TV’s trip down memory lane

From Phryne Fisher to Fat Tony, television is offering audiences more versions of Australia’s past than ever before.

Australian screen culture has long looked to the country’s history. In 1906, Charles Tait’s The Story of the Kelly Gang was the world’s first feature length film, while the local screen renaissance in the 1970s was fuelled by a desire to see representations of Australia’s past and then present on the big screen.

In recent years we’ve seen Kerry Packer take on the 1970 British establishment to launch World Series Cricket in Nine’s mini-series Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War and the Seven Network’s 1950s-set drama series A Place to Call Home, the various Underbelly editions have documented the rise and fall of criminals a century apart, such as Carl Williams and “Squizzy” Taylor, and the ABC’s mini-series Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo examined sexual equality in the 1970s through a magazine publishing phenomenon.

This Australia Day, we can look forward to a year harking back to the ’20s (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries), the ’50s (The Doctor Blake Mysteries) and the ’60s (Love Child), not to mention the up-to-the minute sagas of Fat Tony & Co. and Schapelle.

“If we don’t produce stuff that is our own we tend to become invisible,” says Lisa French, deputy dean at RMIT’s School of Media and Communication. ”Australians do want to hear their own language, and their own characters, and their own stories, and their own humour on the screen.

“Your popular culture reinforces the idea that you exist and that you have a history. Australians are always anxious about that because we don’t have an obvious history,” says French. “In Rome you walk around a corner and there’s a 2000-year-old building. In a way it’s a reassuring function for the culture to tell these stories.” Continue reading

Oscars 2014: the fine art of winning

History hasn’t always looked kindly on the Academy Awards, with classics often missing out and groundbreaking moments few and far between.

There are only two things you really need to know about the Academy Awards: that Citizen Kane didn’t win the Oscar for best picture, and that Driving Miss Daisy did.

As we approach the 86th Academy Awards, it’s worth remembering those two sobering facts, which perfectly encapsulate the inherent foolishness of gong ceremonies in general, and the Oscars in particular.

Ask any film fan how seriously you should take the Academy Awards, and chances are they will point you toward the best director category, where the roll call of winners signally omits Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, Stanley Kubrick, Jane Campion, David Lynch, Spike Lee and (most famously) Alfred Hitchcock – something that seems to suggest that, over the years, Oscar voters (whose average age is about 142) haven’t been the best judges of cinematic brilliance. Continue reading

Adelaide Director Ashlee Page Wins Sundance Award

Local director Ashlee Page says winning a Sundance award is a “dream come true”.

The Kiss director was the recipient of Sundance’s Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award, which recognised her as one of four emerging global independent filmmakers.

Page collected the award at a private ceremony in Park City, Utah. It includes a $10,000 cash prize, which Page will use to develop her debut feature film Archive plus the award will allow the Adelaide director to participate in one of Sundance Institute’s Creative Labs.

“I first attended the Sundance Film Festival in 1999 as a backpacker working as an usher, I had a blast and was offered a job for the following year,” Page said in a press release. “I was tempted but I’d decided that the next time I was at Sundance it would be as a filmmaker. So I came back to Adelaide in 2000 and enrolled at MAPS (Media Arts Production Skills) film school. Fifteen years later, I am thrilled to be back at Sundance. This award is quite literally a dream come true for me.”

Page was one of 17 directors responsible for the 2013 Australian film The Turning while her short The Kiss (based on a Peter Goldsworthy short story) was praised by the Wall Street Journal as a “stand out short film”.

Page is partnering with Closer Productions’ Rebecca Summerton to create her feature debut Archive, which is being developed via the South Australian Film Corporation’s FilmLab program.

“Being part of FilmLab encouraged Rebecca and I to take narrative risks, to be bold, to create something new and unique that speaks from our hearts,” Page said. “Winning the Sundance Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award is an unbelievable confidence boost at this stage, encouraging me to continue to take risks, and hopefully, eventually make a unique and entertaining film.”

SAFC’s CEO Richard Harris said Page’s award “caps off an amazing 2014 Sundance for the South Australian Film Corporation”.

“We’re huge supporters of Ashlee as a filmmaker and she thoroughly deserves this award. This award caps off an amazing 2014 Sundance for the South Australian Film Corporation, with two SAFC-backed projects – 52 Tuesdays and the Bababdook – in competition and the My 52 Tuesdays project showcased at New Frontiers.

“It is particularly exciting to have projects from our low budget FilmLab represented at the Festival, following on from the success of the 2010 FilmLab film Shut Up Little Man. I look forward to seeing the film that is created from Ashlee’s Global Filmmaking Award FilmLab script Archive at a future Sundance Festival.”

Adelaide Review . January 2014  David Knight

Aussie films hit 8-year low

The 26 Australian films and documentaries released theatrically in 2013 collectively grossed $38,543,000.

That equates to a box-office share of 3.51%, the lowest since 2005’s 2.8%, and below the 10-year average of 3.8%.

IF had estimated the total at $38.8 million but has revised that due to an overstated gross for The Great Gatsby,  which amassed $27.4 million to rank as the sixth-highest Oz grosser of all time.

Last year only five titles cracked $1 million: Gatsby, The  Railway Man (which opened on Boxing Day and earned more in one week than every other Oz title), Goddess, Tim Winton’s The Turning and Return to Nim’s Island.

In 2012 Aussie films and documentaries earned $47.9 million, a 4.3% share.

The nadir was 2004’s 1.3%. The record since statistics were first collected in 1977 is 23.5% in 1986, the year of Crocodile Dundee and Malcolm.

The best result in the past 20 years is 1994’s 9.8%, buoyed by The Adventures of Priscila, Queen of the Desert, Muriel’s Wedding and Lightning Jack.

Industry-wide, the 2013 box-office came in just shy of $1.1 billion, 2.3% below 2012’s $1.125 billion, which was 2% less than the 2010 all-time high.

In December distributors were projecting a drop of about 2% on the prior year and hoping that month would make up the deficit.  Not quite.

There were 421 theatrical releases last year,  the same as 2012, but the number of screens tracked by the MPDAA rose from 1,991 to 2,057.

The action genre was the most popular, with 73 titles harvesting $323 million, followed by comedy (82 films generating $159 million) and drama (96 films earning $153 million). The 38 documentaries, including nine from Oz, grossed $8.3 million.

The most common classification was M with 187 titles while there were 104 tagged MA, 61 PG, 21 G and just 9 R-raters.

The top 10 films represented  27% of the total B.O., led by Iron Man 3’s $39.2 million followed by The Hunger Games sequel ($36.3m), Despicable Me 2 ($35.7m), Life of Pi ($28.3m), Gatsby and  Fast and Furious 6.

Rounding out the top 10 were The Croods, Man of Steel, Monsters University and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

The week starting on Boxing Day was the highest grossing week of all time, notching $49.89 million, fueled by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Frozen, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, Philomena and The Railway Man.

[Mon 20/01/2014 08:23:15]  By Don Groves. IF Magazine

Australian box office down in 2013

Australia’s box office gross for 2013 was $965,254,265 (A$1,099,615,801), 2.3% less than 2012.

The top 10 films of the year contributed 27% of this figure, which was unveiled by the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (MPDAA).

Three of those heavy hitters grossed more than $30m. They included Walt Disney’s Iron Man 3, the biggest success of 2013; Roadshow’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; and Universal’s Despicable Me 2.

Fox and Warner Bros also had films in the top 10 but the MPDAA’s remaining two members, Paramount and Sony, missed out. (Roadshow is not a member of the MPDAA but handles Warner releases via a sub distribution arrangement.)

The Great Gatsby, which was financed out of the US, was the only Australian film in the top 10.

More than 400 films were released in the country during the year.

The annual box office gross represents only the fourth year-on-year fall in 20 years in Australia. The others were in 2000, 2005 and 2011, although the industry has taken only one year to recover its health only once. For example, 2010 remains the highest grossing year on record because 2012 did not fully recover from the fall in 2011.

The MPDAA delivered a positive spin in its media statement about the 2013 result by noting that the week beginning on Boxing Day (Thursday, Dec 26), traditionally one of the most lucrative of the year for the cinema industry, was the highest grossing week of all time.

A total of $43.8m (A$49.9m) was spent on tickets over the seven days and the biggest contributors of the new releases were The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which is about to reach $30m, Frozen, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Philomena and Transmission’s UK/Australian co-production The Railway Man, which will be on 65 additional screens from Thursday (Jan 23).

The previous record-breaking week was in July 2010 when The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Toy Story 3 were both playing.

Speaking as MPDAA chair, 20th Century Fox Australia managing director Marc Wooldridge said that 32 films grossed more than $8.8m (A$10m), the traditional benchmark for measuring success in Australia, which has a population of less than 23 million.

“Australia continues to be among the most frequent cinema goers in the world and is acknowledged as an important and relevant contributor to the global box office,” he said.

The cinema going-experience in Australia was “among the best in the world thanks to the enormous investment in cinemas by local exhibitors and the incredible content created by the global filmmaking community,” he added. As usual a warning about the damage caused by piracy was included.

Last year admissions totalled an estimated 85.9 million but the MPDAA never provide that number this early in the year.

Goddess, The Turning and Return to Nim’s Island were the three most popular home-grown films after The Great Gatsby and The Railway Man.

Australia: Top 10 films (2013)

(As at Dec 31, 2013)

Title / Distributor / Box office $US (A$)

  1. Iron Man 3 (Walt Disney) 34,501,196 (39,230,000)
  2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Roadshow) 31,982,413 (36,365,987)
  3. Despicable Me 2 (Universal) 31,446,928 (35,754,861)
  4. Life Of Pi (Fox) 24,881,965 (28,290,560)
  5. The Great Gatsby (Roadshow) 24,085,332 (27,383,762)
  6. Fast And Furious 6 (Universal) 23,743,926 (26,995,183)
  7. The Croods (Fox) 22,238,346 (25,283,444)
  8. Man Of Steel (Warner Bros) 21,406,564 (24,338,130)
  9. Monsters University (Walt Disney) 21,339,604 (24,262,000)
  10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner Bros) 20,952,042 (23,822,667)

20 January, 2014 | By .  SCREEN INTERNATIONAL

Christopher Atkins signs with Oz agency Ignite Elite Artists

US actor-writer-producer Christopher Atkins has signed as a producer with Australia’s Ignite Elite Artists, which is developing more than two dozen film and TV projects with its clients.

Atkins is attached to several projects in Oz with Queensland-based producer Brenda Papworth. One is Lucky Valentine, a comedy/drama scripted by Marianne Patterson about an aging US baseballer who is traded to Australia, where he finds himself involved in a cricket team in a country town. The team aims to raise money to support a girl who is dying of cancer.

Rod Hardy is set to direct, according to Tony Bonner, who will play a supporting character and is producing with Papworth and Atkins. Bonner tells IF the film is being privately financed and the hope is to cast an A-list US actor as the lead.

While Atkins is best known for his breakthrough role with Brooke Shields in 1980’s The Blue Lagoon, he has appeared in about 100 independent films, telemovies and series and he was a regular in Dallas.

Last year he directed, wrote and starred in the indie movie The Storyteller, in which he plays an elderly man suffering from the ravages of his time in the Korean War.

Ignite Elite Artists director Michelle Horner tells IF the agency has formed a partnership with Atkins and Papworth. “Our goal is to promote and provide opportunities for actors and creatives at the highest level in Australia,” she said. “In doing so we will develop products that have greater global resonance.”

Ignite represents producers, directors and writers. Horner says the firm is working on 25 feature films and four TV projects with its clients.

“We have been involved in productions for a while but only recently has the agency moved into representing across the board more officially,” she adds.

By Don Groves

Thu 16/01/2014 IF magazine

ABC: internal shuffle after death of channel controller system

Mop-topped Edwina Waddy, a continuing face of ABC documentaries since 2006, lasted less than two months after becoming a full commissioning editor of ABC Factual. She has been snatched internally to become channel manager for ABC2.

Though the role is not as grand, she effectively steps into a hole created by the removal of Stuart Menzies as channel controller of ABC2. She started as a trainee agent with Hilary Linstead and Associates in 1995, went to London to become an agent`s assistant to Sue Latimer at the William Morris Agency, followed her to Curtis Brown Ltd, and eventually spent nearly four years as assistant editor, specialist factual at Channel 4.

Her appointment creates a gap at ABC factual – the job she had for less than two months. That will be occupied by Andrea Ulbrick. She comes in from outside, as cited in the announcement:

Andrea is an award-winning television director and producer whose career spans over 20 years and several continents. She comes to the ABC after working in the independent sector with companies such as Heiress Films, Serendipity Productions / Artemis International, Essential Media, Shine Australia, Screenworld and Fremantle Media, on programs including X Factor and Australia’s Got Talent. She has produced and directed a range of international science and history co-productions for ABC TV, SBS, CBC, Arte France, BBC, Channel 4, WNET, National Geographic and Discovery.

Or, to quote her bio as an ATOM judge,

Director Andrea Ulbrick is a science specialist who has been working in the media for twenty-four years. A series director, series producer and writer, she is series producer on a new William McInnes birdwatching series for the ABC. Previously she worked on Australia’s highest-rating show Australia’s Got Talent. Prior to this, Andrea produced a ten-hour observational documentary series exploring the intimate and personal face of public education in Class Of 2011 for Network Ten. In 2010, Andrea completed a two-part, long-running, award-winning observational science series investigating child development for the ABC: The Life Series.

She wrote and directed Nerves of Steel for the Film Australia NIP in 2006; was an associate producer on The Floating Brothel, was a producer on Outback House, and made four science documentaries for Discovery called Wild Tech.

Before this, she was a television current affairs producer and presenter for fifteen years.

Screen Hub
Wednesday 15 January, 2014

Stacey Sher’s New Hollywood Approach

To make her latest movie, the film producer turned to crowdfunding

Stacey Sher Amanda Friedman for The Wall Street Journal; Hair and Makeup by Stephanie Daniel

Movie producer Stacey Sher is no stranger to the Sundance Film Festival, the independent film event where she premiered her popular romantic comedy “Reality Bites” 20 years ago. Since then, she has helped produce nearly 30 films, including “Pulp Fiction,” “Django Unchained” and “Get Shorty.” But the film she will debut at Sundance next week, “Wish I Was Here,” is her most unconventional yet: Without studio backing, she made it through crowdfunding on the website Kickstarter. “I call it filmmaking by any means necessary,” she says.

“I’ve been blessed to do things that are kind of iconoclastic,” says Ms. Sher, 51, during an interview in Eden, Utah. Dressed in tie-dye stretch pants and a T-shirt, she looks like she could be a character in one of her own indie films. She has just spent the morning traipsing around a mountain encampment, where she is participating in a networking retreat, and has come to rest in a makeshift cafe while waiting for her husband, musician Kerry Brown, to pick up a headlamp and sunblock at a pop-up store next door.

Ms. Sher calls “Wish I Was Here,” directed by actor Zach Braff, a “spiritual sequel” to “Garden State,” the 2004 coming-of-age film that Ms. Sher also produced. In “Garden State,” Mr. Braff played a 20-something aspiring actor who returns to his New Jersey hometown after his mother dies. This time, he plays a struggling actor in his mid-30s who finally finds meaning in his life by home schooling his children.

Although “Garden State” was a box-office hit and won a Grammy for its soundtrack, Ms. Sher says she and Mr. Braff had trouble getting funding for this next collaboration. She says the only studio that was seriously interested put restrictions on whom they could cast, so they decided to find funding themselves.

Last year, her husband told her about the Kickstarter campaign of the musician Amanda Palmer, who set out to raise $100,000 but within 30 days had received contributions of more than $1 million. “Wish I Was Here” had similar success. By last spring, nearly 50,000 people donated more than $3 million to the film, buying perks such as a seat in Mr. Braff’s row at the premiere and the actor’s assistance with a marriage proposal.

Still, the fundraising tactic was controversial. “People asked, ‘What happens to the profits?’ ” she says, since the crowdfunding donors wouldn’t get a percentage of what the movie makes at the box office. “Nobody was forced to be a backer, and they’re still getting stuff,” she says. “But it can’t seem like a cash grab.” She adds, “crowdfunding is not right for everyone.”

Part of the problem with making “Wish I Was Here” was the expense of shooting it in California. “It’s really a love letter to California,” Ms. Sher says, and it was essential to shoot most of the film there.

But the state gives tax credits only to a limited number of film and TV projects, decided by a lottery, and Ms. Sher’s project didn’t win. Because other states also offer tax credits, it often makes more financial sense to film and produce a movie outside of California (which is why the postproduction work for “Wish I Was Here” ended up being done in New York). For this project, one studio executive suggested, “Why don’t you shoot in Vancouver and roll in some palm trees to make it look like L.A.?”

Another filmmaking challenge today, she says, is the increased emphasis on attracting international audiences. “A large portion of the box-office revenue is determined by international sales,” she says. “Spectacle travels well, brand name travels, and stars travel well.” But what studios sometimes overlook, she says, is the surprising success of small independent films. She mentions recent hits such as “Before Midnight,” “The Way Way Back” and “Fruitvale Station” as examples.

Part of what attracted her to Mr. Braff’s script was his distinctive voice. Ms. Sher likes working with “auteur filmmakers—writer-directors, generally, who could plop down from another planet and you’d be able to identify their work as their work,” she says. Writer-directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh —her partners on previous projects—certainly fit this description too.

Having grown up watching mainstream Hollywood movies made in the 1970s, Ms. Sher misses the classic narrative films that she thinks came out more frequently when she was young. “We were the family that went to see ‘Raging Bull’ the weekend it opened.”

She does see some hope lately. “This is an incredibly great year for film,” she says. “Having movies like ‘Gravity,’ ‘Her,’ ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ ‘American Hustle’ and ‘Blue Jasmine’ come out within a few months shows you have films from personal filmmakers in all different areas resonating with wide audiences,” she adds. They’re part of what she considers a “serious water-cooler moment” for the industry. “People want to see things to be able to talk about them,” she says.

Ms. Sher began her career as an intern for a local Washington, D.C., TV station, where she spent much of her time working for a sports program. “I thought I wanted to go into sports broadcasting, but that was a bridge too far for me, sexism-wise,” she says. “I didn’t feel the need to be the woman to bust into the naked locker room in order to get the story.”

Instead, she followed her professor’s advice to go to film school at the University of Southern California. “Honestly, until that moment I didn’t know there was such a thing as a career in film,” she says. “When I was much younger I thought as a woman the only thing you could do was be an actor.”

After learning about earnings reporting and box-office statistics, she started out by making music videos and later turned to producing. Early on, she became a fan of director Quentin Tarantino, who had been a friend’s roommate. Ms. Sher finally met him at the premiere of “Terminator 2.” “I relentlessly pursued him to work with us,” she recalls, and eventually made a deal for him to write and develop for the production company she was working for at the time. “He was like, ‘I’m writing a movie about three stories that are one story.’ That was the entire pitch for ‘Pulp Fiction.’ ” She signed him right away.

Lately Ms. Sher is working on her own and spends her time meeting with writers, reading scripts and watching movies. She and her husband and two children live near Franklin Canyon Park in Los Angeles. For fun, she reads books that she cannot imagine turning into movies, such as musician Patti Smith’s memoir “Just Kids.” She also reads books with her children, who already have an appreciation of film. “Sometimes my son will say, ‘Mom, this would be a great movie,’ ” she says, or, “At least that didn’t have a typical Hollywood ending.”

By Alexandra Wolfe
Jan. 10, 2014 Wall Street Journal

Brody, Neill take the Backtrack

Adrien Brody, Sam Neill, Bruce Spence, Robin McLeavy and Anna Lise Phillips are
shooting Backtrack, a psychological thriller from writer-director Michael Petroni. Jamie Hilton, who is producing with Petroni, his partner in See Pictures, and Antonia Barnard, says the project was relatively easy to finance.

That was due primarily to how sales agents, distributors and other financiers responded to Petroni’s screenplay, the saga of psychologist Peter Bowers who discovers his patients are the ghosts of people who died in an accident 20 years earlier.

Another advantage during the financing was that Petroni’s status as a writer was rising as The Book Thief, his adaptation of the Markus Zusak novel, started shooting in Germany.

Screen Australia, UK-based sales agent Bankside and Oz distributor Madman Entertainment came on board before Brody, an Oscar winner for The Pianist and who starred in Midnight in Paris and The Brothers Bloom, was attached. The other participants are Screen NSW, Deluxe Australia, Bankside-affiliated Head Gear Films, which is providing the gap financing, and Star Gate, which is cash flowing the producer offset.

The six and a half week shoot started on January 6 in Sydney and will later move to the central West region of NSW.

Hilton and Petroni formed See Pictures three years ago. Hilton produced Josh Lawson’s The Little Death, Sleeping Beauty and The Waiting City,

By Don Groves INSIDEFILM [Tue 14/01/2014]

Viera named Screen Queensland CEO

Tracey Viera, Ausfilm’s LA-based Executive Vice President, International Production, is returning to her native Queensland as CEO of Screen Queensland. The well-regarded Viera will hopefully bring stability to an organisation which was rocked by the departure of CEO Bryan Lowe late last year and the exit last Friday of Jennie Hughes, chief operating officer and director of the Brisbane International Film Festival.

Viera joined Ausfilm in July 2004 as the Film Commissioner based in Los Angeles and was promoted to her current role in 2010, responsible for marketing Australia’s film capabilities including tax incentives for offshore productions, matching Australian producers with international development and financing and pitching locations to attract production to Australia.

She has secured numerous projects including Walden Media’s Nim’s Island, Fox’s The Wolverine, and HBO Film’s The Pacific.

By Don Groves – INSIDEFILM – [Wed 15/01/2014]