Monthly Archives: November 2013

U.K. Films With Female Directors, Writers Perform Well at Box Office

The British Film Institute study analyzing movies released between 2010 and 2012 says employing women makes business sense, but female filmmakers still are underrepresented.

LONDON – Employing more women in writing and directing roles makes sound business sense for the film industry, according to new research from the British Film Institute.

Analysis of the performance of U.K. films released between 2010 and 2012 indicates that a “high percentage” of the most successful and profitable independent British films had a female screenwriter and/or director.

But women remain underrepresented in writing and directing roles. For all U.K. independent films released during the period analyzed, just 11.4 percent of the directors and 16.1 percent of the writers were female. However, in a sign of their financial success, out of the top 20 U.K. independent films at the box office over the same period, 18.2 percent had a female director, and 37 percent had a female writer.

And according to the BFI report entitled “Succes de plume? Female Screenwriters and Directors of U.K. Films 2010-2012,” profitable U.K. indie releases had female writers in 30 percent of all cases.

Over the two-year period, women contributing to the success included Sarah Smith (Arthur Christmas), Susanna Whiteand Emma Thompson (Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang),Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class) and Lone Scherfig (One Day). Names such as Phyllida Lloyd and Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady), Debbie Isitt (Nativity 2) and Dania Pasquini and Jane English (StreetDance 3D and StreetDance 2 3D) also got mentions as contributing to the female golden touch.

U.K. culture minister and minister for women and equalities Maria Miller said: “The creative industries underpin this country’s economic growth and are increasingly front and center in representing Britain on the world stage. Of course, there is still a long way to go to address under-representation across the sector in general, but with the number of women being employed within the creative industries growing year by year, I know we can look forward to a future for film where the talent of women can shine.”

BFI CEO Amanda Nevill said that while women are creating stories and characters that “resonate with audiences in the U.K. and around the world,” there is still frustration that “overall the numbers of women in writing and directing roles remains low and there is still much work to do to ensure female voices can come through.”

A key figure in the research report is the number of successful female writers and directors attached to more than one project over the period, with a notable number of the directors also having directing credits in other media, including television and theater. The report also shows that films with female writers or directors were more likely to have female producers or executive producers and have received financial support through BFI Lottery and BBC Films or Film4.

11/25/2013 by Stuart Kemp – THR

The price of admission: ticketing strategies for Oz films

Three recent Australian movies have experimented with unique distribution models. But will the rest of the industry pay attention?

In the vigorous debate about how to get an audience for Australian films in an age of radically changing viewer habits, it’s intriguing to look at the experience of other countries. Spanish cinema just saw a temporary but almighty box office increase of 633 percent over the same period a year ago thanks to an annual cinema festival, called Fiesta de Cine, in which ticket prices were dramatically slashed from the usual 11 Euros to 2.90 Euros for a week.

That promotion included US blockbusters like Gravity but also benefited the audience for a Spanish hit, Witching and Bitching. This raises the question, would something like this work for Australian films? If it did work, it would be temporary, presumably leaving local films in the same hard place for the remaining 51 weeks of the year.

There’s no denying that high prices have made a visit to the cinema an especially expensive and often prohibitive experience for many families – solitary individuals too. Rocking up to a Hoyts cinema recently to see the Hollywood action film 2 Guns a couple of weeks ago, this viewer was alarmed to be asked to hand over $22.50. The film was not in the 3D or IMAX formats. It was screening in Xtremescreen, which is not so much extreme as larger than the norm.

The positive experience of one local film, Tim Winton’s The Turning, however, suggests that lowering ticket prices might be looking at the problem the wrong way. As counter-intuitive as it might sound, in certain circumstances it might make sense to even increase the price of entry, thus creating an aura of exclusivity for a ‘boutique’ release.

On the face of it, The Turning presented a huge marketing challenge: a 3-hour film consisting of 18 loosely linked shorts. Yet it has achieved box office earnings to date of $1 million by charging viewers a premium price of $25 to get in, and it’s still earning. While its box office is small beer compared to the $28 million raked in by a blockbuster like The Great Gatsby, they’re more than double the income each taken by 12 of the other 16 other films released in 2013.

In the face of often grim box office results for local dramas and genre films, The Turning’s results prove that an Australian drama (as opposed to potentially broad-appeal musicals and comedies such as The Sapphires and Red Dog) can attract a more than desultory cinema audience if they’re presented in an innovative way. What distributors and filmmakers need to do, however, is devise specialist strategies that break down the old open the old release routines.

Paul Wiegard, managing director of The Turning’s distributor, Madman Entertainment, acknowledges that Australian cinema ticket prices “are high compared to the rest of the world” but still thinks they offer good value, though he adds, “when was the last time you paid for a live performance that went for three hours?”

For their extra dollars, The Turning’s viewers were handed a glossy brochure about the film and there was a personal element to many of the screenings. Obviously the film had to be sufficiently unusual to justify its ‘event’ release strategy – it was based on fiction by a popular author, Tim Winton, and its cast included some well-known actors including Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Richard Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving.

“It comes down to how you involve the talent,” says Wiegard. “That’s the single defining element of event cinema, and we had an enormous amount of Q&As, and introductions, including [author of the source material] Winton. That was unusual.”

Initially, there had been much discussion about how to release the film. Different ideas were kicked around, including releasing it as two parts, each on screen for a fortnight. But in the end, he says, releasing it in its entirety for a fortnight season was the simplest way to go.

Specialist Australian film release strategies come under the microscope in a polemical monograph just published by Currency House, ‘Not at a Cinema Near You: Australia’s Film Distribution Problems’. Author Lauren Carroll Harris examines a number of case studies including the music school documentary Mrs. Carey’s Concert, and the crowd-funded digital horror film The Tunnel.

The latter provides a different insight into radical pricing strategies by getting rid of a viewing fee altogether. While the film had a few cinema screenings, it was made available online for free, via authorised file-sharing, an iPad app and streaming services ABC iView and Sydney Morning HeraldTV. Crowdfunding not only helped attract financial partners such as Andrew Denton’s Zapruder’s Other Films and Screen NSW, but also helped to create an audience of people invested in the film’s success. A sequel is in the works with Screen Australia funding.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Carey’s directors, Bob Connolly and Sophie Raymond, decided to release the film themselves – a strategy that ultimately resulted in box office of $1,158,281, making it the fourth highest-grossing non-IMAX local documentary to date. Here pricing was not part of the strategy. The film was booked initially into only 9 cinemas but then expanded to 70 screens over 17 weeks as the positive word of mouth spread.

A key to this success was a marketing plan that involved direct approaches to the target audience: classical music fans, school music teachers and suchlike. Says Raymond, “We met people who knew our audience, who had greater access to the audience, and no distribution company was going to have those classical music connections that we had developed.” Breaking the standard ‘release window’ pattern, where DVD and VOD (video on demand) are held back until 120 days after initial cinema release, the team sold DVDs at screenings.

It’s all very well treating a film as a special event, but if everything becomes an ‘event’, then nothing is. South Australian Film Commission CEO Richard Harris (no relation to Lauren Carroll Harris) says he’s “excited about all the new possibilities” for releasing films, but he points out that not every film is suitable for event status.

The inevitable way of the near future for relatively small Australian films to reach an audience – both local and international – is to be released on VOD and DVD at the same day as their cinema release (called ‘day-and-date’). This is becoming a popular solution for independent films in the US, but Australia is in a twilight zone where the old world is dying but the new world is yet to be born.

Our cinema chains, having invested in digital projection, see day-and-date releases as a threat to their business, and for obvious reasons distributors are desperately keen not to get cinemas offside. Richard Harris, who wrote a 2007 booklet called ‘Film In The Age of Digital Distribution’, says “the cinemas continue to protect their turf, which is their right, but that doesn’t serve the films.”

Digital TVs with flat-screens are no longer the future, but the norm. Apple TV, a small device costing only $120, makes it possible to stream content onto high-definition TV screens direct from our computers, smart phones and tablets. Apple TV also has its own rental and film-buying service. At the moment it’s sticking to the windows system: its cinema titles are only made available at least four months after their release.

Troy Lum, managing director for distributor Hopscotch Films, says that while he doesn’t believe ticket price makes any difference at the cinema – if people want to see a film, they’ll go – pricing strategy will be important online when the windows system collapses. Viewers will have to pay a premium price if the film is also screening in cinemas. That price will then drop after a certain period.

That the windows will collapse he’s certain as “we’re in the middle of a revolution,” he says. “Kids growing up now don’t understand the concept of not being able to see something when they want to see it.” All it will take is “one big picture” to break the system, says Lum, “and then it will be broken down forever.”

Lynden Barber | SBS FILM | 1 NOVEMBER 2013

Plea to Brandis: Get Scroz to cut red tape

A group of filmmakers today asked Art Minister Senator George Brandis to urgently address several issues which they believe have reduced the efficiency and effectiveness of Screen Australia.

The gist of their message is that the agency has become overly bureaucratic and it should refocus its efforts to support creativity.

Gillian Armstrong, Fred Schepisi and Kimble Rendall were among the group that met with Brandis after he gave the opening speech at the Australian Directors Guild conference in Sydney.

In a debrief for IF, Armstrong and Schepisi stressed they told the minister they did not want to be seen as a “bunch of whingers,” thus avoiding the negativity which has been directed at Screen Australia in recent years.

Armstrong said she told Brandis she believes Screen Australia has gone into a self-protection phase marked by “too many shut doors and red tape.”She was critical of a number of policies which she said were “strangling” creativity, citing the agency’s insistence that an international sales agent be attached to each project as a condition of funding.

She said that signing with an agent before shooting starts can “take away any chance of winding up with the best” agent for the project. Armstrong accused Scroz of having lost its way, straying from its brief to encourage and support films and filmmakers and forgetting the primacy of “creatives and creative forces.”

Schepisi agreed, stating the funding body should not operate like a “studio that wants everything to be made to their taste.”

Armstrong also called on Screen Australia to be more flexible in its funding decisions so it could greenlight projects at times other than its board meetings.

In a critique of Scroz’s outgoing CEO Dr Ruth Harley, Armstrong said, “Ruth’s heart was in the right place but because she did not have hands-on experience in filmmaking she was more of an arts bureaucrat.”

Noting that Harley is a Kiwi who ran the New Zealand Film Commission before she took the post in Sydney, Armstrong said “it is difficult for an outsider to understand the Australian industry.”

Armstrong is hoping for a change of attitude and culture from incoming CEO Graeme Mason, whose background was in international distribution and production before he was appointed NZFC CEO.

Kimble Rendall told Brandis that despite the commercial success, particularly in China of his film Bait 3D, he was having trouble securing an Australian distributor for his next project, another horror film.

He said he can raise half the finance for the new project from China but cannot obtain investment from Screen Australia without an Australian distributor. He suggested to Brandis that Screen Australia should waive the need for a local distributor for horror and other genre films which Australian companies are unwilling to distribute and market.

“I want to shoot my films in Australia to support my industry,” Kimble tells IF, while stressing he has no quarrel with Screen Australia . “But the end result may be that I’ll have to go somewhere else where I can put the film together.”

Armstrong said Brandis listened sympathetically to the filmmakers’ case and observed that one of his government’s main aims is to reduce the level of red tape. The Minister asked the directors to contact him again. “We’re really hopeful,” said Armstrong of an ongoing dialogue with government.

By Don Groves

IF MAGAZINE 7 November 2013

Ben Lewin on making The Sessions

The ADG Conference session ‘The Entrepreneurial Director’ should have been titled ‘The Desperate Director,’ according to Ben Lewin, who rounded out the first day of Directing in the Digital Age yesterday.

Speaking candidly to a room full of peers, Lewin spoke of how it was hitting (almost) rock-bottom in his field that opened the doors which would lead to his successful and critically acclaimed film The Sessions.

Speaking of how ABC TV in Australia wouldn’t return his calls, Lewin said “It was, at the time,the hardest pill to swallow… In retrospect, I am grateful for the rejection. It gave me the desperation I needed to move forward. Thus, the theme of this talk. Except for ‘entrepreneurial’, read ‘desperate.’ And for the other part of the formula – add in sheer, dumb, luck.”

Lewin is being modest here. Sheer dumb luck didn’t grant the film a Golden Globe or Oscar nod, nor did it scrape together the money to finance the project. But for a film made under $1 million and in five years, Lewis certainly did strike a bit of good fortune along the way.

Getting the rights to Mark O’Brien’s story (on which the film is based) led Lewin to meet Susan Fernbach, O’Brien’s girlfriend before his death and to whom he had left his literary estate. Fernbach then contacted Cheryl Cohen Greene, the real life sex surrogate in Mark’s story (played in the film by Academy Award winning actress Helen Hunt), which Lewin describes as “one of those crucial ‘how lucky can you be’ moments.”

Financing came from private investors (Lewin notes how difficult – yet at times successful – cold calling can be) and spoke of his interaction with Screen Australia, who knocked back his request for $250K.

He humorously described their response as, “UH-UH! Were we out of our cotton pickin’ minds, or what?” before going on to say: “However, I really don’t wish to criticise. Ultimately it was for the best, it really was. But I think there is room to reflect that the guidelines which seem to define Screen Australia’s investments might be out of touch with the modern realities of low budget independent filmmaking. We could have transposed the story into an Australian setting, with Australian characters and spent every production dollar in Australia. But we chose not to. Why? Because it would have cost at least two, maybe three times as much -or more. And at the same time we would be reducing the commercial value of the film because we could no longer say it was a true story, about actual, real people, which ultimately turned out to be of great promotional value.”

Screen Australia funding aside, Lewin and his producer partner and wife Judi Levine raised enough money to get the film done and dusted (though Lewin notes Levine was still raising money during shooting and post) for the grand total of $935,000 “and some change.”

But the money-raising process wasn’t over yet. Lewin and Levine then raised a further $50,000 to take the film to Sundance.

“Seems like a lot, doesn’t it,” Lewin mused. “I asked our attorney, Craig Emmanuel… ‘Couldn’t I just go to Sundance with a backpack and a DVD?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But you’ll end up leaving money on the table.’

“So, we paid a top publicist $10 grand, when we could have had a lesser one for free,” Lewin continued. “We paid for the three principal cast to come to the festival in grand style, with hairdressers, groomers, limos and chauffeurs up the wazoo, plus our own costs.”

The end result? The Sessions was sold to Fox Searchlight for $6 million.
“I cannot begin to tell you what it felt like,” he said.

Now, after some professional hiccups (Lewin laments he turned down a Disney movie about baseball which ended up being made without him, and regrets failing to have another project in the pipeline after The Sessions was done and dusted) Lewin is writing another script, “a low budget one which we’re going to do all by ourselves, the way we did The Sessions,” he said. “In many ways, we could be back where we started, and I don’t mind at all.”

By Emily Blatchford


8 November 2013

Fred Schepisi’s ADG Keynote: Collaboration is the most important thing

“I’ve just realised this conference is about the digital age.”

And so legendary filmmaker Fred Schepisi, AO, began his keynote address at the Australian Director Guild Conference: Directing in the Digital Age this morning.

During his articulate yet largely off the cuff address, Schepisi covered many topics prevalent in the filmmaking landscape today, beginning, no less, with the switch from film to digital.

“Unfortunately, film is dead,” he stated. “It’s absolute history. Sorry. There will be no cinemas showing film in a very short time.”

Though he expressed great sadness at the demise of film, Schepisi also said it was time for directors to stop picking holes in what undoubtedly the way of the future.

“[Digital] filmmaking has been a long time coming,” he said.

“And one of the things that has held it up is people’s attitude. There has been a lot of time spent complaining about what’s wrong with it and not enough about what’s right with it.”

Which is not to say he wasn’t aware of problems that arose from digital filmmaking. One of the examples he gave was the harshness the quality can sometimes have on its subjects, particularly women.

“Digital is extremely cruel on women,” he said. “For blokes it doesn’t matter. We look like sh*t and we can stay that way… But [with digital] you can stand next to a woman who has no flaws whatsoever… but the high quality of digital will bring out things you can’t see with the naked eye.”

“You want to see how bad it is? Use Facetime,” he advised.

Of 3D, Schepisi lists the recent film Gravity as an example of how the medium can not only work for, but enhance, a film.

“The man [director Alfonso Cuaron] did not allow the technicalities to stifle his creativity. He twisted digital and CGI to fit what his creativity needed, not the other way around.”

“Use the medium. Don’t let the medium use you.”

Schepisi also urged directors to make use of the talent that surrounds them on a project and to make peace with the fact it is not a one-man-band.

“You’re not working in a vacuum. It’s not just you as a director doing these things.

“It’s like a diamond and there are many facets to the diamond… You must create a situation where people can contribute.”

“You must collaborate. Collaboration is the most important thing you can do.”

But at the heart of Schepisi’s address was his passion for the unique voice of Australian filmmakers. He warned those who had experienced some success on their home shores of the Hollywood interest that would most likely come knocking.

“They don’t want us to make unique film,” he said. “They want us to freshen up their genres.”

Later he noted, “Australian films succeed… when they’re not trying to be something else, or a Hollywood version of something.”

“Don’t try and make international films. Make unique films with your own voice. With an Australian voice.”

By Emily Blatchford


7 November 2013

The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable: George Clooney and 6 Top Writers on Awful Agent Advice and the Accuracy Police

The Writer Roundtable: From bottom left: Danny Strong (Lee Daniels’ The Butler), John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said), George Clooney and Grant Heslov (The Monuments Men), Julie Delpy (Before Midnight) and Jonas Cuaron (Gravity) were photographed Oct. 18 at The Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Writer Roundtable, their Nazi art-heist drama The Monuments Men was considered likely to contend in multiple awards categories. Alas, four days after the Oct. 18 discussion at The Los Angeles Athletic Club, Monuments Men was bumped by distributor Sony Pictures to Feb. 7 — unfinished visual effects were cited as the reason — and out of the awards race (at least for this year).

Luckily, Clooney, 52, and Heslov, 50, are such good talkers, THR readers likely won’t care that their movie isn’t in contention yet. The duo joined Clooney’s Gravity writer Jonas Cuaron, 31 (he penned the action-heavy script with his director father, Alfonso), Before Midnight co-writer Julie Delpy, 43, Enough Said writer-director Nicole Holofcener, 53, 12 Years a Slave’s John Ridley, 49, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler’s Danny Strong, 39, for a conversation that veered from Paddy Chayefsky to Sarah Palin and Edward Snowden. Said Clooney, “Now we’re getting in some deep shit!”

What’s been your toughest moment as a writer?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Test screenings. (Laughter.)

JOHN RIDLEY: [Being rewritten] is not pleasant. But I know that it helped drive me forward, to try to have more ownership of my material. If it’s something that I really cared about, why did I get in a position where I gave it away too early?

DANNY STRONG: For me, the toughest part was all those years writing specs, not selling them, not progressing. I kept writing these really broad comedies, thinking, “I’m gonna break into show business writing these big, funny, Jim Carrey-esque comedies,” because that was big at the time. And then, finally, I said, “I have to give up.” Nothing against Jim Carrey comedies, but that’s when I wrote Recount [2008]. I sold it as a pitch. I still don’t know why HBO bought that project. Maybe they were drunk.

JULIE DELPY: When I wrote the first draft of Before Sunset [2004], I remember giving the script to my agent, who fired me the same day. He thought I was wasting my time. So I was full of doubt, like, “My God, am I doing the right thing? I’m crazy.”

Continue reading The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable: George Clooney and 6 Top Writers on Awful Agent Advice and the Accuracy Police

New campaign to revive single documentaries

Australian documentary makers today launched a campaign to boost the ailing  numbers of single docs commissioned by the ABC and SBS and for more investment  from Screen Australia.

Indiedoco is campaigning for four key changes to the current  distribution of Australia’s public documentary subsidies, calling for:

– The ABC and SBS to follow the example of BBC2 by reinstating single documentary  strands that ‘will allow the very best filmmakers to find and tell stories that will  illuminate, provoke and reveal modern Australia in all its staggering variety.’

– Screen Australia to remove the requirement for a broadcaster pre-sale for the  National Documentary Program and to set up a new panel to select projects for NDP  funding based on creative, cultural and artistic criteria.

– Screen Australia to reinstate a slate development program for documentary  filmmakers similar to the General Development Investment Program that was  offered by the Australian Film Commission.

– Screen Australia to change the definition of ‘bona fide release’ for feature  documentaries to accept the reality that feature documentaries can reach audiences  in a myriad of different ways and to enable more feature documentaries to qualify for  the 40% producer offset.

The campaign was launched at the Australian Directors Guild conference in Sydney  and will culminate at the 2014 Australian International Documentary conference in  March.

By Don Groves INSIDEFILM  07/11/2013

Local screen industry’s strong track record provides fertile ground for Asian partnerships

Screen Australia Media Release – Thursday 31 October 2013

Screen Australia released its latest research report Common Ground: Opportunities for Australian Screen Partnerships in Asia, which explores Australia’s current engagement with the screen production sector across the Asian region.

The research findings reveal that the opportunities for Australia to collaborate with the region are likely to change significantly over the next five years as several territories, such as Mainland China, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea, rapidly expand their screen industries. India, Indonesia, Japan and Thailand also hold great potential for the future.

Screen Australia’s Chief Executive Ruth Harley said, “Now is the time for the Australian screen industries to strengthen ties, formalise co-production arrangements and develop sound knowledge of working with our partners in Asia.

An overwhelming theme that emerged in the research was the importance of genuine collaboration that will underpin all success, and the good news is that our counterparts across Asia consider Australians to be good at collaborating. “Our attractiveness as a potential partner increases further once our professionalism and strong track record are considered. These attributes have been noticed and position Australian screen industry professionals well to build new partnerships in the Asian region,” said Dr Harley.

Asia is an increasingly significant source of revenue for the local screen industry and investment is flowing both ways. Best estimates have the value of audiovisual exports to the Asian region at around $50 million per year for the past three years. This represents around a quarter of Australia’s total audiovisual exports for those years.

Dr Harley said, “The growing opportunities and changing nature of collaboration between the Australian screen industry and Asia are being driven not only by developments in the region’s screen industries, but also the increasing confidence and diversity of our own screen production industry. Australia’s many relationships with Asia, including through our own diverse population, are increasingly being reflected on our screens.

“For the Australian screen production industry to remain relevant, it needs to be reflective of the contemporary world and Australia’s place in it. Creative collaborations with Asia not only assist us to understand our region, they enrich our understanding of ourselves. We are very excited about the new opportunities afforded by engaging with the energy and dynamism of our region and look forward to extending our relationships with the rapidly growing screen industries in Asia,” said Dr Harley.

Conducted in conjunction with PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia, the research outlined in the report is drawn from a survey of local producers and in-depth interviews with a broad range of stakeholders from across Australia and the Asian region. It aims to provide a resource for screen businesses building networks and forming partnerships in the region and will inform Screen Australia’s strategy for working with the screen industry to grow its ties with Asia into the future.

Dr Harley said that the research has also affirmed the important role of government in assisting Australian screen businesses to make inroads into new markets.

“Working together with our regional partners, Screen Australia is building on networks forged by our predecessor agencies and by the broader Australian screen industry,” said Dr Harley. “This includes the significant ties between our public broadcasters ABC and SBS and countries in the Asian region.”

Next month Screen Australia will lead a delegation of 25 producers and commissioning editors to Beijing and the Sichuan TV Festival to facilitate connections through the agency’s Enterprise Asia program. The program will involve exchanges with Chinese Government agencies, broadcasters and producers, networking events and targeted business matching opportunities.

To download the report visit: