What networks and production companies should learn from House of Hancock

In the wake of Channel Nine and CJZ’s apology to Gina Rinehart, production companies should be wary of the issues that landed these companies in hot water with the mining magnate. In this post, media lawyer Stephen Digby explains the strategies required to avoid the same fate as TV series House of Hancock.

Stephen Digby is the principal and co-founder of Digby von Muenster Law – mumbrella

– March 7, 2017

After Rinehart’s successful legal action in the Supreme Court of NSW in 2015, which gave her access to part two of House of Hancock ahead of its screening on Nine, it appeared that the parties had come to a settlement that, whilst confidential, seemed to allow broadcast of part two of the docudrama under certain conditions.

Some of these conditions included specific disclaimers in the opening and closing credits the show was a “drama, not a documentary”, and that Rinehart was not interviewed by the producers. Several minutes of footage were also cut from the broadcast.

However, this did not seem to placate Rinehart, as she took Nine and CJZ back to court claiming defamation and malicious falsehood, as well as misleading and deceptive form that excused almost everything, including any “breaches of alleged moral behaviour”. These releases were repeatedly tested in US courts by, amongst many others, unwitting college guys, politicians and etiquette tutors.

The lesson from Borat is that with release forms – provided that they are true and accurate in their disclosures and well packed with the required indemnity and warranty protections – you can significantly limit your exposure to liability from any loss, or damage that may result from the broadcast.

So, whilst Borat offended almost all of its participants, it still lives on in cinema, and House of Hancock which offended one person, is seemingly off the air forever.

3. Use settlement as a bar to future proceedings

Despite an iron-clad release, as outlined above (and as Borat showed), court proceedings can still be unavoidable. If that does happen, then it is almost always more sensible to seek some form of out-of-court settlement that all parties can live with, or, is the best “worst-case”. This appeared to have been the case with House of Hancock, but, unlike that situation, the settlement did not prevent Rinehart from bringing further proceedings.

With this in mind, any production company (or broadcaster) should be very careful to make sure if it does reach settlement outside court, that a key part of this agreement is a widely-drafted and extensive release clause which acts to bar the party who brought or threatened the action from re-visiting the matter in any future legal proceedings in relation to it. Without knowing the full details of the Nine/CJZ/Rinehart confidential settlement, we won’t speculate why this don’t happen on this occasion, but, ideally, these types of clauses as part of a settlement are designed to put an end to all legal proceedings, once and for all, now and in the future.

4. Preparing for the worst

As an essential pre-requisite to a broadcast commission, production companies are required to take out errors and omissions insurance. Whilst these policies can often be difficult to navigate, the House of Hancock experience will force production companies to look more deeply into what these policies do and don’t cover.

Whilst premiums can be expensive, broadening the insurance to specially cover the company from the costs of litigation against all types of allegations could well be worthwhile. Given the breadth of the allegations made by Rinehart, these claims may go beyond simply unauthorised use of titles, copyright infringement and breach of privacy, to defamation, idea and story theft, and injurious falsehood, as well as misleading and deceptive conduct. A full and frank conversation with your insurers at the time the policy is being put in place, and close attention as to what it includes, and, more importantly, excludes, could give producers a great deal more comfort when faced with these types of proceedings.

Is it worth it?

Like all businesses, production companies need to do a cost/benefit analysis of the risks and rewards of doing these sorts of shows, but, with luck, these types of measures might help reduce that risk. However, as House of Hancock proves, this type of issue is not always possible to avoid.

Luke Davies on ‘Candy’, mature share houses, and the magic of Garth Davis

Aussie screenwriter Luke Davies lives in LA with director David Michôd, and is repped by UTA’s Bec Smith. Both are former IF editors, and Davies himself used to contribute DVD reviews to the magazine. We spoke with the honorary old boy on the phone from Bondi, where he was staying on a layover in Oz late last year.

Your path into screenwriting began with Candy, is that right?

Yeah. I was always obsessed with film but didn’t know how to break in. So I said to Margaret Fink, the producer, that she could option the book if I was allowed to try my hand at the first draft of the screenplay. That was the beginning of the path that led to here.

Had you been reading screenplays before that point or did you just learn on the job?

No I was really obsessed. There was actually a screenplay store in Sydney that lasted for about ten years. Honest to God, they must have lived on a shoestring, those guys. But I was one of the faithful customers. It was pre-internet, mid-90s, in the city. It was down near Darling Habour. I used to obsessively buy screenplays of films that I loved and I’d watch the film and try and work out what had changed. My first draft of Candy was very much of its time (laughs). Wall to wall voiceover. Very Goodfellas-esque, like a lot of what people were writing back in the late 90s.

Gradually over the years of working on the screenplay with Neil Armfield, we stripped most of the voiceover out of it. We were all busy living other lives, doing other things, the years passed and it really was hard to get that film financed. But then Heath Ledger came along and got it financed very easily. It was a five year period [of writing] where I was learning, and Neil Armfield was a real mentor.

When did you move to the States?

After Candy I went to America to have a little exploration. I really don’t know what I was thinking. I thought maybe I’d get an agent or something. It wasn’t a grand plan. In April it will be ten years I’ve been in LA. The first five years were really difficult. I was poor and I really didn’t know if it was going to pan out. In 2009 I started sharing a house with Alex O’Loughlin (Hawaii Five-0). Then David Michôd, who I had been friends with for some years, and his girlfriend, Mirrah Foulkes, started coming to LA around the time that Crossbow was suddenly leading to all this buzz and to David making Animal Kingdom. They’d be going to Sundance, or whatever, and they would stay at our place. We all got on and we became fast friends. At a certain point we were like, ‘Why don’t we all get a bigger house? We come and go a little bit, and if there’s four of us it’s cheaper’. We started doing that six years ago and two houses later we’re still doing it. It’s a lovely house that’s kind of an oasis in Koreatown. It’s like a mature share house and it works (laughs).

How did Lion come to you?

I had a pre-existing relationship with See-Saw Films and Emile Sherman, who along with Margaret Fink was one of the producers of Candy. Emile met Iain Canning on the Candy shoot.

Iain was the European sales agent and exec producer. They became friends and formed See-Saw Films and went on to make The King’s Speech. We had maintained a working relationship and fiddled around with a couple of things that never really happened. So then they gave me Saroo’s book and asked how I would approach adapting it. I got the job, then went to India to meet Saroo and see the real places where everything happened: the train station, the orphanage, his home town. And then to Tasmania with Saroo to meet Garth and Sue and John, Saroo’s parents.

And Saroo’s friends. Everything mattered at that moment. That’s how it began; a really intense two-and-a-half week research trip.

At what point did you start writing?

About two weeks after that trip, Garth came to LA and he and I sat down with a whiteboard for about a week or ten days. Very casual, cups of tea all day long, filling up his whiteboard, throwing ideas around. From that point I sort of disappeared into the cave and started writing and by then it was September or October. I wrote the very first draft in less than twelve weeks and then there was feedback and notes and I wrote another draft. That draft was what See-Saw Films took to Cannes in May 2014. The Weinsteins won a bidding war, and the money that the Weinsteins paid to secure international distribution rights became a portion of the budget. So then the film went into pre-production and it was shooting by the beginning of 2015. There were still more script changes going on right up until shooting but essentially the first two drafts after the research session were done in this really compressed six month period. Six months, two drafts, with gaps in between.

What do you think of the finished film?

I cry every time I see it. I shouldn’t, because I wrote it, so I know everything that happens, but I do and I think it is because Garth’s a magician and he made me an observer again. We’ve been doing all these Q&A screenings and it’s really, really nice to be promoting a film that you actually love. There’s no feeling of fakery about having to push the thing. Garth’s identified the different kinds of criers now; people who start weeping in the first minute, the people who hold off and have muscular tension for the whole two hours and then cry at the end and then there’s all these gradations in between. We love the fact that it connects with audiences.

By Harry Windsor INSIDE FILM Mon 20/02/2017

Crime and adaptation: Dennis Lehane

Live by Night author Dennis Lehane is a writer often divided

Dennis Lehane, author of Live by Night, adapted for the screen by Ben Affleck. Photo: Getty Images.

  • The Australian

Dennis Lehane moves between fiction and film, and has a rueful way of describing the difference between the two. “When you’re writing a novel, you’re God. When you’re working on a film, you’re one of 147 guys.”

He published his first crime novel in 1994; Hollywood came calling for his sixth book, Mystic River, the story of three men who have known each other since childhood, a recent murder and an incident from the past that haunts them still. Clint Eastwood directed the adaptation and it won Oscars for actors Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.

Since then there have been adaptations of several Lehane crime novels: Shutter Island, ­directed by Martin Scorsese; Gone Baby Gone, directed by Ben Affleck; and now Live by Night, a crime drama set in Florida in the 1930s, written and directed by Affleck, who also stars in it.

Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin and Chris Messina as Dion Bartolo in a scene from 
<i>Live by Night</i>.

Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin and Chris Messina as Dion Bartolo in a scene from Live by Night.

Lehane has written scripts for film and TV but has tended to stay away from adapting his own work. A screenplay and a novel are completely different entities, he says. “It’s like comparing a giraffe and an apple.” The task is different, the relationships with others are different, yet he finds things that he needs in both.

“Sometimes you want to be God, sometimes it’s OK to be one of 147 guys. Each activity fills a different gap,” he says. “When I write a screenplay or a teleplay, I say, ‘Oh, it’s so great not to have to describe the room, it’s so great not to have to create this from whole cloth, it’s so great just to sit down, know where I’m going, to have a road map and follow it.’ In the case of a teleplay, 15 days later I’m done; in the case of a screenplay, 45 days later I’m done. And then all of a sudden one day you wake up and you go, ‘I really miss prose, I really miss painting the scene. I really miss that part of my personality.’ So then you start to write a book.”

Lehane, 51, born in Boston to Irish parents, was a voracious reader as a child. At the age of 14 he came across Richard Price’s novel The Wanderers, set among gangs of youths in a Bronx housing ­project, and it gave him the feeling that he could write about what he knew. Years later, he and Price worked on the groundbreaking TV series The Wire. Being in The Wire writing room, he says, writing episodes for the last three series, “was my perfect graduate school in screenwriting”.

Lehane studied creative writing at Florida International University and wrote a draft of his first novel while in college, but it was several years and many drafts until A Drink before the War was published in 1994. It won the Shamus Award for best first ­private eye novel, and he has been writing steadily ever since.

Live by Night is part of a loose trilogy that began with The Given Day, a sprawling tale set in Boston in 1919; at its centre was an Irish family, the Coughlins, who lived on both sides of the law. Live by Night is a spare narrative focused on Joe Coughlin (played in the film by Affleck), who’s definitely on the wrong side of it.

Lehane spent a year researching the period for The Given Day, but is cautious about the ­experience of immersing himself in the period. Too much detail, he says, can kill a book. “You have to sprinkle it very judiciously because it pulls people out of the narrative, which is the absolute unforgivable sin in any book.”

He tackled Live by Night a little differently. He was steeped in the world his central character had come from and decided, he says, that “I’m not going to research anything on this book until I need to”. Instead, he tackled questions when they came up. “What did a suit cost in 1925? How afraid were people of flying in 1935? It was a much more pleasant way to do it; I highly recommend it.”

When it comes to adaptations of his work, Lehane says, he leaves it to the screenwriter to initiate contact. “I feel like they should be left alone to do what they have to do.” Affleck asked him to read the first draft of Live by Night, he says, and to give him notes. “I gave them to him, and some he took to heart and some he discounted, just as I do when I get editorial notes.” He saw two cuts of the film and then the finished product.

Elle Fanning is Loretta Figgis in 
<i>Live by Night</i>.

Elle Fanning is Loretta Figgis in Live by Night.

It’s always strange, he says, to see characters he created on screen in new incarnations. “There’s a feeling of dislocation, no matter how good the film is. People are surprised that Ken Kesey’s never seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I’m not. I’m not surprised at all. They say, ‘Well it won five Academy Awards, it’s one of the best movies ever made.’ Yeah, but it’s not what he had in his head. No matter how great it can be, it’s never exactly what you had in your head.

“So the best you can do is judge it on its parts. I don’t think a novelist can truly judge something on its whole unless it’s wholly terrible, and then it’s, ‘Oh, that thing sucks, no big deal there.’ But if it’s good, and I’ve had four good ­adaptations, including Live by Night, then you just kinda go, ‘Well, the pieces sure seem to be lining up, the cinematography is beautiful, the performances are great …’ But I can’t fall into it the way I fall into Casablanca or The Silence of the Lambs, or something I didn’t write. You know, that suspension of disbelief that is so ­crucial for a moviegoer.”

He half-broke a rule about not adapting his own novels when he wrote a screenplay based on one of his short stories, Animal Rescue. It ­became a 2014 film called The Drop, which he then turned into a novella of the same name.

And now, he says, he’s broken it completely. He has a new novel coming out in May called Since We Fell, and he has already written a screenplay. The project is in its early stages, he says. It has been acquired by DreamWorks after a bidding war but there’s no director as yet. The story has a female central character whose life is turned upside down by a chance encounter. “It’s very contemporary, very Hitchcockian. No more trips into the past for a while.”

He’s well aware, of course, that the scriptwriter’s work can often end up in limbo. I ask him about the fate of several screenwriting jobs he had been involved in recently. Lehane had been writing an adaptation of A Prophet, Jacques Audiard’s absorbing drama about a young man in prison quietly building himself a new life. He wrote a pilot for a series set in the hospital from Shutter Island. He had been working on a new version of the Irish TV series Love/Hate. And he had been involved in a miniseries that was to revisit the legendary law enforcer of the 30s, Eliot Ness.

He takes me briskly through the state of play. “A Prophet is still alive; it’s called American Son now, last I heard. Eliot Ness is dead. The Shutter Island project is dead. The Irish TV series is in limbo.” He laughs. “Welcome to Hollywood.”

Live by Night is screening nationally.

Screen Oz boss launches broadside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don Groves – 17-11-2016 – C21Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Australia announces more than $2.3 million for documentary projects

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

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

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

The successful Documentary Producer projects are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The successful Documentary Commissioned projects are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 11 2016 – Media release

Is there a theatrical future for Australian movies?

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

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

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

Last year was always going to be hard to top.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Ways For Emerging or Foreign Talent To Score With Agents

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

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

1.The Screenplay And Director’s Vision

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

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

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

3. Get Your Foreign Language Movie To A Bankable Actor

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

4. Be Original

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

5. Make A Short

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

6.Adapt A Property Which Is Already Out There

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

7. Attract Talent That Endorses Your Vision

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

8. Use Festivals

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

9. What Not To Do?

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

10. Get Some Friends

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

John Hopewell – Variety – November 11, 2016

Google co-funds four Oz web projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don Groves – 11-11-2016 – C21Media

ADG launches shadow directing initiative for female directors in TV drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be eligible, potential applicants need to:

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

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

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

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

Media Release – Thursday 10 November 2016