Monthly Archives: March 2014

Motion picture industry continues to stagger under piracy with mere record-breaking income

Once again, the “piracy-stricken” motion picture association has had a banner year, with box office revenue breaking all records (as they’ve done in most recent years).
The biggest gains this year come from China — a market condemned by the studios as a hive of piracy.
Some of the best news in the report is that American movies are seeing success in China, which has become the first international market to reach more than $3 billion in movie sales. The Chinese enthusiasm for US-produced movies comes despite the fact that China continues to restrict the number of foreign-made films that can be released in theaters to 34 imports a year.
But the country at the top of the MPAA’s sales charts is also at the top of its piracy target list. Last year, the MPAA placed China on the list of the “most notorious” markets for distributing pirated movies and TV shows. As reported by the LA Times, MPAA spokesperson Michael O’Leary has explained:
The criminals who profit from the most notorious markets through the world threaten the very heart of our industry and in doing so threaten the livelihoods of the people who give it life. These markets are an immediate threat to legitimate commerce, impairing legitimate markets’ viability and curbing US competitiveness.
Despite prolific piracy, China’s increase in sales has been positively “meteoric,” MPAA chief Chris Dodd said at a press conference yesterday, noting a 27 percent increase.

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing – Thu, Mar 27, 2014

The business of adapting scripted dramas and comedies across borders is picking up steam

Australian drama Wentworth has now been sold into 20-plus territories as a ready- made drama and into Germany and the Netherlands as a scripted format.

Mark Twain famously said that he liked a good story well told, quipping, “That is the
reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.”
Judging by the current boom in scripted format sales, the global content industry
feels much the same way. There’s a lot of storytelling going on—or, more accurately,
story-retelling, as it becomes clear that, while audiences everywhere like a good
story, they like it even better if it’s told in their own language, is anchored in their
own culture and resonates with their own experiences.
Neil Bailey, the commercial director of all3media international, sums it up neatly:
“Broadcasters need drama. Most are seeking local content. Few have the luxury of
time and money to create things from scratch. And we all take comfort in concepts
and ideas that have been proven and succeeded elsewhere.”
Examples abound, from SVT Sweden/DR Denmark’s cult crime series Bron/Broen
(The Bridge) to Disney’s Desperate Housewives, now powering into its sixth local
adaptation in Nigeria, to Turkey’s Forbidden Love, reincarnated by Telemundo
as Pasión Prohibida for the U.S. Hispanic market. And let’s not forget the masters of
scripted reality, the Israelis, responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed
shows on U.S. television, most notably Showtime’s brilliantly complex thriller
Homeland, inspired by Keshet’s Prisoners of War.
So what exactly is a scripted format? How does it vary from an old-school adaptation,
such as CBS’s retooling of the ’70s British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part to create All
in the Family, or, to cite a more topical example, Movie Central/The Movie
Network’s adaptation of the 2005 BBC comedy Sensitive Skin, now in production in
“For me, a scripted format provides both a story line and a method of production that
will reduce development time and make the program more cost-effective,” Bailey
says. “An adaptation won’t necessarily be cheaper, quicker or easier, nor [mimic] the
processes used to develop and produce the original or seek to replicate them.”
As with all successful drama, a scripted format needs a strong original idea at its
core. But it helps, Bailey says, if there are no “idiosyncratic gimmicks” and the plot or
premise can be easily adapted to reflect local cultural differences and locations.
“There also needs to be some economies of scale, so that you can learn from each
version and see ways to improve the concept each time,” he adds. “This means the
proposition can be commoditized, which helps with rollout.”
Bailey names Cases of Doubt and Berlin: Day & Night, from all3media’s Filmpool, as
examples of constructed reality formats that blend “strong accessible stories with
refined production techniques and straightforward locations that can be easily
replicated in multiple territories.”
Andrea Jackson, the managing director of acquisitions and formats at DRG, agrees
with Bailey that, for a drama to travel in scripted form, it needs a “distinctive hook.”
But she has a slightly different take on the importance of simple settings. As an
example, she points to DRG’s breakthrough scripted format, ITV’s hit Doc Martin,
the location of which—a sleepy Cornish fishing village—is arguably as big a star as the
comedy drama’s eponymous central character.
DRG did its first format deal for Doc Martin back in 2005. “I think it’s fair to say we
pioneered the scripted space with Doc Martin,” Jackson says. Since 2005 it has been
remade in six territories and is under option in several others. “It’s been really
interesting to see each country identify their equivalent to Cornwall,” she adds. “But
they have all succeeded in replicating that sense of remoteness and localness, and a
small community in which the arrival of a doctor makes a big impact.”
Jackson also believes that the casting of the original drama is crucial. In the ITV
series, Doc Martin is played by Martin Clunes, whose brilliant portrayal of a socially
inept physician around whom rich comedy unfolds undoubtedly made it easier for
DRG to sell the show as a format, not to mention as a finished series, which has now
aired in some 200 territories.
DRG’s current slate includes several dramas that combine a unique hook with
cultural portability, including NRK Norway’s political thriller Mammon and TVNZ’s
mystery drama The Cult, recently sold to Russian state broadcaster Rossiya 1.
Jackson is particularly excited about two Finnish dramas from Moskito Television:
the award-winning Easy Living, a high-octane thriller that centers on the secret
criminal life of a respectable family man; and Black Widows, a darkly humorous tale
of three unhappily married women who decide to murder their objectionable husbands.
“I think Black Widows will do very well as a scripted format,” Jackson says. “It’s brilliant, it’s different and it has universal resonance. In every country and culture, the idea of being stuck in the wrong relationship resonates.”
Nadine Nohr, the CEO of Shine International, identifies another topic that has universal traction when analyzing the success of Bron/Broen, which has now inspired two distinct adaptations: Shine America’s version for cable network FX set on the U.S.-Mexico border; and The Tunnel for Sky Atlantic and CANAL+, produced by Shine France and Kudos, set in the Channel Tunnel between France and the U.K.
“Every country has a neighbor with whom there are cultural conflicts and issues,” Nohr says of Bron’s “highly transposable premise.” But ultimately, she adds, every- thing must flow from brilliant writing and original, compelling story lines. “Drama is always an expensive risk. It’s high profile and if it fails, it can fail big. However, it is also channel-defining and can punch above its weight in terms of impact,” she says.
Sarah Doole, the director of global drama at FremantleMedia, also names writing talent as a key driver of the scripted formats boom. She points out that writers are at a premium throughout the world, with top talent booked up to three years in advance. “The most difficult thing [to write] is the plotline for a crime drama, because you have to come up with all the twists and turns and scenarios,” she adds. “But if you have the plots already written, you can bring in local writers to shape characters and settings to fit cultural concepts. That’s a huge advantage.”
Another aspect of the scripted phenomenon that fascinates Doole is drama’s ability to shine a light on social and political trends. “In territories that are closed culturally because of, say, religious or political beliefs, it can be difficult for broadcasters to tell contemporary stories via news or current-affairs programming because of media control,” she says. “But drama can tackle hard-hitting or intimate issues, like divorce and adultery, in a way that’s more culturally acceptable and that broadcasters can get away with showing.”
An example from FremantleMedia’s scripted portfolio is Confrontation, which launched in Indonesia in 2011 and went on to be a hit in India. The drama, which takes the form of a talk show, pits brother against brother, wife against mistress, faith healer against fraud, in a tightly scripted format that offers all the surprises and reveals of a drama. “It allows brave stories to be told—ones that real contributors would struggle to reveal—and gives broadcasters the opportunity to provide a strong take-home message,” Doole adds.
FremantleMedia’s scripted format lineup also includes Danish producer Miso Film’s Dicte, a contemporary drama about a woman juggling her career as a crime reporter with single motherhood, which has blazed a trail across Scandinavia and is now set for the international market; ITV’s highest-rated sitcom launch in a decade, Birds of a Feather, produced by FremantleMedia UK label Retort; and the gritty Australian drama Wentworth, set in the brutal world of a women’s prison.
A reimagining of the classic Australian drama Prisoner: Cell Block
H, Wentworth also serves as an illustration of one of the trickiest challenges for
rights holders in terms of scripted format sales: ensuring that a remake
complements, rather than competes with, the original drama. Wentworth has now
been sold into 20-plus territories as a ready-made drama and into Germany and the
Netherlands as a scripted format. “Managing those windows to make sure your
format sales don’t cannibalize your tape sales is a job in itself,” Doole says, noting
that FremantleMedia has a dedicated team in London to orchestrate the process.
After identifying a strong idea that reflects the universality of the human condition
but is able to be tweaked to suit local lifestyle, cultural and religious differences, the
next challenge is to determine how involved the rights owner, or original producer,
should be in the adaptation process. How far beyond the original script does—or
should—a scripted format go? On one hand, the local producer has the advantage of
knowing the local audience; on the other, the format owner has a duty “to maintain
the high production values of the original and thus give it the same level of success,”
says Andrew Zein, the senior VP of creative, format development and sales at Warner
Bros. International Television Production (WBITVP). “The overall design concept of
a scripted format is something that WBITVP takes very seriously. Our clients have to
embrace the original design elements, including costumes, make-up, locations and
studio set.”
Keeping remakes as true to the primary production as possible is based on the sound
principle that “there are reasons why the original was a success,” Zein says. For the
same reason, the production team involved in any local adaptation of a WBITVP
scripted format must be capable of making the show, on the basis that, if the director
and producer aren’t up to par, the adaptation will suffer—and with it so will
WBITVP’s reputation.
Zein reports a significant rise over the past 12 months in the number of local versions
of WBITVP’s scripted shows, with highlights including The O.C. remade in Turkey by
Star TV, Nip/Tuck given a make-over by Colombia’s Caracol TV—the first-ever
reversioning of a U.S. scripted format in the Latin American country—and The New
Adventures of Old Christine reincarnated on RTL in Germany.
Zein agrees with the general view that a strong, original story is always the starting
point for a scripted format—“trying to find a generic formula would hamper
creativity,” he says. Zein has found that buyers are drawn to long-running series,
both current and historic, and formats that have clear target-audience segmentation
profiles, such as younger-skewing dramas or comedies with a female bias.
Peter Iacono, the managing director of international television at Lionsgate, echoes
Zein when he says, “it all starts with the script and story,” but disagrees about the
necessity of sticking rigidly to the original version. In fact, he believes it is critical not
to be too firmly wedded to the primary script. “It’s so important not to copy but
instead to build upon the original in order to create something new and fresh for
each market, yet still maintain all the elements that made the audience fall in love
with the initial program,” he says.
Nurse Jackie, one of Lionsgate’s first forays into the scripted format market, serves
as a good example. The Showtime comedy drama was picked up in late 2012 by
Dutch pubcaster AVRO for Nederland 3, where it aired under the nameCharlie.
Iacono says that while the Dutch remake featured new local elements and developed
its own distinctive “voice,” it remained true to the inspiration of the original series.
As to what genres travel best in scripted form, Iacono reports as much interest in
Lionsgate’s comedies, includingWeeds, House of Payne and Are We There Yet?, as in
its dramas Boss, The Kill Point and Hidden Palms.
But Shine’s Nohr believes comedy is a harder sell than crime. “The basic structure of
a whodunit is arguably more straightforward than comedy, which is more subjective
and presents a particular set of challenges,” she says. “Ask any stand-up comedian—
what works in one territory might not play so well in another. The joke, quite
literally, can get lost in translation.”
Catherine Stryker, the head of sales for Global Agency, agrees that comedy doesn’t
always migrate across cultures. That said, there are no hard and fast rules. The
popularity of Turkish drama formats, particularly with Middle Eastern viewers, has
been one of the most talked-about TV trends of recent years. But these tales of
passion and intrigue, of sultans and sinners, are about as far from Nordic noir’s dark
menace as it is possible to get. Both genres, however, have proved to be export gold.
“Turkish storytelling tends to center on a romantic interest and relationships within
extended families,” Stryker says. “These themes can be very appealing to societies
with the same close familial ties and dynamics. That’s one of the reasons our drama
has taken off like wildfire in the CEE and MENA regions. Also, many viewers like to
be swept away from their everyday lives by a powerful love story—and that’s where
Turkish stories really deliver.”
Few would dispute, following the massive success of Homeland, that Israeli scripted
formats are among the hottest properties on the international market. In recent
months, Dori Media Group has sold three scripted dramas into the U.S.: its
thriller New York, and its comedies Little Mom and Magic Malabi Express. Late last
year, Armoza Formats reported that the Israeli version of its psychological
thriller Hostages, the scripted format behind the recent CBS series, has been bought
by the BBC—the first time the British public broadcaster will air an Israeli series. And
in early February, CBS announced that it is to pilot Armoza’s The Ran Quadruplets,
which tells the moving story of the first quadruplets born in Israel, whose lives have
been played out in the media spotlight.
Avi Armoza, the founder and CEO of Armoza Formats, believes there are three
reasons behind Israel’s current status as the world’s go-to supplier of drama. “The
first is that Israeli culture is very comfortable with risk-taking,” he says. “That helps
us take the risks that are necessary for creating successful formats. Second, there’s
something in the essence of Israeli dramas that makes them universally
appealing. Hostages is a good example. It’s a powerful story about a very real family
thrown into an impossible dilemma. That makes it very easy to relate to and gives it
inherent potential for adaptation.”
The third reason is financial, Armoza suggests. He points out that Israeli budgets are
comparatively low but local audience expectations are high—a contradiction that has
resulted in a talent for producing shows that cost relatively little but look and feel like
big-budget productions. “Take The Naked Truth, also from Hostages producer
Chaim Sharir,” Armoza adds. “It’s a suspense-filled drama that follows a police team
looking into the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl. The action takes place in an
interrogation room, which creates a dramatic pressure-cooker effect, but is also
extremely cost effective.”
Interestingly, Armoza believes that good old-fashioned word-of-mouth, far from
being obsolete in today’s hyper-connected world, is playing a bigger role than ever in
creating drama hits. “Thanks to social media and consumer-created content,
conversations about successful dramas are more prevalent than ever,” he says. “And
the more controversial the drama, the more there is to discuss. That’s what happened
with our psychological thriller Allenby, which generated a huge amount of online
chatter when it aired on Channel 10 Israel. It’s set in Tel Aviv’s red-light district and
it reveals, in a very authentic way, the lives of those who live and work in this dark
So what’s next for scripted formats? DRG’s Jackson thinks we’re in for some
unpleasantness. “The crime detective thing is getting a bit tired,” she says. “I think
it’s time for something more spine-chilling. It doesn’t have to be uber-gruesome, but
it could be something broadly in the horror genre, like The Returned (Les
Revenants) or In the Flesh.”
Shine’s Nohr, whose scripted format slate includes ITV’s audacious, addictive crime
drama Broadchurch, now being remade as Gracepoint for FOX in the U.S., also
thinks the future looks sinister. She adds, “The current trend in the U.K. seems to be
for dark thrillers, populated by flawed central characters.”
Lionsgate’s Iacono predicts there will be fewer formulaic cop, legal and medical
formats as “we begin to see a similar renaissance in extraordinary television
internationally as we have seen in the U.S.” And WBITVP’s Zein sees the demand for
scripted drama expanding out of the TV heartlands of the U.S. and Western Europe
to encompass the likes of China, Serbia, Thailand and the Philippines.
“If WBITVP is any indication of the wider business, I think the appetite for scripted
formats is going to continue to rise,” Zein adds, a view endorsed by all3media’s
Bailey. “We are all looking for things that perform and that are quicker and cheaper
to make and less risky,” Bailey concludes. “So I see further growth and sophistication
as producers, distributors and broadcasters increase their focus on this key area and
try to improve their expertise and understanding.”

By Joanna Stephens – WorldScreen

Broadchurch’s UK Broadcasting Press Guild award hat-trick is proof of UK TV’s new golden era

British dramas The Fall and Top of the Lake show British small-screen drama is stronger than ever, despite its uncertain future

Award-winning writer Chris Chibnall pitched the idea for his drama Broadchurch 10 years ago.
It was Broadchurch wot won it. One programme has a habit of dominating the Broadcasting Press Guild awards in recent years. Last year it was Tom Stoppard’s BBC2 adaptation, Parade’s End; the year before that it was the same channel’s Tom Hollander sitcom, Rev.
This year it was Chris Chibnall’s ITV murder mystery that captured our members’ imagination. Everyone compared Broadchurch to The Killing. Well, everyone except Chibnall, who first pitched the idea for the drama 10 years ago.
Broadchurch took a hat-trick of prizes at today’s awards, sponsored by Discovery Channel, including best drama series, the best writer’s prize for Chibnall and best actress for Olivia Colman, who starred opposite David Tennant, for her extraordinary turn as DS Ellie Miller.
Kevin Spacey told last year’s Edinburgh TV festival that the small screen had entered a new golden age, and in UK television drama there was evidence of that in spades. Not just Broadchurch but The Fall and Top of the Lake, both on BBC2 (and both BPG nominees), Utopia and Southcliffe on Channel 4 and intriguing one-offs such as BBC2’s The Wipers Times, co-written by Ian Hislop, another BPG winner.
Broadchurch will be back, as will Allan Cubitt’s The Fall, starring the winner of this year’s BPG breakthrough award, Jamie Dornan, two of the most eagerly awaited dramas of the year. The first series of Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty on BBC2 missed out at awards time two years ago; expect it to loom large next year.
The BPG awards, now in their 40th year, are unique because they are the only ones voted for by people who write about TV and radio for a living, including reviewers, feature writers and media correspondents.
If it is a golden age for television then it is also an uncertain one, with a revolution in the way we watch TV in the Netflix/iPlayer/Sky+ era. Linear TV still rules – witness the outcry over the looming closure of the BBC3 TV channel – but the shift to on- demand gains pace, with a record 3bn TV and radio programmes requested on
the BBC’s iPlayer, led by the reassuringly old-school, BBC2’s Top Gear.
It is a shift reflected by the BPG’s innovation award, which this year went to BSkyB, reflecting 25 years of pushing the envelope, from its innovative coverage on its news and sport channels to Sky+, HD and 3D, with particular recognition from our members for its mobile TV apps.
The way we fund our biggest shows is also changing, with UK broadcasters looking overseas with increasing regularity to fund their blockbuster dramas – witness BBC2’s Top of the Lake (again), made with the Sundance Channel in the US and UKTV in Australia/New Zealand, and another BPG winner, Sky Atlantic’s The Tunnel, the most literal of cross-border tie-ups between Sky and Canal+.
Greg Dyke used to talk about the “800lb gorillas” in UK broadcasting – the BBC, BSkyB and ITV (until its dramatic ITV Digital weight loss). Now the challenge is coming from overseas and tech giants such as Google, Apple, Netflix and Amazon.
The BBC’s drama chief, Ben Stephenson, told journalists last month: “With Netflix and Amazon, I think there are 94 broadcasters, to use a conventional word, making drama in America … I see them as things that make us better.” Forget about the late Sir David Frost’s global village – welcome to the worldwide living room.
Other themes of 2013? Channel 4, after a year or two in the doldrums (Paralympics aside), staged a critical revival, if not yet a commercial one, a triple BPG winner with Educating Yorkshire, the most moving television of the year; Syria: Across The Lines, some of the most disturbing; and one of the simplest – and most innovative – formats of them all, Gogglebox.
Former Channel 4 chief executive Michael Grade has argued that the broadcaster should be able to compete for a slice of the licence fee because advertising would no longer cut the mustard (a suggestion politely refuted by C4).
What happens to the licence fee, and the role and remit of the BBC when its charter is renewed, will be one of the great topics of discussion in the months (and years) ahead.
How today’s TV landscape would look to a time traveller from 1974, and the first BPG awards, is hard to imagine; how television will look in 2054 tougher still.
Back in 1974, Doctor Who fans were eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new doctor (Tom Baker) after Jon Pertwee stepped down, and the final series of Monty Python came to an end on the BBC. With Peter Capaldi about to take over the Tardis from Matt Smith, it is reassuring to know that some things don’t change.
Broadcasting Press Guild awards 2014 winners
Best single drama – The Wipers Times (BBC2) Best drama series – Broadchurch (ITV) Best single documentary – Syria: Across the Lines (Channel 4) Best documentary series – Educating Yorkshire (Channel 4) Best entertainment/comedy – Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1) Best multichannel programme – The Tunnel (Sky Atlantic) Best factual entertainment – Gogglebox (Channel 4) Best actor – Chiwetel Ejiofor for Dancing on the Edge (BBC2) Best actress Olivia Colman for Broadchurch (ITV) Best writer – Chris Chibnall for Broadchurch (ITV) Breakthrough award – Jamie Dornan (The Fall) Innovation award – Sky TV for 25 years of innovation Harvey Lee award for outstanding contribution to broadcasting – Andrew Davies

John Plunkett –, Saturday 29 March 2014

TV storytelling could change our stories for good

When Kevin Spacey showed up at the Oscars as a presenter earlier this month, he came prepared with a very shrewd bit, adopting the persona of Frank Underwood, his character on “House of Cards. “And I sing,” he drawled from the stage, to the evident delight of Jennifer Lawrence and the like, “because it’s nice to be out of Washington and here with all my Hollywood friends.”

Even a decade ago, a guy with Spacey’s stature would not have been so eager to remind the A-list movie crowd that he currently was working in serialized television, especially for a network hitherto best known for its delivery services. My, how times have changed. Some of those fixed smiles greeting Spacey at the Academy Awards were accompanied by the tacit acknowledgment that Spacey’s hit Netflix TV series had generated far, far more interest than most of the movies on the slate of honorees.

These are, people like to say, the golden days of television, which really means we are seeing a renaissance of serialized, long-form drama: “House of Cards,” “True Detective,” “Mad Men,” “Girls” and on and on. This form is hardly new — you can trace the origins of serialized drama back to at least the 17th century — but its renewed impact on creativity in general, and top-tier dramatic writing in particular, is only just beginning to be felt. On Wednesday, the venerable Sundance Institute announced that its prestigious writing labs would expand their portfolio to include writing for TV and online platforms. The first so-called “episodic story lab” will be held this fall in Sundance, Utah. They will not be focused on training people to write for sit-coms and soap operas.

The most telling words there are “episodic story.” That appears to be the wave of the moment. Certainly, the discriminating consumers who see themselves as far above the consumption of procedurals are, demonstrably, becoming very fond of a form that gets much of its exposition and introductions out of the way in the first couple of episodes, and then can set its familiar characters free to range in a wide variety of juicy situations and complications. I even sense a new frustration among audiences with single movies or plays, which have to start their storytelling from scratch and that complete their narrative arc in one fell swoop, offering only an act of viewership that does not require the thrill of the binge. Single stories are starting to feel minor.

These days, all the cool kids are penning, and watching, long-form serials.

The last time this happened — in 19th century England, after Charles Dickens figured out the lucrative pull of narrative serialization — the novel changed for good.

Writers suddenly began to get better at making their chapters stand alone, as well as work within a larger whole. They learned how to give the newspapers and magazines publishing their work the same-sized chunks each time, plugging the same hole (the equivalent of air time, really). Some of these scribes knew how their story was going to end before the audience had read Chapter One, for they already written the whole shebang. Others evolved their yarns as they went, responding to the their readers in something like real time. They also quickly learned the importance of both several plot strands moving at once, and of having emotionally resonant central characters.

With his Pip, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Little Dorrit and the like, Dickens was a master of this skill, creating a bevy of long-lived malcontents upon whose fate an audience would hang with the rigor they now apply to the doings of Don Draper. And Dickens certainly came to see the pleasures of not needing to explain himself, or the fruits of his imagination, every time. He liked the money, too.

That Victorian trend petered out, though. The single novel reasserted itself, once publishers figured out to make it cheaply available. What about this time?

That’s a fascinating question. You could argue that today’s serialization mode is, per the Netflix model, very much on the consumer’s terms, not the publisher’s, which has changed the very nature of serialization, perhaps almost beyond recognition or even that definition. Maybe these serialized cable dramas will end up repeating themselves one too many times and lose their centrality in the cultural conversation. Maybe.

Things change fast these days.

But to a large extent, long-form drama is in vogue now precisely because we are consuming ever smaller chunks of so much else in the cultural marketplace. Long-form is the antidote to the ubiquitous viral video, the one-minute laugh with the cat or the hapless local TV anchors with their mistakes and malapropisms that can liven a day spent in a cubicle. Too many 30-second, social-media bites of a toddler with a puppy are enough to make you crave an eight-hour binge of “True Detective,” duration and its implication of substance being a not insignificant factor there.

It’s also worth noting — and Sundance surely has noticed — that writing for these high-end serialized TV dramas requires a different skill. Most of the shows we are talking about are written by scribes who started out penning works for the theater.

But some of them thrive in writers’ rooms while others flail (and quickly get fired) Aside from the issue of some writers just playing better with others, one of the great advantages in writing for television is that (unless you are the show-runner) you are freed from the tyranny of the big idea, or the lack thereof. How many potentially fine writers have been felled by that particular hell? Many is the playwright (or Hollywood screenwriter) whose work has been torpedoed by structures or plotting that fall apart or don’t excite a crowd.

But if you hire that writer and let him or her work on an established show with a pre-existing structure, you may well find that talents can soar, just like a nervous franchisee who ends up with a thriving Subway. Think about it: it is easier to write the dialogue and subsidiary action to a pre-ordained plot. Some writers, of course, need the plot to be their own. But others do their best work when they do not have that particular burden. In fact, by requiring a different skill-set, these shows are revealing sides of former playwrights we never saw in the theater.

It all does beg the question: why is that increasingly famous TV writers’ room (no longer so populated by anonymous figures these days) not often used to write movies or plays?

If the success of some of its products is a guide, it’s actually a more efficient division of creative labor. One person has an idea, guides the ship and worries about the big picture. Others fire off individual sections of the plot, or focus on dialogue or little touches of character. There is no inherent reason why this should be the modus operandi only of serials.

Of course, teams long have shown up in dramatic writing. Plenty of ghostwriters have saved Hollywood movies. Plenty of evidence shows that William Shakespeare had his writers’ room, too; it’s just that his friends didn’t get any credit in the First Folio.

Now, they’d all have agents, a demand for executive-producer credit and, maybe a career within which they’ll never have to come up with a complete story again.

Chris Jones – Chicago Tribune – March 20, 2014

Five New Feature Projects Add To A Diverse Screen Australia Line-Up

$4.3 million of funding was approved for a wide variety of feature film projects in various stages of production at the Screen Australia Board meeting this week.

“Funding includes support for debut feature directors, experienced production teams, an Australian book adaptation and stories targeted at domestic and international audiences,” CEO Graeme Mason said today.

“It is great to see such a diverse range of production taking place in Australia and this funding round continues to balance support for new and experienced talent in our sector,” he said.

Two remarkable true stories that reflect our contemporary cultural identity were supported in this round. A Long Way Home is a poignant account of a five-year old Indian boy who gets lost, forcing him into a Calcutta orphanage and, eventually, a life with an adoptive family in Tasmania. Years later, he endeavours to find his birth family.

This is the directorial feature debut of Garth Davis, renowned commercials director and co-director of the critically acclaimed television series Top of the Lake, and is to be produced by Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Angie Fielder.

Based on Timothy Conigrave’s classic book and theatre show, Holding the Man is produced by Kylie du Fresne and directed by Neil Armfield, a hugely acclaimed theatre director who returns to feature films after 10 years. The film is a moving romance of Tim and John, lovers who meet at high school in the 70s, and its cultural, generational and social themes of a challenging 15-year relationship have relevance beyond the story’s cult status.

The futuristic sci-fi Infini, from director/producer/writer Shane Abbess and producers Mat Graham, Brett Thornquest and Sidonie Abbene, follows a rescue team trying to save the lone survivor of a freak accident on a mining station, who must race against the threat of a lethal biological weapon. Finishing funds will be provided by Screen Australia for this project, which features visual effects that will engage the imagination and transport audiences to another world.

Two thought-provoking feature documentaries were also provided with post-production support in this round. That Sugar Film, from first-time feature director Damon Gameau and producers Nick Batzias and Rory Williamson, will challenge Australian and international audiences’ perceptions of their habits forever, as it explores the effect of sugar on our bodies and minds.

The Last Impresario by debut feature director Gracie Otto and producer Nicole O’Donohue profiles Michael White, a notorious octogenarian London theatre and film impresario, told from the perspectives of several great cultural personalities. This intimate documentary introduces audiences to the person behind iconic productions The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

With only one funding round to go this financial year, the Screen Australia Board has continued to support diverse projects based on their potential for: Australian audience appeal, cultural value, talent escalation, international sales and festival selection. Screen Australia assesses eligible feature projects against published criteria covering script, creative team, project viability and market strength.

Over the past year, Screen Australia has supported a range of feature projects including comedies Oddball, Sucker and comic drama The Dressmaker; thriller Backtrack; dramas Rest Home, Life, Ruin and Partisan; children’s drama Paper Planes; and theatrical documentaries Sherpa: in the Shadow of the Mountain and Only the Dead. In television, projects have included bold dramas like Love Child, The Kettering Incident, Hiding, Gina, The Secret River, ANZAC Girls, Catching Milat and Deadline Gallipoli; children’s content The New Adventures of Figaro Pho, In Your Dreams Series 2, Mako Island of Secrets Series 2 andLittle Lunch; and comedies including Danger 5 and Party Tricks, plus a whole range of emerging talent through initiatives such as Fresh Blood with the ABC.



See-Saw Films Pty Ltd and Sunstar Entertainment Pty Ltd

Producers Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, Angie Fielder

Executive Producers Andrew Fraser, Shahen Mekertichian, Andrew Mackie, Richard


Writer Luke Davies

Director Garth Davis

Australian Distributor Transmission Films

International Sales Cross City Sales Pty Ltd

Synopsis After a wrong train takes a five-year-old Indian boy thousands of kilometres from home and family, he survives many challenges before being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only the scantest of clues, he learns of a new technology called Google Earth, and sets out to find his lost family.


Goalpost Pictures & HTM Productions

Producer Kylie du Fresne

Executive Producers Rosemary Blight, Ben Grant, Cameron Huang, Tristan Whalley

Writer Tommy Murphy

Director Neil Armfield

Australian Distributor Transmission Films

International Sales Goalpost Film UK

Synopsis There was Romeo and Juliet and then there was Tim and John. The course of teenage love rarely runs smooth, but if you find yourself gay in an Aussie all-male school in the 1970s and you’re entranced by the captain of the football team, life’s a thrill ride. Based on Timothy Conigrave’s memoir, and the inspiration for the award winning stage play, Holding the Man is the remarkable true-life love story of Tim Conigrave and John Caleo.


Infini Movie Pty Ltd

Producers Mat Graham, Shane Abbess, Brett Thornquest, Sidonie Abbene

Executive Producers Steven Matusko, Brian Cachia

Writer/Director Shane Abbess

Australian Distributor Entertainment One Films Australia Pty Ltd

International Sales Kathy Morgan International

Synopsis A futuristic ‘search and rescue’ team transport onto mining station INFINI to save Whit Carmichael – lone survivor of a freak accident – before quarantining a lethal biological weapon set to arrive back on earth within the hour.


Madman Production Company Pty Ltd

Producers Nick Batzias, Rory Williamson

Executive Producer Paul Wiegard

Director Damon Gameau

Australian Distributor Madman Entertainment

International Sales Metro International Entertainment

Synopsis An engaging and saccharine ride exploring what really happens when a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.


Wildflower Films Pty Ltd & Ralf Films

Producer Nicole O’Donohue

Executive Producers Julia Overton, Mel Flanagan, Thomas Mai

Director Gracie Otto

Australian Distributor Umbrella Entertainment

International Sales Dogwoof

Cast Yoko Ono, John Cleese, Kate Moss, Naomi Watts, Anna Wintour, Barry

Humphries, Greta Scacchi, Brian Thompson, Jim Sharman

Synopsis Michael White might just be the most famous person you’ve never heard of. A notorious London theatre and film impresario, playboy, gambler, bon vivant and friend of the rich and famous, he is now in his eighties and still enjoys partying like there’s no tomorrow. In this intimate documentary, filmmaker Gracie Otto introduces us to this larger-than-life phenomenon. Featuring interviews with many of his closest friends, including Anna Wintour, Kate Moss, John Waters, Barry Humphries and, of course, the man himself, the film is a vibrant tribute to a fascinating entertainer.
Screen Australia Media Release – Friday 28 March 2014

Screen Australia CEO pledges to halve decision-making time, but criticises ‘sense of entitlement and negativity’

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason has told Mumbrella he plans to halve the length of the funding application process as he seeks to build a self-sustaining screen industry in Australia.

Mason said he has been working to cut the time to decide whether to green light projects by around a third since he joined the industry body in November, and plans to reduce that further still.

“I do think we should give people a steer very early if we see the a life for their project. I’m trying to get you to know very quickly, like in a matter of weeks, if we see potential for it or not. And I would hope to halve the time,” he said.

“We’re also trying to do two stages for most applications. I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask you all to give us an encyclopaedia in hard copy, not even online, I think that’s daft. So we need to speed that up and make it as fluid as possible. At least a fast ‘no’ is better than a slow ‘no’.”

Screen Australia is the main national funding body for the screen industry in Australia, covering film and television along with new media and the games sector.

Mason said it was his goal for the industry to make it self-sustaining and was looking at schemes to attract investment and help business. However he criticised “the sense of entitlement in this country, but also the sense of negativity”. He said he scored the health of the industry at seven marks out of ten.

Responding to a question posted on Mumbrella by a viewer of the live video hangout, Mason said the Producer Offset scheme brought in after the 10BA tax perk was scrapped had been successful across the board as production had increased.

However he said it had not been as helpful for feature films, as the 10BA tax write-off incentive had been much more advantageous to private equity.

“Something I’m really keen on is to try and attract investment,” he said. “I do not believe the government or Treasury would look at that kind of favourable alteration at this exact moment when they are trying very hard to contain costs.”

Mason said Screen Australia was working towards helping the industry to sustain itself.

He said: “I think its a moment now for Screen Australia to be seen as a part of the industry, to work with the industry, to best develop their careers and stories but recognising that we are also part of government. All the money we’re spending is coming from government. So they have aims and desires, culturally, creatively, capability building, and its working out where we fit with the film schools, with the people doing it themselves. But we can’t do it all for everybody.

“Our brief is to build an industry that is working towards sustaining itself,” he said.

“So we’re obviously trying to bring new people through but as we bring them through we need them to get to a point where they can be more in charge of their own destiny and move on.”

Aaddendum: Screen Australia’s chair Glen Boreham announced today that he would stand down when his term expires at the end of June.

Megan Reynolds – mumbrella blog – March 28th, 2014

US critics take aim at Oz vigilante thriller

Kelly Dolen’s John Doe: Vigilante premiered in US cinemas last Friday and was met with largely negative reviews which branded it as shrill, gory and pseudo-intellectual.

Main Street Films launched the thriller starring Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber as John Doe, a self-styled vigilante who is on trial for 33 murders, on 20 screens in California, Colorado and Arizona.

The screenplay by Stephen M. Coates follows a vigilante group called Speak for the Dead which supports Doe’s cause while he’s in prison, igniting a debate about justice versus vengeance. Lachy Hulme (Offspring, Power Games: The Packer-Murdoch Story, The Matrix Revolutions) plays a reporter who is trying to uncover the true story about Doe.

Produced by Screen Corp’s James M. Vernon and Kristy Vernon, Keith Sweitzer and David Lightfoot, the film will debut in Australia on May 1 via Monster Pictures.

“When TV’s Dexter, the serial killer who targets other killers, left the airwaves last fall, he left plenty of room for copycats,” said the Los Angeles Times critic Inkoo Kang. “Into that void strides John Doe: Vigilante, a pseudo-intellectual exercise in bombast and glorified violence. “The fatal flaw of John Doe is its focus on ideas, rather than people. The protagonist’s victims are so cartoonishly evil they might as well be twirling their moustaches before being shot in the head. John Doe’s sanctimonious speeches are equally weightless; only his self-righteous fury registers. In this case, anger speaks louder than words.”

By Don Groves INSIDEFILM [Mon 24/03/2014

More Here:


Machinima Premieres Web Series ‘Enormous’

The YouTube network is testing the pilot with audiences before making a series commitment.

Machinima is asking viewers to help decide whether its newest pilot should become a full-fledged web series.

The YouTube multichannel network Thursday debuted the pilot for Enormous, a live-action series based on the Image Comics graphic novel of the same name. The West Hollywood company will study audience response to the pilot before ordering it to series.

Written by Tim Daniel and illustrated by Mehdi Cheggour, the comic tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world where humans are prey for giant insects. Producer Adrian Askarieh (Hit Man) optioned the project with Machinima more than a year ago.

The live-action pilot is written by Andrew Ovredal and directed by Ben David Grabinski. It stars Ceren Lee as a mother who has lost her child and now rescues abandoned children. Erica Gimpel (Veronica Mars) and Steve Braun (Wrong Turn 2) also star.

Enormous is one of a handful of Machinima original series whose fate will be decided by fans. Machinima vp development Andy Shapiro tells THR that the audience feedback process is meant to keep costs down and engage viewers.

“We need to be able to test things,” he says. “We need to be able to get our audience integrated early on. Hearing what people are looking for will help guide us a little bit more.”

Machinima will use viewership metrics, conversations around the projects and internal discussions to determine which series it ultimately will pick up.

For director Grabinski, that means the next few months will be a waiting game.

“I have a million ideas and I’d love to just jump into it,” he says. “But the thing that’s fascinating is that there are a lot of opportunities dictated by [the audience reaction]. It’s different than anything I’ve done before.”

Production on Enormous began in October 2013 and cost in the low six figures, says Askarieh, adding that Machinima “backed us all the way. I will always be grateful to them and for their vision in letting us do Enormous the way we wanted.”

The Enormous pilot streams on Machinima Prime, a YouTube channel devoted to the company’s original scripted series. The company’s first big push into original content was Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, a full-length series based on the popular Microsoft game that premiered in 2012.

Shapiro says short web series such as Enormous are meant to help round out Machinima’s original content offerings.

“The end goal for all of this from a programming point of view is to fall into a cadence that allows us regular scripted programming.”

20/3/2014 by Natalie Jarvey – THR

U.K. Movies’ Share of Global Box Office at Lowest Point Since 2009

Hollywood-backed U.K. films repped 10% of world’s box office

LONDON — Pics produced in the U.K. took an 11.4% share of the global box office last year, the lowest since 2009, according to figures just released by the British Film Institute.

B.O. revenue for British films in 2013 totaled $4.1 billion compared with $5.3 billion in 2012, which repped a 15.3% share.

As in past years, the vast majority of the B.O. revenue was generated by U.K. films that were wholly or partly financed by U.S. studios, but featured U.K. cast, crew, locations, facilities, post-production and often U.K. source material. These U.S. studio-backed U.K. films repped 9.8% of the global box office, which compared with 13.4% in 2012. Nevertheless, the 2013 tally is still an impressive figure, and testament to the allure of U.K. facilities, crews and tax credit for Hollywood producers.

Independent British films took a 1.6% share of global B.O. in 2013 compared with 1.8% in 2012.

The highest earning pic at the global B.O. to qualify as British was “Fast & Furious 6” with $789 million, followed by “Gravity” with $708 million, and “Thor: The Dark World” with $641 million.

The highest grossing independent U.K. film was “Red 2” with $148 million, followed by “Rush” with $90 million, and “Philomena” with $89 million.

U.K. films had an 11.9% share of the market in U.S./Canada, 5.7% in Japan, 11% in Korea, 9.9% in France, 9.6% in Germany, and 14.6% in Australia.

Leo Barraclough – Variety – MARCH 21, 2014

Screenburn raises $500k to help sell films and music on Facebook

British startup has already worked with Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones on video-on-demand films

British technology startup Screenburn has raised $500k (£302k) in angel investment to continue building its business helping musicians and filmmakers make money from Facebook.

The company specialises in video-on-demand (VOD) events, with fans paying to watch films or concerts on the social network. It has launched more than 200 films on Facebook, including projects for Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones.

Screenburn’s app, which launched in December 2012, sits within clients’ Facebook pages, taking payments from fans then making films available to stream for set periods of time.

Alongside the funding, the company has recruited Steve Macallister from television distributor Zodiak Rights and Howard Kiedaisch from digital cinema firm Arts Alliance Media to join its board of directors.

“There’s no question that much of the future of long form video content lies with digital streaming,” said Macallister in a statement. “Screenburn is exciting because it offers content owners an opportunity to reach out to people already engaged with a brand or a particular release online.”

Screenburn says it has a number of partnerships in place for 2014 around music, sports and television, as well as films.

“Content owners may already have thousands or even millions of fans on Facebook. The app works very well to monetise this existing audience,” said founder Tom Raffe.

“The app also takes full advantage of Facebook’s sharing functionality to find new fans and increase distribution to a nationwide or worldwide audience. This funding is a great qualification of our business model and plans for this year.”

Screenburn is one of a number of companies exploring social commerce. US startup Chirpify started out working with artists like Amanda Palmer, Green Day and Snoop Dogg to sell music and merchandise on Twitter, before expanding to Facebook and Instagram.

Another company, Gumroad, has worked with Bon Jovi and Wiz Khalifa in music, while author Nathan Barry sold more than $355k worth of books through the service in 16 months.

A more direct rival for Screenburn is Milyoni, which has worked on “social video” campaigns for clients including Universal Music Group and Hollywood firms Paramount and Lionsgate. In July 2013, it streamed a concert for Smashing Pumpkins for free, albeit to just 1,800 fans.

One challenge for all these companies when working on Facebook is the ongoing debate about “organic page reach” on the social network – the number of people who’ve Liked a band or brand who’ll actually see its posts in their news feeds.

Marketers have been complaining for some time that their organic page reach stats have been falling on Facebook, with grumbles that it’s a deliberate strategy on the social network’s part to force them to pay for advertising to reach more of their own fans.

In December 2013, Facebook responded to the criticism, admitting the trend but saying it was inevitable. “On a given day, when someone visits News Feed, there are an average of 1,5001 possible stories we can show,” claimed its blog post.

“As a result, competition for each News Feed story is increasing. Because the content in News Feed is always changing, and we’re seeing more people sharing more content, Pages will likely see changes in distribution. For many Pages, this includes a decline in organic reach.”

That presents a challenge for the clients of Screenburn and its rivals: they can make films or gigs available to stream, but ensuring all their fans know that these events are available to watch may increasingly require more spending on Facebook advertising.

Stuart Dredge –, Thursday 20 March 2014