Sundance, the Oscars and the Decline of Film Criticism—Not Just a Lady Problem

One look at this year’s Oscar nominees reveals the indelible mark independent film has made on popular culture. The Sundance Film Festival, in particular, has been

responsible for the rise of American cinema’s most renowned contemporary
directors, from Steven Soderbergh to Todd Haynes. Beasts of the Southern
Wild screened to audiences for the first time a year ago at Sundance. Quentin
Tarantino was discovered there with Reservoir Dogs.Ben Affleck gained prominence

first as a star of Kevin Smith’s films. All of the documentaries nominated for an
Academy Award this year played at Sundance.

But this robust pipeline between Sundance and Hollywood has been conspicuously
male. Where are the women of Sundance?

Twenty-thirteen was supposed to be a year of celebration for women at the festival.
For the first time, Sundance’s prestigious film competition reflected parity between
male and female directors. This was capped by a Sundance Institute/Women in Film
study that triumphantly declared: “More Women in Independent Film Than
Hollywood.”

Then the film reviews came in—and these ginger steps forward were thrown a few
slaps back.

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Aussie Sophie Lowe in Wonderland with new role

Australian actor Sophie Lowe has scored the lead in a hotly contested Hollywood
pilot in which she will star as Alice, the character best known from Alice in
Wonderland. The project named Once:Wonderland is still in development but is
expected to be a spin-off for the ABC’s Once Upon a Time. The plot will focus on an
entirely different time in Alice’s life, separate to the classic tale.

US reports have confirmed Lowe will take part in filming from April 7 in Vancouver,
with hopes the pilot will be picked up for a full series. Lowe, who was born in
England but moved to Australia when she was 10, initially started out as a model but
made the switch to dancing and acting and studied at the McDonald College of
Performing Arts in Sydney. She was nominated for an AFI Award for her lead role in
the Australian film Beautiful Kate.
Christine Sams – Sydney Morning Herald – March 30, 2013

Laughs at knife-point

This article is by Michael Idato from Fairfax Media here:

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/homemade-is-where-the-heart-is-20130327-2gsux.html

A sharp team is wielding a powerful comedic weapon.

The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting, Wednesday, ABC1, 9pm.
Michael Idato – SMH – March 28, 2013

Sketch comedy is television’s difficult middle child. Its bigger siblings – the sitcoms –
are more confident, and tend to overachieve. Its younger siblings – the quirkier
programs loved by the ABC and SBS – get more attention and are given more
freedom.Awkward, uncertain commercial sketch is wedged in the middle like Jan Brady
sitting by the phone waiting for George Glass to call. It has historically had the
toughest time finding its space in the TV schedule. And finding an audience to love it.
The successes are fewer than the failures, but Jungleboys, the production company
behind A Moody Christmas, is diving into the genre head first with the result The
Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting.

The Jungleboys (from left) Trent O’Donnell, Jason Burrows and Phil Lloyd.
”Phil [Lloyd] and I have always wanted to do a sketch comedy. We have always
scribbled down ideas for it,” director Trent O’Donnell says. ”It’s just taken this long
to come around. And so many shows didn’t do well that it scares people away.”
Lloyd, whose body of acting work – Review with Myles Barlow and At Home with
Julia, in which he played ”first bloke” Tim Mathieson – makes him a more
recognisable face, agrees. ”Commercial TV is very risk-averse when it comes to
comedy, and there are examples of where they have [been] stung by it,” he says. ”The
reality is they are more practised at making drama.”

The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting, commissioned by the ABC for
ABC1, will have considerably more room to breathe. It stars Patrick Brammall,
Damon Herriman, Robin McLeavy, Eliza Logan and Dave Eastgate. Jungleboys’
O’Donnell, Lloyd and Jason Burrows describe the series as ”random, ridiculous and
surreal”.

The first episode has all the signs it will make its mark. It delivers a mixture of the
staples – dinner parties gone awry, office politics – but weaves into them barbed
punchlines about contemporary politics and social mores. Given a choice between
silly and unsettling, it reaches for the latter.

When not making edgy comedies, however, Jungleboys is also one of the five top
advertising production companies in Australia, industry blog Campaign Brief says.
TV commercials are its ”day job”.

The blend of the two worlds, and the creative freedom that one inadvertently bestows
on the other, is what makes the Jungleboys partnership so intriguing.What is clear is that the business model for making television is changing, just as it
was when the Working Dog team pioneered using hand-held DV cameras to film
Frontline.

The company’s core business, for the moment, is filming TV commercials, a more
lucrative line than critically acclaimed comedies. ”The idea is to build up the longform TV side of the business so that it can become a very profitable thing as well,”
says Burrows, who runs the commercial side. ”Producing shows that have
international appeal is key to doing that.”

Review with Myles Barlow, created by Lloyd and O’Donnell, was a critical triumph. It
aired on ABC2, got rave reviews and was snapped up for the American market by the
Comedy Channel. The American version, Review with Forrest MacNeil, will launch
later in 2013.

That was followed by A Moody Christmas, produced with Burrows, which was
another success. It screened on ABC1, with a second series expected to follow. It also
generated international interest, but Jungleboys held it back from sale to bundle it
with the second series, a move that will, ultimately, increase its value.
In the US, the company is repped by Mosaic, home of Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell’s
production companies. In Australia, meanwhile, it has evolved into something of an
artistic collective.

Under its umbrella is an eclectic jumble of personalities: feature film director Wayne
Blair, Bondi Hipsters Connor and Christiaan van Vuuren and Tropfest-winning
writer-director Abe Forsythe. ”It’s about building up a collaborative culture of people
who don’t have such great egos that they accept great ideas can come from other
people,” Burrows says.

As for the future, anything is possible. Even a sitcom. ”We certainly are open to that,
if an idea or character is that strong.”

Short History of Australian comedy TV

from an article by Michael Idato in Fairfax Media.

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/homemade-is-where-the-heart-is-20130327-2gsux.html

Sketching a nation’s characters, from Con to Kath

The Mavis Bramston Show (1964-68)
One of Australia’s iconic sketch comedies, this series set the gold standard for satire
and featured Maggie Dence, Carol Raye, Barry Creyton and Gordon Chater.

The Naked Vicar Show (1977-78)
Written by Gary Reilly and Tony Sattler, this iconic sketch series featured Mavis
Bramston breakout Noeline Brown, Kevin Goldsby and Ross Higgins.

Australia You’re Standing In It (1983-84)
A brilliant series that launched the Dodgy Brothers, featuring Rod Quantock, Steve
Blackburn, Mary Kenneally, Geoff Brooks, Sue Ingleton and Evelyn Krape.

The D-Generation (1986-89)
An iconic series that launched the careers of Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Marg Downey,
Michael Veitch, Magda Szubanski, John Harrison, Tom Gleisner, Jane Turner, Tony
Martin, Mick Molloy and Jason Stephens.

The Comedy Company (1988-90)
Noted for the character Kylie Mole and starred Mark Mitchell, Mary-Anne Fahey, Ian
McFadyen, Glenn Robbins and Kim Gyngell.

Fast Forward (1989-92)
The grande dame of modern sketch comedy, born out of The D-Generation and
keeping many of its stars. It also launched the careers of Steve Vizard, Peter Moon
and Gina Riley.

Full Frontal (1993-99)
A spinoff, of a sort, to Fast Forward, which launched the careers of Shaun Micallef,
Julia Morris and Eric Bana, plus Greg Fleet, Denise Scott, Kitty Flanagan and Gabby
Millgate.

Big Girl’s Blouse (1994)
The creative team of Szubanski, Turner and Riley. A commercial failure but a creative
triumph. This gave birth to Kath & Kim.

Comedy Inc. (2003-07)
The last big commercial sketch comedy, which featured Ben Oxenbould, Mandy
McElhinney, Genevieve Morris, Katrina Retallick and Jim Russell.

The Wedge (2006-07)
A baton-changer that launched a new generation of comedy stars, notably Dailan
Evans, Adam Zwar, Rebel Wilson and Jason Gann.

IndieFlix Trying to Make Filmmakers Money One App at a Time

Few independent films get seen, let alone make money. But IndieFlix is looking to
change that — one app at a time — by putting its library of titles in front of more
audiences online.

This week, that involves Microsoft’s Xbox Live, with an app on the videogame
console launching today that will offer up 1,000 films to stream. To watch the films, individuals will need both an IndieFlix and Xbox Live
membership.

More viewers means more money for filmmakers putting their pics on the service.
IndieFlix shares revenues it receives through what it calls a “Royalty Pool Minutes”
model in which filmmakers get paid for every minute watched by a subscriber.
“The sheer size of the Xbox market catapults indies into the limelight,” said
filmmaker and IndieFlix CEO and co-founder Scilla Andreen.

There are now 46 million subscribers who pay $60 a year to access video and other
content on Xbox Live. Xbox users watched and played 18 billion hours of
entertainment last year, Microsoft said, with usage of apps on the console growing
57% in 2012.That’s certainly a lot of digital coin should IndieFlix be able to entice Xbox Live’s  users to steer away from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon — and their games, of course.
The Xbox Live deal will actually make IndieFlix’s short and full-length features,
documentaries and web series available in six countries: the United States, Canada,
United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. It also has a similar streaming
deal with Roku.

“We think the Xbox audience ‘gets’ independent film,” Andreen said. “We believe
they’ll love the original content and appreciate the raw creativity of these fiercely
independent artists who work outside of the ‘system’ to make the movies they want
to make – no need for permission or bowing to someone else’s editorial control.”

Marc Graser – VARIETY – 26 March 2013

Ang Lee Tells Wannabe 3D Filmmakers: ‘Trust No One’

The “Life of Pi” director says the format is in its infancy and that he wants to be a
trailblazer if and when he “can afford it.”

LONDON — Oscar winner Ang Lee said wannabe 3D Filmmakers should “trust no
one” when it comes to 3D movie-making.

The Life of Pi director told an audience at the 3D Creative Summit in the British
capital via a live link from Fox News Studios in NYC that anyone who claims to know
about the format is “bull shitting.”

Lee lamented the perception that 3D was the preserve of action and animation films,
arguing that the format offers filmmakers myriad opportunities to explore emotions
and human stories.”Don’t trust anybody,” said Lee, as 20th Century Fox 3D guru David Conley, grinning broadly, listened in on stage in London. “Don’t let anybody tell you what 3D is,  including me,” Lee continued. “The stenographers on these movies should be the
filmmakers. The best way to learn is to jump in, like swimming, and learn yourself.”

Conley, prior to the live link with Lee in NYC, had described the work and techniques
used to make Lee’s vision of Yann Martel’s best-selling book to the London
conference audience.

Lee said: “I want to learn and become one of the trailblazers in discovering the
language of 3D filmmaking. He said he remains “attached” to 2D filmmaking but is
“excited” by the “new language of cinema” that 3D provides a filmmaker with. He
said that, because of the volume added to a character from the third dimension he
had been able to shoot powerful scenes from different point of views than traditional
2D techniques would have allowed.

Lee described one example of shooting over Pi’s shoulder when the boat sinks. “In 2D
I would have used three cameras to get the awe I wanted to inspire with that
sequence,” Lee noted. He also said he’d make films in 3D “but only if he could afford
it.” He said he hoped the cost of the equipment and technology would come down
eventually to allow more subject matters to be tackled. But he also had one big
reservation. “I personally don’t like the glasses,” Lee said. “I hope some smart guy
works out a way to get rid of them.”

Lee was a big draw for the two day summit which runs over two days at the BFI
Southbank through March 28.

Stuart Kemp – Hollywood Reporter

Five Surprising Takeaways From The MPAA Theatrical Report

Female attendance, 3D family moviegoing are among unexpected stats

Global box office reached a record $34.7 billion. Check. International B.O. also grew
to record heights, thanks largely to an unprecedented surge at the Chinese box office.
Check and check.

Those were some of the most important talking points from the Motion Picture of
Assn. of America’s 2012 theatrical statistics report. But the 25-page document issued
last week includes a plethora of data ranging from historical gender breakdowns to
state-by-state attendance percentages.Variety digs through the stats to highlight five of the report’s surprising findings.

1) Female moviegoing: 2009, with pics like “The Blind Side” and “Julie and Julia,”
still holds the attendance high for femmes at 788 million tickets sold (or 55%). Last
year, men and women were split evenly. Chalk it up to all those fanboys — and girls
— supporting major blockbusters like “The Avengers” and “Hunger Games.”

2) 3D attendance: The average of 3D patronage actually increased among 2-11, 40-49
and 60+ auds, signaling perhaps more families went to 3D movies last year than
some might have thought.

“The Croods” was an encouraging indicator of that last weekend, grossing 38% from
3D — better than “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” “Madagascar 3″ and “Rise of the
Guardians.”

3) State oddity: In 2012, Illinois had the highest percentage of moviegoers (for 3D
pics, as well) based on its population, at 74%. But California had the most frequent
moviegoers (22%). Frequent filmgoers in Illinois came in at 21%.

4) Global B.O. share: For the first time in eight years, the overseas share of global box
office remained flat with the previous year, at 69%. Since 2005, the global share
dipped year-over-year in 2007 and 2009.

There is hardly a ceiling in sight for the international market, however. Asian
territories increased 15% vs. 2011 overall; Latin America grew 6%.

5) Frequency rate: While per capita attendance is declining among some age groups
(teens, in particular), the number of frequent moviegoers in 2012 was higher than
any year since 2009 across all age brackets. Moviegoers 25-39 went the most, at 9.9
million vs. 6.3 million in 2009.

Andrew Stewart – Variety – 26 March 2013

UK TV Tax Credit System Gets Go-Ahead From Euro Authorities

The U.K. government’s proposal secures the greenlight from Brussels and will be
put into effect on April 1.

The proposed tax credit system for high end TV, animation and video
games has leapt through the final hoops standing its way and will be in place from
April 1, 2013.

The introduction is designed to help keep the U.K. on the map with Hollywood
studios and high end producers looking to make big budget TV projects — likely to be
budgeted at $1.5 million plus per episode.

The proposals for the credits had to secure state-aid approval by Brussels before the
British government could start implementing the long-awaited tax benefits to
applicants.

The go-ahead from Brussels on the eve of this year’s Mip TV market in Cannes,
should give producers and program-makers a welcome boost ahead of the show that
runs April 8 – 11.

The tax benefits, which have been in the works for about a year and have been
supported by industry groups and personalities, will provide a 25 percent tax break
on qualifying U.K. expenditures.

Budget documents indicate that the British government expects to allocate $7
million (£5 million) to its tax credit system for high end television productions from
April 6, 2013, for the rest of the year.

That will likely grow, according to government forecasts, to $38 million (£25 million)
for 2014 /15, rising to $98 million (£65 million) by 2017/18.

Stephen Bristow, at leading media tax and accountancy specialists Saffery
Champness, described the greenlight from the European Commission for the tax
credits, as “great news.”

Bristow, whose firm has been instrumental in drawing up the framework and
lobbying the government bean counters to implement the system, said it will boost
the sector in two ways.

“In real terms the UK is now going to be able attract more high-end TV production
and animation building businesses and employment,” Bristow said.
The tax credits for high end TV is already tipped by British industry insiders to
attract more and more U.S. productions with British elements to U.K. shores.
It will also avoid recent “runaway” productions that has seen high end projects
produced by British production banners and U.S. partners such as Parade’s End, starring Benedict Cumberbath and Rebecca Hall from BBC Worldwide and HBO
from shooting abroad.

Said Bristow: “The new tax reliefs will be in place from April 1, 2013, giving
production companies just about to start production the confidence to do so,
knowing that they are going to be able to apply for the TV or animation tax relief
providing their productions meet the qualifying criteria.”

The British Film Institute has been tasked by the British government to be the
certification body for the incoming tax credit system.

Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the British Film Commission and Film London
said: “That the TV tax relief is in place just a year after it was announced is testament
to the government’s understanding of how vital the production industries are to the
UK economy in terms of job creation and investment. Building on the success of the
film tax relief, the British Film Commission is already working hard with our
partners both here and in the US to ensure that the UK has as much success in
attracting major international TV production as we do in attracting major
international features.”

Stuart Kemp – Hollywood Reporter

Sydney Film Festival launches free online publication to celebrate anniversary

Wednesday 27 March 2013

A free online publication has been launched to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the
Sydney Film Festival.

Sydney Film Festival 1954 to Now: A Living Archive was launched by NSW minister
for the arts, George Souris.

“This new digital archive is not only a comprehensive anthology of Sydney Film
Festival and the Australian film industry, but it is also a celebration of Sydney and
NSW as the nation’s hub of film and creative industries,” the minister said.

The publication employs Realview technology and was partially funded by a special
history grant via the City of Sydney’s History Publication Sponsorship Program.
“The City of Sydney is pleased to support this wonderful archive which shows how
significant the festival’s impact has been to the evolution of the city’s cultural life
over the past 60 years,” said Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore.

Sydney Film Festival’s festival director Nashen Moodley said: “This free digital
archive provides a thorough historical overview of the festival, which has challenged,
delighted and entertained Sydneysiders for six decades.

“Within its pages you will find a multi-layered, multi-dimensional chronicle of
Sydney Film Festival – its past, present and future, seen from many perspectives and
told with many voices.

“It is an amazing resource full of multimedia, interviews and analysis of the history of
the festival, its relationship to the local and international film industries, its position
in cinema history and its role in the development of local art, culture and
entertainment.”

The publication can be viewed here:
http://online.sffarchive.org.au/#folio=1

TV Writing Staffs Still Overwhelmingly White and Male

UCLA/Writers Guild of America Report:

by Jonathan Handel – Hollywood Reporter – 26 March 2013

Despite some slow progress over the last decade, women and minorities remain
dramatically underrepresented on TV writing staffs, according to a UCLA/WGA West
report released Tuesday. The document – the 2013 WGAW TV Staffing Report – was prepared for the WGAW by Darnell Hunt, a UCLA sociologist who is director of the
Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

The numbers are daunting: minorities are underrepresented on TV staffs by a factor
of 2 to 1 in comparison to their percentage of the population. Among executive
producers, women are underrepresented by 2 to 1 and minorities by 5 to 1.
“In the Hollywood entertainment industry, unfortunately, there has all too often
existed a disconnect between the writers hired to tell the stories and an America
that’s increasingly diverse with each passing day,” Hunt said.

The report looked at 190 shows on 28 broadcast and cable networks, employing 1,722 writers. “We can’t tell the whole story if only half of us write it,” said WGA West
president Christopher Keyser at a morning event at which the report was presented.
There are signs of progress, albeit slow. Minority representation doubled over the
last decade (2011-12 season compared with 1999-2000). But during that same
period, female representation inched up a mere 5% – a rate of increase so sluggish
that parity of men won’t be achieved for another 42 years unless faster progress is
made.

Hunt remarked that he had considered subtitling the report “Pockets of Promise,
Minimal Progress.” The report also looked at age-related issues, and found that for the first time, writers over 40 have over 50% of all staff positions. On the other hand, nearly a third of shows had no writers over 50, suggesting a sharp drop-off occurs.

The report didn’t look at LGBT issues because of the difficulty of obtaining data, said
Hunt.

Rutgers business school professor Nancy DiTomaso, author of the new book The
American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism, told The Hollywood
Reporter that the project-based and who-knows-who nature of the entertainment
industry accentuates the difficulty that diverse writers have in breaking into
established networks.

“It is not just a friendship network, but one that is often based on neighborhood,
race/ethnic or religious groups, people who went to the same school, attend the same
church, who are associated with the same institutions and so on,” she said. “The
impact of networking in this field and others is the perpetuation of inequality and
often the opportunity for some people to build skills that others are denied.”
As Hunt said, entertainment is “a very relationship-oriented business.” DiTomaso
was not involved in the UCLA/WGA research.

One attempt to change the dynamic is the WGAW Writer Access Project, which
attempts to open doors for diverse writers by identifying diverse writers with television staffing experience and making samples of their work available to
showrunners, producers, executives, agents and managers.