they are simply a repeated variation of these fundamental principles.

Seem like a gross oversimplification?

Take the worldwide lament about the diminishing value of white collar jobs. It's a borderline wail from the suit and tie crowd.

"We can't get accounting jobs anymore!" 

There are many reasons thrown into the mix: an oversupply of people wanting white collar jobs; huge numbers of highly educated new workers constantly flooding the labour market; a growing number of white collar jobs being outsourced to cheap labour in developing countries; wail, wail, wail.
Meanwhile, as the ground turns to quicksand for white collar professions, the trades are having a renaissance. Booming wages, coupled with an undersupply of new tradespeople, has made blue collars desirable again.

Seems like a concerning fundamental shift in the orientation of our work force, right?

Except it has happened before. To the blue-collar professions. Squeezed by technological change and the volume of people entering the trades, the blue collars were once the jobs with diminishing returns. Until supply and demand kicked in, and people started moving towards white collar jobs.

And now, overbalanced to the white collar side, the pendulum is swinging the other way. Recalibrating the system.

'Same as it ever was'.

The filmmakers out there, in particular, might decry this simple idea.

"We filmmakers are facing a disruption to our industry, from technology and piracy, the likes of which has never been seen!" 

Well, someone should tell that to 20th Century Fox CEO, Jim Gianopulos, who, when recently interviewed, described another great technological disruption forty years ago:

'One of Fox’s long-ago studio chiefs, Spyros Skouras looms large in his mind. Though Skouras led Fox more than 40 years before Gianopulos took the reins, some of the challenges he faced were similar to the ones that threaten today’s movie business.

“This was a time when all the theaters were closing,” Gianopulos says, “when television had decimated the theatergoing audience numbers. There was a retrenchment across the entire industry. Before that, people had been going to the movies two or three times a week.”

The answer for Skouras was to go bigger. He invested in CinemaScope, an ultra-widescreen format that helped differentiate the theatrical experience from the home entertainment one. He introduced it to the masses in the 1950s.'

The movie business, faced with new technology that made it easier for people to watch content at home, had to innovate to survive.

'Same as it ever was'.

"What about social media?", you say.

"Social media has connected niche groups and fragmented the larger pool of audiences into many smaller ones. This fragmentation makes it harder to reach audiences with broad messages about our (insert thing here), a challenge we have NEVER seen before!"

Audience fragmentation is indeed true. We are all enamored with our weird little worlds. I can't argue with that.

But to understand how very little has actually changed, you simply need to read about how Facebook HQ is planning and launching advertising campaigns, for big companies, through Facebook:

'For a day and a half, brand managers, ad agency creative types and Facebook strategists had gathered in airy conference rooms and around cafeteria tables in Facebook’s Madison Avenue offices, filling up whiteboards and scratch pads with one heartfelt or clever tagline after another.

The idea was to come up with a big, sweeping campaign to market MegaRed, a premium alternative to fish oil pills, to users of the social network.'

Whiteboards. Notepads. Pitch meetings. Marketing campaigns.

This kind of approach is absolutely no different to how a campaign would be made for the traditional platform of television. The only difference is that Facebook can more specifically target niche audiences, based on their dossiers of 'likes' of every single user.
Yes, Facebook is now a marketing channel just like any other.

Does that shock you?

It shouldn't.

In the broad scheme of things, no matter how complicated the system, you should never forget that the constructs around you are part of a system built by people, for people. 
When you look to the past, you see that infrastructure, commerce, art and society existed for people.

When you look to the present, while startlingly different in tone, complexity and character, you see the same.

So, when you look to the future, whether it be the technology, or the economics, or the social construct, as long as there are people running it, you will be able to comprehend it on this fundamental level.

And it will be precisely your ability to let go of the minutia when you are forced to change, to see the bigger picture, that will determine whether you succeed or fail with the new opportunities that arise.

Your success, your ability to learn and evolve with the new system as you need to, will be in your hands.

'Same as it ever was'.

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