UK: Sherlock, Downton Abbey: what the US can learn from our TV exports

As Benedict Cumberbatch’s detective scoops seven Emmys, what is the secret of successful UK drama?

Last week, BBC1’s Sherlock took home no fewer than seven Emmys – a higher total than Game of Thrones or even Breaking Bad, which was hailed as the big winner on the night. So while British TV critics regularly – and often justifiably – lament that the best drama is made in America, UK series are now enjoying unprecedented success in the US.

Downton Abbey led the way, scooping 11 Emmys for its first three series on US public service broadcaster PBS, which also co-produces Sherlock and Call the Midwife.

Cable channel BBC America provides a more niche showcase for the best of British drama, airing shows including Doctor Who, Broadchurch and Luther. Other US cable channels (such as Sundance, which shares The Honourable Woman with BBC2) are looking more and more to UK drama for co-productions.

So do the Americans – after years of adulation the other way – now have something to learn from us? “Everybody’s saying it’s now the golden age of drama on television – but I also think it’s the global age of drama on television,” says Beth Hoppe, chief programming executive at PBS. “Borders don’t matter when it’s fantastic acting, writing and storytelling – that’s what’s resonating with Emmy voters. I was thrilled that the accents [in Sherlock] didn’t get in the way.”

Indeed for Hoppe, Britain’s multi-skilled actors – such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, Sherlock’s two Emmy-winners in the acting categories – are one of our key selling points. “It’s common for British actors like Derek Jacobi, who’s in [ITV sitcom and PBS import] Vicious, to be on stage, or to be on screen, or to be on the small screen,” she says. “So there’s that great tradition of acting, rather than being a movie star.” Hoppe points to Matthew McConaughey, Emmy-nominated last week for HBO’s True Detective, who is among a growing number of US film actors now making the switch to TV.

Britain’s off-screen talent is increasingly recognised across the Atlantic too, with Steven Moffat the other big Emmy winner as co-creator of Sherlock. “There’s an individuality to the way that we do it,” says Ben Stephenson, the BBC’s head of drama commissioning. “If you look at all the shows really that have been successful in the US – whether it’s Julian Fellowes with Downton Abbey, or Heidi Thomas with Call the Midwife, or Steven and Mark Gatiss for Sherlock – they are all driven, in the main, by one writer.”

Though the US terrestrial networks still employ big writers’ rooms, to churn out annual runs of 22 episodes, award-winning cable shows now often rely on the creative vision of a single writer (such as Vince Gilligan for Breaking Bad, and Matt Weiner for Mad Men). Industrial-scale US network shows also don’t necessarily punch through in the way that a short-run British drama can. While Sherlock cleaned up, there was no Emmy love this year for CBS’s Elementary, which tells similar modern-day Holmes mysteries, and has already racked up 48 episodes. “Elementary is a good show, but it’s week-in-week-out, story-of-the-week – it’s there to do a job and it does it really, really well,” says Stephenson. “Sherlock is there to be a special event, it’s there to be like a big movie that comes out every so often, and is explosive when it does – they’re very different beasts.”

Online services, such as Netflix and Amazon, are also these days helping UK series – such as Ripper Street and The Fall – to find their niche across the Atlantic. “I think there’s something about the specificity of stories, and of place, that audiences across the world are really responding to,” says Stephenson. “So just as we in the UK are responding really well to Scandinavian stories, which we wouldn’t have done 10 years ago, even very parochial British stories are engaging American audiences. Happy Valley has just been sold to Netflix for a lot of money.”

The biggest British drama in the US is Downton Abbey, another PBS co-production. In the 2013-14 season, Downton was – with 13 million viewers plus – the 18th highest rated show in the US. For the past three years, it has been the first UK series ever to be shortlisted not in the Emmys’ miniseries category, but up against America’s big guns – including Breaking Bad – for outstanding drama series.

Gareth Neame, Downton’s executive producer, says that TV know-how now travels both ways across the Atlantic. “I think what they have learnt from us is that the old model – that you have to pilot everything, then you order 13 episodes, and another nine if it works, and everything being very prescribed – is not the answer,” says Neame. “But equally we have a lot to learn – the ambition in the writing, the mechanisation of television so that shows can be made quickly and efficiently, the way they can be monetised.”

There’s certainly plenty of money flowing: when PBS co-produces a series with the BBC or ITV, it typically provides between 10% and 40% of the budget (which can be well over £1m an hour). And the UK’s new high-end TV drama tax credit has attracted a lot of US producers to actually shoot here: BFI figures show that, in its first year of operation, the tax credit attracted £225m of inward investment.

PBS’s Hoppe believes that the transatlantic momentum will continue – she’s already  looking forward to next year’s Emmys. “I’ve been very frustrated that Call the Midwife hasn’t received Emmy nominations – I think it’s because it appeals so female. I’m not sure if the guys who are Emmy voters are watching.” Then she chuckles: “I’m going to personally put a DVD under the door of every man in Hollywood, and try to get some votes for that baby.” Watch out, HBO: as if Sherlock Holmes and the Earl of Grantham weren’t enough, now the midwives of Poplar are coming to get you.

Neil Midgley – Monday 1 September 2014 – The Guardian

Box-Office Crash: What Caused Hollywood’s Miserable Summer?

It’s official: North American summer revenue barely cracks $4 billion, an eight-
year low and down 15 percent from 2013

To understand the upside-down summer at the box office, consider that Sony’s 22 Jump Street, made for about $50 million, ended up grossing nearly as much in North America as The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the studio’s $200 million-plus tentpole that represents the type of movie on which Hollywood long has relied to drive summer slates. 22 Jump Street earned $193.3 million domestically, versus $202.8 million for the Spider-Man sequel (Neighbors, another R-rated comedy, also prospered).

All the usual rules were tossed out as comedies, female-fueled films and Guardians of the Galaxy, the season’s top-grossing title despite being released in the dog days of August, were left to make up for underperforming franchise pics. “Ultimately, it comes down to content, and the content just wasn’t as good as it has been in previous years,” says entertainment analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners. Adds one studio executive, “many of the tentpoles that underperformed were more of the same and way too long. People ate up Guardians because it was a departure from the norm.”

Domestic revenue from May 2 through Labor Day came in at an estimated $4.05 billion, an eight-year low and, when accounting for inflation, a 17-year low.

Moreover, revenue was down 15 percent from last summer’s record $4.75 billion, while attendance tumbled more than 5 percent. Not one film has crossed $300 million domestically for the first time since 2001, though Guardians of the Galaxy will ultimately reach that mark (its domestic cume is just north of $280 million).

If there’s any solace, it’s that the international marketplace remains strong, although the World Cup hurt box office returns in key soccer markets. Nor were there major debacles akin to summer 2013 disasters The Lone Ranger and After Earth. Still, Sony appears to have put its Amazing Spider-Man franchise on ice after ASM2 topped out at $708.3 million, which included only $202.9 million domestic.

Paramount’s Transformers: Age of Extinction also hit a franchise low in the U.S., but it has amassed north of $1.07 billion globally after becoming the top film of all time in China with $331 million. “There is no question the movie business is cyclical,” says Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore. Age of Extinction’s lengthy running time of 165 minutes no doubt hurt it in the U.S. (the previous installments were shorter).

Warner Bros., usually the dominant summer player, saw its revenue drop a massive 39.5 percent from 2013 as of Aug. 1. Godzilla, the studio’s top earner, grossed $507.9 million globally, while Tom Cruise’s big-budget Edge of Tomorrow finished with $364 million. Disappointments included Adam Sandler’s Blended and Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys. “Our summer did not live up to our expectations,” says Warners distribution chief Dan Fellman, “though Tammy will be profitable. We’ll also have a very strong fourth quarter.”

Disney, without a summer animated film for the first time in a decade, did great with Maleficent and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

Fox, on a winning streak, will win the market-share honor thanks to X-Men: Days of Future Past ($745.4 million), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ($611.5 million) and The Fault in Our Stars ($286.5 million), among other titles. “All of our movies were fresh and well-received. That’s ultimately what matters,” said Fox domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson. “Give the people more of what they want.”

Females powered both Fault and Maleficent as well as Universal’s Lucy, suggesting an underserved demo. Maleficent, a boon for star Angelina Jolie, grossed $748.7 million worldwide, the No. 2 title of the summer after Age of Extinction.

If there’s a common refrain on Wall Street and in Hollywood as the season ends, it’s that next summer will restore balance with Avengers: Age of Ultron, Fast & Furious 7, Pixar’s Inside Out and Universal’s Jurassic World. But with so many entertainment options now vying for eyeballs, the fear is that summer 2014 is the start of a new reality. “You have to answer two critical questions: Do I have to see it now? And do I have to see it on the big screen?” says Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn. “If the answer is ‘no’ to either, you are in trouble.”

01/09/2014 by Pamela McClintock – THR

TV writers lift the lid on the art of funny business

JUSTIN Kennedy takes it as a compliment that most viewers don’t realise The Project has a team of writers. Actors and presenters are the face of the machine, deservedly taking credit for their performance. But who put the words in their mouths? Who dreamt up the storyline, wove the intricate characters and moulded the rapid-fire succession of jokes that keep us in stitches?

In Australia, there are jobbing writers, who bounce from project to project, content creators, team players and solo sailors. We spoke to some of the smarties behind the scenes who bring our favourite shows to life.

At The Project, Channel 10’s nightly news and chat show, former stand-up Kennedy and his colleagues script witty one-liners and clever segues to prompt the panellists.

“It’s giving them options, pre-loaded,” Kennedy says. “It’s basically just a fallback.

“We kind of juggle different elements in the show. The first one is we choose the news chats, the headlines that will turn into a funny chat. Something lighthearted generally. We’ll have a couple of serious bits, then the news item that breaks off into a 30-second conversation.

Kennedy and three other writers bounce ideas off each other, which is a luxury he didn’t have in a previous, and much less glamorous, job.

“I worked on (ABC program) Letters and Numbers as a writer, as the only writer,” he says. “That’s another show where people go, ‘There’s a writer for that?’

“Basically all I had to do was write a lot of letter and number metaphor intros. It was a bit lonely, sitting in this little room in Elsternwick going slowly at writing out 300 or more wordplay-based intros each week.”

Josh Thomas says he’s had input from script producer Liz Doran and co-star Thomas Comedian Josh Thomas’ brief stint with Rove was distinctly unrewarding. “I did like, a week of interning on Rove,” he says. “There was this segment, ‘What I’ve Learned this Week’, where they’d all say a joke. You’d have to write like 20 of those. Then I worked on Rove’s monologue. You get sent the topics, and write some jokes, and then he turns them into his monologue. I never got in. Or, I got, like, one joke in that, and another in the end segment in about six weeks.”

But far from finding it demoralising, Thomas counts his time with Rove as a valuable experience. “I got a few weeks in and realised it’s just not what I do. I had a go. They didn’t renew my contract. I probably wouldn’t have renewed my contract either. Sometimes that’s a good lesson.”

These days, Thomas is in the enviable position of creating his own material from scratch. After years spent pitching the concept for ABC2’s Please Like Me, he wrote the show almost single-handedly. Having nursed the show from conception to realisation, it was an extremely personal project.

Thomas admits that writing the first season of six episodes was exhausting, and the second time around, he has had to accept more help from his closest creative confidants, script producer Liz Doran and friend and co-star Thomas Ward. “So we sort of plot the show together and then I go off and write it,” he says. “We’re being so quick this time, it’s like three weeks an episode (to write). If I don’t get it done, Liz and Tom and I divide it up.

When Thomas writes for female characters, he draws on advice from Doran, but women are still significantly under-represented as writers.

Robyn Butler, who has dabbled on Micallef Tonight and the Eric Bana Sketch Show, says the situation is slowly changing. “But when I started out, I’ve often been the only woman in the room and had to tell the others that I’m not the one who makes the tea,” she says. “It’s just a more male pursuit, comedy.

“Interestingly, Kath and Kim and The Librarians have women front and centre. They’re written by women who put women in the frame. It’s not that men are being mean. It’s just not their reality, it’s not their world.”

Butler mainly works with one bloke, her husband and writing partner Wayne Hope.

Most recently they’ve enjoyed success with Upper Middle Bogan on the ABC. “We started out writing everything together,” she says. “Less so in the last two years, as our slate has been so full. The story is the hardest part for me. I call the dialogue the dessert. That’s the easy part for me personally. The story is the part where I feel a bit sick.

“If I don’t know what happens next, I’ll go to Wayne and we’ll go for a walk around the block. Our poor dogs, they hate it when we’re writing, they get walked so much.”

Butler reckons Hope is the “ideas man”, which he says is “lovely, but not true”.

“I like the broad strokes, I like kicking that around. Conceptual stuff, underlying motivations for storylines and people,” he says. “Then I quite like moving that into story arcs and story beats. But that’s where Robyn’s skill comes into it. Her ability to shape scenes, so that every scene has its merits, every scene is charged, is her absolute skill. And then she sprinkles it with brilliant dialogue.”

“It’s like, ‘Guess what? My job is to make stuff up’. I’m a writer. It’s the difference between someone sitting down and painting a landscape they can see, and painting a Jackson Pollock out of their head.”

Anna Brain – Herald Sun – August 08, 2014

More Here:

Piracy crackdown misses the real crime

Hollywood demands government help so it can keep ripping us off.

Advice from Google and others that piracy is primarily a “pricing and availability” problem has fallen on deaf ears, the government would rather listen to the likes of The leaked Online Copyright Infringement discussion paper, obtained last Friday by news website Crikey, is pretty much what we expected from Australia’s federal government. The opening statement pays lip service to ensuring that “content is accessed easily and at a reasonable price”. The rest is dedicated to outlining harsher penalties and technical countermeasures which are doomed to fail.

It would be great to see Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull jump to the defence of Australian consumers – whom they supposedly represent – as quickly as they jump to the defence of the powerful copyright lobby group. Advice from Google and others that piracy is primarily a “pricing and availability” issue has fallen on deaf ears, the government would rather listen to the likes of Village Roadshow.

The Online Copyright Infringement discussion paper feels like the work of a government which wants to be seen to be acting, rather than a government which actually wants to address the underlying problem. Where’s the discussion paper considering the impact of this year’s Foxtel Game of Thrones deal on consumer choice, or what might happen if Murdoch gains control over both HBO and Foxtel?

While we’re at it, where’s the discussion paper considering the role of parallel import laws in the digital age and the impact of geoblocking on consumer price gouging when it comes to entertainment? Last year’s IT pricing enquiry had a lot to say about Microsoft and Adobe but very little to say about Hollywood.

Just like region-coding on discs, geoblocking exists so movie studios can get away with offering Australians less and charging us more simply because we’re Australian. Village Roadshow.

Rather than addressing this issue, it seems the government is happy to support a ban on circumventing “technological measures” – which might include geoblocking – as part of the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

It’s been explained time and again how easy it is to bypass any technological countermeasures put forward to thwart piracy and geo-dodging. You don’t need to be a geek to master the use of proxies and Virtual Private Networks in order to side-step the internet service provider-level site blocking proposed in the discussion paper.

There are even browser plugins which let you beat site filtering with a single click.

Most people are prepared to do the right thing given the chance, unless they feel like they’re being ripped off. Content providers have been screwing Australians for years.

Now that consumers have finally found a way to fight back, the industry is demanding government help so it can continue to screw us.

Rather than put up laughably ineffective roadblocks to appease its powerful friends, the government would better serve the people by addressing the reasons why we break the law. Until it does, people won’t respect rules which are designed to ensure that Australians are treated as second-class citizens.

Adam Turner – SMH – July 28, 2014 – 10:37AM

TV’s Revolution in Story

Called “the best script doctor in the movie industry,” John Truby serves as a story consultant for major studios and production companies worldwide, and has been a script doctor on more than 1,800 movies, sitcoms and television dramas for the likes of Disney, Universal, Sony Pictures, FOX, HBO, Alliance Atlantis, Paramount, BBC, MTV and more.

When I travel the world teaching story classes, writers and producers don’t ask me how to write a Hollywood superhero movie. They want to know how to write shows that come close to the incredible quality of the drama they see on American television in shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Homeland, House of Cards and Game of Thrones.

Indeed, a revolution in story has been unfolding in American TV drama for the past ten years. It is as significant as the rise of the novel in the mid-1700s, the shift in theater to psychological realism in the late1800s, the development of film in the early 1900s and the emergence of the video game as a story medium in the 1980s and ‘90s.

What do the best-written shows on television have in common? Well, the first thing you notice is that every one is a serial. And that makes all the difference. Every revolutionary move in character and plot stems from the emergence of the serial form.

In the old days, TV consisted almost entirely of stand-alone episodes. Writers told a complete dramatic story in forty-four minutes. For example, the criminal committed a murder in the first scene, and the cops caught him in the last. The following week, they told the same story with slightly different circumstances. This guaranteed that the medium as a whole could be nothing more than a factory of generic story product.

With the introduction of the remote and cable, the serial form was born on television.

Now shows had multiple main characters, with their own weaknesses and desires, and they didn’t solve their problems at the end of one episode, or even fifteen. In story terms, this meant, above all, interweaving multiple story lines over many episodes. No longer confined to a forty-four-minute straightjacket, a writer could get to a deeper truth by using film’s unique crosscutting ability to compare and contrast characters and storylines.

This had a huge structural effect on the TV story, because it meant that the unit of measure of the TV show was no longer the episode — it was the season. The canvas on which the writer worked became ten times as long as a feature film, and ten times as complex.

So, it’s no coincidence that the revolution in story occurred hand in hand with TV coming into its own as an art form. But how precisely did the serial form revolutionize the TV story in both character and plot? Let’s begin with the main character of the show, since the first principle of great storytelling is that plot comes from character.

Much has been made of the fact that serials sparked a fundamental shift from hero to anti-hero. Anti-hero, as it is commonly used, is a bit of a misnomer, and it obscures the revolutionary nature of these characters. Technically, an anti-hero is simply the opposite of the classic hero in some way. He, or she, may be a bumbler, a holy fool or a rebel.

But the way most critics define the term when talking about the leads in the great TV shows since The Sopranos is that anti-heroes are bad guys. Not evil, but bad, and therefore unlikable in some way. He may be a killer like Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), a liar and philanderer like Don Draper (Mad Men), a meth dealer and a killer like Walter White (Breaking Bad) or a Machiavellian schemer and killer like Frank Underwood (House of Cards).

But these characters are not just bad — that’s simplistic and could not produce great stories for long. They are complex, which produces far better stories.

Now, the word complex is often thrown around in writing circles, and no one bothers to define it structurally. Most people think it refers to psychological contradictions, which all these characters certainly possess. But what it really means is that these characters have moral contradictions. So they all have a highly compartmentalized moral code that constantly tests them to the depths of their being.

Still, these complex lead characters, though crucial to the revolution in story, could not produce shows of such high quality over so many episodes and seasons. That comes from the character web of the story, probably the single-most important factor in creating a great show. Simply stated, the character web has to do with how all the characters in a story weave together as a single fabric, both connecting and contrasting. A show with a unique character web — in which each character is set in proper structural opposition to the others — is the only way writers can create great stories for several years.

When serials replaced stand-alone shows as the standard of television drama, they didn’t just deepen the main character. They radically increased the number of characters who could drive storylines, in effect showing the audience a mini-society.

Emmy-nominated shows like Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey can track upwards of thirty or more important characters. This places a tremendous burden on the show’s creators and calls up another critical point: the audience will become completely lost unless the character web is highly organized.

The necessity of organizing the characters increases the quality of serials because it means that each mini-society is determined by some kind of system that controls people under the surface and even enslaves them. In The Sopranos it was the Mafia. In Mad Men it’s a consumer culture that glorifies a false American Dream. In Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey it’s a rigid patriarchal class structure.

In many of the best serials, writers use another critical technique in designing the character web: they highlight and explore the moral element in life, both within and among characters. Starting with the central moral problem of the hero, they make all other characters some variation of that problem. They construct a field of fire where all the characters must traverse morally dangerous ground.

This gives a show two additional strengths. First, even the minor characters have complexity, so each is individually compelling, while collectively they produce knockout power. Second, each episode is packed with plot: the writers tease the audience with a moral challenge in the opening and then relentlessly turn the screws until the final scene.

Shows like Breaking Bad, Homeland and CBS’s The Good Wife (nominated in 2011 and 2012 for Outstanding Drama Series and, in my view, the best-written show on broadcast television) have put a unique twist on the moral character web, one that has consistently generated great stories, episode after episode, season after season.

The story world is, in some form, a Darwinian state of nature in which the characters are forced to make nearly impossible moral decisions. The fundamental question each week is: Can these characters remain human, and decent, while they struggle to survive?

Shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards flip this technique. They are not about how to live a good life in a morally challenging world. They are about winning the game. In fact, the most revolutionary aspect of Game of Thrones has been its willingness to kill off its heroes — most notably in the shocking “Rains of Castamere” episode — largely because, in acting morally, they were also being stupid.

The move to the serial also expanded and deepened the plot of the TV story. Many observers have commented that this is a case of back to the future, to the serials of Charles Dickens and the tremendous plot density of the nineteenth-century French novel.

But the serials of TV drama have a fundamental difference from their predecessors: they are long-form narratives married to single event drama. The viewer enjoys both dense and surprising plot over the season as well as heart-stopping dramatic punch in each individual episode. The power of this combination to seduce and stimulate the viewer cannot be overestimated.

With the rise of the serial, the single biggest plot challenge for showrunners and their writing staffs became exponentially more difficult — and more compelling. It was no longer: How do you construct a tight and surprising episode? It was: How do you segment the plot and sequence the episodes over an entire season?

Again, the moral construct of the character web has often shown the way. The main technique top TV dramas like Breaking Bad and The Good Wife use to structure their episodes and seasons is to sequence the difficult moral challenges their heroes face. Breaking Bad’s creator–executive producer Vince Gilligan and writers like George Mastras and Thomas Schnauz are geniuses at this technique. By introducing Walt (Bryan Cranston) as a moral everyman, they were able to sequence the plot not just on the increased opposition he faced, but on his heightened moral challenges.

Each episode tracked both an escalation of trouble for Walt and a moral decision that was more complicated than the one that came before.

As this revolution in story plays out in television — and television takes over from film as the most influential and far-reaching entertainment medium in the world — we may see the revolution affect film as well. For years, Hollywood has made superhero movies for eleven months of the year, while releasing a handful of Oscar-worthy dramas in December. But no one is fooled anymore. Ten years of TV dramas telling the best stories in the world has the top acting, writing and directing talent clamoring to join the party.

Now it just so happens that in television, writers control the medium, and they are acknowledged to be the authors of their shows. So the astounding quality of writer-driven serials has quietly been exposing the absurdity of the auteur theory, which maintains that the director, not the writer, is the author of a film.

The best TV series — both within an episode and throughout a season — are all about story. The more a film or TV show is based on a well told story, as opposed to visual spectacle and detail, the more its authorship is based on the writer, not the director.

In the days of stand-alone TV, it was easy to distinguish the boring visuals of the small screen from the grandiose spectacle of film epics and thus depreciate television.

But again, things have changed. Television serials, in just one season, are far more epic than any movie, and they are filmed with just as much visual flair. With such great storytelling, no one would dream of claiming that the director is the author of a top TV drama. We can only hope that one day movies will see the light.

If you love story as much as I do, living through this revolution in TV drama has been an incredible ride. The lone drawback, of course, is finding time to watch all those great shows. – July Newsletter

Leaked Paper Reveals Aussie Anti-Piracy Crackdown Musings

A leaked discussion paper has revealed Australian government musings surrounding a potential online piracy crackdown. Among them, changing the law to undermine a landmark 2012 court ruling which protected ISP iiNet from the infringements of its users, and new legislation to allow for ISP-level blocking of ‘pirate’ sites.

In common with all countries heavily involved with the distribution of U.S.-sourced entertainment products, Australia us under continuous pressure to do something about the online piracy phenomenon. Much of the negotiations have Attorney-General George Brandis at their core, with the Senator regularly being accused of lacking transparency. This week Aussie news outlet Crikey obtained (subscription) a leaked copy of a discussion paper in which Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull seek industry feedback on new anti-piracy proposals.

The discussion paper

Dated July 2014, the paper begins by outlining the Government’s perception of the piracy threat, noting that all players – from content creators to ISPs and consumers – have a role to play in reducing the illegal consumption of content.

It continues with details of schemes operating in the United States (Six-Strikes), UK (VCAP) and New Zealand which aim to develop consumer attitudes through education and mitigation. Inevitably, however, the paper turns to legislation, specifically what can be tweaked in order to give movie studios and record labels the tools they need to reduce infringement

ISP liability

The 2012 High Court ruling in the iiNet case signaled the end of movie and TV studio litigation against service providers. With their dream of holding ISPs responsible for the actions of their pirating users in tatters, copyright holders would need new tools to pursue their aims. It’s clear that Brandis now wants to provide those via a change in the law.

“The Government believes that even when an ISP does not have a direct power to prevent a person from doing a particular infringing act, there still may be reasonable steps that can be taken by the ISP to discourage or reduce online copyright infringement,” the paper reads. “Extending authorization liability is essential to ensuring the existence of an effective legal framework that encourages industry cooperation and functions as originally intended, and is consistent with Australia’s international obligations.”


“The Government is looking to industry to reach agreement on appropriate industry schemes or commercial arrangements on what would constitute ‘reasonable steps’ to be taken by ISPs,” the paper notes.

Website blocking

Given several signals on the topic earlier this year, it comes as no surprise that website blocking is under serious consideration. The paper outlines blocking mechanisms in Europe, particularly the UK and Ireland, which allow for court injunctions to be issued against ISPs.


The Irish model, which has already blocked sites including The Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents, is of special interest to the Australian Government, since proving that an ISP had knowledge of infringing conduct is not required to obtain an injunction. “A similar provision in Australian law could enable rights holders to take action to block access to a website offering infringing material, without the need to establish that a particular ISP authorized an infringement,” the paper notes, adding that such provisions would only apply to websites outside Aussie jurisdiction.

It’s likely that most copyright holders will be largely in favor of the Government’s proposals on the points detailed above, but whether ISPs will share their enthusiasm remains to be seen.

Stakeholders are expected to return their submissions by Monday 25th August.

By Andy – TorrentFreak – July 25, 2014

Box-Office Slump: Hollywood Facing Worst Summer in Eight Years

Less than six weeks before Labor Day, hopes for recovery at the North American summer box office have evaporated. The season is expected to finish down 15 to 20 percent compared with 2013, the worst year-over-year decline in three decades, and revenue will struggle to crack $4 billion, which hasn’t happened in eight years. As a result, analysts predict that the full year is facing a deficit of 4 to 5 percent.

Comparisons in North America are tough, considering revenue hit a record $4.75 billion in summer 2013. It didn’t help that Fast & Furious 7 was pushed from July to April 2015 following the death ofPaul Walker or that Captain America: The Winter Soldier opened in early April. But even bullish observers are grim. “Moviegoing begets moviegoing, and we have lost our momentum,” says Rentrak’s Paul Dergarabedian. “People aren’t seeing trailers and marketing materials. They still want to go to the movies — they just want to go to really good movies.”

Although there have been no Lone Ranger-size debacles, for the first time since 2001 no summer pic will cross $300 million domestically (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Maleficent and Transformers: Age of Extinction hover near $230 million).

May kicked off with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 earning $200 million less domestically than 2013′s Iron Man 3; by July 20, the divide had swelled to nearly $690 million as revenue topped out at $2.71 billion, down 20 percent compared with the same period last year.

International returns remain strong, making up for some of the damage, but in certain cases they aren’t enough. Spider-Man 2 topped out at $706.2 million globally, notably behind the $757.9 million earned by The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. “I would have liked Amazing Spider-Man 2 to make a lot more money for us than it did, but it made a lot of money for us anyway,” Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal said in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

X-Men is the only tentpole that has earned more than its predecessor domestically (X-Men: First Class grossed $146.4 million in 2011), contributing to Fox’s best summer in years (it is No. 1 in market share). But Paramount’s Age of Extinction has grossed far less than previous Transformersmovies domestically, though it will be the first 2014 film to hit $1 billion worldwide thanks to $300 million in China.

“Young men haven’t been as enthusiastic as usual,” says analyst Phil Contrino.

“Maybe [studios] shouldn’t just go after this demo when building their summer tentpoles.” Female-fueled properties, including Maleficent and The Fault in Our Stars, have produced some of the summer’s biggest success stories.

Also contributing to the malaise is a lack of family product (including no Pixar movie), the allure of TV and myriad ways consumers can view entertainment in their homes. (Laments one studio executive, “I wish I worked at Netflix.”)

Filmmaker Jon Favreau agrees that the popularity of television and new technologies are altering viewing habits. “I think times are changing. We have to acknowledge that and not try to chase what used to be,” says Favreau, who is currently prepping Jungle Book for Disney. At the same time, he said there will continue to be a worldwide appetite for big spectacle movies based on known brands.

But the Iron Man director is in theaters this summer not with a studio tentpole but with indie hit Chef, which has grossed north of $26 million to date, a coup for Favreau and independent distributor Open Road Films. With Chef, Favreau didn’t have to worry about making a film that needed to have the widest possible appeal. “It didn’t need to capture every person in every country,” he says.

Many medium-size studio movies have underperformed this summer, including Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West and Sony’s Cameron Diaz comedy Sex Tape, which opened July 18 to a meager $14.6 million.

For the summer to hit $4 billion and finish down only 15 percent, revenue needs to match last year’s through August. That puts pressure on Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules (July 25), Scarlett Johansson’sLucy (July 25), Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug. 1) and Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Aug. 8). But it’s a tall order, considering last summer ended with a bang. “I don’t know if we have a major sleeper left this year, other than Guardians,” says Dergarabedian.

Still, many believe summer 2015 will restore order with a lineup that includes Avengers: Age of Ultron,Minions and Jurassic World. “I think it’s cyclical,” says X-Men producer Simon Kinberg. “Next summer will be the biggest box-office summer in history, and nobody will be worrying about the business.”

Pamela McClintock – The Hollywood Reporter – 23/7/2014

Screen Australia to axe 12 staff and support for industry training programs after budget cuts

Screen Australia has announced how it will save more than $5m this year with measures including lowering its maximum investment in films to $2m, cutting 12 full time staff members and shedding $500,000 from marketing support. The publicly-funded body which provides grants to Australian film and drama producers was handed a $25m cut to its budget by the Federal Government over four years in May’s budget, and has undertaken a review of its processes to find where it could make the savings.

Training funds are also set to be cut with $400,000 stripped from the Talent Escalator program, whilst there will be a “transition away” from direct funding for screen resource organisations, with a move to commission them to do professional development activities handled in house.

Staff cuts will see the body reduced to effectively half of its 2008 size, with 100 full time employees as opposed to 190. CEO Graeme Mason said the review had led to a “renewed focus on the core business of the agency”.

In a posting on the Screen Australia website today Mason wrote: “We are streamlining our operations and making processes simpler and easier for industry, and to the greatest extent possible we have tried to maintain funding for on-screen production. We have also had to make difficult decisions, including a further 10 per cent reduction in staff, cuts to professional development and marketing initiatives, transitioning away from funding industry training organisations, and a relatively small reduction in production investment and project development.

“There are challenges before us, but I also see great potential. We will back our creative talent to capitalise on opportunities and take more Australian stories out to the world. We will grow the pie for Australian production by facilitating international collaborations, using advantages such as our talent and our world class production reputation.

“We will reduce process as much as possible and step out of the way of industry, providing more funding as grants, with no copyright interest, so that producers keep more revenue from their productions. We will encourage new models of digital production and distribution that ensure our industry continues to evolve with its audiences.”

AS well as the cuts the review has changed some processes of the organisation, including making all funding up to $500,000 a grant and relinquishing copyright on projects with that level of funding, with a new online application system to be introduced.

The marketing and state of industry departments will be abolished and replaced with a business and audience department to place more emphasis on business development, whilst funding to send talent and producers to international festivals to support their films, which drew criticism last year, have also been revised.

From the Screen Australia announcement:

Key changes 2014/15

In the context of reduced funding, Screen Australia has reviewed its programs to sharpen the focus on where we add the most value. We have also reviewed how these programs are delivered to find greater efficiencies, reduce overheads and simplify processes. Resulting changes are outlined below.


New terms, effective for applications received from 24 July 2014, will benefit producers:

• All funding up to $500,000 (except P&A loans) will be a grant. This will provide more equity for the producer as well as simplify the contracting process (previously the grant threshold was $200,000, and limited to documentary and some other programs).

• Screen Australia will also relinquish copyright in favour of the producer for all projects up to $500,000, retaining a 1 per cent share only in projects for which we provide recoupable investment.

• These policies will be reflected in revised Terms of Trade, and in program guidelines going forward.

Funding management processes will continue to be streamlined:

• Turnaround times shortened wherever possible

• Feature film Letters of Interest now approved by the CEO

• Applications to be submitted in two stages where possible, requiring fewer initial application materials to limit the burden on applicants

• An online application system to be introduced to make it easier for applicants as well as improve the efficiency of application processing.


Sharpened program focus is reflected across the agency:

• Greater emphasis on business development through the establishment of a Business and Audience department (replacing the previous Marketing department and the State and Industry programs)

• Enterprise funding to target industry attachments, high-level screenwriting development and industry capacities through new business models and ambitious business plans

• Production funding to sharpen its focus on stories that matter: innovative risk-taking projects that identify and build talent; culturally significant, intrinsically Australian stories that resonate with local audiences; and high-end ambitious projects that reflect Australia to the world

• International festival and market support programs revised to consolidate travel and materials funding, allowing producers to better leverage success at international events as part of release strategies

• Guidelines for the International Co-production program to be revised to better facilitate international partnerships.


Overall, funds will be retained on screen as much as possible, with the following adjustments:

• a further 10 per cent reduction in staff to 100 FTE personnel (112 at 30 June 2014, down from 190 in 2008), saving approximately $1 million • a $2–3 million reduction across production investment and project development programs, with the cap on Screen Australia investment in an individual feature project lowered from $2.5 million to $2 million in order to spread funds further

• a decrease in funding for traditional prints and advertising (P&A), saving approximately $500,000

• savings of around $400,000 in Talent Escalator professional development programs, avoiding duplication with the new Enterprise: People program, and from consolidation of short film programs

• transition away from direct funding of screen resource organisations, while exploring the potential to commission them to deliver professional development activities currently managed inhouse, creating savings of approximately $1–1.6 million

• small savings across other programs.

Aaddendum: The executive director of Screen Producers Australia, Matthew Deaner, said Screen Australia had done everything possible to minimise the budget’s impact on production levels, reports the SMH. ‘‘They’ve spread those changes across both their programs and internal operations, which was critical,” he said. “And they’ve done their best to minimise the impact on production output.’’

Alex Hayes – mumbrella blog – July 24th, 2014

International flavour for Scroz development funding

Screen Australia today announced nearly $535,000 in development funding for 18 features including projects set in Canada, inner-city Berlin, Mexico City, Vietnam, the Middle East and medieval England.

The genres range from family and musical to comedy, drama, thriller, sci-fi and action. The funding will support eight new projects as well as further assistance for 10 titles.

Through its Talent Escalator programs, the agency is placing three producers in professional posts to improve their direct industry experience and supporting short film director Nicholas Verso in the next stage of his professional development.

Screen Australia’s Head of Production Sally Caplan said, “In this round it is encouraging to see such a great range of Australian stories receive support from filmmakers at different levels, some with international creative partners and several with international focus.

“We are also pleased to be able to support emerging local talent with international placements that will increase our industry’s experience in the marketplace and further reinforce the great reputation of Australian talent on a global stage.”

By Don Groves. IF Magazine. Tue 22/07/2014


Genre Comedy, Drama
Producers Louise Smith, Kevin Loader, Rachel Griffiths
Writer/Director Rachel Griffiths
Genre Thriller
Producer Polly Staniford
Executive Producer Angie Fielder
Director Cate Shortland
Writer Shaun Grant
Synopsis A passionate holiday romance leads to an obsessive relationship when an Australian photojournalist wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave.
Genre Family
Producers Melanie Coombs, Mish Armstrong, Alicia Brown
Executive Producer Jonathan Page
Writer Sofya Gollan
Synopsis The Bunyip emerges from a waterhole not knowing who he is, what he is or how he came to be. “Who am I?” he asks the Platypus, Kangaroo and Emu. Only little Spinifex Hopping Mouse Poppy is brave enough to journey with him to find out. Based on the classic children’s book.
Genre Comedy, Musical
Producer Lee Matthews
Executive Producer Shaun Miller
Writer Neil Triffett
Synopsis Ethan, an Emo kid who hates almost everything, falls in love with Trinity, a good Christian girl with a passion for life and her Lord Jesus Christ.
Genre Comedy, Drama
Producers Julie Ryan, Lisa Hoppe
Director Martha Goddard
Writer Lisa Hoppe
Synopsis Married for 40 years, conservative Mary and Ray Podger find themselves in Mexico on the biggest adventure of their lives, struggling to renegotiate the terms of their love in a distant land.
Genre Thriller
Producer Kristian Moliere
Writer Andy Cox
Synopsis When Lizzie’s best friend, Evie, disappears, Lizzie takes up her own pursuit of the truth pushing herself into the dark centre of Evie’s teenage world, uncovering secret after secret until she begins to wonder whether she really knew her friend at all.
Genre Comedy, Drama
Producer Linda Micsko
Director Hannah Hilliard
Writer Glen Dolman
Synopsis Sixteen-year-old competitive swimmer, Paris, attempts to break away from the all-consuming control of his winning-obsessed mother, Laura, in the lead up to the national championships.
Genre Coming of Age
Producers Vincent Sheehan, David Jowsey
Executive Producers Liz Watts, Rebecca O’Brien
Director Rachel Perkins
Writer Shaun Grant
Synopsis Based on the best-selling novel by Craig Silvey.
Genre Comedy, Science Fiction
Producer Raquelle David
Executive Producer Su Armstrong
Writer Philip Tarl Denson
Synopsis When an introverted dream programmer discovers he is trapped in a client’s dream, he must find a way out and save the woman he secretly loves.
Genre Drama
Producers Tim Maddocks, Liz Burton, Serhat Caradee
Executive Producer David Jowsey
Writer/Director Serhat Caradee
Synopsis A group of young Middle Eastern men kidnap the daughter of a wealthy Sydney family, intent on using her as a bargaining tool in a global political game.
Genre Biopic
Producers Todd Fellman, Lance Kelleher
Director Kim Mordaunt
Writer Andy Cox
Genre Dramatic Comedy
Producers Bryan Brown, Deb Balderstone
Writer Joanna Murray-Smith
Genre Action Adventure
Producers David Taft, Michael Harvey
Writer Michael Harvey
Synopsis Four C14th knights are resurrected in C21st UK, on a quest to protect the Holy Grail from international criminals led by a medieval enchantress.
Genre Drama
Producer Heather Ogilvie
Director Megan Simpson-Huberman
Writer Ross Grayson Bell
Synopsis A high-flying magazine editor thinks she’s coping brilliantly with grief until the day she can’t get out of bed. Sometimes salvation turns out to be a place of unexpected beauty.
Genre Comedy
Producer Matthew Dabner
Writer Heath Davis
Synopsis The carefree lifestyle of a party-loving Aussie ski instructor is challenged when he arrives in Canada ready for the new snow season only to be confronted by the son he never knew he had.
Genre Biopic
Producer Nicole O’Donohue
Writer Kate Mulvany
Synopsis Based on a real-life story, a young Australian woman accompanies her Vietnam veteran father on an overseas trip to meet her grandfather, only to discover a garden of long-buried familial secrets. Based on the stage play by Kate Mulvany.
Genre Crime
Producer Jodi Matterson
Writer John Doyle
Synopsis Through a series of comic adventures, two orphaned criminal brothers rescue their dream girl’s kidnapped child.
Genre Horror, Thriller
Producer Kristina Ceyton
Director Jonathan auf der Heide
Writer Tom Holloway
Synopsis Recovering from the loss of their child, a young couple move to remote Tasmania to discover that the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease has jumped species and threatens the survival of the human race.


Director Nicholas Verso (The Last Time I Saw Richard – 2014 AACTA Award winner for Best Short Film) will be supported for professional development through the Director’s Acclaim fund.

Producer Alexandra Blue will spend six months in London working with the development and acquisitions team at Element Pictures (The Guard, Shadow Dancer, Omagh).

Producer Leah James will spend six months in London at Working Title Films (Les Misérables, About a Boy, Senna) working across their development and production slate.
Producer Jennifer Jones will spend four months at Melbourne-based Matchbox Pictures (The Slap, Cut Snake, Underground: The Julian Assange Story) across their development and production slate.

‘The Shield’ Creator Shawn Ryan: Industry Consolidation Hurts Writers, Consumers

The showrunner for “The Unit” will tell a Senate committee that the Comcast-TWC merger should be blocked and net neutrality should not allow priority access.

Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield, The Unit, Lie to Me and other shows, will blast the trend toward media consolidation next Wednesday in testimony before the U.S.

Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation, speaking on behalf of the Writer’s Guild of America West.

Ryan, who is a writer, producer and showrunner, says that while there are more ways to distribute shows than ever before, the “disturbing truth about American media” is that it “is controlled by only a handful of companies through monopoly power,” he says.

“These large corporations profit by underpaying those who are actually responsible for content creation and by overcharging consumers who have few alternative video choices.”

Ryan recalls the era before the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules were repealed in the early 1990s, when in 1989, he says 76 percent of the fall primetime schedule on broadcast was independently produced. Today, according to a WGA survey, only 10 percent is independently produced, and almost all of that is lower-cost reality TV shows.

“This excessive concentration has benefited the bottom lines of Fortune 500 companies at the expense of actual content creators,” Ryan will tell the senators.

“With tight control over both production and distribution, the vertically integrated media companies possess all the power as employers of talent.”

Yet, adds Ryan, “the writers who are the R & D of this industry bear all the risk of developing new creative works while the media companies, through their control of distribution, reap the rewards. If a television series creator and a network experience creative differences, it is the writer who is replaced, not the network.”

Ryan says it is not just the writers who suffer: “Consumers fare no better in this equation, as monopoly power restricts creative expression, limits content choices and drives up prices.”

Now online content is being consolidated as well, warns Ryan. “The promise of vibrant video competition is threatened by incumbent control of distribution. Our nation’s largest ISPs [content creators] are also MVPDs [operators of cable systems and other distribution platforms].

“These companies,” says Ryan, “which include Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T, have both the means and incentive to stifle emerging online video alternatives.”

Ryan calls on Congress and the government to stop the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, as well as that of AT&T and DirecTV. He also calls for an open Internet with no priority access because no matter how the rules are written, it will ultimately lead to independent voices being squeezed out.

“What is good for these [big media] companies is not necessarily good for society,” says Ryan. “We need a video marketplace that more closely embodies the American values of free speech, fair competition and the rewarding of creativity and innovation.”

In calling on the Justice Department to block the Comcast-TWC and AT&T-DirecTV mergers, Ryan says, “There is a fundamental political and economic question raised by mergers, concentration and the resulting monopoly power. Are they good for society or not? The answer in economic theory is a resounding no. Every economic textbook makes clear that the result is a misallocation of resources and an unfair distribution of income.

“What will the result be of further mergers and market concentration?” asks Ryan rhetorically. “Writers will be paid less to create and innovate, even though our national political rhetoric exalts the importance of creators and innovators. And consumers will pay more, just as economic theory and history have made clear they will.”

18/07/2014 by Alex Ben Block – THR