ABC TV screen sector ‘dysfunctional’ says producer

Samuel Johnson plays Molly Meldrum in the TV miniseries about Countdown snapped up by Sev

Samuel Johnson plays Molly Meldrum in the TV miniseries about Countdown snapped up by Seven. Picture: Ben Timony. Source: Supplied

The screen sector has called for greater transparency at ABC TV as one producer said the department was the “most dysfunctional” he had experienced in 28 years.

Many production companies have been distressed this year by the late or abrupt cancellations by the ABC of TV projects well into their development, inaction on key decisions and the apparent ad hoc programming strategy for the drama, kids and light entertainment strands.

Most perplexing is the ABC’s decision not to commission the miniseries about its seminal music show, Countdown, and its host Molly Meldrum.

Mushroom Pictures’ miniseries, Molly, starring Samuel Johnson in the title role, is anticipated to be a major hit for the Seven Network, following its success with INXS: Never Tear Us Apart last year.

Yet the ABC turned down the project, despite ABC drama chief Carole Sklan wanting the project, with a more senior ABC TV manager arguing he believed Australian audiences would not be interested in Meldrum’s story.

The ABC’s unwillingness to produce the upcoming political drama Enemies of the State, based on the life of former High Court Justice Lionel Murphy, has also raised concerns. The project, which has been picked up by SVOD service Stan, is seen to be right in the ABC’s sweet spot: a real-life political drama being developed by the producers of Rake, Peter Duncan and Ian Collie, Paper Planes filmmaker Robert Connolly and the ABC’s Q&A host Tony Jones.

Symptomatic of the decision-making recalcitrance is this week’s development, where it is understood a major ABC talent, used prominently in ABC TV marketing this year, signed a deal with a commercial network for his next series, after being left stranded and frustrated by inaction from the ABC.

While producer complaints about programming decisions are a constant of the business, there is heightened fury within the sector at ABC TV’s late or fractured decision-making and the move of funds and attention away from the drama and kids sector into light entertainment.

The ABC’s new strategy to purchase international format rights for its own productions, such as the misfiring How Not To Behave, has also confused producers, none of whom wanted to comment publicly due to their ongoing, or anticipated, commercial relationships with the ABC.

But The Australian understands one producer was so annoyed by his company’s treatment, he wrote to the ABC earlier this year stating he had not seen ABC TV in a “more dysfunctional and disrespectful environment” in his three-decade career.

The ABC’s new head of content and creative development, Adrian Swift, has been the lightning rod for many complaints. One of the former Nine development boss’s first tasks was decommissioning many projects greenlit before his arrival, which has cost a number of businesses substantial development costs.

Also, internally ABC commissioning editors are now engaged in what one producer described as “their own Hunger Games-style battle” as competitive funding has been introduced between genres.

“The brinkmanship and power being used is pretty poor,” said one producer with an ongoing relationship with the ABC. “They’re treating a lot of good relationships like shit.”

Screen Producer Australia director Matthew Deaner said ­clarity on programming and expenditure strategy was required.

“In order to create business stability and allow for better planning there needs to be greater transparency around the way in which the ABC and SBS report their program expenditure,” he said.

“The broadcasting financial results published by the Australian Communications and Media Authority are a good example of reporting obligations for the commercial sector that should be replicated for public broadcasters,” Mr Deaner added.

He said the snapshot of aggregated expenditure, revenue, profitability, assets and liabilities of the commercial radio and television sectors “crucially provides a layer of commercial transparency that underpins business confidence in the independent sector”.

Drama decision-making has been complicated by changes in strategy. The ABC built its local drama stocks back across many years with relatively safe bets appealing to older viewers, including Bed of Roses, The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries, ANZAC Girls and The Dr Blake Mysteries before it took riskier gambles on series The Slap, Serangoon Road, Redfern Now, Jack Irish, Rake and others.

As it took more risks, with dramas such as The Code, Glitch, Crownies and The Time of Our Lives, the audiences have not ­responded.

Many within the drama sector were dismayed by the lack of innovation when the ABC commissioned this year new series of Janet King, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Rake, The Code and Jack Irish.

The ABC director of TV, Richard Finlayson, was unavailable for comment.

Media and Entertainment Writer

SVOD: Netflix surge threatens free-to-air TV

Media watchers around the world find no surprise in the move away from traditional forms of television. The writing has been on the wall since the turn of the century that the child of the digital revolution — internet protocol television — would become a substantial threat to incumbent free- to-air broadcasters and their ­subscription-based cousins.

But what is surprising is the speed of change we are now seeing. It is not just fast or super-fast — it is happening at warp speed.

Credible analysis of internet traffic suggests that Netflix, the international market leader in providing subscription video on demand through IPTV-based streaming, already has more than 1.5 million customers in Australia. As one analyst told me: “the smart money was that Netflix would have 2.2 million Australian subscribers by 2020. I think they’ll have that by the end of 2015.”

Netflix does not declare its subscriber numbers in various markets, a tactic designed to maximise its negotiating position when it bids for rights. But we know in the first quarter of 2015 it had 42 million customers in the US and 21 million in the rest of the world.

Netflix came to Australia in March this year, so very little of its Australian customer base would be reflected in those first quarter figures. Since March Netflix has been pushing its Australian services in competition with Presto, backed by Foxtel, Seven and Ten, and Stan, a Nine and Fairfax start-up. None of the parties are shouting their audience numbers from the rooftops, in part because many customers are testing their appetite for video on demand through free sign-up deals for the first month.

Active subs may not be paying subs.

Back in the days when three commercial and two public channels amounted to the total TV offering, FTA had 100 per cent of the nation’s eyeballs. After Foxtel, FTA maintained around 80 per cent of the total audience.

If Netflix and other SVOD operators steal away another 20 or 30 per cent — as they inevitably will, in time — then FTA faces a triple whammy: falling viewer numbers, smaller audiences to attract advertisers and tighter advertising conditions as the digital migration continues. This, in turn, erodes its ability to produce high quality, compelling content capable of attracting large audiences.

Of course, the FTA industry is not without the means to fight back. It remains strong in live events, whether they be news, sport or network-manufactured “must see” events such as MasterChef, The Voice or My Kitchen Rules. But news, sport and faux events don’t fill a 24/7 schedule.

Seen from this perspective, there is no surprise in the stockmarket reaction to the FTA market leaders in Australia. The Nine network floated last year at $2.10 and traded as high as $2.35 at the end of May this year. It closed at $1.39 on Friday.

Seven West Media was trading above $2 a year ago and is now 93c.

These figures reflect the new reality.

Mark Day, Columnist – The Australian July 13, 2015

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Cannes: 21 Films That Stood Out at the 2015 Festival

Variety critics Scott Foundas, Justin Chang, Peter Debruge, Guy Lodge, Jay Weissberg and Maggie Lee weighed in with their choices for the 21 best films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (listed in alphabetical order):

1. “Amy.” British director Asif Kapadia followed up his 2010 “Senna” with this even more daring and revealing portrait of the brilliant but tragic jazz diva Amy Winehouse. Drawing on a wealth of professional and user-generated video, Kapadia again eschews the usual talking-heads interview format to keep WInehouse front and center for two harrowing hours, during which we come to understand how thoroughly the troubled singer lived her life under the camera‘s relentless and unforgiving gaze. The result is an unforgettable portrait of the cult of celebrity in the iPhone era. (Scott Foundas)

2. “Arabian Nights.” Even this year’s most impressive competition films couldn’t match Portuguese auteur Miguel Gomes’ magnum opus for brazen ambition and conceptual heft. Screened in three parts across one week in Directors’ Fortnight, this six-hour allegorical meditation on the current European economic crisis bristled with invention, ribald wit and flashes of heated fury. Knotting stories of ghost dogs, mermaids and laid-off shipyard workers into one vast tapestry, Gomes made one of the festival’s most daunting-looking pics into one of its most unpredictably entertaining. (Guy Lodge)

3. “The Assassin.” While viewers were rightly mesmerized by the film’s ravishing visuals and exquisite period details, most have overlooked Hou Hsiao-hsien’s subtle and timely political allegory on the uneasy yet symbiotic relationship between Taiwan and China, obliquely yet poignantly evoking the conflicting loyalties and sense of estrangement felt by Taiwan’s settlers and their homegrown offspring. (Maggie Lee)

4. “Carol.” The jury may have fobbed it off with half a best actress award (for half its exemplary star duo, to add insult to injury), but Todd Haynes’ tender take on Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian romance ranks among the director’s most immaculate achievements: Though it’s composed and constructed with metric precision, a raw, reckless heart beats fast beneath its exquisite wintry surface. It also takes an immediate place in the canon of great melancholy Christmas films; one hopes and expects that American awards bodies will give generously in the holiday season. (G.L.)

5. “Cemetery of Splendor.” As familiar as home and as mysterious as a dream, the lush and hypnotic world of Apichatpong Weerasethakul — let’s call it Joeburg — is a place to which I always long to return. His latest film, a melancholy melding of the personal and the political, is a calmer, gentler thing than his previous films, yet it’s no less remarkable in its ability to find a strange, otherworldly magic in the everyday. (Justin Chang)

6. “Disorder.” A drum-tight home-invasion thriller fiercely anchored by the increasingly ubiquitous Matthias Schoenaerts, Alice Winocour’s sophomore feature isn’t a stunningly original feat, but was still among the most pleasant surprises in Un Certain Regard: Few would have guessed from the French helmer’s costume-drama debut, “Augustine,” that she has such tough, tactile genre-filmmaking chops. Hollywood producers should take note. (G.L.)

7. “Inside Out.” Co-directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen somehow manage to deconstruct emotion while supplying it in generous measure in this deliriously funny, intensely cathartic romp through a young girl’s head space. The result is a wondrous return to form for Pixar, and a welcome reminder that there are still unexplored worlds waiting to be colonized by the imagination — including, perhaps, the imagination itself. (J.C.)

8. “Journey to the Shore.” Not since “Truly, Madly, Deeply” has the communion between the living and dead been depicted with such tenderness and heartache. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan’s maestro of psycho-horror, infuses this hushed, timorous drama of loss, regret and acceptance with his signature haunting mood, employing magical shifts of light and darkness. (M.L.)

9. “The Lobster.” Lonelyhearts who fail to find a suitable partner at a dating boot camp are transformed into animals, or else forced to hide out in the forest where they’re hunted for sport, in “Dogtooth” director Yorgos Lanthimos’ jury prize-winning absurdist social satire. Taking aim at the way modern society imposes a narrow definition of marriage on everyone, the crafty Greek allegorist setsout in the darkly comic Bunuel tradition, before turning its bachelor protagonist (an emasculated Colin Farrell) loose in its unexpectedly tender second half. (Peter Debruge)

10. “Macbeth.”

That Justin Kurzel’s stormy new interpretation of Shakespeare’s punchiest tragedy was left until the very end of the competition led some critics to expect a cautious afterthought. What they got instead was an urgent, visceral update to enthrall the “Game of Thrones” set, unmistakably the work of the same director who electrified festival auds with “The Snowtown Murders” four years ago. With arresting performances by Michael Fassbender and a particularly inspired Marion Cotillard, this spare new adaptation stands worthily alongside Polanski’s 1971 version. (G.L.)

11. “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Having set the high bar for the modern action movie with “The Road Warrior” in 1981, George Miller surpassed himself (at age 70!) with this years-in-the-making “revisiting” of his iconic post-apocalyptic action hero (Tom Hardy, ably stepping in for Mel Gibson), here paired with a formidable female ally in Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa — arguably the greatest female action hero since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Miller’s dizzyingly kinetic, color-saturated, wall-to-wall chase sequences kicked off Cannes with a bang which it never quite surpassed. (S.F.)

12. “The Measure of a Man.” Veteran French leading man Vincent Lindon won a well-deserved best actor prize from the Cannes jury for this modestly scaled but powerfully affecting social drama from director Stephane Brize. As an unemployed factory worker turned supermarket store detective, Lindon appears in virtually every shot, effortlessly holding the screen with his weary brow and unassailable humanity. (S.F.)

13. “Mon roi.” While it passionately divided critics, Maiwenn’s power-romance should be required viewing for all aspiring American indie directors (especially those of the mumblecore school). The “Polisse” director demonstrates the raw, heartbreaking emotional truth that one can achieve through personal storytelling and collaborative improvisation, eliciting career-best work from Emmanuelle Bercot (who shared best actress honors with “Carol’s” Rooney Mara) and Vincent Cassel. (P.D.)

14. “Mustang.” Five headstrong sisters in rural Turkey are forced to conform to their society’s rigid concept of female self-expression in Deniz Gamze Erguven’s impressive feature debut. Undeniably scripted with Western auds in mind and not averse to exaggeration, the pic nevertheless boasts energetic performances of an intriguing nascent sexuality (think “The Virgin Suicides” by way of Sally Man) and a maturely fluent visual style very much in line with current arthouse aesthetics. (Jay Weissberg)

15. “My Golden Days.” Arnaud Desplechin imagines the childhood and adolescence of his cinematic alter-ego Paul Dedalus (first played by Mathieu Amalric in 1996’s “My Sex Life … “) in this transporting memory film set in the late 1980s, with Roxanne Shante on the soundtrack and a thick, bittersweet air of first loves, fractured friendships and lost youth. Denied a slot in competition, “Golden” was the toast of this year’s Directors’ Fortnight, where it was acquired by Magnolia Pictures for a U.S. release. (S.F.)

16. “One Floor Below.” Champions of new Romanian cinema long ago cottoned on to Radu Muntean’s minimalist storytelling, and while he stays true to his style here, there’s a slightly simmering quality that turns this story of a regular guy unwilling to finger a murderous neighbor into a quietly tense anti-thriller. Wrestling with questions of societal responsibility via a protag used to playing the system, the pic may seem understated, but its themes are weighted with a moral dilemma of quasi-Dostoevskian proportions. (J.W.)

17. “Our Little Sister.” Hirokazu Kore-eda’s portrait of blossoming womanhood is a lightweight yet graceful divertissement that, a few arch Ozu-esque flourishes notwithstanding, reps a companion piece to the hypersensitive feminine sensibilities and visual luxuriance of Kon Ichikawa’s “The Makioka Sisters.” (M.L.)

18. “Sicario.” Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin are all aces in Denis Villeneuve’s serpentine, pulse-pounding thriller, but the film’s undeniable MVP is the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, in his second visually stunning collaboration with the director of “Prisoners.” After the likes of “Traffic” and “Heli,” Villeneuve tells us little that’s new about the horrific cycle of violence and corruption that has ensnared both the Mexican drug trade and America’s war against it, but there’s no denying he tells it in muscular, bracingly cynical style. (J.C.)

19. “Son of Saul.” The most powerful and provocative Holocaust-themed film since “Fateless” (which coincidentally also hailed from Hungary), Laszlo Nemes’ Grand Prix winner engages directly with the impossibility that any film could possibly do justice to those events, while challenging the notion that consequently none should try. Nemes rejects the melodrama of “Schindler’s List” in favor of a rigidly formalist approach, one that forces audiences to evaluate and consider its artistic choices alongside the already profound moral dilemmas faced by its characters. (P.D.)

20. “Taklub.” Brillante Mendoza’s ode to the decency and dignity of ordinary people afflicted by the worst typhoon disaster in Philippine history thoughtfully reflects on the limits of faith, compassion and hard work. A welcome return to the studied simplicity of his earlier works like “Foster Child” and “Slingshot.” (M.L.)

21. “Youth.” Paolo Sorrentino’s most tender film to date is dividing the critics and took home no prizes, yet its champions are touting the emotional rich way the bravura filmmaker explores aging via two very different figures in the waning years of their lives. Selling points include standout performancess by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, a blistering cameo from Jane Fonda, plenty of eccentric humor, expectedly wide-ranging musical choices and a visual banquet courtesy of d.p. Luca Bigazzi. (J.W.)

Variety Staff – May 25, 2015

Unfriended producer Jason Blum on how to make a killing in Hollywood

Jason Blum is making a killing in Hollywood by following a simple formula: make it cheap and share the spoils.

Modern Hollywood is all about the numbers, but even in an industry obsessed with box office and back-end (a cut of the spoils), Jason Blum is one out of the box. At 45, the main man at Blumhouse Productions heads a pipeline of profitability built on a simple premise: make it fast, make it cheap, and make a pile of money – if it works, that is (and not all of them do). “We have a budget cap of about $US4 million per film, maybe a little more, and we came up with that number by looking at the movies that don’t work,” says Blum.

Many of his movies do work – like The Purge ($US89 million, two sequels), Insidious ($US93 million, two sequels), or Sinister ($US78 million, a sequel on the way).

But if a film doesn’t make it into cinemas, there’s always DVD and video-on-demand and subscription services, and Blum reckons taking $4 million – half from North America, the other half from the rest of the world – is a safe bet.

Keeping budgets at that break-even point “allows us to do weird, original stuff – because weird, original stuff is not always commercial,” he says. “Some of them work, some of them don’t, but as long as we keep the budgets down we can keep experimenting and trying new things.”

Rose Byrne in Insidious. The Australian actress was paid minimum wage for the film, but thanks to a profit-sharing deal has reportedly earned $US7 million from it.

The latest of those new things is Unfriended, a brilliantly inventive spin on the low-budget horror formula of six people in a room, being killed off one by one. The central premise here is cyber bullying, and the six are in an online chatroom – a virtual room – with the entire film constructed from imagery captured on secondary screens (laptops, phones, instant-messenger screens, Facebook pages and so on).

As is the Blumhouse way, it was made cheap, is going wide and, if it works, will undoubtedly have a sequel or three.

Jason Blum has been producing movies since 1995, but it was in 2007 that this mantra first emerged, when a low-budget horror film called Paranormal Activity landed in his lap. Made by Oren Peli for $15,000, the “found-footage” frightener had been rejected by every studio in town when Blum, who had a production deal with Paramount, made a case for it.

Earlier this year he told W magazine that “Paramount rejected it 100 times” before agreeing to put in cinemas. It grossed $US193 million worldwide and has spawned four sequels (so far).

On his imdb profile page, Blum has a producer credit on 78 titles; boxofficemojo lists 22 titles for a combined box office of more than $US1.8 billion, which suggests the true total is even higher; The Hollywood Reporter has claimed his 10-year output deal with Universal guarantees him a 12.5 per cent cut of the first-dollar gross (the ticket price) on all his titles.

Whatever way you cut it, those are astonishing numbers.

But Blum isn’t just making schlock. He also produced the triple-Oscar-winning Whiplash (for which he received a best picture nomination).

The indie favourite about a student jazz drummer (Miles Teller) terrorised by his teacher (J.K. Simmons, who won the best supporting actor Oscar) is, he jokes, a “Sundance horror movie”.

“I didn’t make Whiplash thinking it would be a big profit centre,” he continues. It was, rather, a passion project, the sort the profitability of the genre stuff allows him to indulge.

“I love our scary movies, that’s going to continue to be the primary focus of me and the people who work at the company, but when something amazing comes across the desk we’re in a position now where we can do it not purely for financial reasons. If everyone loves it but we’re not going to make a lot of money on it, so long as we don’t lose money we’ll pursue it.”

If it all sounds too good to be true there are some who have claimed that’s because it is. The reason Blumhouse movies are cheap is because everyone gets paid only base rates.

For the key creatives – writer, director, stars – the trade-off is a profit share that kicks in once the film has passed certain hurdles (the first at $30 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter). But for lowly crew, there’s no delayed payday, just the union minimum they signed on for in the first place.

Blum doesn’t see any reason to be defensive about this. “It makes no sense for someone to say, ‘Because your movies are very commercial I should participate [in the profits]’. If it’s a $50 million studio movie you don’t participate, you get paid scale. So why should you participate in ours?”

The real winners in this model, other than Blum, are the stars. Blum says their deals are predicated on their “quote” – the fee they usually work for. So even if John Travolta or Ethan Hawke or Jessica Alba signs on for the minimum (about $3500 a week), their eventual return could be pretty impressive. Rose Byrne, for example, is said to have earned more than $7 million for her role in Insidious.

“We’ve made a lot of people some great back end, so people have come back to try again,” says Blum. “From an actor’s point of view, it’s four weeks and if the movie works it’s a big payday. And if it doesn’t, you were in a cool movie.”

Unfriended opens on April 30 in Australia

Karl Quinn – SMH – April 17, 2015

US Box Office: Five Worrisome Moviegoing Trends in 2014

The worldwide box office saw only modest gains in 2014 as revenue tumbled in North America.

Global revenue reached $36.4 billion, a slim uptick of 1 percent over 2013 ($35.9 billion), according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s annual report. For much of the past decade, global revenue has seen sizeable year-over-year gains, including 6.4 percent in 2012.

Without Asia — and particularly China — 2014 revenue would have certainly been down year-over-year. The Chinese box office grew by 34 percent to $4.8 billion, marking the first time that box office revenue has crossed $4 billion in any foreign market outside of North America.

In the U.S. and Canada, revenue fell a steep 5 percent to $10.4 billion (revenue also fell by 3 percent in Europe, the Middle East and Africa). Overseas, total international revenue came in at $26 billion, compared to $25 billion in 2013.

Here’s five worrisome takeaways from the MPAA report:

1. The 32 percent problem

Admissions hit a 19-year low in North America, with 1.27 billion tickets sold. Part of the problem: 32 percent of the population in the U.S. and Canada didn’t go to the movies at all. The same has been true for several years, but it’s clear Hollywood needs to cull a new audience. According to the MPAA, there was actually a jump in the number of frequent moviegoers buying tickets (fueled largely by older consumers), so that means fewer “occasional” and “infrequent” moviegoers went to the cinema in 2014.

2. Where were the tots?

Frequent moviegoers, defined as someone who goes to the cinema at least once a month or more, are Hollywood’s most prized demo. This group makes up only 11 percent of the population but buy 51 percent of all tickets sold. In 2014, there was a steep fall off in the 2-11 age group, with only 2.7 million young children going to the movies, compared to 4.3 million the year before.

3. The Trouble with Generations X, Y and Z

There was also a precipitous drop off in the number of frequent moviegoers between the ages of 25 to 39 (including parents of the missing tots). Those in this category made 7.1 million trips to the cinema, compared to 8.2 million in 2013 and 9.9 million in 2012. It matters because, overall, this age group watches more movies than any other. There was also a continued fall off in the number of frequent moviegoers in the 18-24 age group. This demo went to the movies 7 million times, the lowest level in at least five years. Conversely, frequent moviegoers in the 40-49 age group soared, from 3.2 million to 5.7 million, while frequent moviegoers 60 and older hit an all time high, making 5.3 million trips.

4. 3D Burnout

In 2010, 52 percent of moviegoers in North America saw a 3D title. Last year, that number fell by almost half to 27 percent, even though there were more 3D titles more than ever (47). In 2013, 31 percent of those going to the cinema saw a 3D title.

5. The gender balance

Since 2010, females have consistently made up a larger share of moviegoers, while the number of males has remained flat.

Pamela McClintock – The Hollywood Reporter- 11/3/2015

AIDC coming to Melbourne!

Breaking news from Adelaide! The Australian International Documentary Conference has found a new home – in Melbourne, Victoria.

Film Victoria and ACMI will jointly sponsor next year’s AIDC. And as Katrina Sedgwick told us at this year’s event, she brought the Documentary Conference to Adelaide when she was running the Adelaide Film Festival around 12 years ago. Katrina and Richard Sowada were present at the announcement and are obviously keen to hit the ground running and provide a terrific, reimagined conference next year.

Lucky Melbourne!

After the SA government withdrew substantial amount of funding for this year’s Conference, it was morphed into a no frills version this year by outgoing Joost Den Hartog, who looked as though he really didn’t want to be there. The Conference, named Net-Work-Play, focussed on online delivery mechanisms and digital content as the way of the future.

Film Victoria’s Jenni Tosi also welcomed the arrival of AIDC to Victoria and is clearly a strong supporter of the move along with FV’s Jeni McMahon who was also there.

SPA Low budget feature scheme outlined

Screen Producers Australia hopes to reach agreement with the other major guilds on a new scheme for low budget features within the next few months.

SPA is proposing that all participants- producers, directors, writers, cast and crew- would receive 50% of their minimum award fees, reinvest the balance and thus share in the potential profits.

The scheme would apply to features costing less than $1.5 million which would not be eligible for Screen Australia funding but could qualify for the producer offset.  Producers would pay the employees’ tax obligations based on the minimum rates.

The aims are to boost the level of feature production, which has barely changed in 30 years; enable cheaper films to be made on a far more professional basis; and provide a pathway for a new generation of writers and talent.

Owen Johnston, SPA’s manager, commercial and industrial affairs, gave IF an update on the scheme today after hosting a screening on Tuesday night of UK film Delicious. The writer, director and co-producer Tammy Riley-Smith and the producer/ composer Michael Price took part in a Q&A session after the screening at AFTRS.

To be released in Australia by iTunes on February 9, Delicious was made for £150,000 ($280,000) under the agreement for low budget features between the UK producers association PACT and the UK’s Equity. The filmmakers say they expect the production to be in the black in two years.

The darkly comic romance stars Sherlock’s Louise Brealey as Stella, an obsessive dieter who embarks on a dysfunctional romance with aspiring French chef Jacques (Nico Rogner). Released from prison, Jacques arrives in London and starts working in the kitchen of volatile chef Victor (Adrian Scarborough), whom he believes could be his father. In the city he meets his neighbours, feisty pensioner Patti (Sheila Hancock) and the beguiling Stella, whom he plans to seduce with his culinary talent.

Since 2009, 139 films costing £3 million ($5.5 million) or less have been registered under the scheme.

SPA’s scheme is a simplified version of the UK model which entails actors taking a 75% pay cut on films costing less than £3 million and 50% less for projects budgeted below £1 million.

Johnston said, “One of the union’s concerns was that the scheme would erode the pay scale for actors. In the UK that hasn’t happened; it has created work additional to the status quo.”

He points out the number of films produced in Australia, 25 to 30 per year, excluding credit card films, has not changed in 30 years.

“We think the scheme will enable low budget films to be made far more professionally, inspire writers to work on these films and provide practice for a new generation of talent. “

Last year SPA flagged the idea of creating a joint review panel made up of reps from MEAA and SPA to assess applications for certification under the scheme. That notion caused concern at the ADG, which wanted a seat at the table.

Johnston said the composition of the review panel has not been determined and the ADG may well be involved.

SPA has been negotiating the terms of the agreement with the MEAA and will soon circulate a draft to that body, the ADG and the AWG. He hopes to get sign-off in the next few months so the scheme could be operating by mid-year.

Equity director Zoe Angus tells IF, “We have had preliminary discussions with SPA about introducing a registration scheme for low budget films. SPA has advised us that they will table a proposal shortly. MEAA will consult widely with members to ensure that any new arrangements offer the right protections for performers.”

Concurrently SPA has been discussing with Screen Australia a more flexible interpretation of the offset rules which require films to have a theatrical release or, at minimum, the intention to do so.

That seems to be happening as evidenced by The Mule, which eOne released on digital platforms and qualified for the offset.

SPA is also working with Screen Australia on ideas for alternative distribution avenues for Australian films.

[Wed 04/02/2015 9:26 AM].  IF MAGAZINE

By Don Groves

Film bosses accused of mutilating scripts and pushing out writing talent

Original and subtle work is often altered to follow a money-making formula that results in bland movies

Script writer William Nicholson said he was once credited with writing the script for a film which bore little relation to the original.

Three of Britain’s Oscar-nominated screenwriters say that an increasing tendency among film studio bosses and directors to “mutilate” film scripts is forcing top writers to either direct their own work or write for television, where they command greater respect.

Jeffrey Caine, William Nicholson and Steven Knight – whose acclaimed screenplays include those for The Constant Gardener, Gladiator and Dirty Pretty Things respectively – told the Observer that writers were often sacked without warning from the studios and would then discover that their original work has been altered beyond recognition by a production line of writers.

Caine said that studio executives, directors or actors who “ride roughshod” over film scripts can leave writers feeling embarrassed when their names appear in the credits.

Writers often find themselves blamed for excruciating dialogue they never wrote, he said, adding: “I have seen lines of dialogue in films with my name on them that I wouldn’t have written under torture.”

To add insult to injury, writers are sometimes unceremoniously removed from projects, though their name may appear in the credits. They may not even be told they have been replaced: they discover their sacking by chance on a blog or trade report. Nicholson recalled delivering a commissioned screenplay and receiving a phone call from the studio saying it was “wonderful – we’re so excited”. He then heard nothing. Two years later it appeared in cinemas; other writers had taken it on.

His name was on it, but it bore little relation to his original.

The phenomenon is not new. Howard Clewes, a leading British screenwriter, took his name off Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando, in 1962, because he was so dismayed by the rewrites. Today’s writers do not have that option. Writers’ Guild rules do not permit writers to take their name off a screenplay if they have been paid more than a certain amount. Studios can, in effect, buy their names.

Nicholson said he understood the pressures on studios, particularly with huge financial investments, but lamented “a failure of manners”. They could, he said, send “even an email, saying they appreciate ‘you gave six months of your life, but … we’ve moved on’. They never, ever, do.” He added: “Although I understand why they treat writers so badly, it’s not in their interests to do so. They will get poorer work from their writers. Create an atmosphere of trust and [writers] will take risks and write better for you. Create an atmosphere of fear and neglect and they won’t.”

Nicholson won an Oscar nomination for Shadowlands in 1993, starring Anthony Hopkins, which he said was shot from his screenplay because Richard Attenborough was both a great director and a gent who respected a script. But on Gladiator he was the third writer – “two other writers … had suffered the ignominious fate, which I have suffered many times”. TV was “very significant” for top writers, he said, because there they have “enormously more power and respect than film writers”.

Caine’s screenplay for The Constant Gardener, starring Ralph Fiennes, was his adaptation of John le Carré’s noveland showered with nominations for Oscar, Bafta and Writers’ Guild of America awards. It was filmed largely as he intended – a rare thing in the industry, he lamented. Film-makers who do not understand the subtleties of storyline, characterisation and dialogue are “only interested in the crudest storytelling, and the most banal and superficial elements of character”, Caine said. “The writer tries to put in subtleties, but they sometimes end up being excised from the script.”

He likened the problem to a chef being asked to prepare his signature dish for a dinner and finding the host smothering the meal with ketchup. “Many major big-budget movies these days taste of ketchup,” he said, because each change to the original dilutes it. “All the best stuff that made it cohere and made it work is no longer there, and all you’re left with is pretty pictures … That’s why so many blockbuster, mass market films are so bland.”

The problem applies less to independent films and more to originals than adaptations as with the latter there is a basic storyline and also characterisations producers and the director know they can’t stray from too far.

Hollywood’s principle on mass-market movies is the more writers the better.

Observing that some of the best screenplays came from writer-directors such as John Huston and Billy Wilder, Caine said that DIY directing or producing is now the best way to preserve the integrity of screenplays, though he has no wish to pursue that route himself. But writers doing so include Richard Linklater, whose Boyhood is an Oscar frontrunner, and Damien Chazelle, who wrote the acclaimed thriller Whiplash.

Ultimately, decisions are driven by money, Knight said. “With a film … it costs a lot of money to get it made. They’re terrified they’re going to lose that money. They look at what’s worked before and think ‘we’ll do that again because that worked’.

Therefore, they will take a script they like – and then change it so it resembles something else because they think that’s engineering it towards success, which isn’t the case.”

He feels that television is now the “home of really good writing” because writers are left alone and directors shoot what’s on the page.

Although this is not a new phenomenon. But, in a way, film-making was ever thus.

Caine claims: “Cinema is the greatest artform ever devised. Had Shakespeare lived now, imagine what he could have done. Then imagine the mutilation. He would no doubt have been a writer-director, as he actually was.”

Directing his comments at audiences and critics, he added: “Before you rush to blame the screenwriter for a bad script, just remember that it may not be the script that these guys signed off on.”

Dalya Alberge – The Guardian – Sunday 11 January 2015

Hollywood pins hopes on Interstellar as it seeks out new life in movie industry

There is much riding on Christopher Nolan’s latest space travel blockbuster after a poor year for the American film industry.

It is not just the fate of humankind at risk in the latest release from the director
Christopher Nolan; it is also the fate of the box office.

Hollywood executives are hoping that Interstellar, which features an all-star cast led by Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, will come to the rescue of what has been a terrible year for the industry on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Britain the total box office haul between the beginning of May and the end of August, the period when major studios tend to release their biggest earning films, was £398m, compared with £434m in 2013. In the US the situation was even worse: the $4.05bn (£2.56bn) total representing a 14% drop from 2013. Adjusted for ticket-price inflation, the US performance was the worst since 1997.

The World Cup, which occupied four weeks from mid-June to mid-July, may have played a significant part in keeping audiences away from the multiplexes, but it has nevertheless produced a crisis of confidence among the studios, with Warner Bros, Sony and DreamWorks among those that have been shedding jobs and cutting costs throughout the year.

Interstellar is being hailed as the film that could yet turn things around and reassure Hollywood that its model of tentpole blockbusters that prop up the rest of the business, still works. The much-hyped space-travel film was produced with a budget of $165m, and was released on Wednesday in the US and on Friday in Britain.

Andrew Pulver – The Guardian, Saturday 8 November 2014

Screen savers: the untold story of US TV’s showrunners

They are the new masters of TV, a bunch of jelly-bean-eating hotshots who have ushered in a golden age. But what do showrunners actually do? Andrew Collins on a film that goes behind the scenes at everything from Boardwalk Empire to The Good Wife

‘Be entertaining’ … the writers’ room on Men of a Certain Age, featured in the new It’s a truism that TV is now better than the movies. So where does that leave Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show? It’s a movie about TV. Specifically, it’s the first feature-length documentary to take us inside the inner sanctums of critically acclaimed and commercially successful US series like The Good Wife, Sons of Anarchy, Bones, House of Lies and Boardwalk Empire.

The difference between the American and the British way of making TV drama is no more than the placement of an apostrophe. In the US, it’s all about the writers’ room. In the UK, it’s the writer’s room. Both methodologies are romanticised: the Showrunners film caffeinated, air-conditioned detention centre in Burbank where story arcs are “broken” and whiteboards incrementally filled by salaried Buffy fans juggling stress balls; and the shed at the bottom of an Oxfordshire garden in which a tortured author taps out every syllable of an eight-part masterpiece based on his own novel to the strains of Radio 3 until called in for supper. Perhaps it’s no wonder we mythologise the US system.

Ignoring the old saw about letting light in upon magic, Showrunners points an awed spotlight on to a species previously granted tongue-tied anonymity in a pre-internet age. As Tara Bennett, the author of the film’s companion book, writes: “Who would have ever thought that the pale, weary, self-deprecating talents plunking tirelessly on their abused keyboards would become the pin-up faces for the modern era’s latest Golden Age?”

The documentary’s director is Des Doyle, a voluble, black-T-shirted Dubliner who, after 12 years pulling focus in the camera department on everything from dragon apocalypse Reign of Fire to Barry Levinson’s sectarian wigmaking romp An Everlasting Piece, decided in 2010 to make a film of his own. A growing fascination for big, millennial, creator-led US shows like The X-Files, Buffy and Lost gave him his subject. “I’d waited diligently for a documentary to come along to explain exactly what a ‘showrunner’ did,” he says. “But it never did.”

For the next two years, Doyle and his modest crew stalked Los Angeles collecting firsthand testimony from almost 30 American showrunners – Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel), Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire), Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Ronald D Moore (Battlestar Galactica) – resulting in a blockbusting nature documentary in which mostly white, male, 40-50-something showrunners are glimpsed in their natural habitat, feeding as a group on jelly beans and ideas.

Terence Winter established himself by writing for televisual motherlode The Sopranos on HBO and graduated to running his own show, Boardwalk, for the same creatively empowering network. “I’m one of those people who buys a DVD and goes right to the DVD extras, the behind-the-scenes interview, the auditions,” he says, explaining why he loves Doyle’s documentary: “It’s always fascinating to hear people talk about the business and get a look behind that curtain.” He laments the fact that he rarely gets the chance to swap notes with fellow showrunners. “For the most part, the business of running a show is more than a full-time job.”

Since the job description isn’t even an above-the-line accreditation (you’ll see “created by” or “executive producer” scroll past in the opening credits, but never “showrunner”) what does it actually entail? In reality, you guard the creative vision while acting as a lightning rod for all production issues. Jane Espenson, who ran Battlestar spin-off Caprica, reckons “a showrunner has to have a bit of dictator in them”. Her former boss Ron Moore likens the job to being “a forest manager – I manage the forest, but someone else is out there dealing with all these trees, pruning them every day”. Winter says they’re “part psychologist, part motivational speaker. You’re a host at a dinner party trying to get everybody to open up a little bit.” Hart Hanson, avuncular creator of the long-running Bones, adds: “Most, but not all, have terrible posture.”

On Boardwalk, which after five grandly slow-burning seasons has just reached its finale, Winter ran his writers’ room just as David Chase had done on The Sopranos, with a sign on the wall based on a Chase dictum: “Be entertaining.” Averaging about five writers at any given time, he’d come in with “a broad-strokes roadmap of where I thought the season should go” and lead a process that involved “a lot of sitting around a table, eating potato chips, ordering lunch, a lot of digression. To the untrained ear, it may sound like a bunch of people bullshitting, but those are the things that get made into TV shows.”

For instance, the Brooklyn house Winter grew up in had fallen into a state of disrepair (“I was always embarrassed of it as a child”). When his mother, who still lived in it, passed away, he fixed up the entire house before selling it. “I didn’t realise it at the time, but what I was really doing was repairing my childhood.” In the writers’ room somebody said: “That would be a great story for Nucky.” That’s the show’s flawed lead, played by Steve Buscemi. Fans will recall that Nucky does the same thing in season one, episode seven. “He also burns the house down,” Winter laughs. “I didn’t do that.”

Doyle’s film is full of similar firsthand insight. Robert and Michelle King, the husband-and-wife team behind The Good Wife, credit their success to “the fact we don’t have resentful spouses at home”. On the subject of social-media interaction with fans, the heavily tattooed Steven S DeKnight, showrunner of Spartacus, recalls: “I’ve gotten into a dust-up twice where I found out later I was actually in a yelling match with, like, a 12-year-old.” Hart Hanson muses: “There’s a very small portion of the audience who think they know how the soup is made and give you advice on how much salt to put in it. I think they should be ignored.”

Female showrunners remain rare, although the likes of Shonda Rimes (Scandal), Espenson and Dee Johnson (Nashville) are making a difference. According to a 2012- 13 study by San Diego State University, women still only account for 24% of US “series creators” (it’s 34% for writers). Janet Tamaro, showrunner of TNT’s female buddy crime series Rizzoli & Isles, observes in the film: “Some people – both male and female – have an easier time being told what to do by a man.” When staffing his room, Winter abides by the law of what he calls “hangability – these are people you gotta want to hang out with”. He used six female writers on Boardwalk.

The British showrunner is even rarer, due to shorter series and tighter budgets, although Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch), Neil Cross (Luther) and Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty) are taking the baton from Russell T Davies and his successor at Doctor Who, Steven Moffat, who emulate the American model. At an Edinburgh TV Festival session in August, ITV’s new drama controller Victoria Fea dampened buccaneering fantasies about become the showrunner on a British series: “We have lots of authors in this country who sit in their garrets and write in splendid isolation. That doesn’t necessarily go with running a production meeting.”

Winter, a fan of everything from The Singing Detective to The Hour, has better news. “Whatever you guys are doing over there in England, it’s working pretty damn well. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Watch the trailer here:

Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show is available to purchase from Friday at

Andrew Collins – The Guardian, Tuesday 28 October 2014