Will Mel Gibson Help Rescue Australian Cinema From Having A Downer Year?

There is a lot riding of money and prestige riding on Mel Gibson’s WW2 violent drama Hacksaw Ridge when it opens in Australia on November 3 and the following day in the U.S. Not just because this is Gibson’s first shot at directing since Apocalypto in 2006 and that Lionsgate and Australian distributor Icon are putting a lot of resources and effort into the release.

The Australian film industry is hoping the critically-acclaimed movie, which tells the true story of U.S. Army medic and conscientious objector Desmond Doss, will spark a revival for the nation’s cinema which has not generated a single home grown hit this year.

Some 50 Australian titles released this year or earlier collectively have grossed $A12.8 million ($9.7 million) through last Sunday, according to the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia. That’s a sharp decline from the 2015 calendar year total of $A88 million, a record 7.18% market share, led by George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker, Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner, Stuart McDonald’s Oddball, Rob Connolly’s Paper Planes and Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin.

The top-grossing Australian production is Alex Proyas’ $140 million fantasy-adventure Gods of Egypt, which collected just $A2.5 million. Simon Stone’s The Daughter, a re-imagining of an Ibsen play starring Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Ewen Leslie, Paul Schneider and Odessa Young, made $A1.7 million while Jennifer Peedom’s superb documentary Everest earned nearly $A1.3 million.

Levi Miller and canine co-star Phoenix in ‘Red Dog: True Blue’ Exhibitors are confident the business will rally with Hacksaw Ridge followed by Red Dog: True Blue, the prequel to 2011 hit Red Dog in December, and true-life drama Lion in January.

Australian films face the same hurdles as indie titles from the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere in securing screens and connecting with audiences in the ever-crowded theatrical market. “Films with strong local stories and ideas can cut through,” says Roadshow Films group co-CEO Joel Pearlman, who is distributing Red Dog: True Blue. “However the market is very unforgiving for anything that is not excellent in execution and original story and ideas . It is a global challenge; it has never been easy.”

Unusually Roadshow has no Aussie titles on its 2017 release schedule. Quite a few projects are in development but none is ready to announce. “The biggest challenge is finding great material,” Pearlman says. “I wish there was more of it.” Village Cinemas general manager Gino Munari concurs, “Aussie films just need to tell a good story and have good production values.”

Tait Brady, who runs boutique distributor Label, says, “I suspect that what we are starting to see now may be the result of the budget/financing squeeze that hit the production sector a while back. That has has resulted in driving budgets down and we are seeing films in two clear categories – the low budget dramas such as Joe Cinque’s Consolation, Early Winter, Killing Ground, Boys In The Trees and Bad Girl, and bigger, star-driven vehicles like The Dressmaker, Lion and the Red Dog prequel. The more conventional Aussie films budgeted at $A4 million-$A5 million are harder and harder to get up and, as good as these ‘smaller’ films are, they struggle to grasp audiences’ attention.”

Hacksaw Ridge stars Andrew Garfield as the pacifist U.S. Army medic who won the Congressional Medal of Honor after saving dozens of soldiers during the bloody Battle of Okinawa. Parr is confident it will gross $A10 million, opining, “Mel is back to his best. The film is as good as Saving Private Ryan but with a love story as a plus.”

Co-owned by Gibson and his producing partner Bruce Davey, Icon is releasing the drama on 255 screens in Australia and on 70 in New Zealand. “The reception for Hacksaw has been consistently strong from all quarters including festivals, reviewers, industry, interest groups, premieres and public previews,” says Icon CEO Greg Hughes. “We expect a strong gross box-office and our quietly optimistic estimates are not that far below some of the exhibitor forecasts.”

The national cinema is virtually certain to end the year on a high note with the December 26 debut of producer Nelson Woss and director Kriv Stenders’ prequel to Red Dog, which fetched $A21.5 million. The plot follows 11-year-old Mick (Levi Miller) who is shipped off to his grandfather’s (Bryan Brown) cattle station in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia. While Mick expects a dull and tough rural life, instead he finds adventure and friendship with a scrappy, one-of-a-kind dog. Garth Franklin’s Lion chronicles the journey of Indian-born Australian Saroo Brierley who found his birth mother 25 years after they were separated, starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham and Rooney Mara which had rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, and will be released on January 19 2017.

On paper the outlook for 2017 looks promising. Apart from Lion the line-up includes Rachel Perkins’ Jasper Jones, a coming-of-age mystery starring Levi Miller, Angourie Rice and Aaron McGrath. Paul Currie’s 2.22 is a romantic thriller about an air traffic controller in New York who nearly causes a fatal mid-air collision and then falls in love with one of the plane’s passengers, featuring Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman and Teresa Palmer. Jeffrey Walker’s Dance Academy: The Movie, is a spin-off of Werner Film Productions’ globally-successful TV series. Dev Patel and Armie Hammer star in Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai, a thriller based on the 2008 siege of the Taj Mahal hotel, which the Weinstein Co. acquired for the U.S.

In March/April Label is releasing Hounds of Love, the debut feature of writer/director Ben Young. The thriller stars Stephen Curry and Emma Booth as a couple who abduct a teenager (Ashleigh Cummings), who soon realizes she must drive a wedge between her captors if she is to survive. In a great example of talent development, Good Universe and Mandeville Films have hired Young to direct Extinction, a sci-fi thriller which follows a man haunted by nightmares in which his wife is assaulted and becomes a hero when Earth is invaded by an army bent on destruction. James McAvoy is in the frame to play the lead.

Don Groves – Forbes – Oct 24, 2016

Read the article in full here:


Screen Queensland’s Tracey Vieira nabs business leadership gong

Screen Queensland CEO Tracey Vieira was named the 2016 Telstra Queensland Business Woman of the Year at a ceremony in Brisbane Friday evening. Vieira also took out the 2016 Telstra Queensland Business Women’s Corporate and Private Award.

Before taking the helm at SQ, Vieira spent a decade in Los Angeles, where she worked as executive vice president of international production for Ausfilm and attracted more than $1.5 billion of production spend to Australia.

Vieira joined Screen Queensland in 2014.

“It wasn’t until I walked into an organisation in crisis that I understood my own strengths and my love for transforming an industry,” she said.

Vieira is also a non-executive director of RSPCA Queensland, QMusic and the Sunshine Coast Arts Advisory Board, and sits on the board of advisors for Australians in Film.

Now in their 22nd year, the Telstra Business Women’s Awards are Australia’s longest running women’s awards program. They are designed to recognise and reward the “courage, leadership and creativity of brilliant business women”.

Vieira, along with the other state and territory category winners, will be flown to Melbourne for the National Awards on November 16.

Media Release – Monday 17 October 2016

The Code tops the AWGIE Awards

Shelley Birse has taken out the top prize at this year’s AWGIE Awards, winning the Major Award for the second season of ABC cyber-thriller The Code.

The first season of The Code also took out the Australian Writers’ Guild Major Award in 2014. This year’s award makes it the only series to have been recognised by two Major Awards for both of its seasons. The Code also received the AWGIE Award for the Television: Miniseries – Original category.

Overall, more than 25 Australian writers – from radio, television, film, theatre and interactive media – were honoured at this year’s AWGIE Awards, held in Sydney on Friday evening.

Andrew Knight and Osamah Sami’s Ali’s Wedding took out the award for most outstanding script for an original feature, while Shaun Grant and Craig Silvey received the award for most outstanding feature adaptation for Jasper Jones.

Samantha Strauss was honoured for her original telemovie, Mary: The Making of a Princess, and Barracuda’s Blake Ayshford and Belinda Chayko took out Television Miniseries – Adaptation category.

Andrew Knight also scored a second AWGIE Award for his work on Rake.

The 2016 Fred Parsons Award for outstanding contribution to Australian Comedy was presented to Barry Humphries. Humphries, whose career has spanned 60 years, was honoured for the contribution he has made to Australian and international comedy writing.

The AWG also honoured Craig Pearce – co-writer of Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Charlie St Cloud and The Great Gatsby – by awarding him the Australian Writers’ Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.

AWG president Jan Sardi said that, at a time when television is experiencing a global renaissance, the Annual AWGIE Awards are a way of honouring the world-class talent of Australian screenwriters and playwrights. “With the advent of streaming services such as Netflix and Stan revolutionising the way we all consume screen content, there is an undeniable buzz and energy around our film and TV industries in particular,” he said.

“This heralds exciting times ahead not only for Australian writers for performance, but for the millions of viewers hungry for top-notch content on their screens and stages,” he said.

The 2016 screen winners:

Major Award

The Code: Season 2 – Shelley Birse

Telemovie – Original

Mary: The Making of a Princess – Samantha Strauss

Television: Miniseries – Adaptation

Barracuda – Blake Ayshford and Belinda Chayko

Television: Miniseries – Original

The Code: Season 2 – Shelley Birse

Television – Series

Rake: Season 4, Episode 407 – Andrew Knight

Television – Serial

Neighbours: Episode 7202 – Jason Herbison

Comedy – Sketch or Light Entertainment

The Weekly with Charlie Pickering: ‘Halal Certification’ and ‘Stadium Naming

Rights’ – Gerard McCulloch with Charlie Pickering

Comedy – Situation or Narrative

Please Like Me: Season 3, ‘Pancakes with Faces’ –Josh Thomas and Liz Doran

Feature Film – Original

Ali’s Wedding – Andrew Knight & Osamah Sami

Feature Film – Adaptation

Jasper Jones – Shaun Grant & Craig Silvey

Short Form

Slingshot – David Hansen

Interactive Media

The Forgotten City – Nick Pearce


Beat Bugs: ‘Yellow Submarine’ – Josh Wakely

Documentary – Public Broadcast or Exhibition

Baxter and Me – Gillian Leahy

The Silences – Margot Nash

Documentary – Corporate & Training

Seven Women Nepal – The Birth of a Social Enterprise – Gaby Purchase and Claire


Children’s Television – P Classification

Sydney Sailboat: ‘Trash and Treasure’ – Rachel Spratt

Children’s Television – C Classification

Ready for This: ‘The Birthday Party’ – Leah Purcell

Special Awards

David Williamson Prize

Given in celebration and recognition of excellence in writing for Australian theatre

The Bleeding Tree – Angus Cerini

Richard Lane Award

For outstanding service and dedication to the Australian Writers’ Guild

Karin Altmann

Dorothy Crawford Award

For outstanding contribution to the profession

John Romeril

Fred Parsons Award

For outstanding contribution to Australian comedy

Barry Humphries

Hector Crawford Award

For outstanding contribution to the craft as a script producer, editor or dramaturge

Marcia Gardner

The Australian Writers’ Guild Lifetime Achievement Award

Craig Pearce

Unproduced Awards

Monte Miller Award – Long Form

Mary, Mary – Penelope Chai & Adam Spellicy

Monte Miller Award – Short Form

It Will Peck You – Katie Found
Media Release – Monday 17 October 2016

Boys in the Trees director Nicholas Verso was ‘willing to die for this film’

On Halloween 1997, two estranged teen skaters embark on a surreal journey through their memories, dreams and fears: Boys in the Trees opens on October 20.

When he was at school in Melbourne, film director Nicholas Verso was almost expelled for being a goth. “I blackened everything,” he says. “Lashes, eyebrows: it was a big commitment.” While he thought his friends looked pretty cool in the pipe at the skate park, he was much too unco-ordinated to join in.

“I was more an observer than a participant, more of a goth wearing dark clothes and trying not to move much in the summer.”

He laughs from behind what is now long, all-natural fair hair. We are at the Venice Film Festival; the sun roars like a furnace while we scurry with plastic chairs to find a spot under trees. At 36, Verso’s style has morphed into ragged ’70s hippiedom, but his skin is still porcelain pale. It seems a bit of a shame to waste such a perfect canvas.

Skating looms large and slow-mo in Boys in the Trees, his first feature. The film is set among a group of teenagers in their final year at high school in the ’90s, when Verso himself was at school in Kew, with torrents of music to match. Corey, played by Toby Wallace, is an aspiring photographer who dreams of living in New York, although probably anywhere that wasn’t an Australian suburb would do.

He can’t say too much about that to the other dudes in the gang. For Jango (Justin Holborow), his ostensible best mate and the pack leader, everything anyone could want – “weed to smoke, bitches to f—, fags to bash” – is right here. Those things

include the much brighter Corey; he needs him to want the life they have. Way across the gender divide, however, their classmate Romany (Mitzi Ruhlmann) gets it; her own hope is to escape to a dreamland Canada, with its extreme weather, pine-clad mountains and bears.

This clash of aspirations reaches crisis point on Halloween, when Corey finds himself alone in his wolf costume with Jonah (Gulliver McGrath). He is the runt of the class, the routine punching bag for Jango and his thicker mates and – as is soon revealed – he was Corey’s best friend when they were in primary school. Feeling guilty about having stood by while Jonah was abused, Corey agrees to walk him home through the dark of All Hallows’ Eve.

Revellers in full carnival dress emerge from the mist; their walk becomes increasingly surreal as they slip from the present into their shared past. A “memory tree” in the forest, illuminated apparently from within, is hung with hundreds of objects culled from childhood, now as magic and faraway as any land in the clouds.

Demons – called “darklings” – emerge from the ground. An Indigenous man appears in the gloaming, wearing a funereal black suit: some kind of harbinger of death, perhaps?

Everything in Boys in the Trees, says Verso, reflects his own life somehow. “They all came from things I felt; I sometimes looked at people together and thought they were like animals, like wolves. The darklings came from listening to what people say when they crush each other’s dreams, just quietly over a drink,” he says.

“I was very inspired by [sci-fi novelist] Ray Bradbury, who said [in Zen and the Art of Writing] you should write about things that enthuse you, so I really tried to write things I had experienced and felt strongly. I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. I didn’t want to make a first film I wasn’t willing to die for, to be honest. So I had to pour my blood into it.”

You can see the blood. Along with the ghoulies and ghosties and hallucinatory spectacle, Boys in the Trees deals with the stuff of current headlines: bullying at school, teenage depression and modern confusions about what being a man should mean.

When Verso started writing it, he intended to set it in the present, but technology got in the way: no modern Corey could wander off on a party night without being pursued by a shower of texts. Even his determination to be a photographer seemed dated.

“That was a strange thing to be in the ’90s – it took some effort – whereas everyone thinks they are a photographer now because technology enables that. So I think there was a real innocence in that respect.”

What hasn’t changed – or, in Verso’s opinion, has worsened – is the entrenchment of a vengeful version of thwarted masculinity. It’s unlikely, he agrees, that even a gang led by someone as knuckled-headed as Jango would be so automatically homophobic now; teenagers have moved on. At the same time, he remembers “so many cool female role models”, from his childhood television favourite Roseanne to Sigourney Weaver in Alien to P.J. Harvey and Courtney Love in the music world. “And at a certain point, it felt like that just went away.”

Now we live in a cultural era dominated by the anxious sensibilities of “scared little men” that he thinks probably has its grounding in the world he explored in Boys in the Trees. “I mean, you look at violence against women now. That comes from male fears, from deeply uncivilised men who haven’t learned how to be themselves and who were teenagers at this time. So it’s interesting looking at them in the ’90s and going, ‘Well, this was their last moment of being kids. What were they like, what message weren’t they getting, to know how to be men?’ ”

Not enough attention, he says, is paid to rites of passage. Toby Wallace, who plays Corey, is 21 and grew up in Wheelers Hill; he recognises a lot of the real-life elements in the film. “I had to go through separating myself from group situations or the part of town I was from and say, ‘I am my own person, I can lead my own life’.”

He started acting when he was 13, but it was moving into the city after school that changed him. By the time he was Corey’s age there was, of course, a new kind of bullying afoot, the cyber form. “We are in an age that is more open to talking about those things – depression, anxiety, the stages of people’s lives, bullying – but then the other side of it is that we are in such instant communication with each other.”

Which makes the ’90s, which hardly seem very long ago at all, a different time, even a prelapsarian time. “Kids now are absorbing stuff constantly through their phones and the internet,” says Verso. “I think in the ’90s you had romantic notions that could be shattered.” Romany’s idea of Canada, for example, probably comes from a Joni Mitchell song; these days she could just google everything she wanted to know.

“And I can’t imagine now people talking as much as those two boys talk in the film without looking at their phones or Instagramming along the way. I think people were more in the moment. And you could live out your little teen mistakes without having a camera in your face.” Not much chance of that now; the packs may have loosened, but there’s a lone wolf around every corner.

Stephanie Bunbury – SMH – October 14 2016

Virtual reality, personalised content, more local shows: this is what Australian TV will be like in 2020

PICTURE donning a virtual reality headset to watch the football from a player’s perspective, catching the evening news bulletin with stories tailored to you and having more choice in content than ever.

This is the future of Australian television and it’ll be here by 2020, as the industry enters its biggest era of change.

The fact that a Hollywood megastar like Rachel Griffiths would lend her talent and expertise to a low budget YouTube comedy shows how much the landscape has evolved. In between major film and TV roles, the acclaimed actor co-produced and starred in Little Acorns — a hilarious web series about workers at a suburban childcare centre.

Rachel Griffiths and co-stars of new internet series Little Acorns, Fanny Hanusin, Maria Theodorakis, Belinda McClory and Katerina Kotsonis.

While the online space offers enormous opportunities to tap into a global audience hungry for video content, Griffiths said there are challenges that come with it.

“We wanted Little Acorns to be on a network,” Griffiths admitted. “We went to all the usual players. It was like, oh well, if no one wants to give us money we’ll just find another way. But make no bones about it — no one makes money from this format.”

The cost of making a TV drama runs anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million per episode, so broadcasters are less inclined to take risks.

“These days, you have to prove your product and your voice, and the web series thing is a platform through which to prove what you’ve got,” Griffiths said.

One player embracing change is Fox Sports, where digital is seen as a way of enhancing the viewing experience. The subscription TV giant has a research lab where a dedicated team explores broadcast innovation, chief executive Patrick Delany said.

“We’re releasing an app next week called Fox Vision and the first event we’ll use it for is Bathurst, and there will be a map in all of the papers next Thursday that you can point your phone at that to make it 3D so you can explore the terrain,” Delany said.

“At the same time, you can go inside the car with a 360-degree camera and look around, as it hurdles around the track. These are really cool technologies that we can use to enhance the live sports experience. I only see that growing.”

With new gadgets, content boom, alternative platforms and personalised experiences, Australian TV will look vastly different by 2020.

Here’s a snapshot of what’s coming.

Developments in virtual and augmented reality will see the TV experience shift significantly, Delany said. “We’re getting into that space already,” he said. “You can put a pair of glasses on and (be) at the ground, in the stand, and be immersive. We’re exploring how we can improve that and apply it to our service.”

When it comes to sports, the big screen will remain the primary source but secondary, personal devices will allow “add ons”, he said.

“Whether it’s things like a variety of camera views — inside the cars for the V8s or alternative angles from drones — or player stats and charts relevant to what you’re seeing on screen, that’s how I see it going.”

Regardless of how TV changes, Adrian Swift, Nine’s programming and production boss, believes content will always be king.

“We’re still paying money to create great content and we’ll continue to do that,” Swift said. “Our job and strategic focus is to keep ourselves as a destination as things change around us. We play to our strengths and that’s news, sport, big events, stripped reality shows and fun, light, clever Australian drama that the whole family can sit down to watch.”

What this means is TV networks will develop their own content niche, Mason said.

“The big play for broadcasters is local — they understand what Aussie viewers want and it’s shows that reflect them.”

Consuming content online, whether live or via catch-up, is a trend that Swift expects to continue in the coming years. There will come a time when Nine is a button on a remote as well as a mobile app, an add-on to set top boxes and game consoles, and a website.

It’s a trend the company is already seeing — 9 Now has a unique total audience of 1.4 million, Collins said.

“What we’re seeing is more engagement — more minutes consumed. A prime example is the drama Love Child. The last series did one million long-form streams and 28 million minutes of content was consumed.”

Live news could soon contain stories that are tailored to a viewer’s preferences, based on past trends. The idea of customised content is something American outfit CBS News Digital is exploring, its senior vice president and general manager Christy Tanner said.

“We have developed different interfaces that offer some degree of personalisation and the ability to tailor their own news cast,” Tanner said. “It’s a real balancing act for us though. We believe in the power of journalists to curate for the audience so we want to deliver a balance of personalisation and editorially led curation.”

Otherwise a fully personalised nightly news bulletin runs of the risk of just being stories about the Kardashian family.

TV sets themselves are changing, with trends pointing towards devices that are integrated in the room. Some manufacturers are offering ‘in-wall’ sets that aren’t visible when not turned on, as well as screens built into mirrors.

And the latest products are being billed as works of art. Regardless of where it’s seen, Swift said TV will be “a different version of the same thing”.

Shannon Molloy, National TV Writer, News Corp Australia – October 2, 2016

Early Winter Director Michael Rowe: Local Doubts

Early Winter director, Michael Rowe, the Australian-born filmmaker talks about what he sees as the problems with the Australian film industry: “I’ve watched creative workshops there for directors and writers that are terrifying.”

“At 23-years-old, I felt that Australia was a bit boring and a bit staid and set in its ways,” writer/director, Michael Rowe tells FilmInk. “The dizzying heights of cultural creation were a little bit far away and a little bit unreachable. There are certain cultural sacred cows that are highly valued. They’re up high like gods. And as a 23-year-old, I felt it impossible to aspire to. I feel like the cinematic world is way too dominated by people who have nothing to do with the creative processes.”

It was partly that sense of disconnection that drove Michael Rowe on what has been a continuing journey around the world, and continuing separation from his home country. Born in Ballarat, Michael Rowe now lives in Mexico, which is where he made his first big splash with the shot-in-Mexico, Spanish-language 2010 drama, Leap Year, which won the coveted Golden Camera Award at The Cannes Film Festival. Still to make a film on Aussie soil, Rowe’s latest film is the controlled, finely nuanced Early Winter, an Australian/Canadian co-production about a seemingly typical marriage in Quebec that is slowly coming apart at the seams.

Tellingly, Rowe has embraced outside filmmaking communities, while maintaining a more distant one with Australia. “I’ve watched creative workshops there for directors and writers that are terrifying,” he continues about Australia’s filmmaking scene.

“They give them all these workshops about funding bodies, about distribution, and about how to reach and appeal to certain audiences. So you get all these poor bloody kids who are in their twenties or thirties, with all this shit in front of them, and they’re trying to make a film. You can’t start out with that. You can’t have the cart before the horse. If you’re thinking about audiences, and worse than that, producers, and worse than that, distributors, and worse than that, funding bodies…,” his voice trails off.

“If you’re thinking about pleasing these people before you’re thinking about what kind of story you want to tell, then it’s destined to failure and absolute mediocrity.

There’s a saying, ‘A camel is a horse designed by a committee.’ And that’s what happens when you have funding bodies and distributors in the mix. It’s not their fault, but they know nothing about creative processes. They do their best to give helpful advice, but since they don’t know how it works, they get it all wrong. And the poor creators are beaten over the head with ideas that are completely irrelevant, and it makes it a very difficult environment for creating. I feel very sorry for them, and this vision needs to change.”

Michael Rowe, however, doesn’t want to just stand by and watch it continue.

“Whatever I have in terms merit and achievement, I hope that I can help change things at least a little bit,” he says. “There’s a massive amount of talent in Australia, and it’s usually hamstrung by the fear of funding bodies and distributors, and this ridiculous idea that somebody is going to be able to make a film that is going to make everybody rich. You’ve got 20 million people, and you’re not going to make any film that’s going to make anyone rich even if everyone in the country sees it. Stop it! Make a film that’s about something honest. Animal Kingdom, for instance, is an honest film. It’s a good film. And I know that there’s a lot of David Michod in that film; his suffering, his struggles, it’s all there. It’d be very difficult for anyone else to have made that film. And that’s why it resonates, because it’s true. You cannot hide honesty on screen. If you’ve got the balls to put it out there, it’ll work. Even if you have to dress it up as a film about bank robbers. The other thing is the politically correct police. Let’s make a film about indigenous transsexual lesbians because that’s going to get funding. That’s not the way either. You can’t be thinking about funding, you can’t be thinking about distribution, and above all, box office, when you’re creating something. It’s going to turn out bad.”

And what about Michael Rowe’s relationship with the funding bodies? Can he see himself working with them in order to shoot a film in the country where he was born? “Early Winter is an Australian co-production, and I have got an upcoming project in Australia that I’m working on for 2018,” the director replies. “I am interested in working in Australia. I think that the Australian funding bodies will have no problems in letting me work on my terms and my kind of film. I have a track record now with a couple of decent prizes that will allow them to justify that. I am enthused about that.”

FilmInk Presents will be hosting a series of Q&A screenings of Early Winter with Michael Rowe, taking in The Nova Carlton in Melbourne (October 4), Dendy in Canberra (October 5), New Farm Cinemas in Brisbane (October 7), Dendy Newtown in Sydney (October 9), and The Regent Cinema in Ballarat (October 10), which is where Michael Rowe was born. The film will then be released in cinemas nationally on October 13.

For further information on screenings, head to FilmInk Presents:


Read the first and second parts of the FILMINK interview with Michael Rowe:


Early Winter Director Michael Rowe: The Internationalist

By Dov Kornits FILMINK September 27, 2016

Momentum Takes U.S. Rights to Australian Box Office Hit ‘Oddball’

Momentum Pictures has taken U.S. rights to family entertainment movie “Oddball,” which is being sold at the Toronto Film Festival by Global Screen. The final Australian theatrical box office for Oddball hit $11 million in December 2015 <from a $7 million budget> and went on to be the top-grossing Australian Family Film of 2015 for distributor Village Roadshow.

The film has also been acquired by Snap for free-TV, pay-TV and VOD rights in Latin America, Trade Media for France, Just4Kids for Benelux, Lusomundo for Portugal, Champ Lis for China, and Suraya for Malaysia.

Previously announced deals include sales to Icon for U.K. and Ireland, Mongrel Media for Canada, Microcinema for Italy, Kino Swiat for Poland, Gulf Film for Middle East, Fivia for Ex-Yugoslavia, Albania and Slovenia, Medyavizyon for Cyprus and Turkey, Star Films for Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia (theatrical rights), and Globo for Brazil (TV and VOD rights).

“Oddball” stars up-and-coming Australian star Shane Jacobson (“Kenny”), Sarah Snook (“The Dressmaker,” “Steve Jobs,” “Predestination”) and Alan Tudyk (“Frozen,” “I, Robot”) in the lead roles, and tells the true story of an eccentric chicken farmer who, with the help of his granddaughter, trains his mischievous dog Oddball to protect a penguin sanctuary from fox attacks, while also trying to reunite his family and save their seaside town.

The film opened TIFF Kids Film Festival in April, and has screened at more than 40 film festivals.

“Our buyers simply cannot keep from the irresistible charm of ‘Oddball,’ clearly demonstrated by the ever-growing momentum of sales on the film,” Julia Weber, head of theatrical, said in a statement.

“Oddball” is produced by WTFN/The Film Company, Practical Pictures and Kmunications, in co-production with Screen Australia and Fox International Channels, in association with Film Victoria.

Leo Barraclough – Variety + Wikipedia – September 12, 2016

Australian screenwriters win sponsorship deal with powerhouse US showrunners

David Taylor, from Playmaker; Graham Yost, writer/producer of The Americans, Justified; and Shelley Birse, writer/producer of The Code.

Australian television is undergoing a revolution, albeit a gentle one, in which the voices of screenwriters are rising in volume. It is, in part, a response to the success of risky genre-based dramas such as The Kettering Incident, Wentworth, Top of the Lake and The Code. “I feel like there are more broadcasters prepared to take those kind of risks, more than ever before,” screenwriter Shelley Birse says. “I’ve been writing 20 years, and it feels like the last three or four, the ceiling on what you can get people excited about has just been blown out of the water.”

Birse, who wrote The Code for Playmaker Media, is in Los Angeles as part of a program sponsored by Playmaker’s US parent, Sony Pictures Television.

The program, Scribe, pairs Australian writers with US writers as part of a program to help them develop new work and skill them as writer “showrunners”.

The writer “showrunner” model dominates US television, with most scripted projects steered by a writing producer, typically teamed with a directing producer and several other co-executive producers.

In Australia, the writer’s voice has historically been less prominent and drama development has been network executive led.

“The writers’ rooms are not that different, but the continuation of that writer’s voice into production, that’s where the gulf in Australia has been really different,” Birse says. “That just doesn’t exist. [In the US] the writer’s voice is the loudest and most important all the way through.”

Birse and another writer Glen Dolman, who wrote the award-winning telemovie Hawke for Ten, are the first two writers in the program.

Birse is working with Graham Yost (The Americans, Justified) and Dolman with veteran CSI producer Carol Mendelsohn.

The intention is that Yost and Mendelsohn will continue to steward the two writers, and the projects they are working on, remotely once Birse and Dolman return to Australia.

Playmaker’s David Maher says the scheme is also a reaction to a larger cultural shift in which borders are breaking down and local fine print – such as accents – are mattering far less to international broadcasters who are looking for new content.

“There are no concerns about accents, and parochial storytelling or overt regionality being a barrier, to be able to do that is far less of a concern now than it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago when I was working for Fox,” Maher says.

Australia’s success in exporting scripted formats is mixed, though we were unusually early pioneers of the idea.

In the 1980s Grundys, now Fremantle Media, was a prolific seller of scripted soap opera remakes to Europe, including The Restless Years, Sons & Daughters and Prisoner.

More recently, Fremantle’s Wentworth has been reversioned in the Netherlands, Germany and now Belgium, and Maher confirms an Italian adaptation of Playmaker’s drama House Husbands is underway.

In the case of Birse’s The Code, the series was sold – in its current format – to the BBC in Britain and to DirectTV in the US. It has also been sold to Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland and Canada.

Maher hopes the relationships built empower Australian writers and push them out of their comfort zone.

“Empowering writers is the reason we did it, and the chance to access some of those amazingly talented writers, like Graham and Carol,” Maher says.

“It’s an opportunity to bring Australian writers to LA for a week where they can actually sit and work, bringing their ideas and to work with craftsmen like Graham and Carol, it’s just invigorating,” Maher says.”To then get home and have someone like that still there as a long-distance mentor, is very lucky.”

Birse says her experience working with Yost has already paid dividends.

“He will push me to think a bit more boldly and tell me to make some mistakes that I might not be prepared to make without feeling like somebody that experienced is helping hold the wheel a bit,” she says.”I feel like he’s going to give me a lot of shit a long the way,” she adds. “That’s good. He’ll hassle me, give me a hard time, but it’s of the best kind of quality.”

Michael Idato – SMH – August 11 2016

Observance review – low-budget horror that manages to stand its ground

Made on a measly $11,000, Joseph Sims-Dennett’s twitchy psychological thriller is poised on a knife edge between excellence and a cabin-fever B movie – 3 / 5 stars

For 11 days in January 2013, director Joseph Sims-Dennett holed up in an apartment in Rozelle, Sydney and spent $11,000 making his second feature film – roughly the same cost as the duck canapés and gougères served at a Hollywood premiere. Two years later he emerges with Observance: a twitchy, icky, genuinely unsettling psychological thriller about a private investigator who takes on what appears to be a simple, well-paying job.

Observance stars Lindsay Farris as the private investigator, Parker.

From a derelict apartment across the street, all Parker (Lindsay Farris) is employed to do is spy on a woman and report daily updates over the phone to his employer (voiced by Brendan Cowell). Things aren’t as they seem, as these things often go, and Parker – traumatised by the recent death of his young son – spirals into confusion, delusion and possibly madness.

Why is he paid to watch this woman (played by Stephanie King) and who is he working for? When a man on the street mumbles something about her being “a sacrifice” it feels like the film is about to get Wicker Man-style weird. Instead, Sims-Dennett gravitates towards things-that-go-bump-in-the-night style inclinations, largely swapping out plot-based mysteries for spooks part-and-parcel with scary sound effects and gnarly images.

Think body horror and surprise discoveries made during his surveillance, such as an ominous-looking silhouette captured in a photograph and a ghostly voice found on an audio file. Opening images of a beach and coastal rocks are clearly, in some way, important to the riddle of what exactly is happening and why.

The actors speak in American accents, making it clear which market Sims-Dennett was hedging his bets on. Even John Jarratt, a fair dinkum actor if ever there bloody well was one, talks like a yank, arriving to hand over documents to Parker in a car during the dead of night, cloak-and-dagger style.

The director’s gambit appears to have worked. Observance premiered last July at Canada’s Fantasia film festival, where it was greeted enthusiastically. Off the back of a review published in the Hollywood Reporter, Sims-Dennett was contacted by The Weinstein Company and flew to LA to meet representatives.

Observance continues a pattern of Australian films that from the get-go have found more success abroad than at home, including last year’s conversation starter The Suicide Theory (incredibly, the better part of a year later, it is still not available in its home country). The director doesn’t so much extrapolate bang for the buck as an atomic bomb for the buck, or whatever expression reiterates the point that his film sure as hell looks the part.

The atmosphere is largely comprised of small details: lots of close-ups and mid-shots, tied together with an unnerving sense of show and (don’t) tell, as if in most scenes something terrible is bobbing just off frame.

The cinematography of Rodrigo Vidal-Dawson (who was a camera operator on 1998’s Bride of Chucky) is textured with eerie colour-sapped grading. Scenes are tinted in unhealthy-looking shades of green and blue, as if the film is slowly making itself sick.

Sound editors rarely get a guernsey in film reviews, so take a bow David Gaylard and David Williams; their work here is terrific (observe how they mesh together the sounds of the sea with the sound of a train).

There are hints of Roman Polanski’s early films, particularly Repulsion, which was largely based inside an apartment, and Cul-De-Sac, which like Observance features surreal visions of a shoreline – also, when Parker sneaks into “Subject 1’s” apartment in a particularly tense moment, Christopher Nolan’s first feature film, Following.

Sims-Dennett eventually loosens the throat-choking tie grip established in the first half and the film takes on a throbbing intensity, not entirely in a good way. The director indulges in obscene, conventional horror images that feel like shorthand for shock rather than earned scares or suspense. Blood oozing out of a person’s mouth is an easy way to disturb viewers, but feels particularly gratuitous in a film that works studiously hard to get its tone and mood right and – for a while – avoids cheap tricks.

Some of the discipline that defines its early moments is lost when the crunch time comes to start coughing up revelations, or at least hinting at what on earth is happening across the street and in the protagonist’s mind. With a story that gravitates towards cryptic resolutions and an aesthetic that also grows increasingly hallucinogenic, you get a protagonist, a plot and a visual makeup that all feel in danger of spiralling out of control.

In this way Observance feels poised on a knife edge, on some occasions tinkering on the precipice of excellence and on others feeling at risk of slipping into a cabin fever B movie. Somehow Sims-Dennett and his peculiar thriller stand their ground.

Whatever you make of the film’s oblique thinking-person’s ending, and whether or not it cuts the mustard from a storytelling point-of-view, Observance is undoubtedly an impressive achievement.

Luke Buckmaster – The Guardian – Tuesday 5 April 2016

Watch the Observance trailer here:


NCIS: Los Angeles creator Shane Brennan commits $1m per year to Aussie talent

He is one of Australia’s most successful television exports, making his considerable fortune at the helm of the world’s most watched US drama franchises. Now, NCIS showrunner and NCIS: Los Angeles creator Shane Brennan is plunging some of his hard-earned money back into the local industry which gave him his start.

The internationally acclaimed, Bendigo-born screenwriter has committed $1 million a year of his own fortune to fund the development of Australian screenwriting talent, in an unprecedented philanthropic gesture which could help grow more of our own storytellers.

Brennan has teamed with his former script-producing buddy, Tim Pye (an in-demand writer and script consultant on TV favourites including House Husbands and Dr Blake’s Murder Mysteries), launching the fund later this month, in Sydney and Melbourne.

Pye and Brennan have begun canvassing leading production houses and independents for writing talent and scripts to develop and invest in; with a determination to give writers more power and control over their stories, from pre-production to broadcast.

Pye told TV Insider Brennan’s financial support would provide an extraordinary boost to local screenwriters (who often get pushed down the financial and artistic pecking order here — after actors, producers and directors).

“It’s really exciting to have this kind of philanthropy in the Australian marketplace … and shifts the power to writers which is how it happens in the US, where (screenwriters) have much more control.”

Brennan began his career in journalism, but switched to TV writing back in the 1980s; cutting his teeth on local TV productions including Special Squad, The Flying Doctors and All Together Now. It was while working on an Australian-based remake of Flipper that he came to the attention of US television studio bosses.

Brennan travelled back and forth to Hollywood, before jagging his biggest career break, in 2003, on the original NCIS program (now in season 15, starring Mark Harmon and broadcast to more than 200 countries). He is credited with creating the spin-off series, NCIS: Los Angeles (starring Chris O’Donnell, LL Cool J and Linda Hunt) where he has been at the wheel since its launch back in 2009.

Last month it was announced he would be stepping down as showrunner at NCIS: LA after eight seasons and penning 168 episodes.

Holly Byrnes, The Sunday Telegraph – August 7, 2016