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.

Northern Pictures strikes the right balance

This week, Northern reprises one of its more notable successes with the second series of Changing Minds: The Inside Story airing through the week during the ABC’s “Mental As” series supporting Mental Health Week: Tuesday 6 October 2015, 8:32pm

When David Haslingden decided to return home to Australia a few years ago, he didn’t have a home.

After leaving his role as the president and chief operating officer of the US Fox Networks Group, the home to FX, National Geographic, Fox Sports and others, he emerged with a production company with operations in China, New Zealand and Singapore yet “nowhere to sit” in Sydney.

In three years, Haslingden has established more than just a seat at the Australian television table. After a friend suggested he meet factual producer Sue Clothier, who had recently established Northern Pictures and was in the midst of producing the natural history series Kakadu, Northern joined his RACAT Group of companies. And then Haslingden was appointed chairman of Nine Entertainment Co.

“It was very fast and Northern Pictures has continued on the evolution and expanded into other areas but really it was an absolutely perfect fit for me,” Haslingden says.

Haslingden laughs that his socially progressive documentary choices aren’t a reaction to the more tabloid programming on Fox’s US cable networks but rather moves into areas “I was most passionate about”. “I loved National Geographic, so when I had the opportunity to make a change I wanted to explore that,” he says.” I am very passionate about nature and social issues that impact many people that aren’t understood. Media is an incredibly powerful tool to assist in informing social change and awareness of things.”

Changing Minds did that, anchoring the ABC’s “Mental As” initiative last year.

Clothier admits “nobody knew how well it was going to go last year and going into production, we had no idea the sort of content we could actually expect as well” given the series follows mental health patients at Sydney’s Liverpool ­Hospital.

As the local production sector consolidates, Northern (Clothier is managing director and Haslingden chief executive) has struck a balance where it can deliver global series of great scale, such as Life on the Reef, as well as targeted, high-risk series such as Changing Minds.

He appears enthused and comfortable with his production stable, particularly NP, but also including NHNZ, Beach House Productions, Keshet Australia and ZooMoo.

Rumours of his possible move to become chief executive of Nine appear exaggerated, although he is equally bullish about television’s future, and consequently for Northern and Nine. If television can be described as an audiovisual experience that evokes emotion, he says, “that is a golden product that is getting more and more valuable every day”.

Michael Bodey – The Australian – October 05, 2015

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Sarah Snook: ‘I’ve not quite done my time yet’

In the blooming spring garden of a Bondi terrace, Australian actor Sarah Snook is talking about fame. Not the kind reserved for her heroes – those grandes dames of the silver screen, Meryl Streep and Judi Dench – but the kind of slow-blossoming renown that comes with a promise: Sarah Snook is an actor to watch.

“I wonder if they’ll get sick of watching,” laughs the 28-year-old, who has been described as everything from the “next Cate Blanchett” to the “next Leonardo DiCaprio”.

“The amount of times I leave the house in my very daggy woollen jumpers, no make-up and I haven’t brushed my hair in three days. I don’t care, it’s who I am, but there is a tiny thought in my head: ‘What would it be like to be photographed like this?’ ”

The “one to watch” tag has stuck to Snook ever since she was short-listed, fresh out of NIDA, for the lead role in the English-language film version of Stieg Larsson’s phenomenally successful novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

In the end, the role went to New Yorker Rooney Mara. But Snook was flown to LA for screen tests with the film’s star, Daniel Craig, and in the process caught the eye of influential Hollywood producer Scott Rudin.

It’s partly thanks to Rudin’s strong backing that Snook has become the go-to girl of the moment. In October, she’ll be seen alongside Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs, the biopic about the late Apple co-founder, and again with Winslet in director Jocelyn Moorhouse’s highly anticipated The Dressmaker. Then she heads to the UK, where she starts rehearsals at the iconic Old Vic theatre, playing in Ibsen’s The Master Builderopposite Ralph Fiennes.

Matthew Warchus, the Old Vic’s new artistic director, recently described her as “a remarkable actress”, her talent as good as Judi Dench and Judy Davis rolled into one.

And his decision to cast her in The Master Builder? To “give Ralph a run for his money”.

Snook’s resumé reads like a game of snakes and ladders. The Girl with the Dragon Tattooaudition – advance. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo rejection – retreat. Title role in TV pilot Clementine after her first LA screen test – advance. Clementine dumped – retreat.

Missing out on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a blow, she says, but only briefly. “I said at the time I didn’t feel I was ready for it physically or mentally and I wasn’t confident in who I was as a person,” Snook says. “I feel like doors will forever open and close, so just get on the turntable.”

Being cast in a stage play with Ralph Fiennes is still sinking in. It comes close to trumping her equal billing with another ’90s heartthrob, Ethan Hawke, in the 2014 film Predestination. (Hawke described her work in the film as “incredible”, saying at the time: “I have never been a part of a performance that has been better than this.”)

For Snook, Fiennes and Hawke represent “childhood markers of ‘wow’,” she says.

“They had both reached a pinnacle of success at an age where I was suddenly aware of who actors and actresses were.”

The Dressmaker is the latest ladder in Snook’s career. “She was so brilliant and funny in the [audition] room that I wanted to start working with her immediately,” says Jocelyn Moorhouse. “She’s one of those unique, one-in-a-million talents. “She’s just got so much potential. She’s creative, funny and she has the most expressive ways of putting her character on screen.”

Snook describes her first day on set – which began with her only scene with both Winslet and Judy Davis – as terrifying. “It was like the first day of school,” she says.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh God, I’ve really got to really bring it today.’ Luckily, my character had to be awkward and nervous.”

Sarah Snook grew up in Adelaide, the youngest of three girls. Her parents separated and she won a drama scholarship to the prestigious Scotch College, where she did drama classes three nights a week. She was 18 when she moved to Sydney for NIDA but her family could not afford to support her, and she did not qualify for government support.

She worked nights at the Vibe Hotel and on weekends as a fairy at children’s parties.

It gives her a strange comfort to think that someone will one day look at their childhood album and recognise the girl in the fairy costume. “Oh my God, I know her,” she deadpans. “That’s the fairy who’s on Home and Away!” She is proud of putting herself through uni, but it was a difficult time and the scars linger. “I spend an unconscionable amount of money on food, then I look at a pair of shoes for $50 and think, ‘Oh, I don’t think so, that’s too much. I’ll buy the $2 thongs over there.’ ”

NIDA underpinned her passion for technique. She still recalls a voice teacher who advised that the emotions are held in the open-mouthed vowels of words. “So if there is a line you’re meant to cry on,” says Snook, “a good way to approach it is to say all the vowels in a sentence, removing all the consonants, then putting them back in.”

Her NIDA buddy, actor Josh McConville, says Snook’s daring choice of roles sets her apart. “Bold, risky characters require absolute technique and precision,” he says. “This is the most exciting thing about her.”

All morning, Snook has been sliding into a series of stunning dresses for our photo shoot. Luminously beautiful, the embodiment of a Hollywood star, she wears each one like a second skin. For our interview, she changes back into a tangerine T-shirt and comfy draped pants, and munches a salmon sandwich. There’s nothing of the diva about her; only a slight sense that she would rather be elsewhere – honing her craft, not talking about it.

I meet her fresh from watching her latest film, the children’s comedy Oddball – a feel-good true story about a colony of little penguins saved from a fox attack by a farmer’s dog. She is utterly arresting on screen, even as a park ranger in khaki dungarees and steel-capped boots. I’m curious: why this role, in between so many more notable productions? Snook points to advice from her friend and fellow actor Mykelti Williamson, with whom she worked on the pilot for Clementine. “He said, ‘Don’t break the flow,’ ” she says. “Which I take to mean, ‘Don’t get in the way of yourself, don’t over-think things.’ I did it because it was there.”

Her dream run in cinema has been bookended by two ABC miniseries. In the adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel, The Secret River, she played convict woman Sal Thornhill; still to come is The Beautiful Lie, based on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and set in Melbourne. Friends and family keep her down to earth, as does her partner of five years, Angus McDonald.

The couple live together in Melbourne, where McDonald is a university research manager and musician. “He’s been a solid anchor and a reminder of what is reality and what is important in life,” Snook says. Only a year ago, Snook told an interviewer she worried about being recognised on the street. “That [fame] kind of terrifies me,” she said at the time. “Particularly if the idea is to be an actor and tell stories about real life, or even imagined life … If you can’t interact with people, then where do you begin?”

Today she is relaxed, circumspect; she continues to catch public transport, her relationships are intact. And her attitude to fame seems to be changing. “You can’t do what I do and hope people enjoy it – and if they do, say, ‘go away,’ ” she shrugs. “It’s something that’s par for the course.”

It’s as if somehow Snook needs to atone for her success, put her fame in a box until she’s ready to open it. “I do feel I skipped a few steps,” she says earnestly. “A number of my extremely talented colleagues from drama school have been given slightly different opportunities. It’s not that they won’t get their bigger moments of luck, but I feel like I’ve not quite done my time yet.”

Then the photographer picks up his camera and Snook is back on set, smiling; leaving only the thinnest wisp of her ethereal presence behind her.

Erin O’Dwyer – Daily Life – September 20, 2015

Roadshow to zoom in on ‘Australiana’ films

Australia’s leading film producer, Roadshow Films, has indicated it will narrow its focus to “Australiana” films rather than try to compete with Hollywood in genres such as romantic comedy.

Roadshow’s head of production, Seph McKenna, said this was a “pivot point” for the company as it accepted it could not compete fairly with Hollywood’s stars, budgets and results in particular genres including comedy, sci-fi or zombie films. “When we try to make films that Hollywood makes, on a budget we can afford, it doesn’t work,” Mr McKenna told a ScreenWest audience seminar at the Cinefest Oz Festival.

He said comparing the trailers of two romantic comedies released during the same period of 2010 — the Melbourne film I Love You Too and the US film Date Night — was “illustrative of what we’re up against. (Australian lead actors) Brendan Cowell and Yvonne Strahovski cannot compete with Steve Carrell and Tina Fey.”

He also pointed to other recent romantic comedy releases from Roadshow that had not performed as well as hoped at the box office, including the musical Goddess and Working Dog feature Any Questions For Ben? starring Josh Lawson, as well as a number of recent genre films that could not compete with similar Hollywood fare, including post-apocalyptic film The Rover, crime drama Felony and Perth zombie film These Final Hours. “If the story can be told nowhere else other than Australia, then I’m interested,” Mr McKenna said.

Historically, Roadshow’s biggest successes have fit Mr McKenna’s description of “Australiana”. Roadshow has seven of the top 15 highest-grossing Australian films, the first two of which are essentially “studio films” — Happy Feet and The Great Gatsby — followed by Red Dog, The Dish, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Muriel’s Wedding and Mao’s Last Dancer.

The two highest-grossing films at the Australian box office are classic “Australiana”— Crocodile Dundee ($47.7 million in 1986) and Australia ($37.5m in 2008) —followed by Babe’s $36.7m in 1995. Others major hits that could be described as such include Crocodile Dundee II ($24.9m in 1988), Red Dog ($21.4m in 2011) and The Man from Snowy River ($17.2m in 1982). The current hit, Last Cab To Darwin, starring Michael Caton, also fits the bill, with $4.8m at the box office already. This will probably rise to $7m, making this the first year since 2001 with four local filmsearning more than $7m.

Roadshow will soon release the family comedy Oddball, starring Shane Jacobson, Deborah Mailman and American star of Frozen, Alan Tudyk. The dramatisation of the true story about a Warrnambool farmer who trains a Maremma sheepdog to protect from ferals a colony of penguins fits the “Australiana” billing, as does the other major local release coming this year, Universal Pictures’ The Dressmaker, a romantic period drama with an all-star cast led by Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving and Liam Hemsworth.

Mr McKenna said Australian films still had opportunities globally with mid-budget films as American studios focused upon “the big spectacle” and “gigantic event” films that need to “be watched around the world”.

“They’re working as much as they did during the Harry Potter era,” he said of the US blockbusters. “The Australian and independent business, it’s a much more nuanced story (and) that’s where (there are) opportunities for subsidised film systems (including Australia’s) over Hollywood. Hollywood is handcuffed to big- event films.”

Michael Bodey – The Australian – August 31, 2015

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Low-Budget Producer Jason Blum on The Secret of His Success

In his keynote address at SXSW, indie producer Jason Blum outlines the secret to his success.

At the 87th Academy Awards, Whiplash won Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons [L], and was nominated for Best Adapted Screeplay and Best Picture.

Everybody wants to know the secret to Jason Blum’s success. If there was a turning point for the indie producer, it was, of all things, “The Tooth Fairy,” the big-budget studio film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Having worked in acquisition for Miramax in the ’90s, Blum eventually left to forge his own path as an indie producer.

“I produced eight movies, 7 1/2 of which nobody has ever heard of,” Blum told the audience at his SXSW keynote address earlier today. “I got frustrated making movies nobody had heard of,” he explained. So he went on to produce “The Tooth Fairy.”

“I couldn’t stand it. It was what I thought I always wanted. I was there every day in the trenches and I hated everything about that job. But what I loved — and what I got from ‘The Tooth Fairy’ — was to see how studio movies were released,” he explained.

The experience inspired him to create Blumhouse Productions and a business model that relies on low-budget films ($3-5 million) using experienced directors looking for creative control. After “Paranormal Activity” made Hollywood take notice, Blum stuck with the successful model and repeated the success with low-cost franchises like “Insidious” and “The Purge.”

“Everyone thought I was nuts because everyone thought ‘Paranormal Activity” was a magic trick… Then we had the sequel to ‘Paranormal’ and ‘Insidious’ and ‘Sinister.’

Recently, we had ‘The Purge’ which was the moment when the establishment finally was like ‘this guy is on to something.'” According to Blum, “Purge” cost $3 million and grossed $80 million worldwide.

Blum outlined the key elements of his low-budget model:

1. Everybody above the line works either free or for scale.

If an actor asks for a trailer or other frills, he’ll tell them, “You can have all those things, but you have to pay for it yourself. But more often than not, those things go away.”

2. Never work with first time directors.

“We work with experienced directors. We make a deal — we’re not going to pay you a lot, but you get to do what you want to do. Most directors get final cut. It’s ‘auteur’ filmmaking, but for commercial movies…

I tell directors: ‘I can’t promise you a hit, but I can promise you the movies is going to be yours.’ When you work for a studio, they pay you a lot of money, but in exchange for that, they tell you what to do.

3. Cut down on time spent negotiating.

The way we structure our backend, we key the payments to the box office — so that cuts the negotiating way down and it’s very transparent. One of the things I’m most proud of is that we’re really transparent with our process.”

4. Don’t release every movie wide.

“One of the benefits of doing low-budget movies is you don’t have to release them wide to recoup. You can release it in a smaller way, make your money back and keep going.”

5. Don’t go with the hot directors.

“The directors that everyone’s chasing, we’re not chasing. If someone says ‘we’re meeting every studio in town,’ I always say they should enjoy those meetings and shouldn’t come here.

My perfect director would be James Wan, who had done “Saw” and had two difficult experiences with a studio. He couldn’t get a movie made and had a ton to prove and there was no way ‘Insidious’ was not going to be a great scary movie… Experienced directors can do a lot more with less.”

6. Story and character matter — even in horror movies.

“The scares don’t work if the story and characters don’t work… if you take away the toys, the director has nothing to focus on but those things. I think it makes the movie stronger.”

7. Don’t think about a sequel until the original is shot. “Whenever anyone is doing an original movie and they say ‘we want to end it this way for the sequel,’ I always say ‘don’t do that.’ You can always figure out a sequel, but it’s really bad to plan for a sequel. We don’t think about the sequel. We think about making a really good movie and if it’s good, we think about a sequel.”

8. Shoot in Los Angeles.

Blum said he shoots 80% of his films in Los Angeles because “you get the best actors” and talent is willing to accept a smaller paycheck if it means they can “kiss their kids goodnight.”

Now that Blum has a number of financially successful movies to his credit, he is using that power to shepherd non-genre indies such as “Whiplash,” which recently received raves at Sundance. “I could never have made ‘Whiplash’ five years ago,” said Blum, who also produced “Creep,” which is having its world premiere at SXSW.

Talking about the future of film distribution, Blum emphasized that “a wide release shouldn’t always be the golden ring” and anticipated that theatrical windows will eventually collapse.

“The fact that we haven’t collapsed windows is pushing the best artists into TV,” he said, “‘True Detective’ wouldn’t have happened eight years ago.” Along those lines, he’s trying to emulate his low-budget film model in TV.

“We’re interested in having the same conversation with showrunners that we’re having with directors… Let’s make 10 episodes for $300,000 each.”

When asked for advice about how to break into the industry, Blum urged the crowd not to wait for approval from Hollywood. “The advice I give for filmmakers starting out is don’t wait for me. Don’t wait for the industry… It’s a mistake to wait for Hollywood to tell you you have a good idea. If you have a good idea, try to make it on your own as cheaply as possible… on your phone.”

By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire | March 9, 2014

Jason Blum’s 5 Tips for Low-Budget Filmmaking Success

Some must-read insights into the success of low-budget producer Jason Blum.

Writer-director Eli Roth, who served as the moderator for an in-depth, hour-long conversation at the 2015 Produced By Conference on Saturday, May 30 in Los Angeles with producer Jason Blum and top executives at Blum’s wildly successful company, Blumhouse Productions, opened up the session with quite a bit of flair.

“I’m so excited to be moderating this panel,” Roth told the audience, “not just because I am a fan of Jason and Blumhouse, both personally and professionally, but because if there is one question we all have [it’s] how [you] take a $15,000 horror movie and turn it into a $1.4 billion dollar empire?”

While Blum didn’t give up the ingredients to the secret sauce, he and his team did provide some unique insights about low-budget filmmaking, which you can find below:

1. Work with people. Do more than just give and take orders.

In the case of Blumhouse, collaboration sits at the center of what the company describes as its “director-oriented approach” to filmmaking, which grew out of their firm low-budget production model. Head of Physical Production Jeannette Volturno-Brill told the audience that Blumhouse extends a director free reign over a film as long as the scope of his or her vision remains within the confines of the budget. She likened the director to “MacGyver.” “We say, ‘You’re a MacGyver. You have two Popsicle sticks and a roll of duct tape — what do you want to make?'”

To keep projects within their respective budgets, Volturno-Brill said she and her colleague, Blumhouse Head of Post-Production Phillip Daw, work closely with each director and the crew to determine how the money is best spent in line with the director’s vision for the film.

The collaborative spirit between Blumhouse executives and the directors and crew brought onboard for each project emerges from the $3-5 million production model, which is structured such that each participating entity — no matter whether it’s Blumhouse, the director, the crew or the actors — enters into a project on an equal financial footing. According to Blum, $3-5 million “is about what we are able to recoup on the movies if they don’t get a wide release. In a worst case scenario we break even, or maybe lose a little bit of money, but not very much, and everyone gets paid scale.”

Because no one entity has more or less to lose than another, collaboration between all parties becomes all that much easier and, as Blum also noted with regard to Blumhouse in particular, “it allows us to do all the stuff I talked about — to take chances, do weird things, do different kinds of movies.”

2. Work with the same people. If not always, then as often as you can.

One of Volturno-Brill’s biggest priorities — which makes it one of Blumhouse’s biggest priorities as well — is her commitment to the crew. Throughout the panel discussion, Volturno-Brill stressed the importance of taking care of your crew — noting, in particular, how most of the people that fill the positions on a Blumhouse set are people who have worked on another one of the company’s projects (or perhaps even more than one) before.

According to Volturno-Brill, working with the same crew on multiple projects provides a certain level of stability to the production process that isn’t usually characteristic of the set of a film being helmed by a first or second-time director (which is generally the caliber of directors that Blumhouse works with on a regular basis). When Blumhouse has a rapport with crew members, it also makes Volturno- Brill’s job easier because it provides her with the creative muscle to guide the director such that that the film stays within budget, and the director never feels as if his or her vision is being compromised.

Blumhouse has facilitated long-term relationships with crew by bringing many aspects of the production process in-house, making it possible for them to edit, color correct, mix and even produce certain visual effects for their projects without having to go to a third-party provider.

3. Be flexible.

“We have to be nimble,” noted Blum very simply. “When directors and actors are working for scale, you shoot when they want to. When you’re paying them seven-figure sums, you shoot when you want to.” Being nimble means that once a script is ready to be shot and talent get attached, Blum and his team need to be ready at a moments notice because A-list talent won’t make a commitment to a low budget movie that plans to shoot in 12 months as it could potentially cost them a job on a much bigger budget film. Said Blum: “I have to be able to say, when you have a four month window, you call me and on Monday we’ll start our prep.”

4. Have fun.

“Everyone says we do low-budget because it’s big profits — and I’m not saying that isn’t a terrific thing,” Blum said. “But we’re certainly at a place in our lives where we could be doing expensive movies and we choose not to, and I really feel like there is a real correlation between not spending a lot of money and having fun.”

The relationship between the amount of money spent on a production and the enjoyment factor ties back to the fact that the low-budget model is set up such that everybody involved has very little to lose and almost everything to gain. “Shooting begets shooting,” he said, “and it keeps you out of your office in your head going crazy. You interact with people who are making things, even if it’s at a very rudimentary beginning level.”

5. Don’t chase “what’s hot” — just focus on what you like.

Chasing after the so-called next big thing is similar to when a dog tries to chase its own tail. Just when you think you think you’ve got it, it slips out of your grasp and then you are right back where you started. “We all do it,” Blumhouse Head of Television Jessica Rhoades noted during the discussion, “[try] to anticipate what our boss is going to like.” At Blumhouse, however, Rhoades said that she and her colleagues are encouraged to follow their gut. “Gut check,” she called it — meaning that if a project gets you and the people that you work with excited, then it’s worth pursuing, in spite of what a trend report might say.

Perhaps the most instructive example of this philosophy is Blumhouse’s involvement with Andrew Jarecki’s six-part docuseries, “The Jinx,” which aired on HBO earlier this year. Jarecki, Blum said, came to him with all six episodes ready to go and in search of a provider to put them on the air. After watching the first episode, Blum was so impressed that he didn’t need any more convincing. “I feel like that’s one of the things that I am proudest of our team for — finding things that are really off-beat like that,” said Blum. “It seems, in retrospect, not offbeat, but before there was all this stuff around it, it was very offbeat.”

Although Blum admitted that projects like “The Jinx” and “Whiplash” do not specifically fit under the Blumhouse horror brand per se, he argued they do fit into the bigger picture. “We’re in a position now — a very lucky position now — where we have a certain amount of clout in the business and so, we can get things made that are tricky or hard to get made.”

By Shipra Harbola Gupta | Indiewire | June 2, 2015

Google a pirate, says News Corp chief executive Robert­ Thomson

Google a pirate: News chief

News Corp chief executive Robert­ Thomson. ‘The words “intellectual property” don’t appear in the Google alphabet.’ Picture: Richard Dobson Source: News Corp Australia

News Corp chief executive Robert­ Thomson has attacked Google for piracy, zealotry and kleptocracy for its disregard of copyright and distribution of journalism created by others.

In a speech at the Lowy Institute Media Awards last night, Mr Thomson warned that, without proper remun­eration, well-resourced reporting would be further challenged in the future, with the digital age hostile to ­investment in ­journalism.

Mr Thomson, in Australia for News Corp’s board meeting, said aggregators and distributors such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn had a “new-found fondness for premium content” created by others, but had an aversion to paying for it.

Provocatively, he also called LinkedIn “pretenders” and “spammers”.

“The supposed idealism of these companies is in stark contrast to their actual behavio­ur,” Mr Thomson said. “That Google’s newly conceived parent company is to be called Alphabet has itself created a range of ­delicious permutations: A is for avarice, B is for bowdlerise, through to K for kleptocracy, P for piracy and Z for zealotry.”

Mr Thomson said he was fortunate to be a custodian in a company that invested in thousands of creative acts around the world each day, from great journ­alism and compelling analysis to feisty blogs, capti­v­ating videos and brilliant books.

But, he said, Google and other aggregators had little respect for original content or copyright created by media companies struggling to profit from news.

“The words ‘intellectual property’ don’t appear in the Google alphabet,” he said.

Mr Thomson said there was a “deficit in reporting resources created by the egregious aggregation of news by distributors for whom provenance is an inconvenience and who are contemptuous of copyright”.

While media companies such as News Corp created important content, he said, the distributors were appointing editors not to create but to curate.

“And these curators tend to have a certain mindset, a deep fondness for polit­ical correctness, and a tendency to be intolerant of ideolog­ical infractions,” he said.

“Silicon Valley is moving from the PC to being a purveyor of the PC. The stream of content is often a flow of soft-left sensi­b­ility, a stream of content consciousness in which genuine debate is in danger of drowning and alternative views rarely surface­.”

Mr Thomson contrasted this with the nature of newspapers, which were characterised by public debate and carried passionate arguments about issues­.

Moving to a greater distrib­ution of politically correct content by the “e-elites”, Mr Thomson said, was taking place without any serious discussion of the social consequences.

He paid tribute to News Corp’s executive chairman Rupert­ Murdoch and said that, without him, instead of being at a fine award ceremony that celebrated the continued importance of journalism, the group would be in the backroom at a dingy pub lamenting its passing.

The Australian

August 14, 2015 12:00AM

Road trip pays off for Last Cab to Darwin

Australian filmmakers criss-crossing the country to talk about their films has paid off
twice now this year. First director and star Damon Gameau appeared at more than 70 Q&A sessions on the way to the documentary That Sugar Film becoming a hit.

Now director Jeremy Sims and (mostly) actor Michael Caton have appeared at 48 Q&As leading up to the solid opening for Last Cab To Darwin last weekend. The final one – at least before a couple of industry screenings for AACTA Awards voting – was at a small community hall in Kangaroo Valley, south of Sydney, on Sunday. “It was packed,” Sims says. “People, as usual, laughed and cried and they all stayed to talk about the film.”

But Sims cautions against the idea that grassroots word-of-mouth campaigns are the way to go for Australian films. “It’s only if you’ve got a good film,” he says. “If you’ve got a bad film, it’s the worst way to market a film.”

Last Cab,which has Caton as a Broken Hill taxi driver who heads to Darwin to take advantage of new euthanasia laws, took $1.15 million on the weekend. With previews, it has taken $1.37 million already, adding to a strong year for Australian films that includes the hits The Water Diviner, Paper Planes and Mad Max: Fury Road.

Garry Maddox – SMH – August 12, 2015

ABC TV screen sector ‘dysfunctional’ says producer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media and Entertainment Writer

SVOD: Netflix surge threatens free-to-air TV

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

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

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

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

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

Active subs may not be paying subs.

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

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

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

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

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

These figures reflect the new reality.

Mark Day, Columnist – The Australian July 13, 2015

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