Sunday, January 31, 2016


It's my birthday this week. Another year older. More time on the clock that adds only questions and less answers.

That's the great lesson, actually. The older I get, the less I see black and white in circumstance. The world keeps getting greyer.

It's why I have to shake my head at people sometimes.

We complicate things beyond all reason.

Instead of discussions, we have debates; where someone must win. Barely anyone can comprehend the idea that they may have been incorrect. To change course in the face of overwhelming fact feels too much like surrender.

But most of life is lived in that grey area between absolute certainly and complete doubt. What is so horrible about changing your mind on a subject in the face of meaningful persuasion?

Take the DVD as an example. I honestly thought they would be dead as disco by now. Eviscerated by online services and piracy. However, they endure.

And not just endure. I was speaking with a senior home entertainment executive recently, who stated quite clearly that DVD is still the lion's share of the home entertainment business. A very high revenue business, in fact. The numbers were staggering.

So, as much as my expectation was that the physical medium was on the bullet train to extinction, I can now see a lifespan of AT LEAST another five years. I may end up being correct about their ultimate demise, but that's not the point.

The point is that I'm improved for being open to a different view, and for changing course.

Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to readjust their perspective.

The trouble with forecasting the future, you see, is that some people can't help becoming too invested in their predictions.

Camps start to form. The world is conveniently split into binary outcomes (like that ever really works). Allegiance strings are pulled to bully the rank and file into a particular team.

"You're either with us, or you're with them."

Soon, the entire endeavor becomes about reputations rather than growth. Pride over pragmatism.

The situation has become so absurdly adversarial, that it's even being parodied with articles like The Onion News' James Cameron Says Future Of Movies Will Be Watching Them Sitting On His Lap.

Hilarious. The best humour always has a vein of truth.

Satire aside, the real James Cameron has indeed weighed in on the future of cinema:

"I think there will be movie thea­ters in 1,000 years. People want the group experience, the sense of going out and participating in a film together."

But he's not alone in offering an opinion:

"In the future, you’ll probably see less and less of what we recognize as cinema on multiplex screens and more and more of it in smaller theaters, online, and, I suppose, in spaces and circumstances that I can’t predict."
(Martin Scorcese)

" long as you have filmmakers out there who have that specific point of view, then cinema is never going to disappear completely. Because it’s not about money, it’s about good ideas followed up by a well-developed aesthetic."
(Steven Soderbergh)

"You’re going to end up with fewer theaters, bigger theaters with a lot of nice things. Going to the movies will cost 50 bucks or 100 or 150 bucks, like what Broadway costs today, or a football game....There’ll be big movies on a big screen, and it’ll cost them a lot of money. Everything else will be on a small screen"
(George Lucas)

"We’re never going to be totally immersive as long as we’re looking at a square, whether it’s a movie screen or whether it’s a computer screen. We’ve got to get rid of that and we’ve got to put the player inside the experience, where no matter where you look you’re surrounded by a three-dimensional experience. That’s the future."
(Steven Spielberg)

"I don’t know what these new stories are going to look like … but I’m creating the tools now to hopefully figure out what the language and narratives of this new evolving storytelling canvas eventually will be.
(Chris Milk, creator of the 'Occulus Rift' immersive gaming headset)

All makes sense to you now? You can see a vision of the future?

Clear as a cataract.

Which is exactly the problem. We lose meaningful insights trying to out-manoeuvre the entrenched agendas.

How can we break through this unproductive Ying and Yang discourse?

First, you can (and should) avoid closing your mind to different perspectives. Your warning lights should flash whenever a subjective world view is presented as empirical fact. As an example, take this recent opinion piece on the worth of short film making: 'Avoid the short films trap'.

The genus of the article was the opinion of Producer (and, ironically, prolific short filmmaker) Raquelle David, who said:

“Australian writers and directors that have made one solid short film need to stop making more...Seriously, stop. Focus on the feature or high-end TV concept and work with producers that will help you realise it.”

"Stop your approach. Do it this way. My method is definitively correct."

(warning signs flashing)

Here's the grey, and far less absolute truth.

In the arts, there is no one-way to do anything. If a filmmaker takes ten short films to develop their ability to make a great film, or one, what does it matter? It is the artist's creative journey to experience. Only a Sith deals in absolutes.

But not you. You'll be the one with an open mind.

Second, beware the opinion that doesn't mention the end user experience.

Notice the only perspective above that mentions the audience is James Cameron?

The rest talk about the technology, the economics, the cinemas, and the filmmakers. Even Ms David speaks only in terms of Australian filmmaker's careers, rather than whether AUDIENCES want short films (or want filmmakers who have honed the quality of their work through shorts)

How was the audience so overwhelmingly overlooked? Everything depends on these people!

The success or failure of cinema. The growth and acceptance of more realistic video games. Action on climate change. Equality for women. Humanity for refugees.

The shape of the years to come. All bound by the whims of the populus.

Any prediction, including those on the future of entertainment, that doesn't ground itself in the strength of an audience experience creating demand is flawed. It's all about people!

And people are unpredictable.

People sometimes want passive story experiences, like a film.

But sometimes those same people want an active experience, like a video game.

Sometimes they want a subjective story experience, something immersive, like 3D or the Occulus Rift headset.

And other times, they want to experience a story as an objective viewer, glimpsing into a world, like their favourite episodic show.

How do you satisfy that one, complicated, person with a single, binary solution or prediction?

That's the only simple answer in this whole nuanced discussion: you don't.
It's why trying to create a zero-sum debate on the important questions, with winners and losers, is a pointless over-complication.

Because there's only one real truth.

We're all in this for each other. Like it or not.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016


Filmmaking, much like any work in this world, is a constant feedback loop. A meandering quest for laughter, tears and applause.

My last film 'Chip' received a positive response from three different, significant sources.

There was Oscar winning actor and producer Geoffrey Rush at the Australian Academy Awards. His perspective is significant because he has worked with the best visual storytellers around the world.

Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney also responded well to 'Chip'. His words are meaningful because he is at the top of the game as a documentary filmmaker.

And finally, 'Chip' was also applauded by an audience of 2300 people at the Sydney Opera House, where it screened as a part of TEDxSydney.

Which of these responses do you think I should deem most important?

This is a question each of us are asked and answer every day, no matter what work we do.

Who should be your priority? The boss? A colleague? The customers? Your response flows directly into your output. Into the choices you make to delight or to under-deliver.

But more importantly, your answer also says something meaningful about you. About your values. About your intention in even trying to provide a service to another human being.

In truth, isn't trying to impress your boss and your colleagues with your work, not the end user, simply a camouflaged attempt to benefit yourself?

So, if you're struggling to gain traction, to engage your audiences/customers with your work, you have to ask yourself one simple question:

Who am I making this for?

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Friday, January 29, 2016


* It is possible to disappear into a Film Festival black hole for days, with so many interesting films showing consecutively from morning to night.

* You can recognise someone who has just stepped out of that film festival black hole. They don't really know what day it is. Their eyes are squinting, readjusting to natural light.

* If someone has to cite their love of the source material (book, poem, play, etc) to defend a film you don't like, then perhaps the film is the problem.

* Don't be afraid to say you don't like a film, but don't be unprepared for the response either.

* Concession stands in traditional theatres should embrace cashless technology. They are literally throwing money away. And I REALLY wanted Maltesers.

* Red carpets are fine as long as they don't cause major, foot-traffic problems with their location.

* Huge, sold-out rooms, session after session, are watching the films on offer. 2300 people each time. Communal experiences. Shared laughter. Sadness and delight, in the darkened theatre. The atmosphere is truly incredible.

* It's ok to cry at a film if 2000 other people are as well.

* Scientology is scary. Especially when they surreptitiously record the filmmaker giving a talk on his expose' documentary.

* Not every filmmaker can articulate themselves in public. The ones that can are magic, creating even deeper connections with their audience.

* After parties are rarely about celebrating and mostly about scanning the room. But if you can't hold a conversation, it's all for naught.

* The person who actually maintains eye contact in a conversation at a filmmaker party is a rare breed.

* Drinking five nights in a row will add 3kgs to your bottom line.

* The standard of the films, even the bad ones, is extraordinarily high. That's what you don't know as a filmmaker when you're questioning why you can't break through.

* Not all filmmakers think about who is ultimately going to watch their film. The ones that do leave their audience members exhilarated. The ones that don't leave audiences totally unsatisfied, even mad.

* On that note, too many filmmakers are still making bleak films, with characters you find totally unredeeming and unable to empathise with.

* Scary people exist in this world, full of hatred and malice to their fellow man. Thankfully, they were on screen.

* The best film I saw at the Festival has been in the pipeline for roughly seven years. Quality takes time.

* In Australia, the government film agencies are our version of the major American studios. They have a hand in basically every film in Australia, which couldn't be clearer at the Festival.

* It's not socially awkward to see a film by yourself at a Film Festival. No-one judges in this crowd.

* Film Festival fatigue is a real thing. Two days in a row of films, from dawn until well beyond dusk, actually starts to feel like work.

* Big crowds. Engaged with the films. Curated by an adoring Festival programming team. Festivals are the present and future of cinema.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016


SPIN: Apple is a company that believes in leaving something on the table, rather than always enriching themselves at our expense. Why else would they release free operating system updates for mobile and desktop devices, which improves the experience of Apple users for no charge?

TRUTH: Apple makes its money in hardware, not software, and realised this strategy years ago. That's why the product launches became glittering evangelical events, designed to addict people to the Apple hardware ecosystem. The other part of Apple's strategy is to kill off competitors to their services, like how they are trying to kill free music streaming on Spotify and Youtube.

SPIN: Cinema is a dying medium because the youth all want to watch their user-generated content on Youtube and mobile phones, now and forever.

TRUTH: There has been no conclusive study into the evolving habits of young people when it comes to films, and the suggestion that the youth will behave a certain way in the future, because they behave that way now, is absurd. Tastes evolve with age, and there is no real evidence that young people will, or will not, graduate to more cinematic or refined screen content than user-generated Youtube videos. What we do know empirically, however, is that cinema attendance has stayed relatively flat for years, with no great leap in attendance, but no great drop off the cliff either. Using purely American ticket sales numbers as an example, we can observe that:

i) The difference between the five year average (2009-2014) for ticket sales and the ten year average, is only approximately -2%.
ii) The difference between the five year average for ticket sales and the twenty year (1994-2014) average is only approximately -3%.
iii) The difference between the ten year average for ticket sales and the twenty year average is only approximately -0.81%
iv) The twenty year average for ticket sales, including the 'golden years' of the early 2000's, is approximately 1.38 billion tickets sold. In 2012, only three years ago, the US Box Office beat this average with 1.39 billion tickets sold.

Shifting numbers, yes, but hardly catastrophic, particularly when viewed against box office revenue over those same years.

SPIN: Dynamic pricing, wherein the price of a cinema ticket should shift up or down along with the particular demand of the film/cinema session, devalues the intrinsic value of film as a piece of art, and simply doesn't work.

TRUTH: Dynamic pricing is a success on Broadway already, where it 'helps extend a show’s life­span, allowing producers to take advantage of boom times in order to offset fallow periods, during which lower prices are offered to attract new crowds.'

SPIN: Netflix making original content is a gimmick. Back catalogue and content licensing is the only way for streaming services to make money.

TRUTH: Original content is very good business for Netflix. Said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings: "Our originals cost us less money, relative to our viewing metrics, than most of our licensed content, much of which is well known and created by the top studios"

SPIN: You shouldn't bother forming an opinion, and DEFINITELY never say it out aloud. You will make yourself look foolish.

TRUTH: The respected only got there by using the grey matter between their ears, while having the courage to articulate their perspective. Putting their name under a quote, to make sure they have some skin in the game. Sometimes they'll be wrong, chalk it up to experience, and move on. And sometimes, you can even get it completely right.

What kind of world does this all add up to?

Well, there have never been more perspectives floating out there in the ether.

And there have never been more agendas for you to grapple with.

Think critically. Do your research. Cut through the vested interests.

Always ask yourself why someone may be pushing a certain perspective. Sniff out the wolf wearing the sheepskin coat.

But most of all, never go to war armed only with spin; particularly in the information age.

It's the thinnest armour there is.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Friends, we are gathered here to lay some forgotten acquaintances to their eternal sleep.

Rest in peace 'Macarena'. May you enjoy many years as the music on the elevator to hell.

Farewell 'Cotton Eye Joe'. We hardly knew ye. Thankfully.

And good riddance 'Blue'. Please take that bizarre, animated alien from the music video with you to oblivion.

"Oh, don't be so harsh" you say. "Those songs are part of the rich cultural tableau of the 90s."

So, if I asked for your perspective on 'Old Pop in the Oak', 'Move Your Body', and 'Baila Baila'?

I thought so.

These unknown songs were, after all, the follow up singles from the above one-hit-wonders. Rednex, Eiffel 65 and Los Del Rio, respectively. Sophmore records that never had a chance.

Relics of a different era, in fact.

You see, these songs were all released in the pre-connection epoch. Not just in the pre-Facebook era, which started in 2006, but the pre-mass internet era.

When 'Cotton Eye Joe' was released in 1994, internet users were still struggling with dial-up connections, and many even cancelled their accounts due to constant busy signals. Today, if you can't load a webpage on your phone within ten seconds, you're ready to throw this hand-held super computer in frustration. Try rage-throwing your computer in 1994. You'd give yourself a hernia.

It was a radically different time, which yielded to the mass internet age of the late 90's. When direct connection changed forever.

Today we are totally ensconced in the many spin-offs of the connection era. Social networking. Email. 24 hour news. E-Learning. Digital arts. E-commerce, etc etc etc. These were tectonic shifts in the framework through which we understand human connection and the dissemination of useful (and pointless) information.

And there were always going to be casualties to seismic change.

As it turns out, one of the more noteworthy is the 'one-hit wonder'. Yes, the staple of music culture for decades is now officially on the decline, and no-one is really protesting about it.

I strongly recommend that you read this article: It provides a short, and quite excellent analysis of the data around this trend against the one-offs.

What stunned me, is not that there are diminishing numbers of one-off successes, but that the successful songs are staying in the chart for longer than ever. So much for the myth that audience attention spans are dwindling.

Now, while I would never encourage you to dance on the graves of anyone, the extinction of the one-hit wonder is actually good tidings.

Not because your life would be richer without having known 'Who Let The Dogs Out', but because of what this trend against one-offs actually means.

First, there is an increase in risk aversion by the traditional media conglomerates who hold the keys to the asylum. This has a down-side, in that the wall to climb for career traction is now higher, because the gatekeepers are looking to heavily promote an established artist above encouraging a rough diamond. The flip-side, however, is that the artist who breaks through to a large audience, which is harder but still possible, can expect far more support from the machinery of the industry to try and keep them at the pinnacle. Like finding a snow mobile at the top of Everest.

Second, artists who would once have been one-hit wonders are remaining in the zeitgeist using the tools of the connection era. Not just surviving, mind you, but actually building audiences while they are between hits. As the article says, using Carly Rae Jepsen as its primary example:

'One may also attribute this decline (of one-hit wonders) to artists’ enhanced abilities to cultivate their brands and fan bases in the Internet era. It’s easy to see a world in which Carly Rae Jepsen disappeared into a Jennifer Paige-like obscurity following Call Me Maybe. Instead, she is back in the Top 40 three years later, and Tom Hanks is lip syncing her songs. It couldn’t have hurt that she’s been charming millions of followers over the last several years on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Whereas it would have been nearly impossible to maintain this kind of intimate relationship with fans ten years ago, it’s now par for the course, as well as good business.'

This is the incredible era you are now in. You have the ability to stay connected with fans, and build new audiences between the launches of your creative output, using the technological tools which are accessible and cheap. No longer shall you fade into the obscure darkness of traditional radio or TV silence.

And while the 'noise' of this era seems at times like a din that is impossible to penetrate, great content is reaching us, engaging us and transforming us.

We are becoming fans, pirates, binge-ers, and subscribers.

Enabling long careers.

Encouraging great storytellers to return to us, again and again, with their latest work.

Why shouldn't that be yours?

So RIP 'one-hit wonders'. We've moved on to a better place.

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Monday, January 25, 2016


It's not fair.

Why her and not me?

Why them and not us?

Why can't I break through the same arbitrary gatekeepers, who're always standing in the way?

Why must the ambitious and talented stagnate behind those who have ceased to care? To lament in frustration at the barrier of entrenched power and incumbent tenure.

For those with the will to succeed, and the work ethic, the barrier of an ensconced regime, be they a person or a prevailing attitude, can be like its own form of slow torture. An agonising torment of the soul.

Of particular frustration is when that obstruction has ceased to meet any identifiable need. There may have been a justification, once, but now this blockage exists purely because of antiquity. Resting on laurels that most can scarcely remember.

You can find examples everywhere. From wrinkled moguls like Rupert Murdoch, to the outdated gender politics in Hollywood. They exist purely to maintain their own survival. Endurance is its own reward, far removed from serving an actual purpose to anyone.

And, when faced with years, even decades, of external repulsion by the establishment, many would be Davids are crushed by the Goliath of accumulated old-world power. Fighting the system seems like a great idea, until you are standing in an open field with nothing but a slingshot.

Don't take my word for it. Ask Edward Snowden, Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, or Julian Assange.

Stick your neck out in service of the hoi polloi and there are plenty of the elite ready to line up with an axe.

Most don't get that far. They give up. Get a day job and give up on their dreams.

But surrender is a mistake.

Because there is one constant that redresses all imbalances. One force which cleans the slate, regardless of will, desire, or greed.


Once, despite the inalienable integrity of human dignity and the right of self-determination, slavery was acceptable.

Once, in total antithesis to the notion of familial love and humanity, women could be given away, like possessions.

While I wish I could say that these indignities have been totally eliminated from our society, I can at least rejoice in the sense that these norms, and the people who perpetuated them, are now universally derided.

But what pressure elicited change?


Women couldn't vote. Slaves were legal. Children were forced to work in factories. All utterly reprehensible, and now unlawful.

And as much as Jenji Kohan, Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, and Kristen Wiig are absolutely correct in saying there are still significant gender politics issues in Hollywood, that have no place in the modern world, the ultimate truth is that this obstacle is slowly diminishing too, and will eventually disappear.

That personal barrier you experience in moving to the next stage of your career? Assuming you are honing your craft and improving with each piece of work, you will break through. It is inevitable.

But how?


Because the temporal plane waits for no one.

And, as the old saying goes, most change happens either one retirement or one funeral at a time.

But do you have the fortitude to persist; to be there when your opportunity finally arrives?

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Sunday, January 24, 2016


Being the finale of a two-parter, what follows will be immeasurably more coherent if you have read the previous Tales From the Opening Act: THE 'WAR FOR CONTENT' VS THE 'WAR FOR ATTENTION' (PART 1)

It wasn't a clear night, but the rain was holding back, like a deep breath.

I was being cooked dinner by a friend, so her big, open kitchen had that welcoming humidity of food and company. We were all in a good mood.

Do you know how rarely this happens? Dinner with my parent's friends were torture when I was growing up. It meant twenty minutes of decent eating, then HOURS of traipsing through a stranger's house, begging for something to entertain my brother and I while the adults talked. We once played with a set of Babushka dolls for an hour and fifteen minutes. I'm certain that's still a record.

But experiences become more nuanced with age. A meal cooked by a friend is now like gold. Particularly when they have skills, which this person certainly did. Bliss.

Sipping a glass of red wine, listening to the beef sizzle and smelling freshly chopped leafy things, I struck up a conversation with one of her housemates. We waxed lyrical about the movie business. He works in the industry, so carries insiders' knowledge and perspective. Over time, the conversation swung to the health of the cinema industry, and its future.

We couldn't have been more antithetical.

To him, cinema is the walking dead.

Half-empty theatres being attended by a dwindling audience that want convenience and cheaper prices for their content; all the while being usurped by other storytelling platforms, like gaming. From his perspective, the interactive story experience, when fully realised, will be the comet to cinema's dinosaurs.

I love a good argument.

The verbal fencing continued. The room filled with the warming aroma of searing meat, chilli, and herbs. My red wine dwindled.

I answered his call to arms. However, in the midst of a passionate defence of cinema and its fairly stable attendance levels, I had an epiphany.

I stopped mid-sentence. My sparring partner seemed confused. I put my hand on my heart and I said:

"I have to preface everything I am about to say by admitting that I believe in cinema, when used correctly, as a unique storytelling experience. I believe cinema is special and worthy, in its own way, as a storytelling medium."

He disagreed. In his view, the cinema industry needs "mass attendance" to survive at all. "Doomed" would be his version of understatement.

But I was lost to the argument at this point.

I felt lighter. It was like I had given myself a personal intervention by recognising my inherent bias to the power of cinema.

You see, as a kid growing up in the suburbia of Western Sydney, going to "the movies" was a luxury item. When we could afford it, we were treated with a trip to the only "picture theatre" in Penrith: The Hayden.

Family. Movies. Popcorn. It's a cherished memory. How could I not be influenced when attempting objective reasoning regarding cinema's future?

Alas, we didn't get to finish the debate. The world's problems remain unsolved. Dinner was ready.

But mulling on it later, as I am chronically prone to do, I thought about the issues we had turned over and peeked at. Good conversations do that to you. They linger.

And I realised that my critical analysis shortcomings in this instance, caused by my personal adoration for cinema, are equivalent to the thought obstructions facing other filmmakers. There is one undeniable principle we must all embrace:

Our history, our bias, is confusing us.

The film industry's resistance to new models of film distribution, like simultaneous release, is all based on outdated preferences and historical reasoning.

The confusion of audiences about how to engage with the changing model of film and content consumption, and the plethora of available options, is because it's evolving rather than brand new.

The filmmakers' hysteria about a crumbling film ecosystem exists because you are tectonically shifting what we are used to. If these same professionals were just starting out in the the world of filmmaking, they wouldn't know there were new normals being created to complain about.

So, what if we approached the new world with an unblemished mind? Made a conscious effort to shed our prejudices and approached the entire challenge as a 'green field'?

We would probably all smile more, for starters.

But we would also realise there are two entwined, but very different, wars going on in the evolving filmmaking world currently. They must be unentangled and then understood if we are to thrive.

The first is the war for content.

Simply put, the 'war for content' is the struggle by which screen stories (films, video games, etc) must fight for their place on a particular platform/delivery mechanism. This conflict was at the heart of the discussion I had with my diametric opposite before dinner.

Why should a film be in a cinema and not just on Netflix? What defines the audience experience in the cinema that makes a theatrical release a necessity? Why shouldn't this story just be a video game instead?

At this point it's worth you remembering that, historically, video gaming didn't exist and the false scarcity created by traditional film release windows (cinema > paid home entertainment > ancillaries > free to air television) meant that films did not have to justify being in a cinema. Theatrical release was a fact, not a question. But in the era of high-end home entertainment, and streaming/download services like Netflix, cinema no longer has a free ride.

And, much as there is confusion on this point, this first war is not about competition between storytelling platforms either. The argument of 'gaming versus cinema versus television' is from the old world and is not welcome here. The 'war for content' is about making sure that a screen story is presented on the storytelling medium which intrinsically delivers the optimal experience to audiences.

Yes, in the ongoing struggle of the 'war for content', each film or screen story must JUSTIFY it's existence on a particular platform, whether it be in the cinema, as a game, direct to home entertainment, or via holograms, etc, etc.

This new approach may seem logical, maybe even like common sense; however it is a drastic change to the way things have been done in the past.

The good news is that, if done right, all screen storytelling platforms can co-exist because each story will have a well considered reason to be on that medium. They will all have a comprehensible logic to prevail and attract paying audiences.

When that reorientation eventually happens, sanity will triumph and the 'war for content' will effectively end.

The second ongoing skirmish is the war for attention.

Unfortunately, on this planet, there are only 24 hours in a single day.

Work. Sleep. Meals. Bodily functions. Conversations. Commuting. Relationships.

Games. Films. Television. Books. Webisodes. Transmedia.

Life and entertainment are all competing for your precious seconds. Competing with each other and internally. Every two hours spent watching a film in the cinema, is two hours not spent gaming, after all.

This war will continue unabated, forever. There is no getting around the limitation of time and the surplus of content wanting to be noticed.


Am I allowing my bias of 21st century personal experience, once again, to fence in my thinking?

Isn't it possible that the technology could one day be created to 'download' storytelling experiences into our brain instantly?

Which would increase the volume of content someone could enjoy, in a single day, to levels I have never seen. A possibility I didn't consider until I purposefully disregarded the limitations of my thinking.

Because history and ingrained biases are an anchor.

Let it go and rise to the surface.

Or hold it and sink to the bottom.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016


We all have our subconscious biases. That's a universal truth.

Don't believe me?

Then answer me this: when did World War I begin?

If your answer was 1914, the usual answer to this question in 'Western' educated societies, you are DEFINITIVELY biased. 1914 was when Britain, and the other European powers, entered the war. It is the Anglo-Western-centric view of the world.

The alternative view in circulation is that the true beginning of the war was the First Balkan Crisis in 1908. The difference between these two possible start dates is that The First Balkan Crisis didn't involve any 'Western' powers, at that stage. But make no mistake, it was this conflict, and the regional tension along with military build up that ensued, which led to the first global war.

If you're in China or Japan, you may even say that the enmity started in 1894.

You probably don't care.

If something isn't directly a part of your antiquity, it doesn't get printed in your history books.

I know, I know, you don't get swayed by the weight of history anyway. You're different. An independent thinker.


Like it or not, your experience of the world is coloured by curation outside of your control. From a very young age, your world view has been molded by education, relationships, and all the seemingly mundane occurrences in your life.

The child that was delighted to be taken to the "pictures" every weekend by her parents has a very different view on the value of cinema to someone who could never afford to go. Due to to the slightest difference in circumstances, the emotional resonance of the cinema experience is totally different for these two individuals.

Some people allow themselves to be dominated by the unconscious biases they've inherited. That's why, despite a universal enlightenment in information accessibility, we are still plagued by climate change deniers, bigots, anti-vaxxers, and so on.

Only when the benefit of experience illuminates reality to these people, do they finally let go of well-established prejudices. In some cases, like the reformed anti-vaxxer who's seven children all came down with whooping cough, it can be a lesson hard-learned.

In other situations, the realisation of your biases can be more gentle. Like a challenging conversation, where you find yourself arguing a point that you can't defend with more than emotional support. It's important to you, therefore it's important.

If only the world worked that way.

But it doesn't.

What you realise, if you are willing to take on the insight, is that the biases you cling to, to categorise and cope with this whirling mess called life, are actually enormous barriers you put in your own way.

In the world of film, these inherent prejudices, bred into film culture by its history, lead to misunderstanding and resistance to experimentation.

And, most importantly, these biases create confusion in the most important two issues facing filmmakers and screen storytellers of this era:

The 'war for content' vs 'the war for attention'.

I'm not immune to these same innate biases, by the way. Case in point, I believe in cinema as an experience that is special and worthy as a storytelling medium.

But, as I found out in a conversation recently, not everyone shares my myopia for the greatness of cinema...


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Friday, January 22, 2016


Writing is a tough gig.

'How close is close enough?'
I come across this idea with writers all the time.

Countless hours of toil are invested into a creative project. Or very few; the lightning in a bottle that needs to be protected from dilution.

Am I overworking it? Or underpolishing?

When is the script ready? When is it right?

It's an internal debate that can drive you mad. Like a running battle with a muse that won't stop taunting you.

I was sitting in McDonalds at some god forsaken hour recently. My chest warm with that comfortable blanket of just enough drinks. As I ate what appeared to be food, I noticed a lady finish her meal and then glance furtively in all directions.

Intrigued by such bizarre behaviour, although not ultimately all that surprised given the hour and the location, I surreptitiously watched and waited.

With great, almost unwarranted, haste the lady rose, dumped her garbage and grabbed an industrial sized helping of serviettes and straws. The larcenist scanned the room again, before she quickly departed. Halfway through a chicken nugget, I blinked heavily, confused by what I had just seen.

To a single, successful hamburger restaurant, such petty theft is borderline laughable. A tiny leak in an enormous tank is almost more costly to fix than what it loses over time to a repetitive drip.

But what if that flaw is systemic? And what if the scale of your enterprise means you have one thousand tanks, all with this individual leak?

Suddenly the leak is no laughing matter.

One petty theft in one McDonalds restaurant makes me blink with disbelief and move on. How would I consider the same leakage, if it is multiplied by the 35,000 restaurants McDonalds has globally?

An extraordinarily similar moralistic juggle is in play with writers.

A writer can look at a single script and say to themselves 'I'm not certain if this one is ready, but it seems close enough on a minor rewrite and I have a deadline. The next will be better.'

The leakage is seemingly minor. One, small, project.

But what happens when the same structural flaw in the writing, say between the second and third act, occurs in the next script? And the two after that?

Or what if this script, rather than being a speculative creation for The Black List contest, is a commissioned rewrite for Disney?

Suddenly the leakage, while unchanged in its characteristics, seems more like a torrent than a drip.

With perspective, you discover that the concept of leakage, far from being objective, is contextual. The true answer, in terms of how concerning that leakage should be to a writer, often depends on scale. The scale of your ambitions and the scale of your current creative enterprise.

The same can be said for the other mental pitfall faced by writers; slippage.

Slippage is a more difficult idea to pin down, because it is driven by perceptions of value, rather than observed flaws.

"I FEEL like my last script was better, and that my recent work is not measuring up to my standard."

The challenge of slippage is, of course, that the "worth" you use to measure any perceived drop in overall quality is speculative all along. You are shadow boxing with a swift moving target in your own mind.

And yet, both managing leakage in your work, and reacting to perceived slippage are intrinsic to the struggle in creative endeavors.

So, what can you do about it?

How many cigarettes, stiff drinks, or fingernails should you go through as you resolve these internal theoretical concerns?


You have to work through it instead.

Essentially, what you must come to accept is that both of these concepts are completely subjective self-critiques, akin to procrastination or worse, self-sabotage.

Most leakage can be made gargantuan or diminutised, depending on context. All can be fixed if necessary.

And slippage is inherently based on your own internal perceptions; both of the change in your work and the intended quality for that project when you started writing.

So, how much time should you spend worrying about a leakage or slippage? Or do you instead work through these internal barriers, while honing your craft and your process.

Have you seen the size of the collected works of William Shakespeare?

Fortune favours the prolific.

- - - - - - - - -

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Men are sending so many pictures of their willys these days, that someone has created a website rating the artistic qualities of the photographs.

Yes, that is the world you now inhabit.

"Who would participate in such an exercise?" you may ask yourself, bewildered.

Well, by the authors account, she is being inundated with submissions. The quality ranges from a 'D' for 'lazy effort', to an 'A' for well taken and conceived'. Strangely, this writer is far from alone in the experience of receiving anonymous 'wedding tackle' photography.

How times have changed.

I was born in an era without the internet. The dark ages, surely, but there was truthfully a time, in the early days of global connectivity, when a simple internet chat room was titillating enough. Knowing that you were bandying words with someone across the globe in real time, human connection, was its own simple thrill. That honeymoon is clearly over.

Now, I'll grant you that the sheer volume of modern communication makes it almost impossible for seedier behaviours to stay segregated. Even if you apportion a small percentage of total world traffic to the sordid arts, say 1/2%, you are still referring to 0.005 of the estimated 18 trillion instant messages, and 21 billion text messages, sent in 2014.

That's a lot of filth.

What tickles me in particular is considering how difficult this phenomenon would have been only twenty years ago. Grainy, pixely photos (painfully) slowly uploaded via the hiss and squeak of a dial-up connection; just so you can send a poorly composed image of your junk to an unwilling and unsuspecting recipient.

Too. Much. Effort.

But now?

A smart phone and three clicks.

Some tech-savvy entrepreneur even created Snapchat to capture the lewd photo market amongst teens. Oh, I know you have adopted Snapchat late, and use it for nothing but wholesome purposes, but you are NOT the primary demographic. What other need could there be for an App that deletes photos in 8 seconds? Storage space on a 32GB device?

Please. If you believe that, I have an Opera House to sell you.

But how did we get here? Did the culture transform on its own? Or did the improving technology force a metamorphosis in behaviour?

Personally I believe that, as the tools to spread your photographic amour became cheaper and of higher quality, this trend was always bound to happen. If you build it, debauchery will come.

What is more perplexing, to me, is how this same level of adoption and adaptation has not transferred to other protagonists who trade in the moving image. Particularly, the screen storytellers.

In an era where the digital cinema camera means no longer needing to go through the slow and expensive process of developing film negatives, NINE of the top fifteen most expensive films ever made were released in the last five years.

Yes, almost two-thirds of the most costly films to make were all completed after 2010.

The highest budget ever? An eye-bulging $378 million.

By comparison, the cheapest of the top fifteen came in at a paltry $220 million. And if your heart hasn't gone into arrest by this point, keep in mind that NONE, zero, of the films in the top fifteen 'most expensive' list were made earlier than 10 years ago.

The 2000's are a tidal wave of excessive spending. Even if you try to broaden the data set beyond the top fifteen films, for balance. Of the top FIFTY most expensive films of all time, only three (Titanic, Spiderman 2, and Troy) were made before 2005.

How could this be? The tools of production have fallen in cost, dramatically since 2010, and yet the industry is spending money like it has an expiry date. Production budgets with numbers that make each film almost 'too big to fail' for the major studio bankrolling it.

Is this the business model that will see the film industry survive the vastly evolving demands of audiences?

No, it isn't. This is the business model that eschews risk and creativity. It's the big studio system that avoids creative experimentation and instead delivers thirty-two planned DC and Marvel comic book movies over the next five years.

This paradigm is the absolute antithesis of the 'develop a great idea and then make your film for nothing because the cavalry isn't coming to save you, so you have to save yourself' world view, articulated by filmmaker/actor Mark Duplass at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival.

But it's still coming, to a cinema near you.

This is the world you now inhabit.

So the question, the critical question, for you filmmakers and screen storytellers out there is: what are you going to do about it?

Will you do nothing to improve the film culture with your art?

Are you seriously going to leave the incredible array of cheap and professional tools for filmmaking at your disposal, right now, for people taking d**k pics to send to strangers?

Or are you going to get off your a*s and make something?

- - - - - - - - -

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


At long last, Netflix has arrived in the Southern Hemisphere.

Australia's is a reduced version compared to its American cousin, indeed, but Reed Hastings and Co are playing a long form game. What content they can't license now, they'll bide their time for, waiting for the existing deals to expire. Then, they'll outbid.

Make no mistake, deep pockets and licensing strategy will be needed to become the Alpha provider in the Australian video on demand (VOD) market. Content aggregation has so many big players, it's like a game of survivor. Outwit, outlast and, to become the dominant platform, overpay. At least in the short term.

And Netflix have landed with all fires blazing. A swanky red carpet launch, attended by the big players in the Australian film and TV ecosystem. A user interface beta-tested to within an inch of its life in the Australian technology landscape. Oh, and let's not forget, content. Exclusives and an extensive back catalogue.

Word-of-mouth has already started. One friend literally texted me:

'(Netflix) was love at first sight. I'm now a retired pirate.'

Strong sentiment like this can instill hope that we are finally progressing out of the dark ages of film and television distribution in this part of the world.

But such bold predictions would be premature. It will still be some time before the 'ex-pirate' mantra is the universal perspective.

The market, you see, is fragmented.

A plethora of VOD options means that there is not the consolidation of audiences which lead to a critical mass of financial success and positive user experiences. Too many thought they could be tech entrepreneurs in the screen content distribution world, crying "me too!" and launching a VOD service.

As if everyone with spare millions can be Steve Jobs.

It's like the recent celebrity-studded launch of Jay Z's streaming music service 'TIDAL'. Jay Z, Madonna, Rhianna, Coldplay, Beyonce, etc etc, all standing on a stage, calling themselves visionaries, pretending that Spotify, iTunes, Pandora and Pono don't exist. Not to mention the eventual arrival of Apple's 'Beats' music streaming service. It's a Monty Python sketch, playing out in real life.

And in the midst of this frenzied media spectacle, these artists declared loudly that they are helping the cause of music.

Come again?

Even if you cast aside the cynicism of the economics involved, an ordinary person would struggle to take such proclamations as anything but self-aggrandisement.

Creating another splinter in a fractured market actually makes things worse for artists.

Streaming services you see, whether in film or music, need volume. It is a transactional business model. Instead of a single audience member paying a large amount to own a physical copy of something, you replace that one person with several streaming subscribers, at a lower price per stream.

In this streaming paradigm, all 'TIDAL' will do is diminish the ability of the few best music streaming services to consolidate their market share and deliver more lucrative artist payouts. And, in turn, this will have a direct impact on the experience of the most important entities in this ecosystem: the audience.

Meanwhile, in the VOD universe, the cloning has become ludicrous.

'Dendy Direct' offers streaming rental and purchase of mainstream films and television shows. 'Quickflix' offers much of the same, albeit with the addition of a DVD mailing and a very bare-bones ongoing subscription VOD service.

Yes, you heard correctly.

Dendy and Quickflix thought it was a good business decision to offer an identical service to the most dominant digital rental and purchase services in the known universe: iTunes and Amazon.

Bizarrely, they're not alone in the pantheon of questionable decisions.

In the lead up to 'Netflix' launching in Australia, Foxtel re-launched 'Presto' as a subscription VOD service, and Fairfax launched 'Stan'.

Again, the business logic was to launch the exact same service as the dominant international VOD player, in response to their movement into the local market.

Huh? Not even a minor variation to make them unique?


And if you don't think this is ludicrous, keep in mind that Hotys Cinemas shelved their own VOD service, after years of development, which hilariously was going to offer an identical service to Dendy Direct. There could have been yet another mouth to feed in the overpopulated VOD household.

How does this achieve the mission of simplifying the VOD experience for audiences, exactly?

When you're standing on a busy street in the Italian district, face-to-face with a row of restaurants offering exactly the same menu, how easy is it to choose one?

When you return, two years later, and there are only three remaining, well patronised, Italian eateries, how far reduced is the degree of difficulty for the exact same choice?

The VOD world faces a similar simplification around the globe. Because the audience is king, and they demand convenience.

If you are in the VOD business? Competition. Failure. Take-overs. Consolidation. That is the character of your approaching years.

Audiences will vote with their wallets, and filmmakers will simply have to make the best of it until the bloodshed ends.

You may also hear from snake-oil salesmen, like Jay Z, as this seismic market adjustment plays out. People who claim that they have surmised a "better way", then propose to offer their own version of a solution that already exists.

And you must always have a compass in this fog of unbridled change. A simple question to navigate these tempestuous waters:

A "better way" for whom, exactly?

- - - - - - - - -

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Another weekend, another film festival. Melbourne, despite its weather, is a small slice of blessed civilisation.

I don't have the stamina I used to though. By Sunday night, I needed a nap that could easily have slipped into a coma. The festival experience was worth the effort.

Keep in mind, I have seen a few festivals by now, so it takes a decent performance to leave me with that warm and fuzzy feeling. The festival buzz.

Don't scoff. It's a real phenomenon, festival buzz. So real, in fact, that film festivals are receiving thousands of entries, in increasing volumes each year.

And, like all things ethereal and wonderful, festival buzz also attracts the malevolent. The exploiters. The deceivers. The grifters.

The mathematics are simple.

Create a film festival, and find a way to associate it with a respected place or existing festival: A

Obtain a database of filmmakers, particularly short filmmakers: B

Entice those filmmakers to enter the festival, via promotional tricks or flattery: C

Enjoy the submission fees that arrive: D

A + B + C = D

For filmmakers, 'D' is also equivalent to the amount of angst you feel when you realise you've been had.

Seems like it wouldn't work?

Don't be naive. This kind of scam has pedigree.

There is a now famous swindle that originated in the U.S.A. with very similar DNA. The scammer would drop a flyer in the mailboxes of a controlled radius, say 10,000 homes. The flyers meanwhile provided a prediction for an upcoming competitive sports event.

Now, here is the sleight of hand. 50% of the flyers would have one result. The rest would have the alternative.

The following week, the scammer would drop a new flyer into the 5000 mailboxes that received the successful prediction. The same split again.

The third week, the drop would be repeated for the remaining 2500, who by now have received three weeks of seemingly perfect predictions.

In the final week, the scammer provides a new flyer offering to place a bet on behalf of the householder. To this carefully curated group of 1250 people, the scammer is somehow a gambling genius. How could they lose?

They never see their money again.

Now imagine that, instead of a carefully curated group of money-hungry, suburban householders, the people receiving the flyer are new filmmakers. Stars in their eyes. Desperate to make their mark in the world.

And into this air of ambitious need, steps a scammer. The flyer now details the scammer's film festival which has existed, allegedly, for only one year. The film festival has even attached a Hollywood star as a patron, apparently. A database of filmmakers has been procured too.

What happens next?

You receive an email, like this one:

On Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 5:54 PM, Hawaii Shorts Fest <> wrote:

Dear Pete Ireland,

We welcome you to submit Chip for consideration.



Hawaii Shorts Fest showcases the best short films and its filmmakers from around the world on June 17 - 18, 2015 at the Kahala Theatre in Honolulu. Our honorary chair is Hawaii native Tia Carrere. Avoid late fees by submitting today.

Submit online



Hawaii Shorts Fest

(NOTE: 'Chip' is our film that has been selected in a few festivals over the last year. It's a very specific email.)

Through hard-won experience, I know exactly where this kind of email is angling. But imagine I was a shiny, fresh out of the box, filmmaker. This email reads an awful lot like a personal invite, doesn't it?

They always do.

Whether it be from the Cannes International Film Festival, or the New York TV and Video Festival, or any of a dozen others, this is their play.

To be fair, I probably should have just let it go.

But, as well as making films, I have been an advocate for emerging filmmakers for a number of years now. I have worked in paid and unpaid positions for not-for-profit entities, to try and make the pathway for early career filmmakers smoother.

So, very few things pi*s me off more than someone defrauding the passion of an emerging filmmaker. Leeching on their dreams. It's insidious.

In my moment of irritated weakness, I replied:

From: Opening Act Films
Sent: Friday, March 20, 2015 10:22 PM
To: Hawaii Shorts Fest
Subject: Re: Submit Today Avoid Late Fees | Hawaii Shorts Fest

Hi Jasmine,

Mahalo to you too. Thanks for your email and for asking me to submit 'Chip'.

I am interested in submitting for your consideration. Would there be a fee waiver?

All the best,


Pete Ireland
Opening Act Films

This is a set-up. I know exactly what the answer is going to be, I just want to force them to say it.

Delightfully, because these people never want to give up on potential submission fee income, they actually replied:

On Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 5:53 AM, Hawaii Shorts Fest <> wrote:

Hi Pete,

We do not make any exceptions regarding the entry fee. We understand that finding all the funds and resources necessary to complete a film is a difficult task, but it would not be fair to waive the fee in some cases and not in others. This way, the same rules apply to everyone.



Hawaii Shorts Fest

You have to laugh. Notice Jasmine didn't reply?

It was a perfect lead in to my final response.

From: Opening Act Films
Sent: Monday, March 30, 2015 1:49 PM
To: Hawaii Shorts Fest
Subject: Re: Submit Today Avoid Late Fees | Hawaii Shorts Fest

Hi Vicky,

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I can totally appreciate your position on fees.

Perhaps then, if all filmmakers are to be treated the same, you should refrain from sending unsolicited personalised invitations to submit to your festival, including both my name and the name of my film?

That way there won't be any confusion in future.

All the very best with your festival,


Pete Ireland
Opening Act Films

Now, you can take one of two positions on the impertinence of my responses.

One, this festival is affiliated with LA Shorts Fest and NY Shorts Fest, so I should cut them some slack. LA Shorts Fest is an American Academy (Oscar) accredited film festival after all.

That is a totally justifiable position to take. Even using the word 'scammers' could be too strong.

Or two, f**k them.

What right do they have to data mine my full name, my contact email, and the name of my film, to send me a totally hollow invitation to put money in their pocket?

And before you answer, remember that this was a hugely detailed email to submit for their consideration. That means no guarantees of selection, and the very real possibility of paying a submission fee to receive a rejection, with not even the courtesy of selection-committee feedback on your film.

I know, I know, it is their right to promote their festival. But preying on people is preying on people. That I am wiser through experience makes it no less predatory.

We filmmakers have to stick together on this kind of behaviour. We have to shout it from the rooftops so that a blinding spotlight careens over to it. Transparency is not just the best, it's the ONLY antiseptic.

Because I haven't forgotten what it was like to be that new filmmaker stepping out into the world. Searching for my first success. Ripe to be exploited.

Have you?

- - - - - - - - -

Monday, January 18, 2016


I'm asked this question a lot.

'How can I get a career in the film industry?'

It's not an unusual question, particularly given I have a day job providing career advice and planning to filmmakers. But there is a key word in this question that gives a clue to the mental obstacles emerging filmmakers face.

'How can I GET a career in the film industry?'


Like donuts or a ham sandwich.

I have my own answers that I have enunciated, many times over, to the wide-eyed, expectant faces of early career filmmakers.

But I'll spare you.

You're actually in luck. There have been a number of recent film festivals and film events around the globe, and from these glittering bauble-laden extravaganzas, genuinely meaningful tidbits have trickled out.

The first is the keynote speech by indie-film darling Mark Duplass at South By Southwest (SXSW) in Texas. If you have any interest at all in how to navigate fear, doubt, and depression to purse a career that inspires genuine passion, then you should watch this immediately.

WATCH: Mark Duplass SXSW Keynote Speech

He utters many gems, but the theme is the most important: "The cavalry isn't coming."

How often do our dreams and plans rely on being "saved" by some all-powerful career benefactor? We while away the years thinking if we just persist, that someone will notice our undiscovered brilliance. We will be 'picked', and our career will begin.

But what if that benefactor isn't coming?

This was exactly Duplass' experience. The cavalry never really arrived, but he kept pushing regardless. To find out how many small milestones aggregated to a career, you'll have to watch his keynote address.

The second tidbit I came across is older, but has been revived by the ongoing discussion around the changing film and screen storytelling industry. It comes from the artist who inspired me to pursue filmmaking in the first place: Frank Darabont.

Darabont is famous for being broadly anonymous. His film and television shows are household names, even while he is not.

Never heard of him?

How about 'The Shawshank Redemption'? Or 'The Green Mile'? Or 'The Walking Dead'?

Yes, all work championed by Mr Darabont. And he has also faced this same question of career pathways many times.

His answer, which he acknowledges is somewhat vague and possible frustrating, is that "there is no single pathway". Darabont suggests that what worked for him will certainly not work for you, and vice versa.

Never-the-less, Darabont concludes, that he struggled for nine years until making a living in the film industry, and has built a successful career, is proof that it can be done.

And he has three Oscar nominations to prove it.

WATCH: Frank Darabont insight into starting a film career

In both insights, there is a common theme that differentiates the thinking of the emerging filmmaker, and the people who eventually "make it".

'How can I GET a career in the film industry?'

Is a debilitating mode of thought. It must give way to:

'How can I BUILD a career in the film industry?'

Both Duplass and Darabont both state, as clearly as humanly possible, that their careers were built on a multitude of projects, relationships, moments, collaborations, successes and failures.

No one moment defined them. No sudden watershed moment divided their lives between struggle and success. Little by little, they built forward inertia. The boulder is much easier to keep rolling, than to get started.

And so it is for you.

No matter what your ambition is, be it filmmaking, finances or family; momentum is the key.

Waiting for a magic bullet is like firing one into your dreams. Right through the heart.

- - - - - - - - -

Sunday, January 17, 2016


There is so much pessimism out there in the world, it's hard not to succumb to it.

But you try and resist. You're like a single rock, battling to withstand the roaring sea. Everyone else eroded long ago.

It's in the news. Facebook. In conversation. The economy. Politics. Relationships.

It's everywhere.

And I wish this pessimism had been repelled by the arts. That the pursuit of truth via artistic expression was somehow a talisman against this gloom. But it seems even stronger here.

"The industry is crumbling under piracy."

"No-one can make a living anymore."

"There are too many films and TV shows being made, and we are suffocating each other."

Heartwarming stuff.

I had a chance to experience this cheerful world view at a recent filmmakers forum. The topic was 'Stories Valued: Audience and revenue in the new distribution landscape'

The angst in the room was deafening.

Words were thrown around like "value", "piracy", "revenue", and "commoditisation". Thankfully there was an open bar at the end. The melancholy in the room was enough to drive anyone to drink.

It's the anthem of the modern era. Allegedly, there is not enough for everyone, of anything. You're not good enough to be considered of value, or to save your self from being expendable. Everyone wants what you have, and you didn't work hard enough for it in the first place.

And the worst: no-one cares.

But what if all of that negative space was wrong?

What if there is plenty, of almost everything, for everyone? What if you are contributing enormously to the lives of others, with the simple efforts you make every day? What if 'you' matter more than ever, and it would be noticed immediately if you were gone?

Go ahead, tune me out if you must. Dismiss my positive view as spin. That doesn't make me any less correct.

You see, I've returned recently from the front lines. From the Byron Bay International Film Festival, where my film 'Chip' was screening.

I have seen the sold out audiences.

I have watched them engage with creative work in the way that only film can engender.

I have been approached by audience members and fellow filmmakers, and heard them speak about the impact of my film.

And I have seen the problem. The conditions that exist which give rise to the general pessimism.


That is our problem. The more removed you are from the front lines, from where audiences and your work meet, the more abstract the notion of meaningful work becomes.

The bureaucrat feels small, because they never look into the face of someone they're helping. The office worker never meets a customer who has enjoyed their company's product.

And filmmakers, after toiling so hard for their work, so often never sit with an audience as their film is absorbed.

That is our mistake.

Because I can tell you, unequivocally, that you are all making a difference.

People are more open than ever to being moved by art. They yearn for humanity. They crave the experience of having their world view challenged by a creative examination of the human condition.

And they are showing up, in droves. Paying for the experience, too.

So don't give into the cynicism.

Your audience is out there.

They're waiting for you. Ready to embrace you with arms open.

Will you rise to meet them?

- - - - - - - - -

Saturday, January 16, 2016


Never become proud of mediocrity.

That may sound harsh, but I mean mediocre in the traditional sense of the word: middle of the road. Average.

I've written before about the stages a creative must go through to establish themselves: from happy to finish anything; through producing work that finds audiences; to making work so remarkable, that audiences feel bad not paying for it.

Interestingly, this is roughly the same path that any person faces on the long road to becoming professional at something. In the business world, it's referred to as being a worker who 'adds value'.

And for anyone, creative career or other, it is easy to become stranded on your way through these stages.

The greatest pitfall is misplaced pride. It is its own brand of narcissism.

"I am so proud that we deliver so much with so few resources."


You should be admired, absolutely. But admiration is external to you. Let someone else shower you with adulation for flogging yourself nearly to death for your work.

You should be frustrated. Frustrated that you have been forced to make something worth $2 for 50 cents.

Why is that important?

Because of what really happens when you 'punch above your weight' creating something. You burn favours. You churn through the passion of collaborators.

And if you lose sight of what something really costs, that second column that runs all the way down your project budget with 'fee deferrals', 'free equipment', 'discounts' and 'favours' written next to them, you disrespect the contributions that have been made by your tribe to your work.

What you are saying, indirectly, is that the free work donated to your project is actually what they're worth.

Does that sound respectful to you?

There are many examples of the folly of undervaluing collaborators, out there in the ether. A personal favourite is the hilarious recent story of an indie-rock band asked, by $5.5B profit food giant McDonalds, to play for free in the SXSW Festival musical showcase. The gig came with the promise of 'exposure' (sigh).

Now keep in mind that, had they agreed to perform for free, the travel, performance time, equipment, accommodation, etc, are all VERY real expenses that would come out of the band's coffers.

What would have been the reaction if McDonalds then proudly announced that they organised a SXSW showcase event for $0? Could that conceivably tick some people off?

Less than pleased, the band wrote an open letter on their Facebook page, noting the huge revenue and assets of McDonalds while they simultaneously were told

“There isn’t a budget for an artist fee (unfortunately)”

But wait, it's not all bad news. There was, by way of recompense the offer that:

“McDonald’s will offer free food to all audience members”


And this is what happens when there is no general transparency about the true cost of our own creative endeavors. The wider world develops a skewed perspective of the intrinsic value of our work, and a billionaire corporation thinks it is OK to offer cheeseburgers and 'exposure' as compensation.

Now, to be clear, I'm not advocating inflexibility on your part. As creators we need to be pragmatic in different stages of our career. Sometimes we will need to get blood from a stone.

But that suffering should not be in silence.

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, must be made aware of the sacrifices you and your collaborators made to get this ship out of port. The world needs to know that your $25 million film cost $25 million, even though in real terms you managed to make it for $10M. Otherwise, if left as the discourse long enough, common sense will tectonically shift to think you produced something with less than half of the required resources.

But you didn't. Your collaborators invested in you.

And it's vital to the entire creative ecosystem that there is awareness of that fact in the universe.

Announce your success in wrangling your creative behemoth. Let it be known that the second column on your balance sheet, the one quantifying favours, is substantial. Then smile and ask people to imagine what you could deliver if you only had the correct amount of resources.

And, most of all, eschew pride in 'punching above your weight'. It's the path to making middling decisions that lead to mediocrity.

Think bigger. Never become comfortable begging for scraps when you should be building to something better. It will make you small.

And you'll burn all of your supporters along the way.

- - - - - - - - -

Friday, January 15, 2016


Nothing could be better than having fans right? People who adore you and your work?

How about when those fans label your girlfriend a 'monkey abortion' on social media, a racial slur, while sending you vials of their blood?

This is the double-edged sword of engaging directly with the masses.

In every seminar about crowdfunding or social media engagement, the pundits repeatedly espouse the benefits of "direct communication with your audience."

This direct relationship will make you special to your audience, allegedly. It will separate you from the pack, the experts say.

But they never mention the dark side. The tidal-wave of trolling and general bat-guano craziness you open yourself up to.

Sometimes it's totally unwarranted. A lunatic parade borne out on anonymous message forums.

But sometimes, you deserve the criticism. Perhaps you made a mistake. Perhaps, like 'District 9' and 'Elysium' director Neill Blomkamp, you "f**ked it up".

And now, you have a direct communication portal with your audience. An audience VERY willing to let you know about their displeasure.

Could you handle it?

An interesting feedback loop took place recently, involving the company GLAD in Australia. GLAD manufactures cling film, a rarely critiqued but frequently used household item. You might think that the users of this product wouldn't be all that protective of its design or identity.

You would be wrong. So very wrong.

GLAD made this mistake. The company relocated the cutting bar on the package to a new location, one that required 'tearing the cling film upward'. To me this seemed like a design flaw, so I googled it to find out why the change had been made.

All hell had broken loose.

GLAD were inundated with a torrent of negative feedback and abuse via their social media channels. People posted horror stories of poorly wrapped lunches. Memes were created satirising the 'rip upward' suggestion. And oh, how the complaints rolled in.

Brow beaten and publicly shamed, on their own communication channels no less, GLAD did the only thing they could. They backed down with a public announcement on their Facebook page. The tone changed instantly. Relieved commenters opined that the product 'shouldn't have changed in the first place' but were satisfied that people power had prevailed.

And then, amid the stream of positivity, there was:

'What about your snap lock bags that don't reseal?'

The joy of open communication with your audience.

So, the question ultimately returns to you. Could you cope with this sort of unbridled discourse with the hoi polloi?

The mistake that GLAD made was not in refining their product, although that part was questionable, but in creating communication channels they thought were only one way. Old world thinking in a new world paradigm.

Do you genuinely want to communicate with your audience, for better or worse?

If you want the communication to be unilaterally directed, then good sense would steer you away from tools and forums that open you up to questions from the world.

Do you care what your audience thinks about your work?

You can be open to the feedback, if you believe in its worth, but you have to be prepared to genuinely make this communication loop a part of your process. People will sense when you are disingenuous.

Or do you just want a convenient means to sell or promote to them?

These are the questions you must know the answers to before you go down the path of audience engagement.

Then, choose the communication platforms that are right for you and your approach.

Be genuine. Be sincere.

And most of all, never - ever - start a conversation you have no intention of participating in.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016


One night, late last year, I was accosted by a passive aggressive animator.

I took it in good humour, given the stakes of the entire interaction were so low. But still, it left an impression.

Animators are an interesting bunch. Combine the beauty of artistic flair with the OCD-inducing nature of their vocation and then, in some cases, a 'I'm a unique snowflake of genius' arrogance, and you'll understand why they can sometimes be a bit...prickly.

Not all bad, of course. And when you stumble onto a group that are simply passionate about their craft, there is a righteous joy to their work.

And yet.

So, there I was, enjoying an innocent beer with some work colleagues, when a twenty-thirty something started rolling a cigarette and speaking in our general direction.

There is a nonchalance to hand-rolled cigarettes that implies a status level of mature cool. That cachet is hard to maintain, however, when one chooses to wear a DC comic superhero t-shirt and drink cider in the smoking section of a local pub. This fact seemed entirely lost on him.

"What are you guys up to tonight?" he asked, maintaining his cool by not making eye contact, while helping himself to my friend's cigarette lighter. Groovy.

We exchanged pleasantries, and he ingratiated himself into our gathering. We're not a precious bunch, so we opened the circle and welcomed this new line of conversation. Eventually, predictably, we came to the subject of profession. Filmmaking, of varying degrees was mentioned on our side. His face lit up.

"I'm a CGI animator", he glowed.

What followed was actually exceedingly pleasant. He asked about the kind of films we made and we inquired about his animation work. The discourse appeared to be heading in a positive direction.

And then, the conversation turned to animation's relationship with filmmaking at large.

Quickly, our new acquaintance's perspective became more domineering. Animation is the present and future, we were told. Actors would be irrelevant, we were informed. Everything would be a digital recreation straight from the vision of the creatives and the animator, we were enlightened.

In the midst of his pupils-dilated, spittle-infused diatribe, I politely disagreed.

Yes, animation had created incredible work and advanced in ways that almost defied imagination.

He nodded, puffing his latest cigarette.

However, I added, there are many benefits to the organic process of working with actors, to develop a character for a film, that have nothing to do with 'control'.

He laughed. A small pointed laugh.

And we both know, I pressed, that there are still limitations to what animation can deliver in film, with regards to what audiences will accept.

A louder laugh. Agitation as he stubbed out the last of his cigarette. A swift rejoinder.

"You're not up to date with your knowledge of CGI."


I tried to explain that I had been researching this extensively recently, for a specific purpose. He wouldn't have it. A few moments passed of simplified chatter, as he gathered his possessions, and he politely took his leave.

My two colleagues and I shrugged at each other, as another of life's bizarre moments passed us by. We finished our drinks, and I headed to the bar for another round, via the gents.

When I finally approached the bar, I passed our animator friend and the posse he had clearly been killing time waiting for. He called me over.

As I arrived, I instantly noted that he was significantly, almost overbearingly, more sure of himself. He quickly introduced me to his group, fellow animators, and then launched into the reason he summoned me.

"So this guy," he started, pointing at me, "says that CGI is still limited, for films".

The group mumbled disapprovingly. Our animator friend was buoyed by the tacit support. He smiled a broad smile and scanned the faces of his friends.

"I know, right?" he trilled, thumbing at me incredulously.

I started up in my own defense, explaining that I was from a more traditional filmmaking background, but that I could see the amazing potential of animation. His posse seemed eminently more reasonable. They listened to my perspective, thoughtfully.

Our animator friend didn't like where this was heading. He interjected.

"There's nothing that can't be replicated with CGI, right now"

A clear message on his face: Check. Mate.

I replied innocently, as a broad question to the group.

"Can CGI perfectly replicate a photo-real human actor and their performance?"

His face dropped on a dime.

The posse, again demonstrating a tact that was genuine, grinned and politely replied: "No."

I smiled my own broad smile at our animator friend. Storm clouds in his eyes.

I shared this smile with his posse, and stepped away.

"Have a good night everyone."

I turned for the bar again. A perfect ending.


Our animator friend power-walked around the table and cut me off. He even tried to grab my arm to spin me back to the group. Wounded pride is clearly a powerful motivator.

He started up with a new line of attack. Spittle again. Something incoherent about my understanding of the latest animation software and hardware. He looked to his posse, expectantly.

They shrugged and changed the subject.

Our animator friend scowled into my face, one last time, then sighed disappointedly and shuffled back to his place in the group.

A free man at last, I finally made my pass at the bar, rejoined my friends, and didn't give him another thought. Until now.

I reflected on our peculiar animator friend, and his posse. I considered them in the broad spectrum of people I have met since I started making films.

I remembered a producer on my first gig, when I was volunteering on a TV pilot shoot. Having spent multiple days toiling for this guy, with no pay, he turned to me and said, "You need to change your whole personality. It's totally wrong."


While that feedback bothered me momentarily, I soon realised that he was simply a guy that liked to lord over people, in front of others. For good measure, my suspicions about this particular producer's ego trip were later confirmed by a multitude of people that had worked with him.

And, in that moment of reminiscence, I realised that I was being unfair to animators en masse.

In any group of practitioners, there is THAT person. The one that even the other animators roll their eyes at. The one who jumps into unwinnable arguments, with people who don't really care in the first place, so that he or she can show someone up and validate themselves in a group setting.

Until it backfires spectacularly, of course.

Then the instigator turns passive aggressive, while you simply want to buy a beer for your friends.

They become a cautionary tale: make sure you are following this path for the right reasons, because pride comes before the fall.

Or: that you shouldn't judge an entire group by their one outlandish pariah.

But most of all, and I really mean most of all, for the love of all that is sacred to you, there is one insight you should take from this tale above all others.

Don't be THAT guy.

People have long memories, and it's a smaller world than you think.

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