Ten legacy: Mott years were bold, says industry

When David Mott came to TEN in September 1996 it was a turbulent place, having endured 10 different programmers across 17 years. ‘Motty’ had spent 18 years with TVW 7 Perth. By mid 1997 he became Head of Programming at Ten after the departure of Ross Plapp. Andy McIntyre worked alongside Mott from 1996 to 2004, for the last five years as General Manager, Program Finance and Development. McIntrye recalls: “He had served an excellent apprenticeship at Seven, knew the keyinternational players. The advertising climate was improving and Ten was profitable. What it lacked was the prime time line up of domestic product that made Seven and Nine such ratings powerhouses.”

Mott’s first commission was a bold idea that had been rejected by his predecessor. Boldness would come to define Ten’s style. “In the bottom drawer he found the pitch document for The Panel,” says Michael Hirsh from Working Dog. “That chance discovery resulted in hundreds and hundreds of hours of original television. In addition to The Panel, Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures, and Thank God You’re Here followed.”

In 1999 he signed Good News Week after its 3 year run on the ABC. A former Channel 31 host named Rove McManus was given a shot. Big Brother revolutionised Reality Television. The Big Brother deal with Southern Star also gave life to The Secret Life of Us, a burning, youthful soap from John Edwards and Amanda Higgs. Australian Idol was commissioned. Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation brought Shaun Micallef broad commercial success.

Other moves would lead the pack. Under Mott, TEN became the first network to ditch the Sunday Night Movie and replace it with series TV. Working with the Fennessy brothers at Crackerjack and FremantleMedia, he stripped a US format, The Biggest Loser, into a primetime nightly format.

Michael Cordell, from Cordell Jigsaw, says Mott took a big punt on Bondi Rescue in 2005. The show has gone on to reach seven seasons, five Logies and international sales. “Motty’s been one of the great champions of bold and innovative programming in Australia,” he says. Arguably his biggest gamble came in axing Big Brother for a cooking show into primetime. In its second year Masterchef’s finale was watched by 4.8m – still a record audience.

Ian Hogg CEO at FremantleMedia added, “David Mott’s legacy will be profound. He is an outstanding television executive, an outstanding father and husband and a great friend to so many people in the business who have learnt so much from him.”

Mott is understood to have left Ten with a 6 month non-compete clause.

More Here:

www.tvtonight.com.au/2012/08/ten-legacy-mott-years-were-bold-says-industry.html

By David Knox on August 29, 2012 – TVtonight.com.au

Twenty-Three Feature Projects To Receive Development Support

Screen Australia today announced almost $700,000 in development support for 23 feature projects, enabling filmmakers to take their feature film script to the next level towards production readiness. Fifteen new projects have been added to Screen Australia’s development slate, while eight teams will receive continued support to develop their projects.

Two Australian filmmakers will also be supported to undertake overseas internships. Producer Ma’ara Bobby Romia will work for six months with Screentime Group in New Zealand and director Ariel Martin–Merrells will work under the mentorship of director James Foley in Los Angeles for five months.

Screen Australia’s Head of Development Martha Coleman said, “Following a now well-established tradition, the development slate announced today includes a diverse range of compelling stories from both established and emerging filmmakers. The high calibre of screenplays coming through our door backs up positive feedback we are getting from the domestic and international marketplace and I’m looking forward to seeing the best of these projects make their journey through to production over the next few years.”

The new projects to receive development support include a thriller script, Los Alamos, from writer Luke Davies (Candy) and Oscar®-winning producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman (The King’s Speech). Berlin Syndrome is a new psychological thriller in development from writer Shaun Grant (Snowtown) with producer Polly Staniford and executive producer Angie Fielder. Shaun Grant will also be supported to develop Jasper Jones, a coming-of-age story based on the award- winning Australian novel by Craig Silvey with producers Vincent Sheehan and David Jowsey.

Writer Joan Sauers will be supported to develop the biopic Enemy Alien about mercurial classical violist, Richard Goldner, with producers Brian Rosen and Su Armstrong. The Canary Cottage is a black comedy script being developed by writer/director Heath Davis, producer Luke Graham and executive producer Jonathan Page and The Stockpicker is a romantic comedy script in development from writer Dave Warner and producer Phillip Bowman.

Writer Peter Ivan will be supported to develop his drama script, An Oddball Solution, with producers Steve Kearney and Richard Keddie, and writers Stephen Ramsey and Bob Ellis will be supported to develop their biopic script The News of the World.Emma Jensen will develop the biopic Mary Shelley about the life of the novelist who wrote Frankenstein. Matthew Dabner is on board as an executive producer.

Marauder is a true-crime story being supported for development by writer Lee Sellars and producer/director Marion Pilowsky about a rookie detective, a killer on the loose and a mother who never gave up hope.

David Williamson and Craig Monahan will be supported to develop crime drama The Removalists, a reimagining of David Williamson’s iconic play of the same name. Tait Brady and Craig Monahan are attached to the project as producers.

The Riders is a drama in development from Susie Brooks-Smith who is adapting for the screen the acclaimed novel of the same name by Tim Winton. Director Robert Connolly and producer Timothy White are attached to the project.

Writer/producer Trish Graham will receive development support for her new family/fantasy script Little Fur: The Legend Begins with executive producer Matt Carroll.

New projects to receive matched feature development funding include the drama script The Devil’s Staircase from writer Sergio Casci with director Ben C Lucas (Wasted on the Young), producer Marian Macgowan and UK producer Claire Mundell. Training Grounds is an action feature project in development from writers Oscar Redding and Jonathan auf der Heide with director Jeremy Sims, producer Ranko Markovic and executive producer Piers Morgan.

Writer/directors Patrick Sarell and Alister Lockhart will also receive financial support from the Director’s Acclaim Fund to strategically assist them towards the next stage in their career path.

Projects to receive continued feature development support are included in the project details listed below.

SINGLE-PROJECT DEVELOPMENT: FEATURE DEVELOPMENT THE ACTRESSES

Genre Comedy Producer Michael McMahon Writer Katherine Thomson Director Tony Ayres Synopsis Five actresses compete for the role of a lifetime – an ensemble comedy about women, friendship and competition.

BERLIN SYNDROME

Genre Psychological Thriller Producer Polly Staniford Executive Producer Angie Fielder Writer Shaun Grant

Synopsis A passionate holiday romance leads to an obsessive relationship when an Australian photojournalist wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave.

THE CANARY COTTAGE

Genre Black Comedy Producer Luke Graham Executive Producer Jonathan Page Writer/Director Heath Davis Synopsis A broken young man learns to live and love again when he moves into his mother’s nursing home.

CARTAGENA

Genre Drama Producers Naomi Wenck, Kristina Ceyton Writer Nam Le Synopsis A teenage assassin living in the slums of Columbia finds himself ordered to do a hit on his best friend. Choosing between loyalty to his friend, and the loyalty required of him by a merciless drug lord, Juan Pablo is a normal boy caught up in a ruthless world. Based on the best-selling novel by Nam Le.

DEFIANT

Genre Thriller Producers Bill Bennett, Anupam Sharma Writer/Director Bill Bennett Synopsis Two young lovers from different castes in India are marked for honour killings. Based on true events.

ENEMY ALIEN Genre Biopic Producers Brian Rosen, Su Armstrong Writer Joan Sauers Synopsis The true story of mercurial classical violist, Richard Goldner, who escapes Nazi-occupied Austria to settle in Australia where he’s faced with a different kind of tyranny before discovering his true calling and forming Musica Viva. Based on the book by Suzanne Baker.

GIN & TONIC

Genre Comedy Drama Producers Leah Churchill-Brown, Amanda Higgs Writer Alice Bell Director Hattie Dalton Synopsis A baby is abandoned on 14-year-old Ashlee’s doorstep, shining light on her broken family and her secret teenage life.

JASPER JONES

Genre Coming of Age Producers Vincent Sheehan, David Jowsey Writer Shaun Grant Synopsis Based on the award-winning Australian novel by Craig Silvey.

LITTLE FUR: THE LEGEND BEGINS

Genre Family/Fantasy Writer/Producer Trish Graham Executive Producer Matt Carroll Synopsis Little Fur is the story of how even a small creature – an elf-troll, no larger than a 4-year-old child – is able to find the courage to overcome her fears, to understand that there is good and bad in all of us, and decides to become a hero.

LOS ALAMOS

Genre Thriller Producers Iain Canning, Emile Sherman Writer Luke Davies Synopsis Spring, 1945. Michael Connolly, a disgraced intelligence operative, enters a labyrinth of secrets and espionage when he arrives at the high-security military base of Los Alamos. Sent to investigate a seemingly open-and-shut murder case, Connolly is thrown into the heart of the Manhattan Project and must navigate a path through military protocol, political intrigue and personal agendas in order to uncover the truth in the most secretive place in the world.

MARAUDER

Genre True Crime Director/Producer Marion Pilowsky Writer Lee Sellars Synopsis A rookie detective, a killer on the loose and a mother who never gave up hope. Based on a true story.

MARY SHELLEY

Genre Biopic Executive Producer Matthew Dabner Writer Emma Jensen Synopsis A young woman with a family legacy and a passion for writing goes on a quest to find a story which results in the groundbreaking novel Frankenstein. However, Mary learns that creativity and love can come at a high price when she embarks on a passionate and tumultuous love affair with the poet Percy Shelley.

MICHAEL H

Genre Biopic Producers Sue Murray, Richard Lowenstein

Executive Producer Domenico Procacci Writer/Director Richard Lowenstein Synopsis At the height of his internationally renowned career, a sudden blow to the head robs the famously sensual rock star of two of his most cherished senses. A series of personal battles follows ending tragically with his death at the age of 37, the night before embarking on a world tour.

THE NEWS OF THE WORLD

Genre Biopic Writers Stephen Ramsey, Bob Ellis

AN ODDBALL SOLUTION

Genre Drama Producers Steve Kearney, Richard Keddie Writer Peter Ivan

REMARKABLE CREATURES

Genre Drama Producers Heather Ogilvie, Mark Gooder Writer Jan Sardi Synopsis Together, one woman’s gift and another’s determination result in one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 19th century. A revealing portrait of the intricate and resilient nature of female friendship, based on the acclaimed novel by Tracey Chevalier.

THE REMOVALISTS

Genre Crime Drama Producers Tait Brady, Craig Monahan Writers David Williamson, Craig Monahan Director Craig Monahan Synopsis A blackly comic exposé of unequal social relationships and abuse of authority – now and then. A reimagining of the iconic Australian play by David Williamson.

THE RIDERS

Genre Drama Producer Timothy White Writer Susie Brooks-Smith Director Robert Connolly Synopsis Scully takes his young daughter, Billie, across Europe on a search for his missing wife. Based on the acclaimed novel by Tim Winton.

SILENT DISCO Genre Coming of Age

Producer Tom M Jeffrey Writer Lachlan Philpott Synopsis Teens Tamara and Squid are in love, but their fragile relationship is broken by a betrayal of trust that puts their futures at risk.

SON OF A GUN

Genre Crime Producer Timothy White Writer/Director Julius Avery Script Editor John Collee Synopsis A young man is sent to prison where he becomes the perfect apprentice to ‘public enemy number one’, beating him at his own game.

THE STOCKPICKER

Genre Romantic Comedy Producer Phillip Bowman Writer Dave Warner Synopsis Dylan Gilbert, a back room guy dreaming of becoming a glamorous stock picker realises that one of his firm’s small-time clients has an amazing success rate and by copying their picks he can achieve his dream, but when Client 68745, Holly York, falls in love her picks begin to tank! Dylan decides he must break up the love match if he is to achieve his goal.

SINGLE-PROJECT DEVELOPMENT: FEATURE MATCHED FUNDING THE DEVIL’S STAIRCASE

Genre Drama Producer Marian Macgowan UK Producer Claire Mundell Writer Sergio Casci Director Ben C Lucas Synopsis An 18-year-old girl runs away from small-town Australia to London, hoping to overcome her justifiable yet incapacitating fear of death by moving into an abandoned London townhouse with several young travellers, but she discovers before long that death seems to have followed her.

TRAINING GROUNDS

Genre Action Producer Ranko Markovic Executive Producer Piers Morgan Writers Oscar Redding, Jonathan auf der Heide Director Jeremy Sims Synopsis A group of young Western travellers are traversing the Silk Road when a land slide leaves them stranded without their vehicles. As they search for the destroyed 4x4s they discover a cave that’s being used as an Al-Qaeda training

ground. The soldiers aren’t there, but plans for a new international terrorist plot and a dirty bomb are.

TALENT ESCLATOR PROGRAMS: INDUSTRY INTERNSHIPS MA’ARA BOBBY ROMIA INTERNSHIP

Producer Ma’ara Bobby Romia Synopsis Ma’ara will work with Screentime Group in New Zealand for six months across all facets of television concept development, writing and producing, production, post-production and marketing/distribution strategies.

ARIEL MARTIN-MERRELLS INTERNSHIP

Director Ariel Martin-Merrells Synopsis Ariel will work under the mentorship of director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, Fear, Perfect Stranger) in Los Angeles for five months during post- production on House of Cards and collaborate in the development of two upcoming feature films projects Winter Hill Gang and Recoil.

TALENT ESCLATOR PROGRAMS: SHORTS PROGRAMS: DIRECTOR’S ACCLAIM FUND

PATRICK SARELL & ALISTER LOCKHART ACCLAIM FUND Writer/Directors Patrick Sarell, Alister Lockhart

Screen Australia Media Release – Tuesday 28 August 2012

New Projects Confirm NSW As Australia’s Film Capital

A number of new feature films are being produced in NSW, confirming the State as number one when it comes to creative projects, according to Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner.

Mr Stoner today announced that leading Australian actor turned writer Joel Edgerton, together with Rosemary Blight, producer of the smash hit film The Sapphires and the creative team behind the Academy Award nominated Australian film Animal Kingdom, will bring their new feature film projects to NSW.

The Blight/Edgerton feature film project The Felony and producer Liz Watts and director David Michod’s new film The Rover are some of the new screen productions to receive production finance from the NSW Government through Screen NSW.

“These screen productions, which include feature films, television series and documentaries, will bring more than $20 million in direct production expenditure to NSW, create more than 1000 jobs and ensure our State continues to be the engine of creative screen production in Australia,” Mr Stoner said.

Joel Edgerton is both the screenwriter and star of Felony, which will be produced by Goalpost Pictures Australia’s Rosemary Blight and directed by Matthew Saville (Cloudstreet).

Writer/director David Michod’s follow-up film to Animal Kingdom is The Rover, which he will produce with Liz Watts (Animal Kingdom, Lore, Dead Europe) and David Linde, partner in US independent production company Good Machine.

Linde’s credits include the international films Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Biutiful and Happiness.

The Great Gatsby and Animal Kingdom’s Joel Edgerton will write and star in a new film to be shot in NSW, Felony.Around the Block is a contemporary story of love, revenge and triumph set in Redfern, a first feature from writer/director Sarah Spillane.

“Felony and Around the Block will be filmed and post produced in NSW, bringing all of their substantial production budgets to the State, while The Rover will be post produced in NSW,” Mr Stoner said.

Screen NSW – Thursday 30 August 2012

Ongoing woes at Channel Ten

Channel Ten has been jilted on the dance floor yet again.

”WANTED: chief programming officer for Australian television network. The
applicant must be experienced in developing programs and building a successful
schedule, and must be able to satisfy an increasingly sceptical public. The right
person must be able to present programming options to the network’s board, and
accept its confounding decisions, and should be comfortable with the possibility that
they’ll be fired if a disastrous show hosted by the chairman’s wife is canned. Magic
wand not essential, but definitely helpful.”

Channel Ten’s year, which has been bordering on the grim for months, reached the
nightmarish last week when the reality dance competition series Everybody Dance
Now was cancelled after four episodes. The series was meant to be a key piece of Ten’s inventory for the second half of 2012 but the final episode screened couldn’t
even draw 400,000 viewers.

Within days the embattled network’s chief programming officer, David Mott, had
resigned after 16 years with Ten. He had plenty of successes to his name,
including MasterChef, Thank God You’re Here and Australian Idol, but the failures
were reaching an epidemic level. In the wake of Mott’s departure Ten appears to be
mired in crisis – it’s being thumped by Channel Seven, Channel Nine and the ABC in
the ratings.

But Mott was just a single piece, albeit a crucial one, in Ten’s set-up. The
programmers and producers have put together a promising, offbeat reality show
with I Will Survive, which takes Broadway hopefuls to the outback via auditions for
the stage show Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical, but audiences had to
fight to find it on air after several scheduling changes before its debut.

There’s even been a worthy addition to Ten’s schedule with the recent debut
of Puberty Blues, which drew respectable audience figures of just less than 1 million
viewers for its first two episodes. While it’s a pleasure to have Claudia Karvan’s talent
back on free-to-air, the show’s single promising hour can’t make up for the
proliferation of Modern Family repeats that are being used to desperately fill every
gap in prime time. It was only eight months ago that Ten was plugging its Super
Sunday, in which a dedicated Modern Family timeslot sat with Young Talent
Time, New Girland Homeland, the best drama Ten has had in years.

Since then Ten has misfired repeatedly. The expensive Breakfast has barely
registered with audiences, despite the recruitment of big-money Kiwi import Paul
Henry, while Everybody Dance Now was a poor attempt to graft the imported-judge
angle of The Voice onto the tired bones of So You Think You Can Dance Australia,
which had slowly sunk in the ratings over three seasons on Ten. Sarah Murdoch was
a fine host on Australia’s Next Top Model, giving the show desperately needed moral
strength, but her school ma’am positivity was wrong for a dance competition.

She is married to the chairman of Ten Network Holdings, Lachlan Murdoch, and he
and the rest of the board have to accept a proportion of the blame for 2012’s
performance, especially since they have been approving or rejecting programming
initiatives. It was the board that signed off on Being Lara Bingle and The Shire, new
reality shows meant to inspire social conversation, but whose tackiness drew only
mass derision and average-at-best ratings.

In the late ’90s Channel Ten occupied a lucrative niche, skewing to teens and
twentysomethings with shows such as The Simpsons and The X-Files. But that era is
gone and Lara Bingle cannot bring it back (or achieve much of anything else). Ten
needs to rethink its philosophy and act decisively. The second season of its best
show Homeland begins on September 30 in the US. Surely, Ten will screen it within
hours to add some much-needed quality to its line-up?

Craig Mathieson – SMH – August 30, 2012

Kath and Kimderella review

Kath & Kimderella Review: Don’t look at me

Kath & Kimderella: 3/10

The usual outcome for successful television shows upgraded to the multiplex is to
accentuate what was winning in small doses so that it becomes grotesque (exhibit A:
the Sex and the City movies), but in Kath & Kimderella, the spin-off to the hit

Australian sitcom Kath & Kim, the show’s creators have attempted to make a stand-
alone movie moderately distinct from the small-screen episodes. It’s a welcome idea
but unfortunately the execution is so deeply flawed that the film suffers mightily.

Kath & Kimderella begins with a mass of explanatory set-up, detailing the lives of
suburban mum Kath Day-Knight (Jane Turner) and her self-obsessed grown
daughter Kim Day Craig (Gina Riley), as well as their various partners, friends and
offspring, and from there it never really stops offering up florid plot developments
and bursts of exposition. The film is so busy that it often forgets to be funny.

Kath, Kim and the latter’s daggy offsider, Sharon (Magda Szubanski) are soon
shipped off to Papilloma, a bankrupt principality in Italy, where the monarch, King
Javier (Rob Sitch, winningly borrowing John Pilger’s hair and Julio Iglesias’s patter)
mistakes Kath for a wealthy noble and plans to seduce her, while his son fixates on
Kim as a princess. In a castle full of mysterious noises and secret tunnels – it’s like
something Bing Crosby and Bob Hope used to stumble through – there’s a wedding,
a rebellion and magnificent eye rolling by Richard E. Grant as a courtier.

Turner and Riley, who first brought the television show to air in 2002, wrote the film,
and it’s directed by television veteran Ted Emery. The production values are decent
(Italian exteriors, Melbourne interiors), but several set-pieces, including a dance
number choreographed to Wham and a sword fight between King Javier and Kath’s
husband, suburban butcher Kel (Glenn Robbins), never take off because they feel
physically constrained.

The humour stems from the television show: the same verbal tics, catchphrases,
garish bodies and tacky clothes. The debate about whether Riley and Turner exploit
their working class characters or celebrate them needs to be replaced by one
questioning whether they’re still interested in them. Little happens between Kath and
Kim, and there’s no flight of creativity equal to the television series having Kylie
Minogue play a grown version of Kim’s daughter, Epponnee Rae.

There is screen time for Riley and Turner’s other regular characters, the affluent,
squawking Prue and Trude, but why does a comedy need comic relief?

Craig Mathieson – SMH – August 28, 2012

Kath and Kimderella opens Sept 6

The Birth of Matchbox Pictures

The truth about making Aussie TV drama

PENNY Chapman is a co-founder of Australian production company Matchbox
Pictures. Below is a transcript of her speech yesterday morning at the Currency’s
Arts and Public Life breakfast.

November 2007. I’m drinking tea in Tony Ayres’ and Michael McMahon’s hotel room
at the Screen Producer’s Association Conference on the Gold Coast. Tony and
Michael wander back and forth neatly packing – I notice how they respect their
clothes. I’d have jammed mine in. We’re revving each other up, as we love to do,
with our exciting ideas for future projects and our old mantra, god we must find
something to do together. We’re old friends. I adore them.

But there’s something else in the room. We’ve each reached a crisis point. The
bravura is beginning to look a bit wan. We look at each other and say “Oh for God’s
sake let’s stop mucking about and do this”. “This” is a commitment we’ve danced
around but never dared make.

In 2007 Michael and Tony ran Big And Little Films out of Melbourne and I ran
Chapman Pictures out of Sydney. Variously, we’d made award winning and high
rating dramas and documentaries. Some people most likely regarded us as successful
producers. Really, despite working like maniacs, we were just staying afloat.

The previous couple of years had been pretty clarifying. The local commercial
television market only wanted reality shows. ABC’s drama slate was disgracefully
small. Ahead of us lay a splintered market of small poorly funded niche platforms.
My forays into the brave new world of online content had revealed no money in it. I’d
just sat through a presentation at the SPAA Conference on The Long Tail revenue
model that promised, for an undercapitalised indie producer like me, a lingering
demise.

A few years earlier, Michael and I had been involved in a Screen Australia venture
aimed at building better survival skills among screen producers. One of the things
this splendid program encouraged was joint enterprises or strategic alliances of
likeminded producers. We watched one take off and then collapse. I tried another
with a couple of terrific producers – a women’s erotica franchise that developed a
documentary series on the history of sex. Called 21st Century Vixen, it was enormous
fun and had good potential if you wanted to commit your life to that sort of
programming, but in truth it was always going to be something we did on the side.

Now though, the time had come to do this thing properly and doing it with Tony and
Michael made enormous sense. We believed we had the capacity to be both honest
and supportive with each other in good and bad times.

We invited producers Helen Bowden, known to Tony and Michael, and Helen
Panckhurst, with whom I’d worked, to join us. We asked Maureen Barron to
moderate an intensive day of marriage broking, so that we could all ask the
important questions – what we wanted from this and what we were prepared to
commit to in the getting it. We were clear about two things: we wanted to make
money and we wanted to make programmes we could be proud of. So we made some
undertakings to each other. We would open up our program ideas to interrogation by
the group (applying the blow torch, we called it) and we would not shirk from letting
a loved idea go if it didn’t have a strong market or add excellence to our brand.

At the end of that important day, we agreed to get engaged – to form an umbrella
entity under which each of our companies would operate. We would share operating
costs and revenues. And we would find ourselves a name. This was our first creative
test as a group – some hilarious names were offered up – Compendium,
Compendious, Motherlode, Maniac (it’s certainly how I feel, said Tony, but might be
too real) and then as we got sillier, The Whole Enchilada. Finally Sophie Miller, who
works with us, came up with the name Matchbox.

Then Screen Australia did more excellent things and invested some seed funding that
enabled us to build a bigger development slate and expand our team of writers.

I was in development with a number of programs including My Place, the
documentaries Sex an Unnatural History and Leaky Boat and with Helen Panckhurst
and Aaron Fa’aoso, a crime drama set in the Torres Strait. Michael and Tony were
completing a number of projects and Helen Bowden bowled into the office one
morning raving about a new novel called The Slap. Tony and Michael rang their
friend Christos Tsiolkas to talk about it.

Then one afternoon, on a plane from Melbourne, I ran into David Marr’s brother in
law Ken Baxter, of TFG International. Perhaps this was the corporate adviser we were looking for. Indeed he was, and his excellent associate John Balassis came on
board as our consultant. It didn’t take him long to lob the depth charge – If you don’t
properly merge you’re just fooling yourselves. We took several big breaths, struggled
our way through shareholders agreements and at the beginning of 2010, formally
merged. And John came onto our board. I am sure he considered us the biggest
bunch of corporate adolescents he’d ever come across but this was countered by the
fact we were in the amusement business.

None more amusing than a production Tony and Michael were completing in 2009 –
a comedy musical called Bogan Pride. Created by and starring Rebel Wilson, it was
really silly and very funny – about an obese girl who enters a dance competition to
raise money for her mother’s stomach stapling operation. It proved to be a very
eccentric calling card. Michael Edelstein, new Head of International Production at
NBC Univeral, was in Australia later that year, had seen Bogan Pride, thought it a
very individual and charming piece, and asked to meet Tony. Tony trotted into the
meeting armed with a bunch of fliers with our production and development slate and
at the end of the meeting Michael said, I think we want to buy you. Two nights later
we were all in a private dining room in Sydney with the NBCU team. At the end of
dinner, when the NBCU people had left, we all looked at each other and said “Shit”.
This kind of proposal we hoped might come 5 years down the track when we were
established and worth a lot more. Just when we were all getting to feel our way
forward as the Matchbox team, now we were being asked to embrace a much bigger
organisation with a quite different culture. And what did this do to our position in an
extremely nationalistic film and television industry where our Australian identity
might be called into question?

Two things were important in negotiating our way forward with NBCU. The first was
that we retain our editorial right to pick and choose our programs. The second was
that NBCU have a first and last option to internationally distribute our programming
so ensuring that we get best market price for our product.

What we have had to contend with on the governance front, with all it’s strict
compliance issues, has been well and truly outweighed by some big pluses – NBCU’s
capital investment has made a significant difference to the scale and verve in our
development slate; its people are really good eggs; the other companies owned or
part owned by NBCU, like Carnival Pictures (the makers of Downton Abbey) and
Working Title Television are simply lovely people whom we want to work with
(already one of them is in negotiations for the American remake of one of our recent
dramas); NBCU owns very strong US cable channels like SciFi and Bravo, to whom
we are already pitching ideas; our market access has opened up significantly; we
have a relationship with a distributor who wants us to succeed; our international
market intelligence has improved out of sight; and, most encouraging, NBCU is a
company which values originality and individuality.

That said, the more things change and all of that. What we soon discovered when we
set up Matchbox was that some challenges don’t alter with size.

One incentive for setting up the company was that, we all agreed, the peaks and
troughs of production, whereby a year of frantic production is followed by 18 months
of gruelling, impoverishing development, would be a thing of the past. Wrong. In 18
months over 2010-11, Matchbox put through $29m worth of production – The Slap,
The Straits, My Place, Sex An Unnatural History and Leaky Boat. Then it all stopped.
We’d all been buried in those production. We hurled ourselves frantically back into
development. Oops. Our business plan (god how I hate them) was lurching all over
the place. What happened to a beautifully orchestrated development and production
cycle?

We went in search of a Managing Director who would pull us all into line. We found
it in the splendid Chris Oliver-Taylor who was Deputy to the Director of Television at
the ABC and running business and corporate operations there. A man who looks like
he’s just left school, he is the nicest person we know and one of the brightest. He’s
the strategist we badly needed and he’s also a saint – dealing with 5 founding
directors who are hard working but each eccentric in our own way, is no mean feat.
He has reorganised us, established regular communications with our market,
expanded our factual content by employing two brilliant young women to develop in
that area and he calmly manages the day to day work with NBCU. “Beat us up” we
eagerly say like a quintet of bondage slaves.

The other challenge for us is that, in our past lives, we’ve all been mostly public
broadcaster animals. Apart from a skirmish with Network Ten called The Cooks in
2003, most of my work, and that of the other directors, has been with the ABC and
SBS – and programs like Brides of Christ, The Leaving of Liverpool and Blue Murder
were all agenda setting in their way. Kerry Packer is said to have called his
programmer the day after Brides of Christ debuted and asked “Did we pass on that
nun shit?” whereupon conversations proceeded with the production company to
whom I had sold the rights about Nine doing a follow up series on the show, a
proposition quickly torpedoed by the ABC.

We love working with the ABC and, when it has the wherewithal, SBS. No one but
SBS would have commissioned RAN: Remote Area Nurse and entertained the idea of
a crew camped out for 14 weeks on an island 800 meters wide and one and a quarter
kilometres long. A crew which had agreed to give up the grog for 14 weeks no less.
Graeme Blundell describes a film crew as something akin to a walking remand yard,
so you can imagine what an undertaking that was. No one but SBS would have
blessed our quest for a completely inexperienced islander cast. The serendipitous
outcome was the emergence of talent like Jimi Bani (recently in The Straits and
Mabo), Aaron Fa’aoso (who brought us the idea for The Straits) and Charles Passi
(recently in Mabo).

That production, by the way, was the first screen fiction set in Torres Strait islander
culture. It was an immersion for us in a fascinating world. You spend 14 weeks on a
tiny island where people live what appears to be a simple life. Helen Panckhurst, the
co-producer, and I soon learned that the life and culture there is anything but simple
– it is a very subtle, complex thing and each morning we’d wonder what one of our
crew might do today that would get us thrown off the island. A young island man
died of a heart attack, a young baby died in utero of diabetes complications. The
islanders, we knew, were beginning to think we were a contributing factor. Two of
our crew went drinking with some locals on a nearby island (it turned out most of the
crew were there – Helen and I who had assumed the position of cranky mother
superiors, frowning at any and all infractions and threatening Survivor style
evictions, were extremely relieved we didn’t know that at the time). I took a great
deal of time to work out that when our cultural liaison Rocky Gela said yes, he often
meant no. Then our island population one day went off to Thursday Island (leaving
us frantically scrambling for extras). And won the Island of Origin football cup for
the first time ever. These wonderful people considered we were a contributing factor
to this as well and we all celebrated, both abstemiously and like mad.

No one but the ABC would have commissioned a children’s series of which I am
immensely fond and proud – My Place, an adaptation of the brilliant Nadia
Wheatly/Donna Rawlin’s book about one spot in Australia seen through the eyes of
26 kids over 260 years. Written by scriptwriters the like of John Alsop, Alice
Addison, Blake Ayshford, Nick Parsons, Wayne Blair, Tony Briggs and Greg Waters,
My Place has won awards all over the world. But because it’s an anthology in which
each new episode brings a new era and new cast, broadcasters need to work hard to
find ways to build the audience addiction that comes from familiar characters on a
weekly basis. It has however, gone gangbusters among educators throughout
Australia.

And no commercial broadcaster would have picked up The Straits, our crime drama
set, yes again, in the Torres Strait and Far North Queensland, because it is
fundamentally a blackfella world and commercial Australia is yet to discover that
great territory. That said, the guys at Nine really like The Straits and the people at the
ABC observe, with some slight pangs their aging audience didn’t embrace it
enthusiastically enough, how much commercial energy it has.

The exciting development over the past decade, has of course been the rise of Pay TV
in this country and the way in which Foxtel has positioned itself in the market – a
purveyor of highly intelligent, inquisitive, smartly curated programming that aims to
set itself apart from both the public broadcast and commercial free to air networks.
We’re very fortunate to be in development with two big series for Foxtel. We’re as
excited as anything about that and determined to make them very happy with their
new partners.

We are of course, extremely pleased to be working with the commercial networks.
They have been commissioning some very good dramas and in good news, Australian
drama is once more winning big audiences. Anticipating what the commercial free to
air networks want is a subtle science. It’s one that we have learned is too easy to
oversimplify. Nine, Ten and Seven each has very particular audience demographics
but those sands shift all the time. Reading the audience is one of the dark arts. As the
competition between networks intensifies and the platforms diversify, in the world of
drama at least, stories about real events and real people is very hot at the moment.
Within that relatively limiting framework, the networks are nevertheless in search of
“ideas that pop”. Our most recent outing with Ten has been a good, vigorous workout
on the telemovie Underground – the story of Julian Assange’s teenage hacker years,
written and directed by Robert Connelly. Ten are delighted with it and we hope that
it brings them strong figures when it goes to air later this year. Similarly, we’ve been
delighted at how Nine has responded to a highly original romantic comedy idea that
we never imagined would be in their field of interest. Still, it’s a delicate dance we do
with the commercials and we retain the feeling they are cautiously working us out.
We like to hope that the “did we pass on that nun shit” might still be in play.

We do try to make our programs pathfinders – stories that will open up new ways of
seeing ourselves. I love a program with a good proposition. And regardless of who
we’re making a show for, my feeling is that we should always ask ourselves “why am I
telling this?” “What is the idea behind this that will really catch at the public’s
emotion?” My belief is that those of our programs that have worked have that good,
strong proposition at their core – Brides of Christ (the age-old question of women
and authority); The Track (an unexpectedly rollicking cultural history of Australia);
Blue Murder (the code of honour that is among thieves); The Road From Coorain
(the power of mothers in a landscape that discourages discourse); Rampant (the
bloody-minded strength that lies among misfits); Leaky Boat (our urgent need to feel
proud of this country); and The Slap (what worth our foundations when one small
act can rock them to their core?)

NBCU’s Michael Edelstein said something encouraging to us recently – what matters
is how strong and original and excellent the program idea is, not how well you’ve
second guessed your market. Great ideas will find an audience, be it public or
commercial broadcaster.

And now there are those in our company whose various peculiar passions can be
aired in other markets. Tony Ayres is also a scifi and fantasy nutcase. These days he
is busy peddling – with the help of like minded Giula Sandler and others, program
ideas to the US SciFi Channel. Sophie Miller and I have a cold war thriller idea set in
a mental institution in Kentucky. NBCU believe it has potential in the US market.

At the heart of everything Matchbox holds most dear is the writer. Writers are,

without a doubt for my part, the most important people in our industry. They create.
We realise. A good script is what will inspire and enthuse a crew and cast and is the
basis on which this expensive industry attracts its finance. It is that on which
everything else is built. We make huge demands of our writers, expecting them to
cough up extraordinary truths, stories and arcane fabrications in all kinds of
weather.

Whilst the screen production experience is a far more collaborative one – much more
a layer cake – than say the writing of a novel or a play, I really like David Malouf’s
thoughts on the works of William Shakespeare and think them relevant. In a speech
to the World Shakespeare Congress, reprinted with the title “Author, Author” in the
2006 Best Australian Essays, Malouf revisits an old question – how Will
Shakespeare, “a very common person, a son of a small-time official in a small country
town, a glovemaker and sometimes illegal speculator in wool, could acquire the
experience – of the court and its matters, the law, the life of a soldier in the field, of
foreign places – that would allow him to produce such a body of work”.

Malouf points us to Henry James whom he says knew something about writers and
the way they work. James asserted that a wrier should write out of his experience.
But what kind of experience? James tells of an English novelist, “a woman of genius”,
who had been commended for the way she understood and portrayed the life of the
French Protestant youth. Actually, James tells us, her experience of French
Protestant youth ”consisted in her having once, in Paris, as she ascended a staircase,
passed an open door where, in the household of a pastor, some of the young
protestants were seated round a finished meal. The glimpse made a picture; it lasted
only a moment but that moment was an experience…Above all, however, she had
been blessed with the faculty that (when given an inch you take) an ell (mile)…”

Malouf goes on to tell us that what really matters is that the writer “should be ‘one of
those on whom nothing is lost’; an observer, a listener, a close attendant of the
world’s smallest affairs, a scavenger, a snapper-up of otherwise unconsidered trifles;
and that everything he sees, and hears and overhears, should be laid down in his
memory, taken into the spiderweb of the consciousness and kept there to await the
moment when, transformed by imagination, it will find its use”.

Another of our essayists, Robyn Davidson, has written that it is the poets (for which I
interpret the writers) who are the ones who “lead us…back into the mystery of
things”.

One of the treasures of my work is the days spent in a writer’s brainstorm room as we
work our way towards the “bible” for a series. The bible is the introduction to the
story and characters of a drama. The brainstorm is an incredibly exhausting process.
People leave these sessions feeling wrecked even when exuberant about what they
have created. It’s a bit like coven of witches. You need to park your ego at the door and not be afraid to divulge relevant, painful life experiences. It’s a place where the
most experienced players demonstrate a brilliance for dreaming their way to a
marvellous idea while at the same time constantly reading the room – what’s being
said and what’s not being said. It’s an extraordinary journey in group psychology and
when it’s working, you feel marvellously in love with everyone in the room. It’s there
that you discover the people with the rich spiderwebs of consciousness Malouf talks
about, brimming with characters that seem fresh and true and story ideas that are
full of promise. And when someone else takes up an idea and runs with it and
everyone is galvanised, it’s like the people in that room can conquer the world.

I spent three days in a room with Tony Ayres, Blake Ayshford and Cate Shortland a
few weeks ago. And a few weeks before that, in another room with Jacquelin Perske,
Cate, Shaun Grant and Wain Fimeri. Those brainstorms were full of rigour, good will,
splendid ideas and propositions. And always people listening to each other and their
own mind and memory.

There are the times when it is extraordinarily hard. Then you have to pick your way
towards the proposition. And sometimes the mix of personalities in the room is not
right (the producer’s fault) and that can be hard. Or the brief has changed – like
when the ABC said to us after we’d delivered scripts for a 6 episode series of The
Straits, “Can you make it 10 episodes?” Sure we can I replied blithely, not properly
appreciating just how the unpicking of what we had would test all our equanimity,
our patience and our reserves. The final series, which won an Australian Writers
Guild award last week for best original mini series script, is a credit to the resilience
and talent of the writing team of Nick Parsons, Blake Ayshford, Kristine Dunphy,
Jaime Brown and Louis Nowra.

Earlier I mentioned our pledge that we would interrogate each other’s proposals and
be prepared to let go those ideas of ours that people felt would not find a strong
enough market. If there have been some pretty interesting moments along the way,
it’s been when that pledge has been tested. If we’re honest, we have had a tendency to
park ourselves on some pretty challenging propositions – a series on war crimes; an
arcane history of food; yet another drama on the outrageous way we deal with people
who come in boats. That’s when the question becomes – who’s the audience for this?
What about the bottom line? This doesn’t mean we won’t make those types of
programs. They’ll just need to be balanced by programs with a bigger reach.

Then there are the times we’ll have a furious debate about a good idea, inadequately
proposed by an inexperienced team and – it’s usually Tony – will storm off and work
up another version and return with it and it will be wonderful. For while working
with proven, talented people is what we love to do, we are always on the lookout for
the emerging people with brilliant ideas.

Truth be told, we haven’t lost our ability to be boundlessly excited by a good, original idea well put together. Even when it fails to fire on the first outing, we know it’s
worth putting carefully in the bottom drawer.

The creative tension in Matchbox is always how to balance finding as large an
audience as we can while at the same time maintaining what we call the Matchbox
brand – a striving for quality and originality. This is of course tricky. It takes both
nimbleness and fortitude. And our best attributes can also be our worst. Not giving
up on a program idea can become not being able to let go. Passion can become
bloody mindedness. Resilience can becomes blind stoicism.

And our industry is small and often not very brave and there are days when we could
cheerfully murder each other and (most days) when we appreciate the value of a
fortifying hug.

When we set up Matchbox, we also undertook to build a stratum of young people in
the company who can take over when we founding directors want to go live on the
farm, or on a boat or in a darkened room. We’re very proud of the team of smart,
talented young people who form the spine of the Matchbox development operation.
These people, mostly women as it happens, are our writers and directors and
producers of the future. For the present, they are proving to be wonderfully
proficient, smart interrogators of our work and champions of good ideas well
executed. Every success we have owes a great deal to them. They are simply
wonderful people. The trick is to find the time and the plasma – in a company now
peddling as fast as it can to feed that business plan (I told you, the bane of my life) –
to celebrate and enjoy the achievements and look out for each other when the going
is tough. For the tough days – when you feel certain everything is fallen to dust – are
shite. And the good days (like yesterday when we had a few bits of good news) –
make you dance a little jig. Because, last but by no means least, that was another
pledge we made on day one – we promised each other we’d enjoy the ride.

Mental: bursts out at MIFF as new twist on long career

Mental, written and directed by P.J. Hogan, an produced by Jocelyn Moorhouse with Todd Fellman and Janet and Jerry Zucker, was officially launched on the world as the closing night film of the Melbourne International Film Festival. It was a confronting treat.

As MIFF did its usual multicinema exhibition at important moments, it was a bit hard to work out how the audience felt about Mental, and the party was a noisy event full of tired people so no-one was deep in conversation.

One thing is for sure with Mental. With provisos about the money, the Hogan and Moorhouse team did exactly what they wanted, ably supported by a cast alive with the memory of Muriel`s Wedding, which grew in the same daggy, cartoonish suburbia awash with songs from a low-rent classic.

Tonally, the film whips in and out between comedy, melodrama, some vicious satire, expressionist melodrama and pure myth. Even on that level, it is pretty fascinating for filmmakers. It takes the traditional Hollywoodesque rules of script editing and drowns them in a bucket, and expects the audience to go with the silliness, and remain intellectually alert at the same time.

We at Screen Hub want to celebrate the sheer audacity and distinctiveness of the film. Hogan knows what he wants it to be, and makes it happen. And that, ladies and gennelmens, is like nothing else in Australian cinema, except Muriel grown up and gone feral.

Will it play in the multiplexes to an audience that will simply get the whole mental thing, and run with the exuberence? We hope so. At the very least, the film has both the best shark attack and the best fart in all of Australian cinema history.

Meanwhile, Mark Poole went to the MIFF conversation with Hogan and Moorhouse beforehand, and filed this report…

As his latest film Mental premieres at the Melbourne International Film Festival prior to it Australian release, it was terrific to turn up to hear P.J. Hogan and Jocelyn Moorhouse talk to Tom Ryan on Saturday before the premiere of their latest film Mental. The last time I’d seen the couple was years ago at The Deli in Toorak Road, right opposite the Bridal shop that was one of the spurs for Muriel’s Wedding (1994).

“I know you,” he said, extending his hand through the gloom of the MIFF Lounge at the Forum. But it has been 25 years and numerous films since I last discussed the art and craft of filmmaking with the acclaimed pair.

Mental shares many similarities to Muriel’s Wedding the film that launched PJ Hogan’s career in the United States. Directing such films as My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), Peter Pan (2003) and Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009), PJ has worked out of LA since the mid 1990s, and so despite the importance of PJ and wife Jocelyn Moorhouse (who produced both Muriel’s.. and Mental) as the makers of Proof (1992), Muriel’s Wedding and now Mental, little has been heard of them since they departed our shores.

So it was a wonderful opportunity for film critic Tom Ryan to retrace their filmmaking steps, beginning with their studies at AFTRS Film School in the late 1980s, with other notable figures including Jane Campion.

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The New Hollywood System

The New Hollywood System: Breaking Down the Current Definition of a
Movie Star

With $10 million the new $20 million, franchises trumping talent and international
appeal more important than ever, THR examines who’s on top, who’s pulling the
strings and who’s on deck.

Call it the $10 million kiss. That’s how much Kristen Stewart stands to lose if
Universal decides not to go ahead with a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman,
which has earned $389 million globally — and the actress’ now-infamous tryst with
director Rupert Sanders may be a large factor.

Stewart is one of the few rising stars to have reached the $10 million mark. (At press
time, Jennifer Lawrence was close to getting roughly $10 million for The Hunger
Games follow-up, Catching Fire; while Snow White’s Huntsman, Chris Hemsworth,
boosted by his roles in Marvel’s Thor and The Avengers, also will earn $10 million if
the Snow White sequel goes ahead.) But Stewart’s precariousness at the top —
despite the global punch of the Twilight franchise, which brought her $25 million as
well as healthy backend deals for the series’ final two films — shows how vulnerable
she is, like most of those on Hollywood’s new A-list.

The era is long past when a star like Tom Cruise could launch a career with Risky
Business and Top Gun, then stay in the stratosphere for decades. None of the new
stars gets the once-standard “20-against-20” deal — that is, $20 million upfront and
20 percent of the studio’s take from exhibitors, after they make that $20 million
back. Today, stars are seen as disposable, or at least interchangeable. As one top
studio executive ruminates, “What major star has emerged in the past five years?”

Aside from Channing Tatum — who weathered a bunch of flops before scoring
with The Vow, 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike — the answer just might be none.

Rather than an A-list, it might be better to think of a “hot list,” in the words of one
mega-agent: “That’s what it is — the guys you hope will last because nobody’s shown
they can do that just yet.”

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UK public funding boom

Are we in a golden era for public film funding? The UK is stumbling through a prolonged recession and yet the film industry has seemingly emerged largely unscathed from the ongoing cuts. Geoffrey Macnab analyses where the cash is headed.

Two years after the abrupt closure of the UK Film Council, there is more, not less, money available. With cash diverted to the London 2012 Olympics now returning, and sales of Lottery tickets increasing, the money available for film is rising.

Throughout the summer, Prime Minister David Cameron has been busily extolling the UK’s creative industries to Olympic visitors. There is cross-party support for the film industry which, according to the BFI’s statistical yearbook, contributes £3.3 billion to UK GDP and a trade surplus of over £1.5 billion.

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Emile Sherman, part 2: on tax, Fulcrum Media, television, co-pros and the problem of imported actors

With Sandy George determined to explore Emile Sherman`s financial and policy brain, the MIFF 37degrees South session traversed some of the joys and frustrations of the current funding system.
With Emile Sherman and Iain Canning run See-Saw, which is based in both Sydney and London. Sherman`s slate ranges across the world, often now with no formal Australian elements at all. Indeed, The King’s Speech was never by an official measure an Australian film, even though it has Geoffrey Rush, and the Australian identity of his character is crucial.

He has a precise line on identity. “We need to engage meaningfully as international producers, we are not Australian producers. We are based here and can do whatever we want”, he said.

He sees himself as “a producer based in Australia, rather than an Australian making Australian content movies. The Australian nature of it comes because I am an Australian and I like working with Australian writers and directors.”

He is very happy with the Significant Australian Content test, administered holistically by Screen Australia, because it focuses on the elements which are generated from Australia, and the production company’s ownership and contribution. It discourages the service company mentality. “We are empowered,” he said, “when we are offered a project from an overseas company that wants to set it up as Australian. We can say we can do that, but we need to be really meaningful partners in that.”

In the right mix, producers can use an overseas writer or director, or bring in overseas elements, or shoot overseas. But he sees the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance position as an impediment.

“I totally get where they are coming from but at the same time I think it comes from the pie is one size, and they want to get the biggest slice of the pie. There’s no sense that the pie will grow.”

His access to overseas actors is very limited if he wants to shoot in Australia, but he can use as many as he likes if he shoots outside the country – and still claim the taxation benefits of an Australian film.

He acknowledged he is simplifying a complex situation, because there are a number of factors in play – he wants the authenticity of actors from a particular culture, films are located overseas, and he may want key actors who are not native to the story because of their sheer quality. Disgrace, for instance, is shot in its country of origin, South Africa, and stars John Malkovich. On Dead Europe, he figures he could not have brought a single overseas actor to work on a shoot in Australia.

“We have a few films that are set overseas, that are Australian movies, generated by Australian directors with Australian HODS (heads of department), and casts or some cast, and we would really like to shoot them in Australia…. But we are not going to, probably, because we can’t bring in the actors we need.

“So we are in the paradoxical situation where the MEAA rules are preventing us from using Australian actors. And I don’t think that is their intention. If we are going to grow as an industry, we have to be empowered to grow as an industry.”

“I think there are other negative impacts of the tightness of the rules. You end up paying more for Australian actors than you need to, because the agents here know that if you need a name, and you’ve got X named as an Australian actor and you can’t get anyone from overseas, you are pretty well stuck with them. And that is not really helping the general acting community in Australia. We would be better to pay the real market rate for an actor from overseas, and pay the other actors more.”

Sandy encouraged Emile to reflect on Fulcrum Media Finances, established in 2008 by Emile Sherman and Iain Canning’s See-Saw Films together with Sharon Menzies and Barry Sechos. It was pumped up in 2010 by a deal with Media Super, which Emile admitted took some eighteen months to negotiate, with the Global Financial Crisis disrupting the process.

Sherman emphasised that the two businesses are very separate. While See-Saw uses Fulcrum`s financial services in significant ways, other companies may be a better fit for a particular project. And Emile joked about Media Super`s aversion to conflict of interest. It is, after all, the industry`s superannuation fund.

“It is small business but a nice business,” he said, “and I feel really pleased with its contribution to the industry. It has financed forty Australian films over the last four or five years.”

“A lot of what Fulcrum does is helping producers on the ground, and our funds are relatively inexpensive.” It offers more than money – managing director Sharon Menzies is helping producers navigate the peculiarities of the Australian system, which has effectively introduced gap finance to the industry vocabulary.

He painted a fairly brutal picture of the dwindling market for low or mid level Australian drama unless they are edgy or controversial enough to compel major festival attention. “In the old days you used to get twenty percent from a sales agent, because they knew they could sell that amount, but now it doesn`t work like that – on a $4m film you are not necessarily guaranteed a million dollars of sales by any means. If you get a million dollars of sales, usually that film has really cut through and has been bought as a theatrical proposition around the world.”

“It`s a tough moment for films because you either have to have something substantive to say and be in that festival world, the must-have theatrical world, maybe you`ve got to be in Australia with a comedy, which is very much Australian based and you`ve got to really understand that, or just be that five to fifteen or ten to twenty million dollar film that`s just got enough of a hook, or a big enough cast and director to fly internationally.”

Emile is making a broad distinction between what he calls “the execution dependent movie” which have limited market place attachments and rely on sales after completion, and “substantive movies”, which are financed on presales. The distinction is obvious – the risks is spread, budgets are higher, investors are close to returns after completion.

“It is a wonderful feeling to have a film presold on the basis of the elements”, he said. The psychology of running a company on presold pictures is much more attractive. It is pretty obvious to outsiders that companies move from one to the other, as their slate proves their judgement, they learn the marketplace, and develop the long term relationships.

In Emile’s case, it has clearly led to a policy of working with directors who are known to be excellent, and writers with a lot of experience, on properties with obvious potential. At the same time, that philosophy flows into the budget, which he is still having to triage around arthouse, wider release or cross-over.

With the SAG rules and the Producer Offset, Emile can advance films that “qualify as Australian films, and still have international elements. With that, there is a real opportunity to make be making eight to twenty million dollar moves, which is what I am focused on.”

“They are a different sort of movies that have hooks to them, that have substantive cast, and substantive directors. And we need to be able to retain our directors. “The Offset enables them to sustain relationships that enable them to buy important underlying works, and defeat studios with more cash, on the grounds that they are credible, and will deliver a better film. “We have already got forty percent of the money,” he said. “We are legitimate here.”

“The Offset has been brilliant as a watershed change moment in the industry. For the first time we are thinking much more entrepeneurially, we have a lot more equity and recoupment in the film, we’ve got a solid basis from which to build a finance plan, we are much more attractive to overseas producers who want to do co-productions with Australia, you get a real seat at the table there because you are meaningful co-production partner, and its been a total game changer for the industry.”

At the same time, he claims that the Offset is failing in one very important way. It has now allowed more commercial films to be financed without Screen Australia investment. As we all know, that means that a cash-strapped government agency becomes a major brake on growth.

Sherman’s solution is to rejig the tax levels – after all, we have marginal rates of tax, so why can’t we have variable levels of offset? He reckons that a 50/40/30 system could be devised that supported lower budget production, took a small amount off the top end, and would not cost Treasury any more. The levels would be 50% for the first $15m, then 40% for the next $15m, and 35% above that. This is not an uncommon idea, by the way; it has been quietly circulating as an option in industry policy circles.

While Emile acknowledged the value of the Offset in co-production discussions, it turns out that he is not a fan of co-pros at all. “I think there is an assumption that a coproduction will bring in money,” he said. “It’s not true.”

For early projects like The Night We Called it a Day, Oyster Farm, and Opal Dreaming, Sherman was able to take advantage of English finance through a sale-and-leaseback arrangement which was ultimately abandoned. But with some English elements, it was possible to create profitable co-productions.

“ But to be honest now, with Dead Europe, we looked at it as a co-production and went, we will end up bringing in more money if its Australian, keep it more and more Australian, because the system here is so much better than anywhere else.”

Sandy George dug into the decision by See-Saw to move into television, though Emile was implying it was almost accidental. They became involved with Top of the Lake because they are doing a film project with director Jane Campion, and she stepped sideways to do the televisions series. They had an opportunity to go with her.

As a company, they were in the backwash of The King’s Speech. “We were offered a few quite substantive big movies that were financed, with big actors and everything,” said Emile. “For better or worse Iain and I just looked at each other and went, I don’t know what this film is saying. It’s a nice story but I don’t want to spend my time on this. I would prefer to be doing really good television than that sort of a movie. That was our impetus to go into it.”

He is relishing the way in which television projects are so much more writer driven, and their relationship with the BBC and BBC Worldwide is now sweetened by first look and overhead deals. Ironically, he notices that co-productions are less common in television drama, which is a useful layer of experience they bring to the table.

Despite the siren call of television, See-Saw remains firmly committed to the feature space. As Emile pointed out, “Most of the films nominated for Academy awards are not studio movies… we can make movies that sit in that zone that studios almost used to sit in.”

“We`ve got to embrace the independent world because we are in a very exciting time for independent film.”

by: David Tiley

Screen Hub
Wednesday 8 August, 2012