Screen Oz boss launches broadside

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason has given a scathing assessment of many deals for film and TV projects that are submitted to his agency.

Speaking at Screen Producers Australia’s annual conference in Melbourne, Mason laid part of the blame on international sales agents and distributors, accusing some of being “greedy” on commissions, inflating expenses and trying to pass off gap financing as equity.

He was also critical of “rights-grabbing” by unnamed global broadcasters and he complained that Australian commercial free-to-air (FTA) networks are demanding new seasons of local shows to cost less but maintain the same standards.

When he took the helm three years ago, it was rare for the agency to be offered terrible deals. Now, he said, in some funding rounds “every second deal seems bad – for all of us.”

Noting that commercial FTA revenues are falling as overnight ratings decline, he told attendees that broadcasters “expect new seasons of series at the same quality for smaller budgets. We and others have traditionally been less invested in second series, if at all. Many of you have had to accept smaller fees and cuts to overheads as a result.”

He continued, “Producers are getting caught in the intransigent behaviour of some global broadcasters worried about new players and platforms. Some projects have nearly fallen over because of rights grabs, compromising Australia’s ability to capitalize on lucrative global opportunities. International sales on several of our TV dramas are phenomenal. Should producers try and bypass traditional media at times?”

He revealed that Screen Australia’s biggest ever return on production investment was generated by See-Saw Films’ Top of the Lake.

Some producers are being railroaded into asking Screen Australia to sweep aside its long-held terms, he said, adding, “A lot of money is flowing in from international but please don’t sell the farm to get it.”

Illustrating the pressure on the agency’s funding after government budget cuts, he estimates the number of applications for feature film and TV drama funding in the current fiscal year will be double that of eight years ago.

Given the rising demand for TV drama funding, he flagged a rethink of the agency’s approach, asking whether assessments should be made on the basis of business sustainability, intrinsically Australian stories or whether projects appeal to mass or niche audiences.

On a positive note Mason said attendees at Mipcom raved about Australian talent in all areas, adding, “The expectation is that one of our scripted shows will pop globally and there was surprise that they haven’t yet.”

Don Groves – 17-11-2016 – C21Media

TV industry ‘running out of famous Australians to make series about’

The TV industry is in danger of running out of famous Australians to make mini-series about, one of the country’s leading producers has warned. The comments came from Posie Graeme-Evans at the Screen Forever conference in Melbourne. Graeme-Evans, who created long-running Nine drama series McLeod’s daughters, made the comments as she delivered the Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture.

She told delegates to the Screen Producers Australia event that while local audiences are showing appetites for biopics, they have often failed to sell in the international market.

Recent biopics have included retellings of the lives of INXS front man Michael Hutchence, TV presenter Molly Meldrum, media mogul Kerry Packer, magazine pioneer Ita Buttrose and billionaire Gina Rinehart. Graeme Evans warned:

“It’s smart that the commercial free-to-airs and Foxtel and the ABC all want to show our audience high end minis about iconic Australians. They play brilliantly at home. Time and sales have suggested that not all do quite so well in the overseas market. Like the issue of running out of Daughters on McLeod’s… – though, we did find a few more along the way – I wonder if we’ve reached peak ‘Famous Australian’ yet?”

New biopics in the works in the coming months include Nine’s miniseries on businessman Alan Bond and criminal Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. Seven’s pipeline includes the life story of cricketer Shane Warne and singer/actor Olivia Newton-John. Graeme-Evans – a former director of drama for the Nine Network who is now working full-time as a novelist – warned that the networks would soon be reduced to the B-list. She said: “Bio-pics based on the B-list… are not quite the same.”

Reasons for the rise of these mini-series are not just because they rate reasonably well, said Graeme-Evans. The shows are also an efficient way for the networks to achieve their obligatory quota of hours of locally-made drama, and also win tax-payer funding via Screen Australia. She said: “Now, none of us is naïve in this room.

We know that commercial FTAs seek to maximise content points making minis – and high concept is often high success if it’s well made. Or not, if it’s not. Art and commerce do collide in the business of TV – sometimes in the worst way in the world.”

Later in the speech, she said that networks are now more likely to commission based on finances. She said: “Today I think it can be argued that accountants are the most important people in our production landscape.” However, she added that as costs of production come down – and secondary channels and streaming services make new commissions – new opportunities are opening up. She cited examples including ABC’s Bondi Hipsters TV series, Soul Mates, and streaming service Stan’s series, No Activity.

Later in the presentation, Graeme-Evans proposed the creation of a national on-the-job learning program to give future TV makers a chance to serve an apprenticeship.

She said: “Could the screen agencies consider coming together to create a pot of cash from which the Shadow program can be funded? Perhaps the unions and associations can contribute, too. Or, perish the thought, the networks.

“Further, perhaps this becomes the first part of what could develop, over time, into a joint strategic training plan for the whole industry – run over a number of years in areas of perceived need and with agreed aims. At the moment, we all do our own State-based programs and initiatives separately. And the ways things are set up are governed by each State Government’s expectations for its own part of the industry in Australia.

“Now, I can’t see individual State Agencies agreeing to trade away competitive edge where attracting shows to their state is concerned. But training? It might make sense.” She warned: “If we don’t, maybe soon there really will less than 10 writers in the country the networks approve to write their high end shows.”

And she also called for overseas-based streaming services such as Netflix to be taxed and the money used to make more local content. She said: “Could Netflix, or Amazon be tithed to create an alternative source of funds? Support the Australian industry by putting 10%, say, of acquisition budgets ie for the programs they do not originate, into a pot that can be used to commission Australian programming.

“Or, and I reckon we’d love this, what about 10% of the budget of the original drama it shows. Australia’s making money for the SVODs. Some of it should come back home. Yes, I know it’s a free range thought. But, supporting our local producers and our local FTA networks – who must make Australian content as a condition of their licences – out of, in effect, a different kind of license fee is worth thinking about.

“And imagine if we could snare 10% of the value of Game of Thrones, or House of Cards or… I can hear the shrieks from here. Impossible. Ridiculous. Can’t be done.

Robbery! Why? Unpop that box of lawyers, I say, have a go. You won’t get everything but you might get more cash into the industry that doesn’t come from government.”

by Tim Burrowes – mumbrella – November 16, 2016 10:26

Screen Australia announces more than $2.3 million for documentary projects

Screen Australia has unveiled nine distinctive documentaries that will share in $2.3 million in funding from Screen Australia’s Documentary Producer and Documentary Commissioned programs.

Five are feature-length documentaries; two are for the ABC, one is for SBS and one for Foxtel.

“These projects do not shy away from hard-hitting stories that show the realities of living in a complex world. These teams impressed us with their desire to tell compelling personal stories and explore important social issues of today,” said Liz Stevens, Senior Manager of Documentary at Screen Australia.

The successful Documentary Producer projects are:

 An intimate look at the life of iconic INXS singer/songwriter Michael Hutchence in Mystify. INXS music video director Richard Lowenstein will combine never-before-seen archival footage and interviews with those closest to Michael for this documentary from Ghost Pictures which has also received Film Victoria support.

 Social impact feature documentary Dying to Live follows Allan Turner’s campaign to make Australia an ‘opt out’ organ donation country – a journey borne out of the heartbreaking loss of his seven-year-old daughter, who became one of the nation’s youngest ever donors. This was one of the six titles selected to participate at Good Pitch 2016.

 The story of five-time Walkley Award-winning journalist Liz Jackson turning the camera on herself for the most challenging story of her career – about her Parkinson’s diagnosis – in A Sense of Self from Contact Films with Film Victoria support. This documentary will air Monday 21 November at 8.30pm on the ABC.

 Feature documentary Flight of the Rhino from Wildbear Entertainment – a uniquely Australian perspective on the plight of the endangered rhino, a victim of illegal poaching. It follows a team of conservationists who embark on a controversial mission to airlift a herd of breeding rhinos from South Africa to Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo in the hopes of protecting the species for future generations.

 Feature documentary From Under the Rubble, which takes a look at the devastating cost of war on the civilian victims of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Survivor Zeinat Samouni recounts the January 2007 attack on her Gaza neighbourhood that killed 48 members of her extended family; from Sensible Films.

 An untitled project from Oscar-winning director Eva Orner (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Hilla Medalia; more details to come.

The successful Documentary Commissioned projects are:

 Observational documentary series The Mosque from Southern Pictures for SBS, which will use unprecedented access to an Australian Mosque and the community it serves to explore firsthand what it means to be a Muslim in Australia today; with funding support from Screen Queensland.

 Foxtel commissioned four-part documentary series The Archibald from Mint Pictures, chronicling a year in the life of eight Australian artists as they choose subjects for a portrait that will ultimately compete in the nation’s most prestigious art prize, culminating in the announcement of the 2017 winner.

 A behind the scenes look at one of Australia’s most influential and successful indie rock bands in Right Here: The Go-Betweens from Essential Media and Entertainment. This documentary is the first recipient of Screen NSW and ABC TV Art’s Documentary Feature Fund, and will premiere at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival.

The Documentary Producer program is designed to give producers the foundational funding required to leverage their projects creatively and commercially, and must have a clear path to audience.

The Documentary Commissioned program is designed to support the production of a diverse range of quality projects for television broadcast that offer a compelling vision with a clear and enduring cultural value.

Go here to see further information about this round of successful projects:

www.screenaustralia.gov.au/funding-and-support/documentary/funding-
approvals/2016-2017-documentary-production

16 11 2016 – Media release

Is there a theatrical future for Australian movies?

Screen Australia’s Head of Business and Audience, Richard Harris, talks to IF about the year that’s been, what’s ahead and the risk of betting big on blockbusters alone.

How’s this year looking to you as compared to last year?

Last year was pretty remarkable. One of the problems I have, and particularly after a big year like last year, is the kind of short-term-ism of trying to guess how things are performing. One of the things you get with a big year like last year or a really poor year the year before is [people say], everything’s terrible or everything’s great. We [Screen Australia] are looking at reporting things on a longer term basis. Last year, for example, we got great results that came through from The Water Diviner but it didn’t actually recognize that The Water Diviner had released over two years. It released after Boxing Day. This year the ultimate results for the year won’t necessarily be as good as they would be because, you know, they had actually previously released Oddball last year when it was actually originally scheduled for this year. And then Red Dog [True Blue] is going to release at Christmas and play over January. So we’re looking at trying to capture things in a three-year cycle as opposed to a single-year cycle. I think this is a broader concern that we have: [that] this kind of spike and ditch [mentality] doesn’t necessarily reflect the way things are.

Last year was always going to be hard to top.

Last year was actually a funny year because we had a record year but in June that year we’d actually written in our distribution paper that this is the most challenging time ever for Australian independent films. And then suddenly we had this record year. So it was a bit strange (laughs). Here we are claiming it’s all going to hell and high water, and then we turn around and a whole bunch of films kick a bunch of goals – which is great. But even though the year was great, the underlying challenges in distribution remain. And they particularly remain for independent films. What we do know just from that paper and from the research we did, is that there are slightly more screens than there were five years ago. The number of screens increased but actually the number of films taking up the majority of screens has reduced. Last year we had films like Mad Max and Dressmaker and Last Cab to Darwin, all of which played on more than 100 hundred screens, which is fantastic; the distributors felt they could find an audience and they all played well. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that most of our films are playing in these smaller zones and there’s more competition in that zone. More films, less screens. More and more I think you’re going to see films going direct to either an iTunes release or perhaps to a VOD release. Stan is very interested in finding films that may not have a theatrical home but actually create a good thing for their brand in terms of being a disruptive sort of film.

Speaking of small films that might be disruptive and provoke social media chatter, a film like Down Under perhaps could have been a perfect film for that platform.

I think that’s exactly the sort of thing [we should do]. Hopefully smart distributors will go: rather than spending some money on P&A and having a film that goes out to not many – we hardly even recoup that P&A – maybe we should just do a direct sale to Stan and allow them to have a disruptive film that builds the brand. [Down Under] Is a good film but not a theatrical film. There seems to be three broad areas that are working for films in cinemas at the moment. Theatrical has a challenge in that it’s coalescing into about three areas: one is kids – people are still taking their kids to see Pixar films, Secret Life of Pets – or they’re going to blockbusters.

Although this year has been weaker than last year because a few of them have come out and absolutely tanked, but nevertheless that’s a theatrical space that people are still going to watch films that they feel they have to watch on the big screen. Then there’s the older-skewing and female-skewing films. So if you look at the Australian films that worked last year, you look at Dressmaker, that worked in the older-skewing, Last Cab worked in the older-skewing, Mad Max worked in the blockbuster space, and the kids space was Oddball, Paper Planes and Blinky Bill. And Water Diviner also played well in the older skewing space. All of those films really landed where theatrical audiences are going now.

Given how many sequels have underperformed this winter, is there any trepidation about Red Dog: True Blue, which opens on Boxing Day, especially as it’s a few years since the original?

I think this is different. And [that’s] something that theatrical exhibitors have said [to me]. I first started in this job eighteen months ago and I was meeting with a few exhibitors, and having come off such a poor year, I was trying to work out: have they given up on Australian films or are they still thinking that they play? And actually, they all felt Australians responded to films when they worked. Their view was [that] when Australian films work they actually over-index. I think Red Dog has such a broad family appeal: it plays firstly into the space of what is a classic space that theatrical audiences are still going to. It’s a film that plays young but can play across to families. I think the response so far to the film has been that this film can really appeal. And it is a bit of a prequel, so I think that also works for it.

Stan are looking to get into the longer-form space, as you mentioned before. Does Screen Australia have any sense of whether the streaming platforms are putting any pressure on theatrical?

I certainly don’t have any data. I think they’re keen to find ways that they can actually get films earlier and have films that might do a small screening and then be allowed to have a shorter window and get onto Stan. What that release is allowed to look like is a continuing conversation with exhibition and exhibition is naturally and quite justifiably concerned about the integrity of those windows. It’s between 90-120 days.

It was 120 but there’s been a bit of slippage on that. 90 days generally. So Stan I’m sure would be keen for a film to have a small release or a couple of marquee screenings and then head straight into the platform. There have been some films that have done those sorts of releases but they’ve tended to go straight to transactional.

How happy the exhibitors are with the idea is another question.

Outside of streaming platforms themselves nabbing theatrical films, do you think those platforms are putting more pressure directly on cinema-going because people are staying home watching on their laptops?

I don’t think so. I think the challenge on exhibition has been there for some time. The fracturing of all of those platforms is an ongoing thing. It’s a challenge for everyone.

Foxtel is challenged by streaming as is the free to air [networks]. Everyone’s place in the ecosystem has been challenged and the general sense I’m getting is that the arrival of the streaming platforms has actually increased overall viewing rather than cannibalizing everyone [else]. Having said that, I think there are absolute challenges, particularly for free to air. I think there are bigger challenges to linear watching than there is to the exhibition space, actually. What’s happening to the exhibition space is that there’s going to be continuing pressure on really making those small films work, and that’s the challenge. If I was in theatrical, I’d be concerned that if your diversity of offering is reducing, and you’re actually putting your bets on those three areas, then your capacity to keep getting audiences is at risk. We’re seeing it a little bit this year when the blockbusters don’t work. What other films do you have to actually get people in to your cinemas? But I don’t think there’s anything that says that Stan turning up has meant less people going to your cinema. Overall there are a series of thing happening in the home which Stan and Netflix have just added to. To leave the house, to pay money for babysitting, for parking – all of that now means that I need to make a conscious decision about whether I’m going to see something on the big screen or stay at home and watch something else. That’s the challenge that exhibitors face, and why they’re putting these bigger bets on these things that you must go out and see on the big screen.

By Harry Windsor INSIDEFILM [Mon 14/11/2016]

10 Ways For Emerging or Foreign Talent To Score With Agents

Los Cabos Film Investor Summit debates the ins and outs of attracting Hollywood talent or sales agents

The biggest panel at the Los Cabos Film Investor Summit was also the most practical. Execs at two Hollywood agencies – Paradigm’s Nick LoPiccolo and United Talent Agency’s Bec Smith – four sales agents – Voltage Pictures; Nicolas Chartier, FilmNation’s Karen Lunder, Alex Walton at Bloom and Sierra-Affinity’s Jonathan Kier – debated how a relatively unknown director, or their producer, can grab their attention, and persuade them to take a chance on them. The repartee was sometimes jocular. That said, the panelists were talking about a subject very dear to them. Of LoPiccolo’s 63 clients, 39 are from international, he said. As the panel’s moderator, AG Capital’s Laura Walker, observed, the number of stars which sales agents can sell overseas markets on, is finite. And the task of accessing them has grown. The challenge of breaking through is not just one these days for the talent itself. Selling relatively unknown talent to the U.S. domestic or international markets has become one of the lifebloods of the independent sector. Here are ten tips aired in a lively session:

1.The Screenplay And Director’s Vision

If you’re unknown, it will come down to your screenplay. “It comes down to the director and the script. If the script is there and you believe in it and the director’s vision for it, that’s all you need,” said Kier. He added: “I think you have to assume that almost always you won’t have cast for those smaller films. It has to be the script.” Lunder, FilmNation EVP, production, concurred, citing “Room.” “What we drill down on is the script. The script and the filmmakers. It’s about storytelling and that is where you begin. Lenny had made films nothing like ‘Room.’ Brie Larson had been in ‘Short Term 12.’ and was a buzzy actor in Hollywood but no where else. It was only because it was such wonderful execution that people started to notice.”

2. For God’s Sake, Be Brief If You’re Emailing An Agent

When pitching an agent, Chartier instanced a best practice email. “Just say: ‘Dear Nicolas, I’m a filmmaker. This is my trailer and the link to my movie.’ Don’t tell me the movie is great and you’ll want to see it.”

3. Get Your Foreign Language Movie To A Bankable Actor

Nathalie Portman was attracted to “Jackie” after seeing Larrain’s “The Club,” a searing putdown of the Catholic Church, yes, but a movie whose half-dozen lead characters are portrayed with a compelling psychological complexity. When signing foreign directors, LoPiccolo observed: “For agents, you need to look for filmmakers that have a voice, a smart take on material, that can execute first in their own language and then can translate to the point that you can show a movie in a foreign language to an actor who has some bankability and they are gonna say: ‘I need to work on this film,’ – which is the director’s next title. That remark brought general agreement at the Winston Baker organised Summit.

4. Be Original

It’s a necessity these days, not a virtue. A director’s vision needs to be “singular, interesting, and unique” so that it will “stand stand out in a marketplace flooded with a lot of ordinary or mediocre films,” said Smith, a literary agent at UTA.

5. Make A Short

“When we developed ‘Animal Kingdom,’ people said: ‘There are so many crime dramas already and what’s special about this one?’ Smith remembered. “Even though David Michod is smart and articulate, it wasn’t landing. In the end, the best selling tool he came up with was to make a short. It was not a piece of the film, it wasn’t a scene, it was a standalone short film that had characters and a similar world and look and feel. That short was when people said: ‘Oh, I get it.’”

6.Adapt A Property Which Is Already Out There

Said Bloom’s Walton: “The marketplace is big and tastes vary, so choosing ideas strong enough to have the ability to translate is crucial. Basing your film on an established IP gives you a bit more stability.”

7. Attract Talent That Endorses Your Vision

“It can help to have producers who have a strong established track record attached to your film. It’s a sign to the marketplace you are an exciting filmmaker,” said UTA’s Smith. She added: “Obviously attaching actors that are meaningful and well known is great, but even attracting a high-end director of photography or production designer or editor can indicate that this is a filmmaker who needs to be taken seriously.

8. Use Festivals

“All the people on this panel don’t have weeks and weeks to go to festivals and they really go to Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, Berlin, and that’s where you get feedback from people like this,” said Lunder. That said – and it’s a sea change in Hollywood which impresses international filmmaking communities – it’s extraordinary how connected some of Hollywood’s talent agents are becoming internationally. And their ability of some of them to keep a vast range of events on their radar. Paradigm signed up Isaac Ezban, the singular Mexican sci-fi director, off Los Cabos. He is now directing “Mr Robot’s” Martin Wallstrom and “Vice Principals’” Georgia King in “Parallel.”

9. What Not To Do?

Choose the wrong American movie, said Chartier. “If your first movie in America is a $60 million-$70 million dollar movie that is bad, you go back to France.”

10. Get Some Friends

Many passed on “Dallas Buyers Club.” Chartier financed it, but he didn’t want to take credit for it, he said. “I passed three times. I did it for a friend, producer Cassien Elwes who called me and asked me for help, not for the material. When I was a janitor, he got me my first job as a writer. 20 years later, I gave him $3 million. But it wasn’t because of the material. I’m not that smart. Friends: That’s a great way to make films,” Chartier concluded, maybe only half-joking.

John Hopewell – Variety – November 11, 2016

Google co-funds four Oz web projects

Screen Australia and Google are funding four online projects – two half-hour comedies, a 45-minute documentary and an animated series.

The projects will share A$725,000 (US$550,000) in funding from the third edition of the Screen Australia/Google initiative Skip Ahead, which aims to support the next generation of Australian creatives by enabling the recipients to make longer and more ambitious narrative content.

The money is intended to fully finance each project but producers are free to raise additional funds. The 10 projects supported in the past two years have collectively clocked more than 5.5 million YouTube views and helped creators such as Aunty Donna and Mighty Car Mods to reach bigger audiences and build their brands.

Skip Ahead backs narrative-driven films that can either be a one-off work, a pilot for a series or proof-of-concept for a feature, on the proviso that each is a standalone piece of entertainment.

Adelaide brothers Danny and Michael Philippou – known as Racka Racka, whose Marvel VS DC video last year racked up more than 37 million views on YouTube – will deliver RackaRacka: Live (working title), a live-stream vlog that follows the wannabe filmmakers on a rampage through a haunted abandoned theatre. Triptych Pictures (The Babadook) will produce.

The Superwog Show (working title) will see brothers Theo and Nathan Saidden, aka Superwog, tell the story of Superwog and his best mate as they navigate adult life and Superwog’s dysfunctional family. The show will be produced by Princess Pictures (Summer Heights High, Jonah from Tonga, It’s a Date) and Century Entertainment.

In Mutant Menu, science educator and communicator Vanessa Hill will explore how genetic manipulation can create superheroes on YouTube channel BrainCraft, produced by Serendipity Productions’ Margie Bryant (Who Do You Think You Are?).

Sisters Charli and Ashlee Kelly, who star in popular YouTube kids-only baking show Charli’s Crafty Kitchen, will make the animated series Crafty Kingdom, short narratives totalling 30 minutes, in partnership with Brisbane animation studio Like A Photon.

Screen Australia investment manager Mike Cowap said: “These successful creators have great instincts for filmmaking and engaging with large audiences. They have earned this opportunity to make longer, more challenging narrative work, and we’re excited to see the result. We’re sure their audiences are going to love it.”

Kristen Bowen, head of top creators at YouTube Asia Pacific, added: “We’ve been consistently impressed by the projects from the talented alumni of Skip Ahead and we’re sure that this year’s crop of creators will continue to make projects that delight and inspire.”

Don Groves – 11-11-2016 – C21Media

ADG launches shadow directing initiative for female directors in TV drama

The Australian Directors’ Guild (ADG) is offering up shadow directing opportunities for female directors on Australian TV dramas.

Thanks to funding given to the organisation through Screen Australia’s Gender Matters: Brilliant Careers initiative, up to six female directors over the next year will have the opportunity to direct an episode of a show while being ‘shadowed’ by an experienced TV drama director.

The first two shows to participate will be Playmaker Media’s Love Child and Seven Productions’ Home and Away in early 2017.

ADG CEO Kingston Anderson said this was the first time a scheme of this type – directly targeting female television directors – had been developed.

“It will provide real job opportunities for experienced female directors to enter the television industry,” he said.

Screen Australia’s head of production Sally Caplan said it was thrilling to see the ADG already putting their Gender Matters: Brilliant Career funding to work to offer high-profile opportunities to the next generation of female directors.

“We congratulate the ADG and all the partner production companies involved in shaping this program, and encourage those applying for the Shadow Directing roles to give it their all.”

Other shadow directing opportunities with participating production companies and shows will be announced in 2017.

To be eligible, potential applicants need to:

• Have directed TWO short drama films that have been selected for public screening

or ONE feature or short drama film that has screened at Sundance, Berlin, Venice, Cannes, Clermont-Ferrand, Busan, Rotterdam, SXSW or Telluride.

• Have completed a directors’ attachment on a feature film or TV drama show or have significant experience in the film or television industry in a related field, for instance as a First AD or editor or have significant experience as a director in other media such as documentary or commercial content.

Applications close December 16. For more information and an application form, email development@adg.org.au or call (02) 9555 7045.

Media Release – Thursday 10 November 2016

Baz Luhrmann marks Romeo + Juliet 20th anniversary with behind-the-scenes secrets

The director’s been delving into the film’s ‘unpublished archives’ on Instagram.

Even 20 years after its release, Romeo + Juliet maintains its magnetic pull.

Not only did the film cement the matinee bankability of boy wonder Leonardo DiCaprio; create a fresh appreciation for The Bard’s stodgy words; and leave a generation cooing to Des’ree’s tearjerkin’ Kissing You – but schoolkids forever will be indebted to director Baz Luhrmann for giving their lazy English teachers a more colourful classroom-viewing alternative to those black-and-white oldies with Laurence Olivier. Shakespeare’s famous play is updated to the hip modern suburb of Verona still retaining its original dialogue.

Now, Luhrmann himself has taken to Instagram to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary – it was released in the US on November 1, 1996 and on Boxing Day in Australia – by sharing a behind-the-scenes treasure trove of pictures, trivia and gossip from the film’s “unpublished archives”.

“Many doubted the preposterous ambition of setting Shakespeare’s beloved tragic romance in a heightened creative world, with a then relatively unknown Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. But we did make it, overcoming incredible odds shooting entirely in Mexico,” Luhrmann wrote in a post announcing the week-long nostalgia trip.

Chief among the tidbits are tributes to the dedication of his fresh-faced star, who was still a year removed from the widespread LeoMania (and ‘Pussy Posse’ antics) that would greet his role in James Cameron’s mega-blockbuster Titanic.

“When I was trying to get the film made, Leonardo agreed for the price of two plane tickets to come with his wonderful father George DiCaprio to explore the idea in workshop form all the way down in Australia,” Luhrmann recalls, describing the young star as “a great artist and collaborator”.

The film, which came with a $14.5 million budget undertaking for Luhrmann, was his biggest at the time; following on from the ridiculous worldwide success of the lil’ indie Strictly Ballroom. But it was beset by on-set catastrophes, including cast members nearly being run over in the street and tropical hurricanes blowing away complete sets, the director revealed.

He also walked through the inspiration and logistical difficulties behind some of the film’s most memorable shots, like the scene where the lovers first catch a glimpse of each other through the hazy glow of a fish tank – apparently captured after a post-work jaunt at a Miami nightclub (“I was younger then,” writes Luhrmann).

“When I came out of the bathroom to wash my hands, I looked up and saw a woman combing her hair with a brush through a fish-tank. It was a brilliant device to get guys and girls to connect through the sitting rooms, while protecting each room’s privacy. Obviously you can see where this moment lead…” Luhrmann wrote.

He also shared a selection of images of the cast at work (is that a young David Blaine on set?) and the collage boards – largely created by his artistic director and partner Catherine Martin, who earned her first Oscar nomination for the film (she lost out that year to The English Patient’s Stuart Craig, before taking out the prize for Moulin Rouge! in 2001) – that defined the film’s distinct visual style.

Besides film nerds and ’90s kids, Luhrmann’s memory trip has earned the attention of his “good friend” Humberto Leon of fashion label Opening Ceremony, who announced an impromptu exhibition of the film’s artifacts – including DiCaprio’s iconic Hawaiian button-up, “sourced from the backstreets of Sydney”, Luhrmann wrote – at their flagship store in New York.

See Baz Luhrmann’s behind-the-scenes Instagram treasure trove of pictures, trivia and gossip here:

www.instagram.com/bazluhrmann

Rob Moran – SMH – November 7 2016

YouTube Channel Film Riot Picks Up Steam for Wannabe Filmmakers

What do you get when you combine the massive distribution platform of YouTube with the DIY digital revolution that makes filmmaking tools accessible to the masses?

Meet Film Riot, the channel about filmmaking techniques that has garnered almost a million subscribers while producing its own content. And most recently, that content was pretty frightening.

Building an Audience

Founder Ryan Connolly designed Film Riot as the go-to destination for wannabe filmmakers, complete with tutorials, gear lists, and post-production tips. “All I ever wanted to do for as long as I could remember was make films,” says Connolly. “But I had no resources despite having gone to film school. So I figured, if I were to build my own audience and my own stage, I could make films the way I wanted.”

Halloween Theme

This month, Connolly and his team debut the six-minute short film “Ghost House” — part of the channel’s Halloween-themed series. “I’m a big fan of the horror genre,” Connolly says. “I love its ability to so firmly grip the audience. It was a great opportunity to take a few typical horror tropes and put them in a different light.”

No Red Tape

When Film Riot creates a show, it doesn’t go through the bureaucracy that’s typical of TV production. “With TV or any high-level project, you have multiple levels of opinion to sift through and keep happy,” explains Connolly. “In certain ways, we are trying to create a new Hollywood, with a more economical and personal approach to storytelling.”

TV and Not TV

Because Film Riot creates all of its product and distributes it directly to audiences, “it’s sort of like a giant living room, and everyone is invited for movie night,” Connolly says. Yet during production days, the similarities to a traditional physical production are more apparent. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Connolly says.

Choice of Gear

On past shows, Connolly has shot with the Canon C500, the Canon C100 Mark II, and the RED Epic. For “Ghost House,” he chose the Alexa Mini. “It has a gorgeous, milky, film-like image,” he says, “largely due to its dynamic range.” Plus, it can be stripped down to make it more mobile. Connolly paired the camera with Kowa Anamorphic lenses. “Subconsciously,” he says, “we relate the look of an anamorphic image to big Hollywood films, [many of which] were shot on them. It isn’t how we naturally see the world around us — it’s distorted, imperfect — and for me this helps create the sense of another world.”

Valentina I. Valentini – Variety – November 4, 2016

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:

www.forbes.com/sites/dongroves/2016/10/24/will-mel-gibson-help-rescue-
australian-cinema-from-having-a-downer-year/#21dbd34e4afd