Monday, February 29, 2016


A colleague and I had just been seated at the bustling sushi train. It was a humid evening, so the food aromas lingered.

Thick avocado. Starchy rice. That cold iron of Salmon. The bread and oil of fried chicken.

We both had an accelerated last few months of 2015, so catching up was a rare pleasure. A low hanging branch in the middle of the rushing current.

She looked over at me, her eyes are always alert and sharp, while I bumbled with the soy sauce. Multi-tasking between pouring liquid into a tiny dish, and surveying a conveyor belt of desires, is clearly not my forte.

"So, how have you been?"

It was an innocent enough question, but I grappled with it momentarily. Do I respond with the aloof decorum of the day? Or unpop the cork to my inner well of new year angst, made more acute by the simple fact that soy sauce seemed to hate me.

Why bother with decorum, I thought.

"I'm bewildered" I said. "I just was not ready for 2016 to start. The last three months of the year hurtled past, like when the Millenium Falcon goes into light speed. Now, it's late January."
I paused for significance.

"Know what I mean?"

My fellow filmmaker smiled politely.

"You just have to own it" she said.

Correct advice, of course. So much of the blockages we experience in our psyche are self-inflicted. Resistance to the passage of years being the worst of offences. Every time you gag at a fifty-year old in a hipster tshirt, you understand this truth on an intrinsic level.

Nevertheless, I smiled with clenched teeth. Pragmatic and candid were neither of the traits I was in the market for at that moment. I wanted impractical, self-defeating empathy for my recalcitrance. A chorus of agreement on the disagreeable.

So I doubled down. Well beyond the end of the sushi dinner. Into the hours and days that followed. The creative mind knows no bounds when it comes to excusing bad behaviour.

I blamed the holiday preoccupation with family events.

I indicted the mental energy I had expended on my array of film projects.

I negotiated with, whined at, and cajoled...myself. Shouting down that inner voice asking the questions you refuse to utter aloud.

"What are you waiting for?"

"I'm just not ready" I moaned.

The hands kept ticking. The calendar is relentless.

"Slow down"

February arrived.

"Wait, can we just wait a second?!"

No lightning strike. No muse appeared. The tide surged on, sweeping away reason and logic. No time for fear. No moments for doubt. There was only forward.

And there was me, attempting to be the boulder in the midst of the torrent.

I'd like to tell you I came to my senses. That an epiphany drifted into my perception, clear and pure as a soap bubble.

It didn't.

My blockage eventually uncoiled under the pressure of two random events.

First, I had a health scare. I'll spare you the details, save for the fact that something didn't seem right, and the doctor agreed that a more detailed check was needed. The spectre of the dreaded 'C word' loomed momentarily and then, mercifully, was dismissed.

Alright universe, you have my attention.

The second was, simply, an incredible piece of storytelling.

I was driving through traffic, listening to a podcast called 'Reply All', when an episode called 'The Cathedral' began.

'The Cathedral' tells the true story of a boy named Joel Green. At one, Joel began a five year journey of living with brain tumors. Multiple times he was given months to live by doctors, but each time he both survived and thrived. A true rebel.

As a tribute to his son's incredible spirit, Joel's father Ryan began developing a game. In his words, the game was designed to evoke:

"I want people to love my son the way I love my son, and to love my son you have to meet my son. A video game gives the opportunity to meet my son and meet our family, and kind of walk with us in our shoes, but from a safe place."

The game is called 'That Dragon, Cancer'. By the end of the podcast, I was literally crying in traffic. It's a remarkable, moving and emotional piece of content.

But that's all I'll say.

I don't want to spoil it for you. From my perspective, all you need to know is that this story jolted my system. It forced me out of a malaise and reconnected me with my humanity. To feel the moment.

It's what the great stories can do.

They speak from the heart.

Their existence invokes an emotional experience for the audience.

Most importantly, they have something to say.

And, inadvertently, they can inspire others. To help them shake off the hangover of recent history and look forward. To own what's ahead.

So, to you all, best wishes for the year ahead. Whether you embraced it whole-heartedly, or took some convincing (like me).

May your passions be rewarded, and may your efforts produce the kind of work that resonates into the wider world.
Happy 2016.

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Sunday, February 28, 2016


Merry Xmas and a happy 2016!

I know that by now the effort of peering over your engorged belly, bloated with Xmas indulgence, to a screen containing my newsletter must seem like a Herculean effort. If you can manage it, however, you will find your usual Xmas reward from me at the conclusion of this missive. Just a wafer-thin after dinner mint, of sorts.

You can switch off now, of course. Recline with slovenly abandon into the nearest receptacle softer than you, and click on the telly. That's what I've been doing, when not breaking bread with an assortment of relatives. I formed the last drop of 2015 thought to share with you this way.

It's about being a nuanced recalcitrant.

That may seem like an odd suggestion, in the face of an ever homogenized mass media landscape. Hell, I even donated my hard won pennies to our corporate media overlords at the Disney Corporation, for the pleasure of watching 'Star Wars VII: The Franchise Awakens'.

But it was not until I was slumped into a chair, ruing the mountain of fried foods, meats, and sweets I had recently devoured, that the true Disney story was actually illuminated. I wish I could tell you it was part of some ghost triage 'Scroogian' awakening that I experienced, but the truth is I came across a documentary by channel-surfing, while coming down from saturated fats. Modern life.

What the documentary illuminated, however, was stunning: Walt Disney was mostly a failure, until he wasn't.

In the early 1920's, Disney owned and ran his first animation business, 'Laugh-O-Gram' studios, with collaborator Ubbe Iwerks...into the ground. Within a year, Disney's fledgling studio was bankrupt and saddled with insurmountable debt.

Looking for a fresh start, Walt and his brother Roy relocated to Hollywood, giving birth to The Disney Brother's Studio. With Roy managing the business affairs, this endeavor was more successful, even creating the popular 'Oswald the Lucky Rabbit' cartoons.

But oh, the fickle temper of success.

Riding the crest of the 'Oswald' success, Disney was blinded to the rug that was being swiftly pulled from under him. A key financial partner used legal technicalities to assume control over the 'Oswald' character, and to poach almost the entire stable of Disney animators.

Walt had failed again.

He was 27 years old. The creative head of an animation studio with no animators, that had lost its most successful character. Many would give up.

Walt created Mickey Mouse instead.

Along with his key collaborator Iwerks, who did not abandoned him in the great exodus, Disney crafted two silent shorts for their new character Mickey: 'Plane Crazy' and 'The Galloping Goucho'.

And the rest is history, correct?

Nope. Mickey, like so much of Walt's efforts to this point, was a bust.

No distributor was interested in Disney's new character. According to legend, Walt carried the reels from office to office for a month, visiting thirty possible distribution partners. They all passed.

Things were becoming desperate. The fresh start at Disney Brother's was fast becoming a recurring nightmare.

Now was the time to pull the rip-chord, surely.

Instead, Walt pivoted. Their new cartoon project was the last Hail Mary before destitution. An innovation, actually. A cartoon with sound.

'Steamboat Willie'.

"At last", you say, "Disney found his golden ticket".

Believe it or not, you're wrong again.

Despite this new pairing of sound and image in a cartoon, a pioneering first step for the art form, distributors still did not respond.

Confused? How then, did 'Steamboat Willie' become a phenomenon?

Because of audiences.

Universally rejected by New York distributors, Walt called in a favour with a New York theatre owner to play the film before a feature. This was his final, final, final throw of the dice.

And at last, a breakthrough.

The audience reaction was electric. Some even demanded that the feature be delayed so that 'Steamboat Willie' could be replayed. The feature movie, 'Gang War', is now ironically relegated to the misty island of obscurity.

For Walt, the money rolled in. Disney became a household name. Mickey Mouse, the brand, was born.

Today, the Disney Corporation is worth roughly US$180 billion, owning Disney brands, Pixar, ESPN, Lucasfilm, Marvel and The Muppets; to name only a few.

So, my last mental snowflake for you in 2015 is this: Walt Disney was mostly a failure, until he wasn't.

What Disney exhibited consistently, however, was recalcitrance. Persistence. Even pugilism, for his work. As of today, Walt Disney has 26 individual Academy Awards, still the record for the most amount of Oscars for a single person.

I know, the grind of life can be hard. The days can seem long and the toil pointless. As another Xmas arrives with bluster and then fades into memory, treading water can feel like the norm.

But that's an illusion. If you have set yourself to a path, whatever that may be, and pursue it with relentless passion, the tipping point is only as far as your will can stretch.

It's a journey. One where you can fail repeatedly...until you don't.

I hope 2016 is your tipping point.
To help you along the way, in reward of your persisting this far, we come at last to your Xmas gift.

Building a career or brand is often predicated on the sophistication of the creative materials you put out into the world. A website. A video. And yes, a striking image.

To make the whole 'here is my gorgeous picture, with a dramatic filter, and some beautiful text' process easier, I found a free App for you from Adobe, called 'Adobe Post'.

To demonstrate its awesome power, here is an Xmas card for you that took me, literally, four minutes to make. Imagine what you could make in ten?

You can find the free App at Enjoy.

Thank you for continuing to be a part of the tales from Opening Act Films, for sharing this Newsletter with like-minded individuals, and may you have a wonderful 2016.



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Saturday, February 27, 2016


When you begin any journey worth taking, there are things no-one tells you...

They don't tell you that for every person like you, following an enlightened path, there is another who is doing this for all the wrong reasons. Fame. Money. Glory. A void within themselves that needs to be filled.

You don't hear that the reason most people give up when chasing their dreams, is because they realise that you have to work insanely hard just to get to the start line.

It's never mentioned that avoiding the big risk, hoping instead to work up to it incrementally until you impress someone who grants your big break, is exactly the approach that will see you stalled in limbo.

No-one advises you to embrace your inner weirdo. Your nerd. Your geek. They tell you to tone it down. To dampen the very thing that makes you unique.

And finally, never a syllable is uttered that indicates the most difficult circumstance to navigate is not aggressive derision, nor unending praise, but the silence of solitude.

Does any of this matter?

Yes. The above truths may seem like generalities, but they are hard earned, I promise you.

And they all have sharp teeth if ignored. A real impact, not a philosophical one.

If, for example, per every genuine artist like yourself there is another person with an agenda grounded in hubris, how likely is it that you may cross paths? What damage could this person, motivated by self-satisfaction, do to your work, if their true desires only become clear once you're already collaborators?

Bound together through the complex legalities of copyright. A nightmare.

For argument's sake, let's say you avoid one of these personality types.

Free of the encumbrance, you put ten years into your fledgling career, with notable successes along the way. But all of your victories are in a non-saleable form of screen content (e.g. short films). One day, you get a call. A meeting that could lead to a larger opportunity.

Feeling enthused, you arrive to the meeting early. As the discussion unfolds, however, one fact becomes abundantly clear.

In the eyes of the wider world, you are still a beginner.

Your ten years were all to deliver you to this point, where you're finally offered what is considered your FIRST opportunity. That's right, FIRST.

And it's at this juncture, with the last ten years of effort still fighting to be recognised in your mind and your pride, that giving up seems like an alternative to a road this long and this arid. My hope is that anticipating the moment to come, and it will, should help cushion the blow for you.

So, let's assume you've survived. You have reached the starting line. The boulder is starting to move, if only a little.

Your next choices, the possibilities, now stare back at you. Like puppies waiting for adoption.

You're not only out of your comfort zone, you're into another zone entirely. Falling. You start grasping for a familiar shape as a hand-hold.

Like making another iteration of the kind of work you've made numerous times before; perhaps just slightly larger in scale. Avoiding the biggest risk altogether. A figurative lottery ticket: "Maybe this one will get the breakthrough I need." The hope of being noticed by a benevolent film mogul.

But here's the cold truth: you're stagnating.

The big risk, whether it's the low budget feature length film or its equivalent, is the risk you MUST take. Not should. Not maybe. MUST.

You can take the word of the Duplas brothers when they tell you "the cavalry isn't coming", or Seth Godin telling you to "pick yourself", or you can simply accept when I say that Hollywood et alia, does not care about short films. If you've made enough short films to have found your creative voice, then avoiding the big risk of a sale-able feature film project, with another short you hope wins an Oscar, is a road to nowhere. Particularly when you realise that 90,000 short films were made in the last ten years in the U.S.A. alone.

Toughen your hide. Claw, bite and kick your way out of limbo, by taking on the work that scares you.

You have evolved.

You've picked yourself. You're ready to have some skin in the game.

Except now the advice is coming from all directions. And it's all saying the same thing: conform. Beige-ify. Lose the rough edges of your character. Fit in.

Some simple advice: f**k 'em.

You've come this far because you're weird. Unusual. Special.

Now you're going to shave off those interesting parts of your character, to be one of the cool kids? Meanwhile, Guillermo Del Toro is a geek and Steven Spielberg is a self-proclaimed nerd.

Your inner weirdo is what makes you special. Destroy it at your peril.

Until at last, having travailed the many pitfalls and promises, you're in the wilderness now. Taking on the scary (exciting) projects. The boulder is gaining momentum.

So why is it so quiet?

Because no-one is cracking the whip at you.

Out here, you realise how conditioned we are from childhood. We need the noise. The praise for a job well done. The blame for a missed opportunity. The complexion doesn't matter, as long as there is stimuli.

But now, you're in a vacuum. You're working for yourself. Sure, you get the occasional signal, but it's so binary: either a pitch is accepted or rejected. A spartan wasteland in between.

This void can be dangerous. It steals your motivation. Siphons your focus.

How can you survive?

Practice. Daily.

Focus takes practice, that's what I discovered. The parts of your brain that developed an addiction to third party feedback, can be reconditioned with routine.

But it takes discipline. Setting up an office and going there everyday, on your own volition. Painting every day for eight years. Setting aside a weekly moment to write a newsletter.

Sharpening your wit and your work until, with good timing and patience, the feedback finally comes. From your audience.

That, however, is the end of the road.

For the rest of you, taking the first steps or well along, I hope you find your way through the tribulations.

You'll be surrounded by platitudes as you forge your own path.

But it's what they don't tell you, what you have to discover for yourself, that will light the way.

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Friday, February 26, 2016


If you haven't attended previously, preparing for a film industry conference can be an overpowering experience.

Your feelings of anticipation, hope, and excitement mix with the sheer logistics of comprehending the conference programme; leaving you inevitably in an overwhelmed stupor.

To provide some relief from this mind-bending siege, I recently completed an interview with Screen NSW, explaining how I navigated my conference planning experience for 'Screen Forever 2015'. May the lessons I learned, and the brain cells I exploded planning for the conference, serve you well.


P.S. to get the full picture of Screen Forever 2015, you can also revisit my 'Notes From Screen Forever 2015' edition of Tales From The Opening Act.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016


It's that time again. Our little annual tradition here at Tales From The Opening Act: the 'Year In Review'.

Well, actually, it's two weeks early. The Australian Academy Awards (AACTA's) have moved from January to December this year, so it wouldn't make sense predicting them after they've already happened next week.

For the newcomers this time around, I started reviewing the year to come in 2011. I noticed that most articles around this period were reviewing the year that was concluding, without a single sentence dedicated to the future. Where is the sense in only looking over your shoulder, when the road is approaching from ahead?

So I did it for them. We've reviewed 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015; with some success I might add.

And now, gather around, as I give you The 2016 Review.

Loosen your belts. Wear elastic waists if you can. Baggy shirts are a must. Because 2016 will be a year of EXCESS.

So much content.

So numerous the sequels.

So many zeroes on the returns.


Starting with the biggest anticipated film releases, it's going to be cavalcade of franchises, superheroes, reboots and sequels. The highest profile names on offer are: 'Kung Fu Panda 3', 'Batman v Superman', 'Captain America 3', 'Alice in Wonderland 2', 'Xmen: Apocalyspe', 'Warcraft', 'The Conjuring 2', 'Finding Dory', 'Independence Day 2', 'The Jungle Book', 'Star Trek 3', 'Ice Age 5', 'Jason Bourne 4', 'Deadpool', and 'Suicide Squad'.


Personally, I don't see any clear stand-outs like in previous years. The sheer volume makes it hard to imagine a front-runner, as each film cannibalises the others box office dollars.

As a rule, the films with large pre-defined, active fan bases tend to find the easiest path to ubiquity and audience, so my hat-tip goes to 'Warcraft' (based on the hugely successful gaming franchise) to win the year; particularly with Duncan Jones at the helm. Having said that, 'Batman vs Superman' and 'Captain America 3' will spend obscene amounts of money to capture the mindshare, so discount them at your peril.

As the biggest surprise hit of 2016, I think the 'Ghostbusters' reboot can take the crown, given how much early buzz has already been generated. It will be neck and neck with the 'Angry Birds Movie', again given the in-built audience and brand awareness that the Birds enjoy. Ryan Reynolds' 'Deadpool' is out of the running, because it will be rated R in the United States, a death knell for a substantial box office return.

In the Australian Industry, look to another solid year for Australian films at the local box office, however no-where near the record breaking highs of 2015. Australian sci-fi, 'SFv1', should find an audience; as well as youth driven 'Jasper Jones'. Look to the biggest splashes coming from 'Red Dog 2', and the latest from Oscar winner Emile Sherman, 'Lion'.

Feeling engorged already? Well, the glut doesn't end at the cinema.

There is not even enough time to list the hundreds of television shows that will be screened in 2016, both new and returning. By way of example...

'According to estimates provided to critics and reporters last week by the research team at FX Networks, more than 400 original scripted English-language series — just in prime time, not counting game shows, reality shows, documentary shows, daytime or nighttime talk shows, news or sports — will air on American television in 2015 before the year is out...'

New expressions are being coined in TV executive circles, like 'peak television', indicating a hope that the sheer volume of television programs being produced has reached its highest point. The fear is a content overload which brings the whole system grinding to a halt.

I don't think we're even close to the crest of this tsunami. TV execs are like habitual gamblers. One more spin of the wheel, and they're sure this time they'll get a hit. Who among them will be the first to say: "we are producing one less show this year, to ensure our audiences have time to view the content"? How long will that person keep their job?

Look to see the number of shows INCREASE in 2016, not decrease.

Meanwhile, on the awards red carpets, the scene is just as crowded.

At The Oscars, the early picks for best picture, keeping in mind that the nominations aren't announced yet, are 'Spotlight', 'The Martian', 'Creed' (yes, a Rocky sequel) and 'Mad Max: Fury Road'. 'The Revenant', directed by last years Best Picture winner for 'Birdman', is receiving hefty praise from critics, ironically despite not having been released yet. 'Inside Out' also looks like it could sneak in for a Best Picture nomination, only the fourth animated film to do so.

The Best Film race is still so opaque, this far out from the event, that it's tough to make a clear prediction. At a pinch, I think it will come down to 'Mad Max: Fury Road', and 'The Revenant', with the former squeaking in by a nose. You may accuse me of being too patriotic with that selection so, to sweeten the pot, I'll also throw in Leonardo DiCaprio to finally break his drought and win that elusive golden idol for the lead in 'The Revenant'.

At the Australian Academy Awards this week, the field for Best Picture is far smaller, however the selection tastes of the AACTA members are more variable. Prediction becomes difficult. Based purely on audience response, 'Last Cab to Darwin' should squeeze past 'Mad Max: Fury Road' for the top prize, but that would ignore the sheer behemoth that Fury Road was at the Australian box office.

With that in mind, Dr George will likely claim the statuette comfortably for Fury Road, leaving Last Cab and 'Holding The Man' in his post apocalyptic rear-view mirror. I'll be there on the night, so I'll have the chance to either be proven right, or egregiously wrong, in person.

Later that night, as the red carpet is rolled up and I arrive home to my sanctuary, I might try and escape this cacophony of content with a little simple TV viewing.

Not a chance.

The plethora of channel options is omnipresent. It's like buying toothpaste from that hulking wall of choice.

In Australia, there is Netflix, Stan, Presto, Quickflix, Vimeo, Youtube, iTunes, Bigpond TV, Fetch TV, free-to-air catchup services (like ABC iview), SmartTV dedicated channels (e.g. Tastemade), broadcast TV, etc etc etc...

In America? Even more! Including dedicated streaming services from the content creators like HBO or Disney's Hulu.

Not really a gap in the market, right?

Wrong. In 2016, be prepared for more, more, MORE.

Youtube RED has already been announced by Google. Channel 4 in the UK is establishing a streaming service for international content. From the corporate giants, Comcast is launching a streaming platform in the U.S. and Apple is planning to finally launch their delayed subscription streaming service in early 2016. Even the old faithful, the BBC, have announced they'll be starting a U.S. streaming portal next year.

If you're eyes are bulging at this point, and mine are, know that the load will lighten somewhat in the year ahead.

There are too many mouths at the trough, with not enough audience to go around. Unfortunately, after heavy losses throughout 2015, I don't think Quickflix will survive 2016. They were one of the earliest in the streaming space in Australia, but sometimes being first mover can actually work against you, particularly in a small market.

And while it's never positive to hear about a local content distribution portal folding, it won't be all doom and gloom in the year of excess ahead.

While the audience appetite for content grows, and as streaming providers look to differentiate themselves, the demand for original and exclusive screen projects will also expand in 2016. This will lead to a very healthy increase of Australian original programs on streaming providers, at the least from Stan and Presto, but quite possibly from Australian Netflix as well.

A new wave of original Australian stories is great news for local audiences, along with local screen storytellers. Win-win.

You should know, however, that there cannot be a swollen smorgasbord of screen delights, without a larger platter to serve them on.

As I predicted in the 2015 edition, many of the largest players in the tech market have revamped their smart TV plug-in devices, releasing them just in time for the 2015 Xmas shopping clusterf**k. Apple has redesigned their Apple TV, giving specific attention to the woefully sparse controller. Google too has revamped the Chromecast, with a planned wide release of the Chromecast 2 in 2016. Likewise, Amazon supercharged their Firestick to 4K resolution, and Roku released the Roku 4.

To manage the overflowing cornucopia of new screen content, these little plastic boxes have become an essential part of the new media ecosystem. Despite the recent advancements, however, the full effects of this new push for tech dominance in streaming video will not be felt until 2016.

Expect at the least to see the number of direct to streaming/streaming only shows continue to increase next year, bypassing the traditional cross platform (broadcast, online, etc) approach as audiences 'cut the cord'.

Less likely, but still very possible given the growing dominance of tech providers in this burgeoning market, is that many TV manufacturers will give up on their smart TV interfaces in 2016. Sharp and Sony have already done so in 2015, but others are still clinging to the hope they'll work out the kinks in their offering. Some people clearly feel the dead horse deserves to be flogged.

The good news is that, in abandoning the pursuit of smart televisions, the manufacturers can focus on what they do best. Look for 4K resolution and enhanced audio systems in TVs to be the new emphasis in the year ahead, which is great for audiences and content makers alike.

So, are you thoroughly overfed yet?

Rotund and aching from your diaphragm and beyond?

This is how the world will feel by the conclusion of 2016.

The rapacious need for entertainment will give way to bewilderment, as the hours of content back up, and the FOMO (fear of missing out) becomes like a post-Xmas binge headache.

But before you curse and discard your television, remember, we all indulge on the things we love..and we always come back for leftovers the next day. The glorious upside of the coming excess, is that it is spurred by the desire to engage in screen stories.

The challenge for screen storytellers, as the torrent of new content begins to flow, unmitigated, is to make the most of these opportunities. To find these hungry audiences.

Being heard will be the challenge. Being innovative, building audiences, and breaking through the din, should be the mission.

The audience is large, and growing larger in 2016.

It's a wonderful life.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Just like that, 2016 is almost here.

But I'm not even nearly done with 2015. I'm scrambling to get tasks, allocated for this year, completed. Time is running short and the pipers have arrived, hands out, expecting (figurative) payment.

That's the story of 2015. Everyone who thought they were getting something for free discovered there is always a price tag. Someone ever-present in the background, tallying the debt. Not necessarily a bad thing, nor sinister, but a revelation to many none-the-less.

The U.S.A. thought they were receiving unqualified support against Syria by backing rebels. Turns out they were fighting with ISIS.

Foxtel thought they owned the subscription video service in Australia. Turns out audiences were accounting for their grievances and jumped ship en masse (to Netflix and Stan) as soon as alternatives arrived.

And now Google launches Youtube RED, their subscription service for Youtube.

But you get Youtube for free. Why would you pay?

Because Youtube is not what you thought it was.

Yes, there are still cat videos. The occasional viral hit worth sharing. But Youtube's greatest success is not as a video player, it's as a streaming music provider.

Come again?

Yes, you think Spotify or MOG when 'streaming music' is mentioned. Maybe even Tidal, if you have little sense but deep pockets.

But the truth is that Youtube is the jukebox of choice for an entire generation.

And Google knows this too. Original content on Youtube has been a disaster. The opium that keeps Youtube in business is teens and tweens streaming new music.

But steaming audio on Youtube has always had its technical limitations. The app must stay open and active, no background listening. There's enough pre-roll advertisements to give a marketing executive nightmares. Search results that deliver a tsunami of unrelated junk.

But it's all about to change.

For the monthly subscription price, Youtube RED users will be able to: disable all commercials; continue to listen to the audio while the screen is locked, or while you are in another program; and filter for only actual songs in the search results. There's also exclusive access to certain Youtube original content.

"So what?!" you say. "That doesn't prove they are moving towards being a music streaming service."

I'm not finished.

Your subscription price also includes access to Google Play's music service. A direct competitor to Spotify and the other sharks in the subscription music ocean.

Even the product description from Google makes it abundantly clear where Youtube knows its future lies:

'...listen to videos without watching them...'

Does that statement imply there is much focus on the visual aspects of the service to you?

Hilariously, the Youtube RED announcement has come after a backlash against the growing ubiquity of pre-roll advertisements. There seems to be barely a video on the service that isn't plugging related products.

The heart of the angst comes from the expectations of the term "free". Youtube was "free", for all intents and purposes, despite costing millions to maintain the infrastructure that supports the site.

But to you, the user, it cost nothing.

Then advertising arrived, on a minor scale, to ensure the service had some vital revenue. You lived with it.

Until the scrub fire became a firestorm. Seemingly, every single video with a pre-roll commercial. How was there the demand for this? Surely there is a saviour to rescue us from this surge of garbage?

Of course there is. Youtube itself. For a fee.

They've created a business model to collect what you owe. All those years of free content? It was never free. And they'll tax you at the root of your addiction: your music. That's where the money is.

So many things we thought we knew the answer to keep changing. A viral hit could make you a millionaire, apparently. But the world's largest video service just became a jukebox.

2015. What a strange and interesting year.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016


The annual pilgrimage of Australian screen producers known as 'Screen Forever' has come and gone. If you weren't there, I'm certain you are devastated beyond measure.

But fret no longer.

I have returned from Melbourne, with a bundle of interesting morsels for you. Believe it or not, a mass gathering of the people who make your film and television a reality can birth a range of ideas worth mentioning. Possibly even some actual children in nine months too. There was a lot of heavy drinking, after all.

So, without further delay, some takeaways:

- Screen Forever was a week of ideas and relationship building for some, and 'Spring Break/Schoolies' for others. Both perspectives are totally acceptable, even normal for industry conferences, but it's important to know who you're with later at the bar, or things can get out of hand.

- there was an extremely positive push by the broadcasters (ABC, SBS, Ten, Seven, Foxtel, Stan) to speak about their unquenchable desire for content, and explain the ways in which they can be approached with proposals. Opportunity abounds for creators, which is terrific news.

- I did, however, observe a moment where the TV networks encouragement to engage producers backfired. Golden rule: don't try and pitch a TV show idea to a network executive who is using the urinal. I've now seen someone learn the hard way that TV decision makers are rarely open to creative discussions while holding their genitalia.

- all of the Australian government screen agencies were in attendance, both the Feds and each States', hovering like a Tinder date waiting to hear what you really think of them. Interestingly, when prompted, a representative of the Federal screen agency, Screen Australia, described Australian film/TV makers as pioneers and creatives with a bold and necessary vision...then later mentioned that there is much less Screen Australia money for bold and necessary screen stories. Perhaps a system could be established where you can spend a 'pioneering spirit' like cash?

- the conference was a chance for old-world media thinking and new-world thinking to come together...and it didn't go well. Russel Howcroft, Executive General Manager of Network Ten, and Dana Brunetti, Producer and President of Trigger Street Productions (think 'House of Cards' and 'The Social Network'), clashed openly during a panel discussion over audience behaviour. For Howcroft, the audience must understand that television is paid for by advertisers, and therefore needs to "respect" the commercials by watching them. For Brunetti, the idea of "respecting" advertising is (INSERT EXPLETIVE HERE), and his belief is that new technology has flipped the power to the audience. The end result, Brunetti says, is that advertisers are the ones that have to evolve their model for content makers and the audience, not the other way around. Provocative.

- even at Crown Casino, it's difficult to source an alcoholic beverage after midnight on a weekday. But somehow the TV executives found a way. They're like the David Copperfield of late night drinking.

- the word 'genius' is thrown around far too liberally during panel discussions at a Screen Producers conference. If one of those content creators goes on to cure antibiotics-resistant bacterium on a world scale, I'll rescind this observation. I highly doubt it.

- on that note, I could broadly categorise the attendees into two distinct camps. All the delegates were there to broaden their minds and make new connections, on some level, but it also became clear that in attendance were: (a) relaxed and open individuals, keen to take the experience as it comes; or (b) people who took themselves WAY too seriously. It was not my place to remind anyone that they were not performing open heart surgery while at a Screen Producers Conference (i.e. no lives were at stake) so I didn't. My word, how difficult those people are to interact with though. And mark me, friends, the quality assured method to scare off anyone who might work with you on a creative project, is to be a humorless git.

- the most commonly provided answer, to the very broad question of 'how do you decide to commission a TV show?', is "make it a good story". Not very helpful, but true none-the-less.

- even a two-time Oscar nominee, with a successful track record in television and filmmaking, has to hustle to get his screen projects financed and made. You can either be depressed by that or realise it's about doing the work.

- like it or not, good fortune plays a big part in success. Whether it's meeting a future business partner on a plane, stumbling into a release strategy for a film that ends up garnering millions, or having Kevin Spacey on your Rolodex to open stubborn doors for you. Either embrace the fact that you sometimes have to be more lucky than clever, or understand that you will need a therapist someday.

Overall, what you need to know most about Screen Forever, is that the old William Goldman saying is as true now as it was in 1983:

“Nobody knows anything...... Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.”

The gathering of screen producers makes this one great lesson abundantly clear. Everyone is pushing that boulder up hill. No-one really knows if a story will fall on deaf ears or not.

At one panel session, I heard that an ultra successful web series was made as a low-budget lark, while the creators were waiting on their existing web series to take off. Millions of views later, the lark is now their primary project.

At another session, when asked about how a recent Australian film had been so successful in cinemas, the panel simply gazed into the middle distance and mouthed vague answers. Finally, the speakers admitted they had no idea why the film had met such a resounding audience response, but wasn't it great?

Successes and failures. Old-world and new world ideas. Developing technologies and resilient mainstays. Established producers and the emerging breed nipping at their heels.

It's a soup.

Much like the murk that tiny creatures emerged from, surviving pressure and attrition to evolve into humans. There's electricity in this primordial mix.

That's Screen Forever.

A community of people mingling, sharing, and clashing. Struggling to thrive, without bringing down the herd.

No definitive answers, only more questions. Stories to be created and jettisoned into the world.

And from that alchemy...magic.

For the audience.

But for us, the makers, too.

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Monday, February 22, 2016


What to say?

Where to start?

Do you defer the horror with humour? Embrace it with grief? Rail against it with rage?

Does it even matter? A pointless blip of human misery in a vast and indifferent universe?

Should we plead for calm with our logic? Rationalise both the cause and effect? Manage the anguish?

I don't know.

I'm strangely numb.

I'm not sure whether to be concerned about that fact or not. When mass violent tragedies have become so commonplace that my mind instantly takes a cold, indifferent refuge in the facts and politics, should I be worried?

Is anyone really keeping a body count anymore?

The perpetrators certainly aren't. More is more, where agenda-driven violence is concerned.

But how did random aggression become a symbol, worth wielding arbitrarily like an enraged toddler with a blow torch? What is giving these heinous acts their perceived power?

Unfortunately, we are.

Not deliberately or consciously, of course. But through the universal connection of modern communications, and the ubiquity of technology. Put simply, through our media.

We are more connected than ever, with visibility on the granularity of each others lives that has never been experienced in history. And with that deepened global human connection, we have allowed symbolism to grow steadily in influence.

The violence that unfolded in Paris and Lebanon were symbols. The response around the world to light monuments in the colours of the French flag were counter symbols.

The black flag of ISIL is a symbol. The U.S. flag is a counter-symbol.

Action and reaction. All to garner the will of people to follow a set of ideals, principles, and - ultimately - decisions.

Not minor decisions either. Decisions to go to war. Decisions to invade other countries. Decisions to support one side of the combatants of a conflict we are not directly involved in.

And here is where it gets tricky. In real terms we are talking about the power of pieces of decorated fabric. About the universal solidarity that comes when you project colourful light onto a handful of buildings. How you can terrorise a world population of 7 billion people, by killing 300 (a tiny fraction of a percentage).

We are at once powerless and powerful. Weak to the will of evil men, and yet strong in our ability to join our voice to the cacophony of outrage. The cycle of symbol and counter symbol spurred on, to oblivion.

But is there a better way?

I think there can be, and it starts with a better media.

We have allowed symbolism to become too dominant. We have permitted those that have the privilege of running our news services to morph them into a demented carnival. A cirque du freak, which jabs at our adrenal glands to sell papers.

Don't believe me? Then why was internationally-infamous, ignorant bigot Pauline Hanson contacted to speak on Australian television about the Paris attacks? What could Ms Hanson possibly add to the discourse?

It's sensationalism, and it sells.

Where is the analysis? Where are the facts?

Instead we get symbolism. Page after page of it.

At first, this evolution (devolution?) from social service to entertainment seemed harmless. So what if lazy journalism has infected our newsrooms? Sure, let's water down the geo-political discussion on invasion of a foreign country into platitudes about "freedom". Who doesn't want a Kardashian story on the front page, while news of a major scientific breakthrough dawdles on page 25?

But you've been deceived. You made a faustian pact without realising it. You empowered the newsmakers to abandon information and reason, and replace it with cheap parlour games, to deliver your sickly-sweet emotional thrill.

Problem is, you weren't the only ones paying attention.

Remember those evil men? They derived their entire PR strategy from this new world order. Why fight a costly ground war to get attention, when you can simply behead a British journalist?

All played out in high resolution, coloured digital video. Around the world.

Aided and abetted, as always, by our own media.

You deserve better.

You deserve the news. Do you even remember what that is? Where you were actually informed about an issue, to form an opinion, rather than simply being told it was 'good' or 'evil'?

The enemy of ideology is information.

We won't stem the tide of violence with a violent response. We need expertise and insight. We need to listen, investigate and understand how our citizens become radicalised. We need the facts of the issues we face, so that we can be a part of the solution, or at the least be savvy enough to spot leaders who will.

We need the 'news'. To rid these iconoclasts of their destructive, symbolic power.

And for that we need a media that holds its sacred oath immutable.

For us. For the families now swaddled in bereavement.

For the people who won't wake up tomorrow.

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Sunday, February 21, 2016


Whew. Where did the year go?

The opportunistic Xmas commercials have started. Holiday plans are beginning to form for the hoi polloi. And here I am, with you, scratching my head at how 2015 could be so near to its conclusion.

Is it the symptom of living life well, that it passes with such velocity? Or am I simply not paying attention to the little details? So busy chasing the brass ring, I'm missing the minutiae?

What a harrowing thought.

As a remedy, now seems to be an opportune time to take a quick breath, and look over our shoulders. See where the current has taken us. I'm navigating from my '2015 Year In Review' issue (which I wrote back in December), to revisit a few of my predictions, and get a feel for what exactly happened over the last eleven months.


My original prediction was: '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.'

I missed a beat on this prognostication, by not giving due credit to the behemoth that 'Jurassic World' would become. Genetically modified dinosaurs drove the film all the way to third highest grossing of all time.

But wait.

While it hasn't been released yet, ticket presales and forecasting have 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' predicted to take US$2BN at the global box office. A number that large, would usurp 'Jurassic World' for the third highest grossing film of all time, and almost reach 'Titanic' in second spot.

I think this prediction is close enough to claim.


My original prediction was: 'My very uncertain Oscar 'best film' pick, based purely on the strength of the reviews around direction and performance, is 'Birdman'.'

Nailed it.


My original prediction was: '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.'

I couldn't split the two, but I expected 'The Water Diviner' to squeak ahead due to star power. Cynical I know.

Wouldn't you know it, they had a tie. I'm claiming this one too.


My original prediction was: '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.'

Netflix and Stan subscriptions are up significantly. Content catalogues are growing. There is a plethora of choice for Australian audiences to watch screen stories.

What was the result?

Piracy is dropping significantly.

I'd say that's another accurate prediction. I'm on a serious roll here.


My original prediction was: 'On an international level, the first real challengers (i.e. to Youtube will arise in 2015...and be crushed under Google's boot heel.'

Snake eyes. I missed on this one.

In my defence, the competitor I identified, 'Vessel', has already significantly modified their business model from the one they launched with; not a great sign for their vitality. Vessel originally proposed a Youtube parallel, with a free tier, but accompanied by a paid premium tier. Instead, the fledgling service now simply offers a one month free trial and then a paid-only service.

The ultimate question will be, why would people pay for short videos on Vessel, albeit from their stable of poached Youtube superstars, when Youtube is free?

In the meantime, Youtube have also announced Youtube-RED, a paid version of their service. Will this put Youtube and Vessel on a collision course?

The answer to that question is unclear, given Youtube is ubiquitous while Vessel is still defining its audience. It's a matter of fact, however, that Vessel just raised US$75 million in additional investment from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, so it would hardly be accurate for me to say that 'Google has crushed them under their boot heel'...even if their business model is ultimately doomed.

Still, four out of five predictions is more accurate than your average street tarot reader.


My original prediction was: '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...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.'

There was so little activity in this space for six months, I almost forgot I had mentioned it.

And then, the Apple TV relaunch.

The first major revamp of the Apple TV in years, with an improved user interface and a vastly enhanced remote control; including Siri voice response and a touch pad.

Apple doesn't move unless it spots an opening in the market. For the Apple TV relaunch, they moved in a big way.

Perhaps they listened to me? Regardless, this prediction was definitely proven correct.


My original prediction was: '...someone, somewhere will trial flexible pricing in cinemas in 2015.'

I'm still ahead of the curve on this one, unfortunately.

There is growing support for the flexible pricing concept, where a low budget indie film should be cheaper at the cinemas than a blockbuster, with even the Lionsgate CEO (makers of The Hunger Games films) supporting the idea. The intent is to give audiences a real economic choice, rather than a regressive flat rate for every cinema ticket, and therefore bolster the general attendance while giving all films a fighting chance to be seen.

But there is still plenty of resistance to such a concept, particularly from the old world powers in the film industry. The idea would turn decades of cinema pricing theory on it's head, which is a mortal sin in a fairly risk-averse business.

So, while I'm sure it will happen eventually, 2015 will not be the year.


My original prediction was: 'Opportunity, in fact, is the real theme of 2015. 2015 will be a year of opportunities, if you're willing to build and satisfy your audience.'

While this might seem a fairly generic statement now, I was actually responding to some of the doomsday chatter around the lingering worldwide economic turbulence, the drop in cinema attendance/box office, and the naysayers of the new subscription video streaming models as a panacea to piracy.

Perhaps with somewhat rose-coloured glasses, I could see that a number of the tremors the screen industry had been experiencing were abating. But did they cease altogether?

Well, the 2015 U.S. summer box office was officially the second largest haul ever. China's share of the global box office is booming. Australia's 2015 box office broke the record for the share derived from Australian films. Australian SVOD provider Stan has begun commissioning local content, and on the world stage, Netflix commissioned its first feature film, 'Beasts of No Nation'. While time will eventually reveal all, at this point 2015 is also on track to be the biggest box office total ever.

Sounds fairly opportune to me. I'll tick this one as well.

So, there you have it. The year which has passed with a flurry, perhaps even seeming to be devoid of noteworthy milestones, has been a plethora of shattered records and successes instead.

But how do we build the culture, both personally and in the infrastructure around us, that will allow us to see these positive moments, amidst the toil, in real time?

Don't the roses deserve to be smelt, occasionally?

Seems like a worthy goal for next year.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016


A change of pace for you this week.

I recently had the pleasure of writing a guest post for the Metro Screen blog. It's all about what I have gleaned from the last six months, working on my own projects, and learning from the Emerging Producer Placement program.

You can find the post at


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Friday, February 19, 2016


There is a modern cultural norm that is noticeably absent in Australia.


Yes, the caped cash cows of the entertainment universe.

We've had crocodile hunters and supermodels. Talking pigs and gangsters. And yet, somehow, a bona fide superhero has eluded us.

From a pragmatic perspective, I suppose it makes sense. We have a few medium to small cities, dense suburbia, and a whole lot of sparse emptiness. Hardly the embers of a hero story like Gotham.

But surely we can do better than Boomerang, Captain Boomerang, The Kangaroo, and Captain Australia?

Perhaps not.

Recently, one of Australia's largest film production and distribution companies, Hopscotch, decided to address this egregious oversight on Australia's cultural landscape. The company launched an open call-out for ideas called 'Hopscotch Heroes'.

Keep in mind, open call-outs for film ideas can be fraught with peril. But, in the face of possibly being overwhelmed with a tsunami of dross, Hopscotch showed genuine enthusiasm for the whole endeavor:

Hopscotch Features, one of Australia’s most prolific film producers, is on the hunt to find Australia’s newest and freshest filmmaking talent – and are doing so by way of our Hopscotch Hero competition...

...We are throwing down the gauntlet and calling on all budding Australian filmmakers to submit your very own original movie. To be clear, we’re talking about a short film no longer than 2 minutes in duration, and it’s got to be all about superheroes.

Seems encouraging. And the barrier to entry wasn't exorbitant either.

We need you to come up with your own superhero, make a short film about them and send it our way. Your short film must be your own original idea and can be shot on a regular video camera or smartphone, such as an iPhone 5 or equivalent Android device. You also have to be an Australian resident and over the age of 18 to enter.

Come up with an idea, shoot a concept video, even on something as basic as an iphone, and then send it in to be considered. Quite reasonable, on the surface.

But only on the surface.

Riddle me this, how does a superhero show they have powers?


...they demonstrate them.

How does a superhero demonstrate their powers in a film?

With Visual Effects (VFX). Very expensive and time consuming VFX.

(E.G. this very illustrative before and after GIF from Iron Man 2. Hint: in real life, the Iron Man suit is basically red pyjamas covered in motion capture dots).

Here is where the Heroes Competition concept gets shaky. If the filmmakers can't afford VFX, which is HIGHLY likely, how compelling can the superhero concept films be? Particularly when they're encouraged to shoot the concept film on an iphone?

Perhaps Hopscotch should have thought this through a little more clearly.

By then it was too late. For all of September, the flood gates were open. And, from what I gleaned, the concepts rolled in. Oh well, a bit of bother replying to people and a learning experience for future open concept call-outs.

That would have been a measured response, at least. Unfortunately, Hopscotch had a different idea.

Apparently, at a recent film industry convention, Hopscotch spoke about the Hero Competition while giving an update on their business. In what will undoubtedly not be a shock to you, Hopscotch indicated that the contest 'hadn't worked'.

Based on the wobbly foundation, this is hardly a surprise. The Hopscotch representative could realistically have left their commentary on the whole experience at that simple summary.

Alas, not. A video began playing for the assembled audience.

A reel of 'low quality submissions' to the Hero Competition, to the amusement of the convention attendees.

Yes, you read that correctly.

They invited submissions from the public, with a very low barrier to entry, yet with unrealistic goals, and then ridiculed the submissions to smug laughter from other film industry professionals.

Ironically, the whole thing has an air of cartoonish, nasty snobbery. If only it were confined to a comic book.

So, while you stew on that for a moment, consider this.

There's a line at the end of the Batman film 'The Dark Knight', where Commissioner Gordon tells his son:

"He's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now."

I can't really explain why Australia doesn't have the more meaningful and enduring superhero we need as a part of our pop culture.

But I know this.

Based on the level of (dis)respect they showed to a number of the submissions, it sounds like Hopscotch got exactly the heroes they deserved.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016


Well, that was interesting.

Since childhood, I have been fortunate enough to avoid allergy season. Genetic luck.

On Saturday, that luck ran out.

My face swelled. I couldn't see the knuckles on both hands. And did I mention the reddish Kandinsky-esque pattern that I now suddenly wore, like some nightmarish onesie?

Faced with what was clearly my end-of days, and like any modern educated person, I took the smartest course of action.

I panicked.

"I'm too young to does ebola even get to the inner west of Sydney?!"

Yes, I'm aware of how insipid that sounds now. But keep in mind, I'm in my thirties. Any new attraction your body unveils at this age, is generally a horror sideshow. No-one is rewarded for their longevity with an extra inch here, or a kilo less there. Quite the opposite actually.

Once I calmed the hypochondriac part of my brain, I made the first clear-eyed decision of the day.

Now, with all due respect to the Saturday workers of the world, there is something about Saturday doctors that sits at odds with me. I imagine that the top echelon of any medical practice - Patrick Demspey styled rock stars - get to choose their comings and goings. The rest get the dreaded Saturday shift in the clinic.

Where I now sat, waiting for my turn.

Wishing my regular doctor was open on a weekend. Have you ever tried to look less like a leper in public? Doesn't work.

When I finally met with the doctor, things only deteriorated.

"Oh! What an unusual skin condition."

Sensing the clearly unimpressed look on my face, the doctor continued.

"I'm sure it will clear up in a couple of days."

Nearly severing my own tongue with repressed displeasure, I politely said: "Yes, but what is it?"

The magnum opus of ineptitude was to come.

"I'm not really sure. It certainly is interesting. It looks like the kind of thing that will clear up in a day or two."

And for the briefest of moments, the most unpleasant ailment I was forced to endure was no longer on my body, but standing in front of me. Wearing glasses.

An hour later, slumped on the couch researching funeral homes, I had a quiet moment to reflect on my experience. Funnily enough, it reminded me of stories I had heard working for clients as a freelance creative.

So many clients had been burned by their encounters with freelancers.

I could get into the details, but ultimately each tale of woe summarises into two simple follies.

First, the client underestimated the work. The client assumed, because they own an iphone with iMovie installed on it, that the genteel craft of powerful creative work is simple, even pedestrian, and therefore inexpensive. Thinking that they could avoid undue expense, or dodge the wait for the right person, the client forgot the golden rule: pay peanuts...

But the client wasn't solely to blame.

On the freelancer side, the creative made the greatest mistake of all: forgetting why a client outsources this work in the first place. No, it's not for your sterling expertise. Nor is it for your unfaltering colour palette. It's not even your snappy dress sense.


That is why someone hires you to do the work.

They could Google. Buy expensive software. Scrape together a skillset. Do it themselves...kind of.

Or they could post a job request on a random bulletin board and hope for the best.

But why do they hire you?

Because they want you to give them confidence that the work will be managed to completion, on time, and to the highest of standards. They pay you, so that the part of their brain that is filled with anxiety about this task can focus on another priority.

It's the reason that so many of these clients had negative perceptions of their past freelancer experiences. In due course, the work was done, but the way the creatives managed the workflow, and the communication, meant the client was never freed of the burden.

A freelancer who is so busy being an 'expert' that they forget their primary purpose is to alleviate the clients' stress over the project, is a failure.

As is a doctor who says "Isn't that interesting?", without using a single medical vernacular, to a neurotic patient.

And failure makes a client leave. Like I did.

First thing on Monday morning, to my regular doctor. Doctor Pete.

Who used two medical words in the blink of an eye. Who explained that, despite never having had an allergy, I had clearly developed one late in life, in the midst of a high allergen season. Then the best news: a simple anti-histamine for a few days and I would be completely back to normal.

Keep in mind, aside from the anti-histamine, the overall prognosis was roughly the same between the two doctors. But only one clinic left me comfortable that a Last Will And Testament was an unnecessary indulgence.

So, to the clients of the known universe, I have a basic piece of advice. Get the right person, not (necessarily) the cheapest or easiest to source. Experience counts, especially if you don't want the uber-stress of micromanaging an outsourced project.

And to the freelancers of that same universe, a simple message. To be that 'right' person for a client, remember your primary function, even far higher than being the most knowledgeable, is to lighten the client's mental load. Inspire confidence in the process as a priority.

It may seem simple, but it's the difference between a client being on the right trajectory, or researching their own funeral songs.

- -

P.S. I'm still alive. I now look more like a Goya painting.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016


You finally settle into your cinema seat. Waiting for the lights to dim. Trying not to think about how soiled the chair is.

Sitting down feels like a special treat. You had to kill 45 minutes, because there wasn't a session of the film when you arrived.

You look around and see there's popcorn on the floor, and what looks like the remnants of a slowly melting ice cream. Delightful.

As the previews and advertising start to play, you realise that there is a large mark on the big screen. Sigh. You'll have to ignore it.

25 minutes of commercials later, the movie finally starts.

As the final credits start to roll, two hours later, you shrug. It was OK. Not a great film, but OK.

And for this thoroughly average experience, you paid $25 for your cinema ticket, plus $13.50 for your medium popcorn and drink.

Yes, I'm not exaggerating. For one person in Sydney, you're out almost forty dollars for a trip to the movies.


I would be irritated about the mediocre multiplex cinema experience, if not for the fact that I'm trapped in groundhog day; ceaselessly repeating myself. As far back as 2012, I wrote:

'I'll cut through the rhetoric for you. The (cinema) exhibitors want things to stay the same, where they have a captive audience, can charge what they want and raise prices with impunity. But the world has changed. The internet exists. Piracy exists. The exhibitors want to pretend that the world is still flat.'

And I've said it over, and over, and over again.

Yet, still, the indifferent movie theatre experience exists. So, since I can't seem to effect an appropriate response, perhaps Batman-revamping, filmmaking icon Christopher Nolan can influence the discourse:

'Cinema attendance is relatively stable but it’s not standing up the way it used to....the idea it’s dying as an experience or undervalued by younger cinemagoers is complete bollocks. But the experience has to be great or, of course, people won’t come.'

Or, to paraphrase, the exhibitors lack of effort to enhance the theatrical experience, is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, risk to the cinema industry.

Cinema has to feel like far more than just a giant television, to survive. Instead, potential audiences are being dissuaded, by the lackadaisical apathy of the very film exhibitors who are supposed to be focused on attracting patrons.

Most bemusingly ironic of all, film exhibitors then have the unmitigated gall to complain about piracy. Meanwhile, they vigorously stamp out attempts by filmmakers to shorten the release windows in cinemas, to get the films on other paid viewing mediums (e.g. VOD, Blu Ray) faster.

The whole mess is akin to the taxi industry.

For years, a person catching a taxi, anywhere, could later regale you with stories of lost drivers, overcharging, disregarded bookings, terrible manners, bad service, and worse odours.

But what other choice did we have?

Until one day, thoroughly brow beaten by our contemptuous taxi masters, a white knight drove gracefully into our lives.

Our prince charming.


A friendly mobile app that allows you to track your driver. An estimator to give you a correct (and often cheaper) price on the trip. Direct payment via credit card, to save you cash and transaction fees. Driver ratings. Passenger ratings.

A better way to ride.

And the taxi industry HATES them.

Respond to this new challenger by improving the taxi business model and service standards?

Not a chance!

Instead, taxi workers use members of state parliament to threaten legislative blockage unless government regulators "crack down" on Uber.

Or worse. Off-duty taxi drivers recently booked an Uber, then beat the driver and severely damaged their car. And what did the off-duty taxi folk yell as they administered the beating?

"F*** Uber, you are taking away our business."

"Taking" is the spurious word in that accusation. The taxi industry have had, literally, decades to create a more satisfying experience for customers. Uber have done it in five years. Who's fault is it that taxi services did not make use of their first mover advantage?

After all, if you build it, or at least build it better, they will come.

But how can this still be revelatory?

If a sandpit is clean and well-stocked with sand, a three year old will play in it.

If the same pit is full of weeds and broken glass, they won't.

The whole issue is so simple, the discussion seems almost like satire.

But it's most definitely not.

Kodak shelved the first digital camera, then ultimately went bankrupt because of it. The music industry lost its foothold to Napster, and still hasn't fully recovered. Uber is heavily disrupting the taxi industry, leading to actual violence.

This isn't a rhetorical discussion. We're talking about the future health of the film industry.

Something has to change. Soon.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Let me tell you a story.

It's about a twenty-two year old girl from Sydney, let's call her Mira, who wanted more than anything to make films for a living.

But Mira was from a middle class background, and her family very quickly talked her down from the career ledge called 'the arts'. So Mira went to university, to study something practical. Get a REAL job. Have some stability.

Graduation came and went. Mira put herself out into the world - well, her CV - to start building a career and pay off her student debts.

But the world wasn't interested.

Rejection letter after rejection letter arrived. Some employers, most actually, didn't even respond.

Months passed. Mira became increasingly disheartened. Wasn't a university degree supposed to help her get a job? Pragmatically, she lowered her expectations, and started applying for anything marked 'entry level', regardless of whether it matched her qualification.

Except now, Mira was 'over qualified'. A flight risk for this new group of employers, apparently.

Even more months passed, without success. Mira began to question herself, fundamentally. Was she totally worthless?

As the black clouds of self doubt started to roll in, a single light broke through the dim.

An interview.

Yes, it was for something totally outside her field of study. But it was a job.

Mira pressed her pants and blouse. She researched the company and who she was meeting. 45 minutes early to an interview has to be a new record.

Was it normal for a person to sweat this much? Should she take something so her swirling stomach wouldn't turn into something far worse?

Nerves. Fear. Doubt. All for a twenty minute interview.

Sitting at home, two weeks later, it would all be worth it. The phone rang. Mira's hands shook. She burst into tears as soon as the phone was back in its cradle.

So much work, just to get to the start line.

A few years later, Mira was still with the same company. She had progressed through the ranks, showing a natural aptitude for the work. It helps to be friendly and responsive, Mira had discovered.

Her partner thought Mira was settling for this job. That she should be chasing her dream of filmmaking. Then again, they wanted to buy an apartment together, so being a starving artist wouldn't really work. Admirable discipline, really.

"One day", Mira said, "I'll have some breathing room to pursue that. Not right now though."

They started saving and researching. Have apartments always been this expensive?

Between rent, bills and their entry-level wages, Mira and her partner were barely saving anything. They kept at it though.

A few more years passed.

They had saved everything they could. A car repair emergency took a significant toll at one point, but they persevered.

And still, the pair of them had barely made a dent on the deposit.

The relationship started to strain. 'All we do is work, and we're barely getting closer' became a familiar refrain.

'What's the point?' was the silver bullet.

Mira cried for three months.

Not that she wasn't angry too. But Mira was alone. There was no-one to be enraged towards. All she had were photos and questions.

The biggest of which was: "what now?"

Perhaps in leaving, her partner would provide the greatest service. Mira started Googling filmmaking.

Deeper and deeper into this rabbit hole, Mira searched. Cameras. Lenses. Editing programs. Script writing software.

She read the pain away.

Inspired now, like she never had been before, Mira started looking for resources that could help her make a film.

She looked up Screen Australia, and pored over their offerings for emerging filmmakers. What she found was a 'Talent Development' screen, with a very clear message:


Door closed. Slammed in fact.

So Mira looked up Screen NSW, where she found their 'Emerging Filmmakers Fund'. Far more promising.

But alas, she had missed the latest deadline. This opportunity would have to wait until next year.

The support avenues were starting to get very thin.

And then, Mira found Metro Screen. A not-for-profit organisation that provides equipment, advice, project funding, and training to someone exactly like her. This was it!

One extra click, however, and her fragile new hope was shattered.

Metro Screen was shutting down.

Drastic funding cuts from the Federal Government meant that the organisation, which had supported emerging filmmakers for 35 years, was now forced to close.

Mira stared at her screen a moment, stunned, then put her head in her hands, defeated.

Unfortunately, that's the end of the story.

But there is good news for you, lest you found that a bit of a downer.

Mira isn't real.

And the bad news? Everything else was utterly true.

This is the world we have created for young people and emerging career practitioners.

First, we threaten to deregulate university fees, so that Australian students could be charged whatever a University desires. Thankfully, this abhorrent decision has been delayed for a year, but it is far from extinct.

Then, should a young person finish their ultra expensive degree, laden with debt, they walk into a job market where 68% of them cannot find work. Oh, and our compassion for these newly qualified unemployed goes so far that a policy was actually put forward suggesting a person under 30 has to wait SIX MONTHS to receive unemployment benefits.

I suppose that would lower unemployment numbers, starving the young unemployed to death.

When they do get a job, young people then face the very real phenomenon of declining real wages; by which I mean inflation is increasing faster than the size of their weekly pay packet. Nothing like working harder for less spending power.

But at least they have a job. Spare a moment of quiet reflection for the 60% of students who are, allegedly, currently studying for jobs that won't exist in ten years. I own shoes older than that.

So, for those youth who survive the Hunger Games, reaching the brass ring of graduation, debt repayment and a job, the next obvious goal is home ownership.
Not. So. Fast.

'...on a person basis the rate of home ownership in the prime 25 – 34 year age group has slumped from 56% in 1982 to only 34% in 2011. Delayed entry into home ownership is a factor, but it turns out that these declines have set in across all but the post-retirement age group. The “Australian dream” of home ownership is under threat.'

With a median house price predicted to soon hit $1M in Sydney, it turns out the finish line in this rat race was a mirage all along.

And then we come to the arts. Where a 35 year old not-for-profit filmmaking institution like Metro Screen, which has literally given birth to the careers of hundreds (if not thousands) of Australian screen storytellers, can't even be granted basic funding to stay open.

Meanwhile, the Australian Federal Government gave over $20M to the Disney Corporation (worth $179.5 billion) to make 'Pirates of The Caribbean 5' in Australia.

I wish I were making that up.

There is an old cliche about a career ladder, where it's as simple as grabbing hold and climbing. For young people, the ladder was already elevated. Almost out of reach. It has always taken a little extra effort to create your first momentum.

But now, as if that wasn't hard enough, we have smashed out the first three rungs. It's absurd.

Actually, it's obscene.

Particularly when the data is in, and it shows unequivocally that shared prosperity is actually better for everyone in the economy. The more people thrive, they ripple out the benefits to others.

Despite that empirical fact, however, the negative trend against youth is happening around the world.

Does anyone honestly believe that you can only make a living if you step on the person who is climbing the ladder beneath you?

The truth is, for those that subscribe to this sadistic world view, there is a tipping point approaching.

Mira may not exist.

But her frustration certainly does.

How much longer do you expect the trodden on to remain quiet about it?

Or a better question.

If you disagree fundamentally with the disenfranchisement of youth that is being systematically created...

...what are you going to do about it?

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