Sunday, March 27, 2016


Pick your poison.

The brief sting of rejection, or the lifetime of obscurity and regret.

It really is that simple.

I won't lie to you and say that having your work, your creative efforts, spurned is without pain. If you don't take a repudiation somewhat personally, chances are you shouldn't have been working on that project in the first place.

But the cold fact of the universe is that all great endeavors face rejection. The harsh critic who decries you for your misplaced ambition.

The other immutable truth is that, based on pure mathematics, these critics will tend to be correct. Not that their insight necessarily came from some pure wellspring of wisdom but that, on the law of averages, vastly more creative projects will fail than succeed.

Fail to find financing. Fail to find collaborators. Fail to reach completion. Fail to find an audience.

There is no genius in recognizing that there are too many creative projects in the world, and not enough spaces at the audience trough. Starting every conversation with 'no' is a poor man's excuse for business savvy.

But still, case studies abound.

The story of Harry Potter being rejected by every major British publisher, bar one, is now famous. What is not as ubiquitous is the tale of J.K Rowling's novels written under a pseudonym. In order to avoid the long shadow cast by her international profile, Ms Rowling wrote her now best selling crime novels in secret. As far as critics and audiences knew, the debut novel of 'Robert Galbraith'.

And, like most debut novels from seemingly unpublished authors, 'The Cuckoos Calling' was rejected by publishers.

Yes, even the author of a literary brand now worth $15 billion, can have her latest work turned down.

But here's the real rub.

Even when there is no blockage from the outset, when the whole project has the appearance of unmitigated success, obstacles lie in wait.

Take the film adaptation of 'Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix'. Having made $939 million at the box office, and countless more in the ancillary markets like DVD and Blu Ray, you might imagine that all the parties involved are building their houses out of bricks made of cash.

You would be wrong.

Despite this stellar financial result, the clever accounting practices of Hollywood studios mean that 'Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix' has NEVER MADE A PROFIT.

In fact, between it's release in 2007, and the leak of a balance sheet from the film in 2011, 'Harry Potter 5' had somehow managed to turn a $939 million box office haul into $167 million loss.

Even a success can seem like a closed door.

I could go on. I could tell you about a filmmaker I know, who's film was rejected by the 'A-list' film festivals of the world...then went on to be nominated for an Oscar.

Or the year of rejections two filmmakers received in Australia, before taking their concept to the U.S. to become a reality; giving birth to the billion-dollar 'Saw' franchise.

I could do that. Rant at you until the veins pulse and spittle forms.

Or I could simply tell you the truth.

There's always a wall. Always.

It's why creative projects are so hard. Why not everyone chooses this as their life's vocation.

No matter how strong the project. How great the cast. How sure you are that this is your best work.

The wall remains.

You can either climb it or go home.

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Monday, March 21, 2016


We are a media savvy lot, aren't we?

In our living rooms. At the cinema. On our phones.

Tiny enclaves of expertise, forming around the warming campfire of our own personal tastes.

And in this participatory culture, why shouldn't we have a voice? The audience is now regal. Our whims are sacrosanct. Dance for us, monkey, or we'll ruin you with the power of indifference.

The screen industry has responded, of course. Choose your own adventure. Gaming. Interactivity. Immersive storytelling. Virtual Reality headsets. All burgeoning subsectors of the industry, catering to the active audience.

God is clearly dead, in the storytelling world at least. The proletariat are in charge.

And they have no idea what to do about it.

Truly. Like the dog that finally catches the car, the audience have discovered that ideas are often far superior to reality.

Take the example of a filmmaker colleague of mine. She screened her film some months back, and has been engaging with her audience ever since.

Bemusingly, a pattern has formed in the feedback.

The majority enjoyed the film. An experience was had. Feelings were felt. Everyone wins a prize and goes home.

But another large proportion of her audience felt the urge to provide a commentary on the crafting of the film. No filmmakers, mind you, just regular viewers of screen stories from all walks of life.

"There should have been more to it", these audience members proclaimed.

"We should have seen what happened after the main guy made contact."

Playing the role, I of course asked: "Should we have?"

What followed was a thoughtful, intelligent and articulate "NO".

As it turns out, the filmmaker had attempted what this section of her audience was suggesting. There was more footage that had been shot, and in the end her team made the decision to exclude it.


Because the film didn't work when it was labouring to show every second between the scenes. The elegance of the story was lost, as it meandered to fill every blank in a viewer's imagination.

So, they cut it down.

And it worked, the majority said. But why this vocal counter-reaction?

It's actually quite simple: the audience doesn't know what they need.

I'm sorry, that might sound arrogant, but it's true.

Oh, the audience knows what they WANT. Absolutely. But not what they need.

The work of crafting a story, of filtering moments of truth and beauty about life through the veneer of a journey, must be left to the hands of a craftsperson. It takes science. Wit. Nuance. Anger. Love. Pain. Frustration. Humour...

It is why we exalt artists. What makes their abilities special.

If you are truly engaged with a story, you want to know every detail. What happened after X vanquished Y? How did Q readjust to life after the perilous journey to L?

Who cares?

X probably went home and napped. Q became an undergarment manufacturing spokesperson.

Story ruined.

All because you wanted more. More information. More detail. MORE.

But this is where the great storytellers leave you.

They draw you in. Make you care about these characters, in a world of their creation.

Then, you embark on a journey.

Until finally, if the artist has skill, they cut to black. Leaving you satisfied, but wanting more. Like a perfect meal, where you could have gorged yourself to nausea, but quit at satisfaction instead.

I know this seems counter-intuitive. Just 'GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT!'

'They' are wrong.

Don't begrudge this feeling of unrequited desire. The want to follow the protagonist as she completes her quest and returns home for a crumpet and a lie down. It's a natural yearn for someone who has been moved or changed by a story.

It means you're a human being who connected to the zeitgeist, even for the briefest of moments.

Don't spoil it. Use that grey fleshy thing behind your eyes. Appreciate it.

This is art, not a supermarket catalogue.

You're alive.

Savor it.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016


'The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity...

...And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?''

- 'The Second Coming' by WB Yeats

What have we created?

How can a mannequin, modelling all the trappings of our worst intentions, be on the precipice of the most powerful office in the world?

Sadly, because there is an audience for it.

Not the audience of bigots and white supremacists courted by Trump, although they're engaged too, but all of us. The spectacle gazers.

This is what we asked for.

Life-altering policy speeches in sound bytes.

Major decisions boiled down to adversarial tropes.

Blunders and conflict escalated to front-page news, while the real issues languish and fester, in the dark.

It's all on us. We allowed our news to become hijacked by tabloid showmanship, so now the carnival is in town for good.

Am I overstating this?

There was barely a whimper when it was announced that the Australian Federal Government are planning to water down media ownership laws. For years, these laws have protected the Australian public from media barons (like one who's name rhymes with Rupert Murdoch) forming monopolies across media channels. If the Liberal Government get their way, these legal curtails on the influence of powerful, rich men will be gone.

What made headlines instead?

A reality TV star, famous for being famous, posting an intimate photo of herself online.

And now we have another reality TV star, also providing ceaseless sado-masochistic entertainment, only this one is vying to have his finger on the button.

Think about that for a moment. Donald Trump with the authority to launch a nuclear strike.


So terrifying, in fact, that protests have started to form at his rallies with increasing regularity.

Growing, simultaneously, has been the violence.

A journalist slammed into the ground by a Trump staffer in Virginia.

Trump lamenting that 'in the old days" the protesters would be "carried out in a stretcher", in Nevada.

And then, Chicago. A very bleak day for American democracy.

"Arrest the protesters!" Trump bellows from the pulpit. We scratch our heads and wonder how that's possible when the right to free speech is enshrined in the American Constitution. Police in Kansas City, meanwhile, ruthlessly pepper spray innocent protesters outside a Trump rally.

We did this.

Both the content creators and audience. We are responsible for the ubiquity of reality TV and the 24 hour news cycle. We willed it into being.

But can we take our media back?

I believe we can. The artists can lead.

Whether it's John Oliver, systematically explaining that Trump is a racist and a liar.

Or Louis CK, imploring conservatives to realise that Trump is not one of them, saying: “Trump is not your best. He’s the worst of all of us. He’s a symptom to a problem that is very real. But don’t vote for your own cancer. You’re better than that.”
We need a return to substance in our discourse.

We need conversations that go deeper than whether Trump's hair is a living organism or not. We need to upturn the ugly, the bigoted, the misogynistic - shunning labels and platitudes - and encourage a discussion based on reality, evidence and fact.

We need our best to be full of passionate intensity.

The artists can lead.

But the audience must demand it.

Starting with you.

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Sunday, March 06, 2016


When you do something for long enough, occasionally people ask your opinion about it.

Excluding two years of film school, I've been making films for six years. Not an overwhelming amount of time, I'll grant you, but in a life of only 33 years, not insignificant either.

Recently, I was asked by a film student to be interviewed for his course work. I was flattered, of course, but another part of me seriously doubted what insights I could provide. Six years is not twenty, after all.

The great thing about wisdom though, is that often you don't need to invent it.

So, after internalising my doubt, bordering on guilt for saying yes, I suddenly had a breakthrough. I remembered one of the first pearls of advice I ever received, from someone far more experienced than me.

I was pestering her about writing, still enamoured of the sorcery that writers perform with regularity; turning the clouds of thought and lightning of inspiration into something real.

She glared at me, weary of my inquisition, and distilled something so complicated into a diamond of simplicity.

"Don''t over-think it" she said.

"Writers write. Producers produce. Directors direct"

Sadly, I wasn't sharp enough to comprehend her subtext. Thankfully, she was generous enough to elaborate.

"So many people call themselves writers, but they don't type a word. And I can't even count the number of producers who never make a thing. Plus the only directors worth their salt are the ones who have a pathological focus on directing. No distractions."

It seems ludicrously simple, but time and time again, in the years that followed, I have found these rudimentary concepts to be true.

I have met and spoken, many times, with a "writer" who rarely sits down to write.

I've interacted with "producers" who spend all their time in meetings, never delivering a thing.

And I've had drinks with at least one "director", who last directed something in their mandatory film school project.

Writers write. Producers produce. Directors direct.

It's so simple, yet the litmus test by which so many alleged creatives fail.

Don't over-think it.

Do the work.

P.S. thanks to Sonny for the inspiration, the 'Daily Word Counts Of 39 Famous Authors'. Worth a read.

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Thursday, March 03, 2016


At times, I have trouble understanding the youth of today.

Simultaneously bright and morose. Purposeful and hopelessly lost.

Perhaps I've simply lost my perspective. I've somehow reached the "in my day" phase of my interactions with the youngsters.


But after chatting with a fresh-faced film school graduate, which I did yesterday, and listening to his already brow-beaten perspective of how hard it is to "make it"...I am not convinced I'm the problem.

The consternation. The anxiety. You would be easily convinced he was a cynical filmmaker, at the end of a long career full of rejection.

He graduated SIX MONTHS ago!

He skipped confusion, elation, terror, joy and adulation; nosediving straight into Woody Allen style despair. Bizarre.

Interestingly, I recognised a few of the talking points from his litany of lament.

I was actually stunned. Once again, 'the glum prognostications of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' have returned.

To jog your memory, I wrote about the myth of the 'Hollywood Implosion' propogated by Spielberg and Lucas, back in 2013.

At the time, Spielberg said:

“There’s eventually going to be a big meltdown...There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen of these mega-budgeted movies go crashing into the ground and that’s going to change the paradigm again.”

To which Lucas added:

"(After the meltdown) 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. It’ll be an expensive thing. … (The movies) will sit in the theaters for a year, like a Broadway show does. That will be called the ‘movie’ business.”

In response, I respectfully disagreed. My take on their pronouncements of doom was that:

'...instead of evidence of an implosion, their predictions are evidence of a different trend: the wave of technological change turning the existing experts into novices, just like the rest of us...(and) remarkably, no-one is highlighting the fact that film budgets continue to expand, while the technological means to make films actually becomes cheaper and more accessible.'

But still, somehow, three years later, the Spielberg/Lucas 'Hollywood Implosion' myth is alive and well in the heart of a 2015 film school graduate.

How could this be?

Are we destined to be haunted by this fallacy forever?


We're going to kill it today. Kill it with fire.

After Spielberg/Lucas' prediction in early 2013, 'The Lone Ranger' flopped in extreme fashion. For numerous pundits, this signaled the beginning of the decline that Spielberg and Lucas announced.

Again, I disagreed. But how did the rest of the year unfold?

Well, the major film studios, for one, were unabashed by the early box office failures in 2013. They forged ahead.

The studios were right.

In 2014, it was announced that 2013 achieved the highest ever gross, domestic box office in the U.S.

Could just be a fluke, I suppose.

Except that 2015's summer box office (the peak box office period for the U.S. film industry) was the second largest haul ever.

Oh, and Star Wars VII, the latest in the franchise that Lucas created, became the third highest grossing film of all time.

This very public contradiction would probably be awkward for Lucas, except that he sold Lucasfilm to Disney four years ago...

...with a price tag of four billion dollars.

Yet somehow the film business is doing poorly? Talk about disconnection from reality.

So, to those of you who are not billionaire film luminaries, ignore the old guard.

Enjoy their films, of course, but realise that no-one stays an expert forever. The world simply moves too fast

The only constant is that great work finds audiences.

But that's the trick, isn't it?

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Wednesday, March 02, 2016


It's been a very long while since I have written about piracy.

I honestly can't tell you whether that fact is due to complacency, saturation, or de-escalation.

The rhetoric certainly seems calmer from the film industry. The legal announcements more sporadic.

But still, I can't help but wonder. Are the pirates still sailing?

Wild haired and free, scarred from the skirmishes but still traversing the hidden alcoves of the entertainment internet with impunity?

Have the despots been cornered on a tiny island, surrounded by the armed fleet of the copyright holders?

Or did they slip away, covertly, like Keyser Soze?

My, how the sands have shifted.

As far back as 2007, torrenting uber-site 'Pirate Bay' launched a campaign to buy the Principality of Sealand for US$2 billion dollars. The idea was to own their own sovereign nation, free of the copyright laws of the world.

Ingenious, I'll concede that.

When that didn't work, the Pirate Bay operators moved their servers to a former NATO nuclear bunker in the Netherlands.

If the idea was to avoid appearing like Bond villains...

Amidst all of this skulduggery, however, the discourse on piracy shifted.

In 2011, the idea of piracy as a positive 'promotional tool' for films floated into the debate. Faced with the mammoth task of pilfering mindshare from the studio blockbusters (with their gargantuan marketing budgets) indie filmmakers began suggesting piracy can assist small films in finding niche audiences.

The catch?

These pirating audiences don't pay for the viewing pleasure.

No matter, said a representative of one of the most pirated shows, 'Game of Thrones', in 2013. The "cultural buzz" the pirates provide is why the top shows survive and thrive, even if they're not paying for it.

Glad we cleared that up.

And indeed, in 2012, a legal professor from Rutgers University Law School even decried the notion of piracy as "theft". It was more like trespass, apparently, given theft is a 'zero sum' proposition in the eyes of the law. If I could still enjoy the use of something after you 'stole' it, as you can with a digital movie file, then it wasn't theft at all.


After years of brutal pugilism between the pirates and the industry, there still existed these huge masses of emotional and legal grey area in the debate. Which, I can only assume, is why The Pirate Bay still rode the crest of the torrenting wave in 2013, as the world's number one piracy website.

Faced with little success, the copyright holders tried a different approach. They targeted the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) instead, attempting to make them accountable for the pirating websites their networks enable.

The courts disagreed. ISPs, everywhere, rejoiced.

Tailwinds turned into a headwind. Dealt a severe blow, the entertainment industry's anti-piracy campaign began to lose momentum.

Public interest waned. The press followed. Occasionally an interesting story would bubble to the surface.

Like 'Mega-Upload' being forcibly shut down in 2012. Allegedly, this leads to increased business for paid, legal film downloads. The founder, Kim Dotcom, is arrested and charged.

In 2013, still a free man, Kim relaunches the site as 'Mega' and the legal wrangling continues.

In 2012, one of the founders of 'The Pirate Bay' flees to Thailand to avoid imprisonment. He is caught by Thai authorities in 2014 and sent back to a Swedish jail. He breathes free air again in June 2015.

Meanwhile, 500,000 people illegally download the finale of cult favourite Breaking Bad in 2013.


Eerie quiet.

The deep breath before the plunge.

Because in 2015, all hell breaks loose.

First, the film industry wins a landmark legal precedent over an ISP in Australia. The 'Dallas Buyers Club' case forces several ISPs to hand over the identities of customers they knew were sharing the film 'Dallas Buyers Club' online.

(Ironically, by this point the film is available on Australian Netflix anyway.)

Then, in late 2015, a Northern Ireland man is sentenced to four years in prison for running a website which facilitated illegal torrenting.

Oh, and HBO's goodwill towards pirates providing "cultural buzz"? By 2015, it had evaporated. Replaced with a steely-eyed rage, worthy of any antagonist in GOT.

Surely this was the surge that would end the war?

Not even close.

True to the form of any great swashbuckling pirate battle, the buccaneers rallied.

By early 2016, the epic victory of the 'Dallas Buyers Club' case had turned into a crushing defeat for the copyright holders. The presiding judge resoundingly rejected both proposals for follow-up action against the ISP customers who had engaged in piracy; including ruling against 'speculative invoicing'. Left with few options, the film industry lawyers dropped their case.

Shortly after, and still reeling from this rebuttal, the industry representatives were dealt another blow. In a move that stunned many observers, the newly developed 'three strikes scheme' for pirating ISP customers was abandoned. Supposedly, the expense of issuing infringement letters was more than it would cost to send the alleged pirates a DVD of the film they were stealing.

A fatal strike to the heart of the empire?

Somehow, beyond belief, no.

Absurdly, despite all common sense, momentum and logic, the film industry have launched YET ANOTHER return salvo.

Their new strategy is to attempt to block access to the websites which enable illegal downloading. In the last week alone, actions have been launched against Pirate Bay (yes, it still exists), Solarmovie, and Torrentz; among several others.


Just contemplating the history of this issue is enough to give you a brain aneurysm.

If it sounds like a quagmire of legalities, grudges, politics, greed, theft and crime...then I've only captured the half of it.

This is the non-violent equivalent of the Afghan-Iraq war. Nobody knows who the bad guys are, or how to extricate themselves from the conflict.

And worse, many civilians are caught in the crossfire.

It's a nightmarish siege that won't end. A sword fight between Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa, 'two immortals locked in an epic battle until Judgment Day and trumpets sound.'

Is there room to hope for peace?

The answer, surprisingly, may be yes.

Salvation comes in the form of hybrid distribution. Compromise will be required.

On one side, content will need to be made accessible and reasonably priced. On the other, takeup of the new options will have to supplant illegal downloading.

Is it possible?

'(As of May, 2015) Netflix, which already eats up the fattest chunk of downstream bandwidth, is taking an even bigger bite: The No. 1 subscription-video service accounted for 36.5% of all downstream Internet bandwidth during peak periods in North America for March, according to a new report.

Meanwhile, BitTorrent usage continues to decline as a percentage of total fixed-access bandwidth, and now accounts for only 6.3% of total traffic in North America — down from 31% in 2008.'

It doesn't end there. We have to branch out into even greater realms of creative distribution.

But won't disrupting the existing distribution models create larger problems and/or failures?

Let's check the real world example:

'Writer-director Andrew Haigh’s critically lauded drama '45 Years' has set a UK industry landmark by becoming the first film to cross £1m ($1.5m) at the UK box office after being released online the same day as in cinemas.'

Online and cinema coexisting. If this mix of distribution modes is possible, anything can be.

This piracy war has been long. It's been bloody. Both sides are weary of fighting, and no-one is any closer to victory.

It's time to change course.

The tools for change are there. The need for evolution has never been greater. We just need the will, the courage, and the leaders to guide the way.

The black flags are still at sea.

Do we really need to sink them? Or simply change their allegiance?

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016


Is Netflix the saviour or the enemy? Looking to make profit on the backs of tiny payouts to filmmakers, or growing the pie until we all thrive?

Have we figured out piracy by giving cheap, universal access to content? Or is there a new generation of connected youngsters emerging, who don't believe in paying for films?

Can cultivated audiences become partners from idea to completion?

Can 'Peak TV', Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Film, Games, Music, Literature, Theatre, Transmedia, and real life coexist? Or will they crowd each other out, causing a mass extinction of artists?

Will cinemas be around forever? Or do people really want to just watch at home?

Do societies, and therefore governments, even care about supporting the arts anymore?

Are the independent screen artists on a path to annihilation? Or at the beginning of their new cornucopia?

Are attention spans really dwindling?

Can screen artists find a way to use the new technologies to make production cheaper? Or will every film still be a boom versus bankrupt proposition?

Is it still only "who you know" that counts? Or can the talented, savvy outsider really break through?

Will diversity eventually reign in the screen arts? Or will self-interest prevail?

Can the screen arts ever become a value proposition? Or will they always be, in aggregate, a loss business?

Are a few, gigantic media corporations going to dominate the media ecosystem? Or will diverse voices still be heard?

Do audiences really want THIS much choice in entertainment?

Will the business models ever settle? Or has Moore's Law left us in a universe of constant technical disruption for the screen arts sector?

Can screen artists lead?


The crevasse between confidence and uncertainty can often feel paralysing. An obvious reason to delay starting your project.

The truth, however, is not one of these questions has even the remotest correlation to your need to express an idea, through the power of story.

It's all just noise.

The real question, therefore, becomes...

...are you going to wait for this mountain of doubt to clear or are you going to forge ahead, discovering your own answers?

Fortune favours the brave.

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