Anatomy of the deals: Last Cab to Darwin

Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin will break even theatrically in Australia and New Zealand after grossing $8 million and will start  to repay investors from ancillary sales.

After recouping the advance and P&A, Icon Film Distribution expects to see a margin of about $1 million over the film’s 15-year licence period, and it says the investors can expect to get a similar sum.

That’s according to Screen Australia’s Screen Blog which gives a rare, if not unprecedented, insight into the intricacies of the deals, costs and revenue streams.

Produced by Greg Duffy, Lisa Duff and Sims, the film’s budget was nearly $4 million. The producer offset was worth nearly $1.3 million. Screen Australia invested $1.1 million, representing 27.55 per cent of the budget; Screen NSW chipped in $250,000 and the SAFC $68,000.

An additional $100,000 in a regional filming grant came from Screen NSW and $100,000 from the Northern Territory government, while Cutting Edge and Nylon Studios contributed undisclosed amounts as well as handling post.

Icon spent $1.3 million on P&A after the release expanded to 350 screens after putting up a distribution guarantee of $200,000 plus a further $100,000 after B.O. receipts passed $4 million.

Of that $8 million less $800,000 in GST, two-thirds was kept by exhibitors. That left $2.3 million from which Icon took its distribution fee of 35 per cent.

From  the remaining $1.56 million, the producers’ share, Icon will recoup its P&A and DGs and then pay the producers overages.

Screen Blog reveals the producers – as a sweetener – gave the private investors, who provided nearly 20 per cent of the budget, an accelerated recoupment position from a share of the offset.

The international sales agent Films Distribution put up a DG of just $80,000 for the rest of the world.  Duff told Screen Blog, “It was a struggle to get a sales agent at script stage. We approached about 15 and only got one bite that was acceptable.”

Icon CEO Greg Hughes told the blog, “Film distribution is a very high risk business and these days films have to break even theatrically or come out with a small deficit. It is a fairly rare occurrence to have overages from theatrical – which is why we’re willing to talk about this film.”

The title goes out on VOD and DVD next month and Foxtel has the exclusive first pay-TV window through its output deal with Icon.

Hughes expects $1.5 million in wholesale DVD revenues plus about $1 million from pay TV, VOD and SVOD (there are no deals yet with streaming services) and perhaps $75,000 from hotels and airlines over the life of the film. A free-to-air sale could be worth $100,000.

He added, “It is difficult to predict what revenue will come back from ancillary markets over a lengthy time period but at the end of 15 years Icon expects to have made a contribution margin of about $1 million. I expect the producers’ share to be a similar figure.”

Hughes tells IF, “That is not profit, it is proceeds from the film which will be cash inflow into our business.”

As for why he decided to share figures which are usually proprietary, he said, “At a time of rapid change and disruption there has never been a greater need for more collaboration and sharing information.”

Duffy summed up the bottom line prospects: “The rough rule of thumb is that you have to make three or four times the budget of the film before everyone recoups all of their investment. In our case, that would be at least $12 million. However, for our private investors, because we have given them an accelerated recoupment, they will probably fully recoup when the film reaches $10 million. That may happen if it does well in ancillary markets and if it does well internationally, especially if it is released theatrically in some territories.”

By Don Groves. IF magazine

[Thu 19/11/2015

Hollywood’s Most Dangerous Documentarians on Death Threats, Scientology and “Staging” Reality

“One thing I’ve learned is that the person who wants to hurt you does not send you a note in advance,” says Michael Moore, as he gathers with five other outspoken top directors — Alex Gibney, Amy Berg, Kirby Dick, Liz Garbus and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi — for THR’s Documentary Roundtable.

Liz Garbus, Alex Gibney, Kirby Dick, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Michael

What is truth? That question was at the center of a heated debate among some of the most admired documentary filmmakers of our times during a roundtable that took place Oct. 29 in New York City — and their answers weren’t always what you might expect. Truth and facts aren’t necessarily the same thing, one argued; and “staging” reality might be OK in the service of a deeper truth, said another. Oscar winners Alex Gibney, 62 (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine), and Michael Moore, 61 (Where to Invade Next, which looks at progressivism abroad), were joined by Amy Berg, 45 (Janis: Little Girl Blue, a Joplin biography, and Prophet’s Prey, an investigation into the Warren Jeffs cult), Kirby Dick, 63 (The Hunting Ground, about campus rape), Liz Garbus, 45 (What Happened, Miss Simone?, which traces Nina Simone’s career), and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, 36 (Meru, a mountaineering thriller), in a conversation that ranged historically from Shakespeare’s Henry V to Margaret Thatcher and geographically from a Himalayan mountain range to the halls of the Pentagon.

What personal price have you paid to be documentary filmmakers?

DICK When you make a strong film, if you don’t get that reaction, perhaps you haven’t made the film strong enough. You’re going into a territory — sexual assault, for example — that people want to cover up. If I haven’t made that impact, where it’s causing people to respond and even to come at me, I really haven’t told the whole truth.

GIBNEY That’s very important we engage, even if there’s hostility — and I certainly have experienced a good bit.

MOORE I wish I just got hostility. (Laughs.)

GARBUS That’d be awesome.

BERG No death threats?

MOORE One thing I’ve learned is that the person who wants to hurt you does not send you a note in advance. The death threats are great; it’s the half a dozen assaults and attempts on my life [that aren’t], including a man who built a fertilizer bomb to plant under our home to blow it up — he went to prison — and the others who assaulted me with knives and billy clubs. [In Florida], a really nicely dressed man in a three-piece suit comes out of Starbucks and sees me, and he just turned purple and the vein started bulging. I call it the “Limbaugh Vein” — you know, it’s like after they’ve had three hours of listening to Rush. And he takes the lid off his hot, scalding coffee and throws it in my face. And only because I had this security guy with me [was I safe]. He put his face in front of mine and took the hit. Got second-degree burns. We had to take him to the hospital, but not before he took the guy down on the sidewalk and handcuffed him. After my Oscar speech [for Bowling for Columbine] and Fahrenheit 9/11, I’ve lived a number of years with this kind of horrible situation.

Are you afraid?

MOORE Well, yeah, I’m afraid. Yeah, of course. But I reached a certain point where I had to just stop being afraid, and I got rid of the security. I couldn’t live that way anymore. It was difficult on our family. People around me were afraid they were going be the collateral damage. And so finally I just decided: I’m in my 50s, I’ve lived a good life. Nobody will say I didn’t make a contribution. And if it’s going to happen today, it happens today, and you just live with it. And, actually, it was kind of liberating, that day when I decided to get rid of the security.

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Report warns of resource gap for emerging filmmakers after Screen Australia shuts off funding

Sydney’s Metro Screen is closing its doors on December 23 with the loss of 15 core staff and 60 contractors. Hobart-based Wide Angle Tasmania will close next June and Brisbane’s QPIX shuttered last year.

The closure of state-based screen resource centres after Screen Australia cut off their funding will deprive many emerging filmmakers of a vital bridge between tertiary education and entering the workforce.

That’s according to a new report, Emerging Visions: Career Pathways in the Australian Screen Production Industry, commissioned by Paddington-based Metro Screen, which lost its annual $250,000 grant from the agency.

Launching the report on Wednesday night, Metro Screen president Kath Shelper tells IF she hopes there will be a broad-based campaign to restore funding for emerging practitioners, similar to that mounted by arts organisations, from the smallest to the largest, after the Australia Council’s funding was cut.

The ADG and Screen Producers Australia had reps on the working party which commissioned the study.

“In our industry there has been very little backlash to Screen Australia’s cuts,” Shelper said. “Screen Australia does not see funding the emerging sector as its responsibility.”

The report notes federal government support to the screen industry including the producer offset jumped by 90 per cent since 2006/07, while funds for emerging screen practitioners will have shrunk by around 80 per cent by 2016/17.

Goalpost Pictures’ Rosemary Blight told the researchers, “I think there’s an issue with isolating yourself in an academic environment, and then coming out the end and standing there going ‘what am I going to do?’ I’m just concerned about what types of people are coming out and whether they are prepared for it.”

In 2013 the state resource centres received nearly $6 million in funding (including $1.47 million from Screen Australia). That year they supported 316 productions including 90 films selected for festivals and skills development for 3,300 participants.

The study found 36 per cent of producers surveyed believed that emerging practitioners are ‘over-qualified and under-skilled,’ while 24 per cent disagreed. The report concludes, “If Screen Australia isn’t responsible for taking the lead, who is?”

By Don Groves INSIDEFILM [Thu 12/11/2015]

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New dawn of TV drama: Director Glendyn Ivin


Australians have entered a new and exciting age of television, says the director behind shows including The Beautiful Lie, Gallipoli and Puberty Blues. By Caris Bizzaca

Television drama isn’t changing, it’s already changed, director Glendyn Ivin says.

With moody, atmospheric series such as The Code and Top of the Lake, television has become more cinematic in look and is presenting itself as a strong alternative to the movies.

“It’s also not just the look, but in the storytelling and the kind of storytelling. It’s smarter if you like,” Ivin says.

“Whereas it’s very hard to get an audience to go to the cinema to see that sort of story, it’s far easier and the audience is much greater, when it’s delivered either free-to-air, or catching up on streaming services later on.

“It’s almost like the new dawn of drama, that’s where it’s ending up.”

Traditionally, when you talked about the notion of exploring characters in a long-form production, you were referring to a 90 minute feature film. But Ivin says he’s relishing the chance to tell stories over a number of television episodes like with The Beautiful Lie, a modern-day adaptation of Anna Karenina.

“If you look at The Beautiful Lie, it feels cinematic, it feels like it could be a film but it goes for six hours,” he says of the Melbourne-set show starring Sarah Snook.

“So whether its six hours or 13 hours, long-form television series feel like the new way of telling dramatic stories, particularly in Australia.”

And as an audience member, it’s also exciting.

Ivin, a self-confessed Mad Men fan, says even the notion of ‘binge-watching’ was unheard of just a few years back.

“It’s such an unusual term, but being able to tell a story like that and being able to watch it when and how you watch it, it’s so much better for the audience… the fact that streaming has provided a multitude of different ways to consuming good storytelling, (shows) we are in a golden age of television.”

Ivin directed the 2009 feature film 2009, but the vast majority of his work has been in TV, working with producer John Edwards on Offspring, Puberty Blues, TV movie Beaconsfield and miniseries Gallipoli.

It was actually that collaboration that led to The Beautiful Lie.

While working in the dark editing suite on Gallipoli and dealing with the heaviness of war stories, Edwards would keep raving about a new project screenwriter Alice Bell was writing.

“I think he was just tempting me with it or baiting me,” Ivin says, particularly because Edward knew how much he enjoyed working with Bell (who was a writer on Puberty Blues).

Toward the end of 2014, Ivin got his hands on a screenplay and by March filming had kicked off.

Ivin, who directs three of the six episodes, says when dealing with adaptations like The Beautiful Lie or Puberty Blues he doesn’t necessarily feel like he has to stick to the story religiously.

“Great adaptations aren’t just saying ‘oh they’ve got the story right’, but that they’ve got the feel, the energy and the spirit of the text,” he says.

“For me, trying to capture the way that someone felt when they read the book is just as important.”

Watch The Beautiful Lie on ABC TV Sunday nights at 8.30pm or catch-up on iview.

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West Wing director Thomas Schlamme says TV more experimental

The director of The West Wing, Thomas Schlamme, enjoyed what was considered the best of times in television. Audiences were predictable and the budgets for him to direct series from E.R. and Sports Night to The West Wing and Aaron Sorkin’s follow-up, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, were massive and growing.

Yet even as audiences fracture to different platforms and television budgets consequently shrink, Schlamme remains even more optimistic for his craft.

“People are using a business model where they made enormous amounts of money,” he says of television’s apparent malaise. “In fact, (now) you can actually have a fairly successful company just making less money.”

Schlamme recalls the downside of the boom budget times, when their drama based in a television network, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, didn’t work and “I literally felt I was bringing down the Western economy! Warner Bros came to us and said we were being hit,” he recalls. “I thought the yen was going to fall and the world would implode because of the budget we were spending on that show and we weren’t getting an audience.”

The series still broke even but, Schlamme adds, “They just weren’t able to print money off it and they were so mad at us they couldn’t print money because it looked like a show that could.”

Schlamme is directing Manhattan, a drama about the making of the atomic bomb and starring The Code’s Ashley Zukerman, for the WGN America cable network. Schlamme, who is earning the best reviews of his career for Manhattan after coming from the similarly revered series The Americans, says his optimism as a storyteller is because there “are just so many different avenues”.

“I remember if I had a project it used to be: Should we go to NBC or ABC?” he says. “Now it’s like we can go to five places I’ve never heard of and, no, they’re not going to give me as much money to make the show so I’ve got to come up with a way to make it). Now, much more is being demanded artistically of a television director than ever before,” he says.

Schlamme notes that the medium is becoming more sophisticated, particularly visually, compared to his early years in which there was a very limited television vocabulary and networks said, “You’re in somebody’s home, don’t do any fancy work, make them feel comfortable.”

Once The West Wing and HBO — with The Sopranos — changed the visual and narrative possibilities of television in the late 1990s, Schlamme says, “I felt like I was liberated as a director to use anything that was in my toolbox. And, in fact, if you really look at it, outside of big C-G (computer-generated) movies, movies have become safer and television has become more experimental.

“It’s a little bit, for me at least, in America, television is much more like independent filmmaking. You can actually be braver and in some ways the confinement of time actually opens up creativity rather than closes it.”

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Michael Bodey – The Australian – November 09, 2015

Aussie Shane Brennan To Produce ‘Freeman’ & ‘Bob The Valkyrie’ Dramas For CBS & CW

Through his CBS TV Studios-based production company, NCIS: Los Angeles showrunner Shane Brennan has sold two drama projects: Freeman to CBS and Bob The Valkyrie to the CW.

Brennan will executive produce both shows with Shane Brennan Prods.’ Grant Anderson for CBS TV Studios.

CBS’ Freeman, written/executive produced by Dustin Lee Abraham (CSI, How High), centers on an Oakland parole officer with a checkered past who tries to “make the bad guys good again” and keep former inmates from being sent back to prison.

The CW’s Bob The Valkyrie, written/executive produced by Matt Greenberg (1408, Ring Of Fire), focuses on a new kind of valkyrie. Every generation faces a rising tide of evil, adversary of the legendary Valkyries — three women chosen by fate to defend humanity against this evil. This generation is no different — only this time, fate accidentally chooses a male when selecting its Valkyries. Now Bob, a chauvinistic “dude-bro,” must learn to face darkness and fight evil…all while getting in touch with his feminine side.

Brennan also has The Expendables event series, based on the hit movie franchise, in the works at Fox with Sylvester Stallone executive producing. Additionally, Shane Brennan Productions and CBS Studios recently acquired the rights to New Moon, the first novel in Ian McDonald’s Luna series, for Brennan to adapt and executive produce.

Brennan is repped by Paradigm and attorney Kevin Kelly. Abraham, who spent five years on CBS/CBS Studios’ CSI, is repped by Paradigm and attorney Jared Levine. Greenberg, who co-wrote the remake of Pet Sematary for Paramount, slated to go into production soon, is repped by Paradigm, manager Shelly Browning and attorneys Jason Sloane & Jim Gilio.

by Nellie Andreeva • Deadline – November 6, 2015

Award-winning film maker Kim Longinotto on the struggle for funding, low self esteem – and telling difficult stories

Kim Longinotto tells me several times during our interview that she has “very low self-esteem”, adding that “not being a very confident person” may have helped her 30-year career in documentary filmmaking.

It’s not the usual chitchat you’d expect from someone set to join the likes of Sir David Attenborough, John Pilger and Norma Percy in becoming the recipient of a Grierson Trustee Award for documentary film tonight. But then Longinotto has spent much of her career stuggling to get her work funded, let alone noticed.

Even her most recent film, Dreamcatcher, about the world of prostitution and sexual abuse of underage girls in Chicago, proved a tough sell. Her documentaries cost a modest £200,000 for 10 weeks of filming with minimal crew and swift editing, but when she asked the BBC for money to make Dreamcatcher she was turned down.

“I was honest, said I will do my best. It was risky. Everything is so insecure, they [the BBC commissioners] need reassurance as much as I do.” She eventually raised $175,000 from a commercial source and “paid them back almost immediately” when, after its premiere at the Sundance Festival in Utah, it was picked up by US cable network Showtime. Now the BBC have bought it, for more than she originally asked for and it will have its UK debut in BBC4’s Storyville slot on 11 November.

Longinotto has made more than 20 films, usually featuring inspiring women and girls at their core. She’s delved into female genital mutilation in Kenya (The Day I Will Never Forget), women standing up to rapists in India (Pink Saris), and the story of Salma, an Indian Muslim woman who smuggled poetry out to the world while locked up by her family for decades. But unlike many modern documentary makers her presence is rarely felt on screen. She uses handheld cameras to get up close to ordinary people – disarming them. “I want you to forget me, so there is nothing between you and them, so it looks like a fiction film,” she says. “Everywhere I go, I have never had a film which people didn’t want to be in.”

The approach is evident in Dreamcatcher, which explores its subject through the story of an ex-prostitute, Brenda Myers-Powell, who has rebuilt her life and set up a foundation to help escapees. “It was the last thing I wanted to make, it’s going to be bleak, where is the hope, the rebelliousness in it?” Longinotto thought, when a producer proposed the idea. “Then she showed me a clip of Brenda, it was love at first sight.” It has a heartbreaking scene where, one by one, a class of vulnerable teenagers tutored by Brenda talk about being sexually assaulted and raped. One says she was nine and unable to protect her four-year-old sister. “I was crying for pride in them. They were absolutely thrilled to have their stories told. I think with a lot of the TV programmes what we get is the negative side … they are taking from people … somehow we are robbing people of their stories. Whereas I feel the opposite. Those girls had never been listened to. Never been heard. Or have been disbelieved, or told off for telling. Here at last was someone [saying] ‘I’m on your side. You can do it’.”

To get the young women and girls to open up, she had showed them another of her films, Sisters in Law, about two women in Cameroon who stand up to male abuse, and told them about her own experience of being gang-raped in her 20s while she studying at the National Film & TelevisionSchool in London.

“It is only in the last few years I’ve been able to say that in front of an audience,” Longinotto says. “I don’t care, it happens to us all. If people think it’s attention-seeking, weird, misplaced, I don’t care. Loads of people are abused as children, raped, why should we keep quiet? That’s what we want, people who speak out, not victims who are not embarrassed, not pathetic. That is what the media can do.

“I put my camera down, I said [to the women in Dreamcatcher], ‘it’s all right, you have got to let it go, learn to let things go’. We are survivors.”

The assault followed on from a sad start in life, a posh boarding school that sent her to Coventry, a cold family who pretended they were direct descendants of painter Edwin Landseer (her father was an Italian photographer), and a period of sleeping rough. She was in penury for seven years in the 1980s as she held out to make her sort of documentary, but her work has given her perspective on her own life. “You can’t watch Dreamcatcher and think you had it bad. I didn’t have a couple of kids at the age of 14.”

It was the arrival of Channel 4 that offered her a way into filmmaking via a workshop focused on making films in local communities. This led to a breakthrough commission, Divorce Iranian Style. She has never earned enough to buy a home, but says being able to buy “the best bike in the shop” means she is well-off, and “you don’t do this for the money” .

It does, though, take money to get her films made. She is used to making one film a year but that has dropped now it takes longer to get funding. She has used the BBC’s consultation on its next royal charter to argue the corporation should do more to help get documentaries made.

“There should be a fully-funded documentary strand on television,” she says. “I said fund Storyville properly. They get bloody good films, but they should be able to originate them. Have a budget. And the BBC should not be warring with ITV. They should be more public service. Strictly should not be against X Factor.”

However, she isn’t snooty about popular TV. “A lot of documentary makers tell me they don’t even have a TV, they look down on TV, only watch cinema films. Telly is my pleasure in life. I am addicted. I can’t imagine not living in England because of the telly. It is that bad.

“There are things that are wonderful, The Naked Choir, Gogglebox, The X Factor, these programmes really enrich our lives, the good ones feed into our culture and make our society more adventurous.” She credits Graham Norton, Grayson Perry and Eddie Izzard for making Britain “a more fun place to live”.

She now teaches at the National Film & Television School, “encouraging students to find how they want to do it, maybe film a little less. It is about very basic things, not art, things like how to create a scene.”

Longinotto says it is “wonderful” to be given the Grierson award, but her main priority is getting exposure for her work. “It feels like it’s not an award for me, but all the people in the films, these films are worth looking at. And it means more people will watch them.” Meanwhile she is waiting to hear whether the BBC will fund her next film, set in New York. Asked whether she is likely to succeed, her self-effacement resurfaces: “Who knows, they could easily say no. I probably messed it up.”

Maggie Brown – The Guardian – Monday 2 November 2015

Curriculum vitae

Age 63 Education Hampden House school, Buckinghamshire, Essex University (English and European literature)


1974 National Film & Television School

1976 first film, Pride of Place,shown at London Film Festival

1995 Shinjuku Boys judged outstanding documentary at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

1998 Divorce Iranian Style

2002 The Day I Will Never Forget

2005 Sisters in Law

2007 Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go

2008 Rough Aunties

2010 Pink Saris

2013 Salma

2015 Dreamcatcher

‘Spectre’s’ Sam Mendes Offers 10 Tips to Young Directors

Sam Mendes has some advice for young filmmakers.

The Spectre director, who was honored Friday night at BAFTA Los Angeles’ Britannia Awards with the organization’s John Schlesinger Award for Excellence in Directing, took his time on stage to offer up 10 helpful tips for up-and-coming directors who are looking to take on an action franchise.

Mendes, who took over the Bond franchise in 2012 with Skyfall more than a decade after he won an Oscar for American Beauty, has learned a thing or two on his latest pair of big-budget thrillers. Spectre, likely the last of the franchise to star Daniel Craig as James Bond, hits theaters Nov. 6.

Ahead of his film’s debut, Mendes offered the following advice to new directors:

1. “Get in touch with your inner 12 year old. He or she was an interesting kid.”

2. “You can only ever point the camera at one thing at a time.”

3. “You are playing roulette with someone else’s money. If you are going to bet it all on black, you need to be able to explain why.”

4. “Making an action sequence is only interesting when you’re in the cutting room. Up until then, it is literally the most tedious thing you will ever do.”

5. “On the day, be prepared — but also be prepared to make shit up.”

6. “When you’re choosing for collaborators, do not listen to the people who tell you, “Yes, but I’ve never done a big movie.” If they are any good, they will learn — just like I did.”

7. “You need to learn to tune out the white noise. You can not please everyone.”

8. “Tarantino, Spielberg, Nolan, Scorsese, Greengrass, J.J. and Paul Thomas Anderson all still shoot on film. There is a reason.”

9. “You’re trying to surf the big wave, so be prepared to be wiped out — but when you catch it, it feels like nothing else.”

10. “When you get excited, don’t be afraid to leap out of your chair and sing the bond theme.”

by Bryn Elise Sandberg – THR – 31/10/2015

C21 Schedule Watch: ABC

Despite budget cuts, Australian pubcaster ABC’s flagship channel has maintained a healthy primetime market share and is growing audiences via its popular catch-up platform.


ABC’s flagship channel has revitalised its Tuesday and Wednesday schedules this year, as well as scoring high ratings with historical drama The Secret River and political documentary The Killing Season, which have contributed to a slight rise in its overall primetime share.

ABC has ranked as the third most watched network this year on a 10.5% share – up from 10.4% in 2014 – behind Nine and Seven’s primary channels and ahead of Network Ten.

Its catch-up platform iview averaged a record 29 million monthly plays in the first eight months of the year, up from around 20 million last year. This growth has been achieved despite a five-year A$254.4m (US$177.6m) budget cut imposed by the federal government last November.

“All things considered, we’re in remarkable health. We have done a fantastic job in mitigating any damage from the budget cuts,” says ABC TV head of programming Brendan Dahill. “There are a few more repeats than there used to be but we’ve placed them where they add value and do not annoy viewers. We have made some efficiencies which have not impacted on screen and reduced the head count among staff who did not produce content.”

Dahill is keen to boost the pubcaster’s volume of local content from 43% to 60% and rely less on international programming, contingent on funding.

The pubcaster will continue to commission drama and comedy from independent producers and coproduce factual entertainment.

ABC is currently negotiating three-year funding arrangements with the government, which will be implemented from the 2016 budget.

In September, ABC MD Mark Scott confirmed he will step down when his contract expires in mid-2016 after 10 years in the post. The board will soon start to search for a successor.

Recent changes in personnel include Alastair McKinnon, formerly head of business affairs, commissioning and distribution at pubcaster SBS, who succeeded Greer Simpkin as deputy head of fiction. Kath Earle was promoted from commissioning editor/executive producer to acting head of TV arts after Katrina Sedgwick left. Also, former Yahoo!7 executive Gabrielle Cambridge was appointed to the new role of head of TV business.

Current schedule

Earlier this year, Dahill highlighted a couple of content goals for 2015 that included revitalising entertainment on Wednesday nights, and establishing a couple of destinations in the schedule for high-profile commissioned Australian documentaries alongside popular factual programming. That strategy has already delivered some successes.

Original production, entertainment, formats

ABC’s Wednesday night entertainment line-up has been strengthened by the return of Gruen after a two-year absence. The 12th incarnation of the franchise, which investigates advertising, spin, branding and image control, is coproduced with CJZ.

New comedy talkshow The Weekly with Charlie Pickering from prodco Thinkative Television Production performed so well it’s already been renewed for 2016.

However, Dahill opted to rest the BBC comedy quizshow QI this year, observing: “We have been guilty of slightly over using it and that was impacting on its performance.”

The show will return next February.

How Not to Behave, a comedy-entertainment series produced by Screentime and based on the Swedish format So Not OK, has posted modest ratings at 20.00 on Wednesday. Dahill indicates there will be a renewed focus on that timeslot next year.

The ABC also acquired the rights to Dutch format The Bully Project, which sees victims secretly filming their lives for a day before the footage is shown to classmates and the bully, but isn’t ready to reveal more.

The second season of Giant Dwarf’s topical gameshow The Chaser’s Media Circus is holding its own at 20.00 on Thursday in the slot formerly occupied by CJZ’s satirical consumer affairs series The Checkout, which will return in 2016.


Dahill vows to take a new direction with documentaries and factual programming, spotlighting issues, which he says will resonate with the vast majority of Australians.

One example is Hitting Home, a two-part exposé of domestic violence in which journalist Sarah Ferguson will spend one night in a women’s refuge, then confront the perpetrators. The programme will premiere in November tied into White Ribbon Day, part of a national, male-led campaign to end men’s violence against women.

Screentime’s Outback ER, an ob doc that followed emergency response teams based in the outback mining town of Broken Hill, rated well at 20.00 on Thursday.

Tuesday night ratings lifted after local science show Catalyst moved to 20.00 from the same time on Thursday, providing a strong lead-in to ABC productions such as The Killing Season, Ferguson’s three-part exposé of the ousting of prime minister Kevin Rudd by Julia Gillard); Making Australia Great, in which journalist George Megalogenis chronicles how Australia survived the global financial crisis; and Restoration Australia, which follows the trials and tribulations of seven groups of Australians committed to the task of restoring heritage ruins into living homes.

Among other successes at 20.30 on Tuesdays have been Optomen Television’s Kevin McCloud’s Homes in The Wild and ITV’s Slow Train Through Africa with Griff Rhys Jones.


ABC has placed a big emphasis on drama as part of its local production mission. The pubcaster commissioned a raft of Australian dramas for 2015, most of them airing at 20.30 on Thursdays

It took a risk with Matchbox Pictures’ Glitch, a paranormal mystery, centred on a small-town cop whose dead wife reappears in a graveyard with a succession of undead characters.

All six episodes were made available on iview immediately after the first episode’s broadcast premiere on July 9 at 20.30. The average five-city overnight audience was a modest 550,000 but there were 1.2 million plays on iview (at an average of 197,000 plays per episode), the most watched series on iview this year.

Dahill acknowledges: “We might have made a mistake with the way we marketed the show. It was a sophisticated genre drama but we did not sell it as such but as a love story with a difference. If I had my time over the campaign would have said, ‘You’ve never seen anything like this on Australian TV before’ and embraced the difference.”

But he continues: “I’m very proud of this show. It is unlike anything we have seen produced in Australia before. It was designed as a two- or three-series arc, so we’re talking to the producers about continuing if we can make it affordable.”

Less successful, however, was Playmaker Media’s eight-part drama Hiding.

Launched in February, the drama follows a Queensland family who are placed into witness protection in Sydney.

Ruby Entertainment’s The Secret River, which followed in June, drew nearly 1.2 million viewers plus 90,000 average iview plays per episode. The two-part miniseries stars Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Mr Selfridge) as an English convict who is transported to colonial New South Wales in 1805, with Sarah Snook as his free-settler wife.

The third season of Every Cloud’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, starring Essie Davis as the glamorous 1920s private detective, also performed strongly. Essie has landed a recurring role in season six of Game of Thrones, with Dahill now needing to figure out a way to shoot another series to accommodate her schedule.

The programmer has high hopes for ABC’s upcoming drama The Beautiful Lie (6×60’) from Endemol Australia, a contemporary re-imagining of Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina, scripted by Alice Bell and produced by John Edwards and Imogen Banks, which premieres at 20.30 on Tuesday October 20.

He describes the drama, which stars Sarah Snook, Rodger Corser, Sophie Lowe, Benedict Samuel, Gina Riley, Celia Pacquola and Dan Wyllie, as “one of the best dramas we’ve ever made.”

Despite budget constraints, ABC has commissioned a hefty local drama slate for 2016, including the fourth seasons of Essential Media and Entertainment and Blow by Blow’s Rake and December Media’s The Doctor Blake Mysteries (both 8×60’).

Essential is also producing Jack Irish (6×60’), a spin-off of three TV movies starring Guy Pearce as a former criminal lawyer turned private investigator and debt collector.

In addition, there will be second seasons of Screentime’s legal drama Janet King (8×60’) and Playmaker Media’s The Code (6×60’), which follows brothers Jesse (Ashley Zukerman) and Ned (Dan Spielman) as they face the possibility of being extradited to the US to face serious charges.

Dahill also singles out the upcoming Cleverman (6×60’), a high-concept genre drama set in the near future which sees a group of non-humans battling for survival in a world where humans feel increasingly inferior to them and want to silence, exploit and kill them. An Australian/New Zealand coproduction between Goalpost Pictures and Pukeko Pictures, it stars Iain Glen (Game of Thrones), Frances O’Connor (The Missing), Deborah Mailman, Hunter Page-Lochard, Rob Collins and Stef Dawson.

Further projects lined up for 2016 include Matchbox Pictures’ Barracuda (4×60’) is an adaptation of a novel by Christo Tsiolkas (The Slap), the saga of a 17-year-old Greek-Australian’s struggle to achieve the ultimate accolade in the competitive world of swimming.

Meanwhile, launching later this year is the innovative series The Divorce, a contemporary comedic soap opera – a collaboration between ABC Arts, Opera Australia and Princess Pictures. The show, exploring the universal themes of love, passion, regret, greed and longing, all sung, will be stripped over four nights.


Working Dog’s comedy Utopia is set in a fictional bureaucracy | The Ex-PM centres on a fictional former prime minister

Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell (10×30’), a copro between ITV Studios Australia and Giant Baby Productions, returned for its fifth and most successful series to date.

Later in the year Micallef will star in CJZ’s The Ex-PM (6×30’) as Australia’s fictional third-longest-serving prime minister who has far too much time on his hands and no one to waste it on.

Sticky Pictures’ Sammy J & Randy in Ricketts Lane (6×30’), the tale of an obsessive, socially inept junior lawyer who shares a house with a rude, socially awkward purple puppet, premiered on iview in September ahead of its broadcast debut in mid-October.

The second season of Utopia (8×30’), Working Dog’s comedy set in the fictional bureaucracy Nation Building Authority is outperforming the first series at 21.00 Wednesday and Dahill is now talking to the producers about a third series.

Meanwhile, season three of Josh Thomas’ multi-award-winning comedy drama Please Like Me (10×30’) will premiere on ABC at 21.30 on October 15, after the first two series aired on sibling ABC2. The Pigeon Fancier/John & Josh International production airs in the US on cablenet Pivot.


Later this year ABC will show the first series of Paul Abbott’s UK police comedy drama No Offence, the final series of New Tricks, Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime and the seventh season of Doc Martin.


ABC iview is consistently Australia’s most popular internet TV service. July was iview’s most successful month ever, with 35.5 million program plays and 2.1 million visitors across the iview site and apps.

So far this year iview programme plays are up 41% compared with its 2014 average, with drama and digital-first content boosting viewing. Apart from Glitch the other most-viewed local productions included The Secret River, The Killing Season, Hiding, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and The Doctor Blake Mysteries.

In April, a new function was added enabling consumers to rent or buy episodes of shows outside of the two-week catch-up window by clicking through to iTunes.

This September saw the ABC Arts channel launch on iview, featuring original, high-end arts content including On Assignment, hosted by Australian photographer James Simmons; The Imitation Game: Marina Abramovic, an art-world experiment with the matriarch of performance art; Fashpack Freetown, which celebrates the forces of creativity in a town known more as a civil war battleground than a fashion hotspot; and The Critics with Zane Rowe, a new review show dissecting screen culture from film to video art and the latest web series.

The line-up also includes curated arts documentaries Finding Vivian Maier, Chuck Close, Beautiful Losers, Getting Frank Gehry, Finding Fela and Stranded.

ABC’s top 10 Australian shows of Jan-June 2015

(Rank, title, type, average viewers in millions)

1. Asian Cup 2015 final Australia v Korea extra time, sport, 2.13

2. The Doctor Blake Mysteries, period crime drama, 1.57

3. The Killing Season, political documentary, 1.51

4. Asian Cup 2015 final Australia v Korea live, sport, 1.42

5. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, period drama, 1.38

6. Asian Cup 2015 final Australia vs Korea post-game, sport, 1.29

7. Australian Story, documentary, 1.27

8. ABC News (Saturday), 1.25

9. The Secret River, period drama, l.19

10. Arthur Phillip: Governor, Sailor, Spy, historical documentary, 1.18

Source: ABC, OzTAM & Regional TAM consolidated data

Don Groves reports – 9 October 2015

After Oddball and Paper Planes, hunt is on for next family film hit

Buoyed by the success of this year’s hits Oddball and Paper Planes, the hunt is on for Australia’s next big family-friendly movie.

In a highly unusual move, Screen Australia has put out a call for established filmmakers to submit ideas for a live-action family film that can be made for under $7 million.

The agency is calling for one-page submissions, and will pick 10 to attend a two-day workshop in Sydney next March, after which up to three will receive funding to develop a first draft.

Joan Sauers, a screenwriter and script editor who is managing the program for Screen Australia, says there is a dearth of family films in the pipeline, despite the commercial appeal of the genre.

“So many applications [to the funding agencies] are for incredibly dark niche films, and I love dark films but they aren’t always successful,” she says. By contrast, “Some of our more mainstream family films have done incredibly well, but we just don’t get enough of them”.

Sauers frames this call-out as a kind of challenge to Australia’s mid-career writers, directors and producers (note to first-timers: this scheme isn’t for you). “If you weren’t going to do an outback serial killer movie, and you were going to do a family film, what would it look like?”

She nominates David Michod (crime films The Rover and Animal Kingdom) and the Spierig Brothers (time-travel thriller Predestination, vampire flick Daybreakers) as the sort of people she’d like to turn their hands to a family film. And she insists she’s not being funny.

“The sort of family films we should be making are a little darker, a little more ironic, a little more left-field of typical Hollywood fare.”

A little more Roald Dahl, perhaps?

“Exactly – Dahl is the perfect example of stories that offer something that appeals to both adults and kids.”

It’s easier said than done, of course, but the numbers do suggest the idea has some merit. Oddball has just passed $6.3 million locally. Paper Planes has taken $9.65 million in Australia, and is about to be released in Britain. George Miller’s Babe took a mammoth $36.7 million in Australia alone.

Family films also have a long tail, cropping up on TV and VOD and in DVD sales and rentals for years, sometimes even decades, after they were first released.

“What’s so great about kids’ movies is they can be rewatched by a fresh audience that just doesn’t know enough to care that a car went out of fashion years ago,” says Oddball director Stuart McDonald. “As long as it works, they’re engaged.”

Before the release of Paper Planes, writer-producer-director Robert Connolly said he was inspired by the sort of Australian films he grew up watching as a kid but felt no one was making any more. “If we don’t make films like that then how do you build an audience for Australian cinema looking to the future,” he asked.

That’s a view with which Sauers concurs. “I hear parents all the time saying, ‘I wish there was an Australian film I could take my kids to so they could hear Australian accents on the screen’,” she says. “We need that new generation of Storm Boy and Starstruck. If you don’t get the audience as kids, you won’t win them back.”

The program is targeting live-action films because they are relatively cheap compared to animation, where budgets typically run north of $100 million in Hollywood.

LA-based Australian screenwriter Harry Cripps has experience of that end of the spectrum – he is co-writing the outback-set Dreamworks animation Larrikins with Tim Minchin – but says a smaller budget is no impediment to making a good film.

“It’s the same principles: money is great, you can do more things with it, but if the story isn’t there it doesn’t matter,” he says.

Cripps will help finesse the selected projects at the workshop next March and says he’s looking for “great characters, great dialogue that comes from the heart, and a huge idea”.

He cites Shrek as a perfect example (but don’t, for goodness sake, copy the idea, and do ignore the fact it was animated). “That was the first time I saw a family film and forgot I had a kid with me, the first time I thought, ‘Oh, you can make a film that’s equally appealing to kids and parents’.”

Sauers agrees that the key to a great family film is that it appeals equally to kids and adults – and ideally to older kids and teens too.

“The best ones are about children who solve adults’ problems for them,” she says.

“Films like The Goonies, where the kids save the town from evil developers, or the Parent Trap, where the kids have to get the parents back together, or Home Alone, where the parents forget they’ve left their kid behind.

“Parents can enjoy those stories as much as anyone because they are dealing with their issues too – like divorce, like developers, like dementia.”

Here’s an idea: how about a movie in which a bunch of kids save all the adults in the Australian film industry by writing a hit family film?

Just a thought.

Karl Quinn – SMH – October 4, 2015

Here’s one for all the family: The top 10 live-action Australian family films at the Australian box office

Crocodile Dundee (1986) $47.7 million (#1 Australian film of all time)

Babe (1995) $36.77 million (#3)

Crocodile Dundee II (1988) $24.91 million (#7)

Strictly Ballroom (1992) $21.76 million (#8)

Red Dog (2011) $21.46 million (#9)

The Dish (2000) $17.99 million (#10)

The Man from Snowy River (1982) $17.22 million (#11)

Young Einstein (1988) $13.38 million (#18)

Phar Lap (1983) $9.25 million (#28)

Kenny (2006) $7.78 million (#33)

Source: Screen Australia. Figures are not adjusted for inflation.