Wednesday, December 31, 2014


It's time.

Can you believe it? How quickly have the days and months evaporated.

But here we are again. Gathered around the hearth. A warm beverage in hand.

For the newcomers this year, I started our little 'Tales From the Opening Act' tradition in 2011. I noticed that many pundits were reviewing the year just past, with not a single neuron devoted to what lay ahead. Seemed like they were taking the easy road.

So I did it for them.

2012 was reviewed in 2011, and the tradition continued through 2012 and 2013. And now, without further adieu, I give you 'The 2015 Review'.

Or, as it shall be known, the battle royale'.

Yes, there will be a wave of bickering and sniping in 2015. Big companies. Big films. Big new business models.

The shells have well and truly been discarded, and industry players will be climbing over each other to get to the gold ring.

Take the 2015 major releases for a start.

In a normal year, you could genuinely separate the thoroughbreds from the pack. The films that would have the names, the brand and the marketing push to draw big audiences.

This year? Good luck.

There are hugely successful sequels slated for release in 2015, like 'Kung Fu Panda 3', and the final 'Hunger Games' of the franchise. Not to mention the big screen returns of Captain Jack Sparrow, Mad Max, in 'Fury Road', and killer dinosaurs in 'Jurassic World'.

But those films are, bizarrely, not even the top contenders.

Squaring off in an epic battle between two film titans, is the sequel to the $1.5 billion grossing original, 'Avengers 2: Age of Ultron', and the hugely anticipated first film under the new Disney regime 'Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens'.

Even 'Batman versus Superman' moved to a 2016 release to avoid these two blockbusters. Understandable, given I expect Star Wars VII, with its huge active fanbase, to rule the 2015 box office.

Interestingly, the jostling between 2015 mega-films has already begun, with bragging rights claimed over Youtube views on the respective teaser trailers. For the record, Star Wars VII won the moral victory, 'with 58.2 million views in its first week since its debut, surpassing Avengers: Age of Ultron with 50.6 million views and Jurassic World with 53.9 million views'.

That's a direct quote. Someone, somewhere, is taking this way too seriously.

But the pugilism doesn't stop there.

On the Awards circuit, there are a glut of films contending for the top prizes. The front runners for the Oscars are, allegedly, 'Boyhood', 'Birdman', 'The Imitation Game', 'Selma', and 'The Theory of Everything'.

Simple, right?

Except that the other expected nominees are similarly acclaimed films like 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', 'Whiplash', 'Gone Girl', 'Unbroken', and 'Foxcatcher'.

My very uncertain Oscar 'best film' pick, based purely on the strength of the reviews around direction and performance, is 'Birdman'. With this field, however, there will be an outcry no matter who wins. Someone's favourite will definitely miss out.

On the Australian awards front, the situation is no better.

There are a host of strong Australian films in contention for best picture at the Australian Academy Awards (the AACTAs)

The Spierig brothers have had a solid outing with 'Predestination'. Emile Sherman and Iain Canning have form as Oscar winners, and their latest film 'Tracks' is certainly in the mix. And let's not forget 'Charlie's Country', which won David Gulpilil a best actor nod at The Cannes Film Festival.

The real battle, however, seems to be forming between the critics' darling and the star turn. 'The Babadook', the little Australian horror film that has wowed critics around the world, and 'The Water Diviner', Russell Crowe's directorial debut.

Unfortunately, I'm a cynic, so I see the 'Water Diviner' dominating the 2015 AACTAs. I haven't seen the film, so I can't judge whether a 'Water Diviner' whitewash is appropriate, but I sense that recognising Australia's living film greats has become more of the motivation behind the AACTAs of late.

Either that, or the Australian Academy members just REALLY loved 'The Great Gatsby' last year.

Away from the films themselves, the clashes continue.

While there will be smaller skirmishes elsewhere, Australia will be THE subscription streaming video battle ground.

Netflix will arrive, albeit with a reduced content offering, in 2015. Their reward for Australian territory expansion?

An all out turf war with the combined forces of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and mining billionaire Gina Rineheart.

Yes, after years of very little development in the subscription streaming space in Australia, we suddenly have three proposed streaming services slated to launch: Presto (a Murdoch/Foxtel and Kerry Stokes/Channel 7 joint venture), Stan (a Nine and Rineheart/Fairfax Media joint venture), and Netflix.

If only we had the broadband infrastructure to support these services. Sigh.

There will at least be one winner amidst the collisions between streaming video providers: the paying audiences. Competition can only help the situation for used and abused Australian audiences. Having said that, just hope that Netflix plays a long term game with this Southern Hemisphere launch, otherwise Australia may be looking at a new media monopoly should Netflix decide to pull out.

On an international level, the first real challengers to Youtube will arise in 2015...and be crushed under Google's boot heel.

Unfortunately for these admirable upstarts, Youtube is free, funded by it's owner Google, and still owns 'first mover' advantage in the marketplace. The eventual usurper to Youtube will have to be offering something genuinely different for audiences. But how many 'Funny or Die' sites do we really need?

Meanwhile in 2015, while all of the focus has been on the content providers, the technology giants will suddenly stumble themselves into genuine relevancy again. Yes, Apple and others are dominating with the tablets and phones, but the largest growing space for technology leadership is, ironically, the humble television.


Because the content provision side is becoming so fragmented. The big content creators are all trying to launch, or refine, their own direct to audience streaming services (e.g. HBO-GO, AMC-TV, Disney's Hulu, Netflix, etc) which makes it more complicated for audiences to easily watch content from their different subscriptions. Who wants to connect a computer to your TV, then have to log into five different websites to watch content?

Into this breach steps Samsung, with more sophisticated smart televisions and, of course, Apple TV. The winner in the smart TV space is far from clear, but we do know that Apple sold at least 10 million Apple TV units in 2013. This amount of sales makes the device Apple's fastest-growing hardware product on offer.

People want content, need convenience and will pay for it, clearly. The user experience on smart TV's and smart TV enabling devices will become just as important in 2015 to the content makers, as it will be for audiences.

And finally, mark my words, someone, somewhere will trial flexible pricing in cinemas in 2015. This pioneer will push ahead despite all of the entrenched resistance from the traditional players. Films competing with other recreational activities, through improved audience experience, convenient access to content, and flexible pricing, is the future whether we like it or not. Adapt or perish.

So, there you have a glimpse into 2015.

While it is true, 2015 will be a battle royale', the reason is not because of animosity, but opportunity.

Opportunity, in fact, is the real theme of 2015.

The new film business models are becoming much clearer, bringing a measure of stability to an industry in flux. The DVD has stopped free-falling in sales and will continue to be one source of income, albeit much less than previously, from a diverse revenue stream for filmmakers. Traditional theatrical returns continue to grow at a reasonable rate, and the On-Demand Subscription video services are predicted to grow exponentially over the next 5 years.

Audiences. Revenues. Partnerships. Awards.

They are all on offer in 2015. You just have to please your masters.

And, like it or not, if you are making content for a living, the audience is now very firmly in charge.

2015 will be a year of opportunities, if you're willing to build and satisfy your audience.

But what are you going to do, to make it happen?

- - - - - - - - -

Sunday, December 14, 2014


I'll say one thing for North Korea. They certainly know how to get revenge.

Who could have imagined, honestly, that releasing a Seth Rogen movie would lead to the biggest leak of internal emails, financial information, unfinished versions of films, and terabytes of confidential information, in movie studio history?

No one at Sony, that much is certain. Definitely not the primary targets, Amy Pascal, the Co-Chairman of Sony Entertainment and Academy Award winning producer, Scott Rudin.

Personally, I don't know how to feel about the situation. I believe it was wrong for the (allegedly) North Korean hackers to steal Pascal and Rudin's private email trail, amongst many other documents, and publish it. I really do.


I would be lying to suggest the insight their email discourse provides, into the filmmaking behemoth of the American studio system, didn't pique my interest.

And that ethical conundrum is the element of this saga which isn't getting significant traction in the press.

Yes, Rudin and Pascal traded offensive comments about Barack Obama liking Kevin Hart movies.

Yes, Rudin made less than flattering comments about Angelina Jolie, labeling her a "spoiled brat" that would ruin both his and Pascal's careers with the developing project 'Cleopatra'.

Even legendary Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel, the inspiration for the hilarious Ari Gold character in 'Entourage', weighs in at one point.

But none of that interests me. Nor many other filmmakers. It's tabloid fodder.

What is of interest is the process by which alleged Hollywood experts developed, prepared, then bickered, and eventually parted ways over the 'Jobs' film. Ultimately Rudin was so dismayed at how Pascal and her Sony executives managed the project, that he took 'Jobs' to Universal, to studio-partner the film, instead.

Even in death, Steve Jobs manages to be a polarising figure, it seems.

The irony is that the ethos around Steve Jobs appears indirectly related to why his film biopic derailed at Sony.

Steve Jobs, you see, was famous for respecting the contribution of talented people. At Apple, Jobs was known to have an inner circle of trusted technologists. A cadre who had proved themselves against his high standards.

If you decide to read the leaked email trail, and I wouldn't be shocked if you didn't, you will notice none of this same respect within 'big Hollywood'.

They bicker like petulant children.

They speak about talent, like the excellent Michael Fassbender, as if he were cattle; consequently reducing their summary of him to a discussion on his genitalia.

The tone of the emails even inspired Hollywood star Zoe Saldana to comment:

'Being #hacked sucks but not as much as being an actress at the mercy of these producers tongues. Now everyone knows! #rudin #pascal #email'

So, taking a big picture view, what can anyone learn from this whole sorry mess?

Perhaps it is that you shouldn't mess with North Korea.

Or that, if you are a major media and technology company like Sony, you shouldn't short change the IT security department.

Various industry people, like Judd Apatow, are suggesting that this incident should teach us to respect people's privacy and not read the emails.

Others have stated that we should learn to be more civil in our electronic communications with each other, because nothing is private and EVERYTHING has the potential to be considered news.

I have a different take on it. There's two universal lessons on display here.

First, respect your peers, even if you don't like them.

I have written about this before, from my own experiences, but essentially the world is truly not a huge place. You will cross paths many times with the same people in a given vocation. Sometimes, a person will rub you the wrong way. That's life.

In the grand scheme, Rudin may not be tickled by the idea of working with (or even in the vicinity of) Jolie, but he was wrong to dismiss a fellow industry professional who has proven herself with critics, audiences, at the box office, and even with the Academy. She's not a Kardashian.

That lack of respect has now reverberated back to him. Karma is cruel.

Second, respect the work.

These people are supposed to be high ranking Hollywood experts. The very top of the filmmaking ecosystem. From the outside looking in, at least.

While Rudin at least appeared to be focused on making the best film possible, even tagging David Fincher to direct, neither he nor Pascal seemed to be able to get past themselves to make the project a reality. They had become two titans, locked in an endless battle of pride, will and ego.

The project bore the consequences.

So, never forget what Rudin and Pascal clearly have.

There are no gurus.

There are no definite smash hits.

There are no formulas to success.

There are only those who are willing to think harder, learn, respect others, and push the quality of their work.

Why can't that be you?