Tuesday, May 31, 2016



Yes, you!

Wake up!

You're in DANGER!

From Virtual Reality!

It's coming for you...

...and the narratives you hold dear.

That's what Steven Spielberg thinks, in any case.

He actually used that word 'dangerous'. Like VR would sneak into your home at night and kidnap your family.

Mr Spielberg's concern is what you, the audience, will do with the power of choice. That you will ruin the artistry of cinema. Choosing where to look takes control from the filmmakers and places it squarely into the eyeballs of the viewing public.

This is where we have come to in our paranoia over technological disruption?

Is turning away from the story action (then having to rewind) really that new of an idea? Clearly Mr Spielberg's television follows his eyesight wherever he gazes. Must cost a fortune.

There are so many infinitely larger challenges facing filmmakers and artists, that the growth of VR should barely warrant a bemused shrug.

Forget virtual reality problems, the real world has all the difficulties artists can handle.

In Australia, funding for the screen arts keeps facing cut, after cut, after cut. So much so, that thirty-year-old filmmaker resource organisation 'Metro Screen' was forced to shut down at the end of 2015.

Is it any wonder that 'Median earnings for a visual artist are $25,800 from all sources; half earn less than $10,000 a year from their art, according to a 2010 Australia Council study.'

How would you respond to hearing the news that artists in Australia can barely afford a biscuit?

Take the biscuit, of course.

Or perhaps you would decry this new reality for the modern artist. Uprise in an arcing rage, and stand in unison with the vocal critics of the current Federal Government Arts funding armageddon shouting:

'The emasculation of the arts sector...that began under Tony Abbott’s administration has continued seamlessly under Malcolm Turnbull. While arts communities easily cast Abbott as a villainous Philistine and held out hope that his more urbane successor would put his money where his artistic patronage was, Turnbull has just been more of the same with nicer manners.'

Alas, the obstacles are not only limited to Australia.

In Hollywood, noted luminaries like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Soderbergh, and Spike Lee have all commented on the virtual extinction of the mid-tier budget film. It's either a 'Disney-Marvel-Warner Brothers-DC-Pixar-Universal-superhero-animated-sequel-blockbuster', or the budget has to be less than $2 million. Neither one of those scenarios leads to a golden age for screen culture.

At Cannes 2016, aside from Amazon swinging their gigantic...chequebook...around to make an identity statement, the film market was reportedly very quiet on the sales side.

Which leaves Netflix, the touted saviour of all screen storytellers. Unfortunately, the Netflix rescue fantasy conveniently leaves out that the company operates on extraordinarily small profit margins, in an increasingly competitive global business. Sort of like your knight in armour showing up on a three-legged horse.

I could go on.

But I'll boil it down for you: living the life of an artist is hard.

There's doubt.

There's rejection.

And there's the constant hustle for resources.

Even Orson Welles once said:

"I would have been more successful if I'd left movies immediately, stayed in the theatre, gone into politics, written, anything. I've wasted a greater part of my life looking for money and trying to get along, trying to make my work from this terribly expensive paintbox which is a movie. And I've spent too much energy on things that have nothing to do with making a movie. It's about two percent movie-making and ninety-eight percent hustling. It's no way to spend a life."

The least of our problems is the emergence of a new storytelling technology. Only a very comfortably wealthy artist, part of the billionaire elite in fact, would consider the growth of VR to be anything more than 'uptown problems'. Outrage from a gilded perch.

No, the real "danger" of our present era is for the audience.

You are under siege. Encircled by a pervasive monoculture, run by wealthy corporations that want to homogenise your stories. To starve out the diverse artist ecosystem for their profit. And worse, this blockade is run, in collusion it seems, with the outdated 'trickle-down' economic ideologies of the current political class.

This should make you mad.


Imagine your world without movies, television, music, books, paintings, sculpture, dance, theatre, poetry...

Correction: this should make you furious.

We artists don't want much. We know it's hard. It's meant to be hard. But, as Orson Welles said, in the other half of that quote:

'I think I made essentially a mistake in staying in movies but it’s a mistake I can’t regret because it’s like saying I shouldn't have stayed married to that woman but I did because I love her.'

We're in this for life.

We're fighting to create stories for you that will enrich your existence.

Will you fight for us too?

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Sunday, May 22, 2016


So it is predicted, so it shall be.

Unfortunately, I was right on this one. In my '2016 Year In Review', I divined that Quickflix would be the first major casualty of Netflix's Australian arrival, coupled with the launch of new, local video streaming options. Specifically, I wrote:

'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.'

In the last month, rather quietly, a news story broke that Quickflix is in administration.

Oh well, another company spins the wheel and tastes the bitter wine of failure, you say. And you would be right, of course.

Except...I can't help but pause for a moment, before starting to shovel dirt on this coffin.

In the kinetic, somewhat surreal, universe of global film and TV distribution, it can almost appear like there are no humans involved. The pundits scream the names of brands and oligopolies, while the faceless men and women behind the velvet curtain simply pull the oars and keep the machinery in full, violent roar.

"Warner Brothers. Universal. Stan. Foxtel. Disney. Netflix."

But Quickflix was not an opaque titan. The company started in Perth in 2003, by a group of entrepreneurs including current CEO Stephen Langsford. And, while the startup certainly wasn't a family-run operation, it is publicly known that Langsford invested a sizeable amount of his own money into his movie distribution venture.

In 2012, the gamble looked like genius.

Quickflix was valued at roughly $70 million. The business had strong content deals. DVD postal rentals were doing well, and Langsford was ready to guide the business into online subscription streaming.

Yes, Quickflix would be the first mover on online subscription streaming in the Australian market. The opportunities for success loomed large.

But lo, how colossal the fall from the peaks of prosperity.

By early 2015, Quickflix was worth $2.7 million.

The streaming business was a shambolic mess of technical glitches and bizarre pricing structures.

Even worse, Netflix arrived. Stan and Presto too, like the three horseman of the Quickflix apocalypse.

And now, it's over.

Quickflix was not the first company to fail after being ahead of it's time, mind you. Before the iPod came to dominate the collective eardrums of the world, there was the RIO MP3 player. Commercially successful long before Steve Jobs took over our cochleas, the RIO should have conquered the music world.

Instead, the manufacturer of RIO went bankrupt in 2003.

But how? What did the iPod have that RIO did not?

Answer: the iTunes store.

What does Netflix/Stan have that Quickflix didn't?

Answer: user interfaces that worked, with a 'simple to understand' subscription model.

This is the immortal truth, friends. Ideas are magic. Intention is wonderful. Enthusiasm, essential.

But it's all for nothing if you don't execute flawlessly.

Survival of the fittest reigns in the screen industry, and all players must prove their mettle.

It's a harsh world, no exceptions.

I won't celebrate being proven right on my Quickflix prediction. Instead, I'll reflect on the reminder of how perilous it is for all of us in the arts.

'...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.'

Farewell, Quickflix. I sincerely hope the landing is soft.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016


Well, this is awkward.

It's been barely more than three months since I repeated my argument that George Lucas was ludicrously misguided with his predictions about the film industry:

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

Then news breaks of 'The Screening Room.'

A new tech startup lead by Sean Parker, formerly of Napster fame and the guiding hand of a small company (you may have heard of) called Facebook. 'The Screening Room' will provide streaming access to new release films for subscribers.

"...(cough)...Netflix...(cough)" you say.

But this is different. 'The Streaming Room' is not offering the traditional 'new releases' of the local video store, now itunes. This service streams actual NEW RELEASES, as in films that are playing in cinemas. The idea is to allow those audiences who simply refuse to attend a cinema, to see the films they want in the comfort of their own home. Good for audiences. Great for the business.

Another stake in the heart of film piracy.

The cost? $50 per 48 hour movie rental.

A premium movie service for the modern hermit with disposable income.

Yes, I know this is exactly the opposite of what George Lucas predicted. That he suggested the plebeians would pay a high price to visit a scarce movie theatre, for a 'big screen event' film. Viewing from home was never in the equation.

And I know that the service is far from available. That the the traditional film distribution guardians have erupted into white-hot rage, even while numerous top filmmakers support the idea.

Still, a $50 movie. That's essentially a bullseye for ol' George.

But where does that leave the rest of us?

Should we be pleased that someone is finally attempting a new method of release to the stalwarts of the film viewing world?

Excited that the film establishment have leaped so quickly to the defence of the cinema experience?

Proud that George Lucas managed to get at least one element of his prediction correct?

Clearly I'm not qualified to answer that, given I was wrong in the first place.

But I am left with one troubling question about this new proposal. One I won't hazard an answer to. Perhaps you can ponder it for me.

What person, who steals movies for free, would pay $50 for them instead?

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Sunday, May 08, 2016


...a challenger emerges.

Yes, it has finally happened.

Netflix is facing a legitimate contender for the streaming throne.

Incredibly, this challenge comes from none of the traditional sources.

It's not one of the established studios. It's not even Disney, who have used strategic acquisitions (Marvel and Lucasfilm) to strengthen the stable for their service 'Hulu'.

No, it took an outsider, a billionaire purveyor of consumer goods, to draw swords with Netflix.


The online retailer has seen the future, and the future is SVOD video. Amazon's steps into the marketplace have been gigantic.

It began with their foray into original TV series commissioning. The result was award-winners 'Transparent' and 'Mozart In The Jungle'.

Then, in January 2015 Amazon hired independent film luminary, Ted Hope, to run Amazon Studios.

'Chi-Raq' an Amazon Studios original film by Spike Lee, followed soon after.

Recently, in the lead up to The 2016 Cannes Film Festival, news broke that Amazon Studios would have five films they are attached to, screening in the prestigious festival.

All meaningful milestones, set and crossed in the space of just three years.

Interestingly, even the head of Cannes acknowledged that the Netflix-Amazon rivalry was a subtext he was cognisant of. He even weighed in:

"There is no suspicion about [their] love of cinema. They are good for cinema. Amazon and the people in charge of cinema at Amazon...they are movie buffs."

Netflix is not nearly as well-liked.

The bone of contention, allegedly, is the fact that Netflix does not release their original films (e.g. Beasts of No Nation) in theatres, before making them available online. Amazon, on the other hand, has given a commitment that their original films will first screen in cinemas, before then appearing on their streaming platform; a move that appeases the old guard of the film distribution ecosystem.

With each company pursuing seemingly different models for feature film distribution, and the fact that one of them is primarily a global retailer, you could fairly question whether Netflix and Amazon are actually in direct competition.

But consider this first.

In April 2016, Amazon launched a monthly payment option for their video subscription service. Prior to that, audiences had to pay an annual fee for the Amazon platform.

The new price of the monthly service?

US$8.99 a month, a full dollar less than the Netflix monthly cost.

So, yes, even if they were heading in divergent directions previously, they're on a collision course now.

Make no mistake, these are the heavyweights that have stepped into the ring.

Netflix has annual revenues of US$6 billion and is valued at US$32 billion.

Amazon has annual revenues of US$107 billion, and is valued at US$175 billion.

These titans have deep pockets. They are willing to take risks. And, most importantly, they want to win.

It's already begun. At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in January, the two behemoths were the top buyers, bidding enormous sums for the rights to indie film titles that normally see far fewer zeroes on their cheques.

Netflix, meanwhile, is poised to spend $5 billion on content for its service in 2016. 'Game of Thrones' peddlers HBO, by comparison, spend around $2 billion on their slate. The disparity is beyond gargantuan.

It's a slugfest.

But what does this sudden influx of cash mean for the rest of us? The ants who watch as imperious gods hurl lightning bolts at each other.

For now, very little.

As is so often the case, the bulk of the new resources are going to the well established. Spike Lee. Woody Allen. Nicolas Winding Refn.

But the tremors will reverberate out to the fringes, mark my words.

Or, as Ted Hope himself puts it:

"We’re going to have an outpouring. It’s going to be a wonderful period, I think, for ambitious cinema...You start to see not just us, but all the competitors that are out there, (enlist) different models where it makes sense to take bigger risks with films of great ambition."

Audiences crave the meaningful exploration of the soul that derives from great storytelling.

Huge companies want to partner with the storytellers to get a cut.

In return the storytellers are freed and supported to explore their creative limits.

And once again, the artists will have their day.

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Monday, May 02, 2016


I feel somewhat human again.

The indolent parts of my brain are still reveling in the gear slippage, while more intricate thoughts try and force the machine to fire.

On the grand scale, however, the very existence of the above sentence shows I'm at least partially restored.

And as the whirlwind turns to a breeze, when Kansas is once again in full focus, I can advise that a weary traveler is left with exactly two souvenirs: memories and a burning question.

'What next?'

You can't help but ask. It's the symptom of having had a travelling experience that either evolves or crystalises something within you. Home, meanwhile, is staid. Resolute. Unchanged.

This tension, between personal growth and usual habitat, leads to wanderlust. To chase the short-term thrill. Poke the adrenal glands until they kick.

It's a valid strategy, I suppose. Plenty of people exist vacation to vacation.

But then why this undercurrent of doubt?

'What next?' hisses your lizard brain.

'I just got home from a 500 audience screening at a film festival in New York' you plead, 'Can't I gather my thoughts?'

No. Pile it on. Larger. Faster....

Never satiated. Always hungry for the endorphin burst....

The doubt niggles. Keep busy. Fill the time until the next, next, next...


The more you feed the reptile, the hungrier it gets.



Career momentum is a real thing, I'll grant you. There is a reason that 'heat creates heat' has become a showbusiness cliche (as well as the most blatantly obvious scientific observation on Earth).

The truth, however, is that most film related events are not reservoirs of forward inertia. A sophisticated way to meet like-minded people and share trench stories, indeed, but certainly not a project boon.

No, the surgical fact is that the real generator of momentum is the time you spend away from parties.

I know, it stimulates you to be at a film festival. A morsel of perceived success. It's like coming home to your own foreign land, where people suddenly understand both you and your passions. An addictive feeling.

But that's the point. The red carpet tornado is a Siren's call, if you allow it to take hold. Like all of life's sweet vices, moderation is the key.

And always remember, a soiree may be sustenance for the soul, but projects live or die on their creative foundations. Bolstered by the work you do behind closed doors: the script polish; the treatment refinement; the finance planning.

'What's next?' the hungry voice howls at you.

Obscurity. Toil.


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