About Mark

Mark Poole is a writer and director of both drama and documentary. His most recent film Fearless about 92 year old playwright Julia Britton recently screened on ABC1. His career began when the feature film he wrote, A Single Life, won an AFI Award in 1987. Since then he has written more than 20 hours of broadcast television drama, won a directing award for the short film Basically Speaking at the St Kilda Film Festival, and was honoured with a major AWGIE, the Richard Lane Award in 2008.

Luc Besson on the Risks of ‘Valerian’ and That Time James Cameron “Took Me for a Moron”

As the EuropaCorp mogul — and THR’s International Producer of the Year — prepares to release the most expensive film of his career, he opens up about his arm’s-length relationship with Hollywood (“I do ‘Leon,’ they send me four ‘Leons'”) and his lifelong obsession with an “impossible”-to-film French comic book.

Luc Besson was 8 years old when he fell in love with the French graphic novel Valerian and Laureline, about two young adventurers who travel through space and time. Now, half a century later, the 58-year-old French producer-director is bringing his childhood infatuation to the screen. At $180 million, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is by far the most expensive picture he has ever made, with double the budget of his last sci-fi feature, 1997’s The Fifth Element. The STX release (which

opens July 21) is the biggest bet yet from a man who has made a career of them — from directing 1985’s Subway to 1990’s La Femme Nikita (one of the first action flicks centered on a woman) to 1994’s Leon: The Professional and 2014’s Lucy, not to mention producing franchises like Taxi and Taken.

But no matter how much Besson has riding on his new picture, he gives no sign of being perturbed when THR sits down with him in mid-May in the rather impersonal, two-room suite he maintains several floors above his high-tech studio just north of Paris, La Cite du Cinema. (It has an accompanying film school, L’Ecole de la Cite.) This is where Besson spends most of his time when he’s not at home in Beverly Hills, where he has lived for the past three years with his producer-wife, Virginie Besson- Silla, and their three children, ages 11 to 16.

Relaxed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, music wafting from his iPad, the filmmaker is expansive when talking about his family and personal life, but more reticent when it comes to addressing the business aspects of his career and company, EuropaCorp, in which he’s the largest shareholder. Perhaps that’s because, after years of success, EuropaCorp will post a loss of $136 million in 2016, just a few weeks after our meeting, the result of such misfires as Nine Lives, Shut In and Miss Sloane. Besson leaves talk of business to his company’s CEO, Marc Shmuger.

“EuropaCorp experienced significant losses this past year,” acknowledges Shmuger. “Over the course of the past year, we took necessary measures to strengthen the company’s treasury position. These measures include restructuring our first and second lien debt, a new capital raise from [Chinese production and distribution firm] Fundamental and sales of noncore assets [among them, theaters in Paris].”

They also include bringing in outside financiers to defray some of the cost of Valerian, whose downside already has been covered, he says, thanks to $30 million in French subsidies, outside equity and presales, reducing EuropaCorp’s investment to about 10 percent of the total budget.

The company signed a three-year exclusive (in the U.S.) distribution and marketing services pact with STX in early 2017 after extricating itself from a problematic joint venture with Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media. In leaving Relativity, it tightened its focus, going from an original plan to have up to 12 domestic releases per year to about four — all at much lower budgets than that of Valerian.

Those projects include another Taxi sequel, a follow-up to Lucy (possibly starring Scarlett Johansson again) and such European productions as Kursk (with Matthias Schoenaerts, Colin Firth and Lea Seydoux) and the horror film Underground (with Ben Kingsley and Peter Franzen).

It is for this prodigious output — and for his willingness to risk so much — that THR has named Besson its International Producer of the Year.

When did you start working on Valerian?

When I did The Fifth Element 20 years ago, the designer Jean-Claude Mezieres was saying, “Why are you not doing Valerian? Why are you doing this stupid Fifth

Element thing?” I said, “Because [Valerian] is impossible.” But then, little by little, the technique went up. I started to write, and I wrote for a couple of years just to see: Was it good enough? Was it worthwhile enough? And then it came to maturation.

How much of your own money is in the film?

My entire salary. [The budget is] not my money, but at the last minute, the financing fell short, so they asked me, “Can you put your entire salary in?” And I said yes.

When you saw Avatar, you threw away the Valerian script. Why?

Because it wasn’t good enough. Avatar was on such a [high] level that [I thought], “You’re not qualified. Go back to training,” like with the Olympic Games. You can’t go and ask for $180 million [without being ready].

Did you discuss Valerian with James Cameron?

He invited me on the set of Avatar in L.A. because I said, “I’m writing something sci- fi,” and he said, “Come and see how it’s working.” Being there, in the middle of the factory with nothing, and seeing the world on the screen — he took me for a moron at the beginning, because it was kind of complicated for me to understand. He looked at me like, “This moron doesn’t understand anything.” I don’t have a computer. I have this, an iPad, with music. Then we went for lunch, and I asked him a lot of questions, and he gave me some tips. He was such a gentleman, so secure. You know, the people who are secure are generous.

Are you secure?

Yes. Now. A little bit. But the first few years, you’re like, “Grrrrr.” You’re going to bite anyone who comes close to you.

When did you first realize you wanted to make films?

My parents worked [as SCUBA teachers] at Club Med, so I was watching shows every night. I started to write at 13, to take pictures at 14. It just came to me, like some people love baseball — me, it was photography and writing. I built my skills without noticing. Later, I said: “Hmm, movies, that’s probably a good way of expressing for me because I’m not good at anything [else].”

Was there a particular film that influenced you?

I never fell in love with films because I was not watching films at all. [After his parents split up] I had a stepfather who didn’t want TV and music at home; he didn’t want any way of expressing art in the house. He was working on Formula One, so it was all about cars. I was kind of frustrated.

Did you ever want to be anything other than a filmmaker?

When I was 16, I wanted to study dolphins, because I was in love with dolphins. And I got in a diving accident and the doctor told me, “You will never dive again.” This

guy broke me in two. He didn’t even realize what he had done because that was my life, diving, dolphins. And the day he said “forget about it” [was as if] basically you want to be a dancer and then you have no feet. I was very desperate. It was my worst moment. You’re 16, you’re in boarding school, and you’re broken by this doctor. I was really, really down. I remember asking myself, “What are you going to do with your life?” I took a piece of paper and I put a line down the middle, and on the left I said what I loved and on the right what I hated.

What did you love and what did you hate?

I can’t remember exactly. But when I read the left column, I realized almost everything was artistic. And it was the first time I said, “Wow, maybe cinema could be good.” And then a friend of a friend was shooting a short film in Paris, and I took the train and went there. And I arrived on the set and fell in love. I stayed two days, I slept on the set to keep an eye on the material, and I went back home to see my mom. I said, “I know what I’m going to do.” And the day after, I came down to breakfast with my suitcase and I said, “I’m leaving.”

Leaving home?

Yeah. Home and school. I came back from the set on a Sunday night, and on the Monday morning I went back to Paris. A friend [put me up] for a few nights. Then I was going from apartment to apartment, living on the couch, eating what was in the fridge — and usually on set they’d always have food. You eat twice a day and then you sleep. I really loved it. But the more you see on a set, the more you see other layers. You think it’s just a door, but no, after the door there are two other doors. I was so naive, I had no [frame of] reference, but I was not blocked by anything. I was like a kid who is not afraid of dogs and puts his hand in their mouths, you know? And I did my first short film 12 months later. I started my first long feature film at 19 [The Last Battle, about humans in a postapocalyptic world]. I turned 20 years old during the shooting. Sometimes we were shooting on the weekend — because when [the studios] have a big film shooting, they don’t shoot on the weekend, so you take the [equipment] and put it back on Sunday night. We did films with nothing, nothing. I was asking my mom to prep food for the team, because I couldn’t pay for the lunch. She’s a very good cook, so they were happy.

Did you ever study film?

No. But when I arrived in Paris at 17, I didn’t have a lot of money, and there was a [bookstore] just for films, near the Champs-Elysees [with anything that] you wanted to find on movies or how to make a script. And I stayed for hours and bought [a film industry version of the Yellow Pages], which was the most practical thing to get. Then I still had 20 francs in my hand, and I said to the girl, “For four bucks, do you have a little something I can buy?” She said, “In this big basket, there are used books.” I took a very small book, a treatise on directing [Notes of a Film Director]. I studied it, and it was quite complicated. I liked the book very much. What I didn’t know was that the writer was [Russian master Sergei] Eisenstein. And the treatise was very pragmatic and simple and clear, which is exactly what I needed at the time. So my basis is Eisenstein.

Do you watch films a lot now?

No. Cooking and eating are not the same job. My job is cooking.

Are there any filmmakers you particularly admire?

Actually, almost all of them, because it’s a hard job. Every time you feel the heart of the guy, I like it. What I don’t like is when you feel the studio too much and you don’t feel the guy. There are a couple of Marvels where I don’t feel the guy. The films are pretty good, but I don’t know who cooked them.

Are you friends with other filmmakers?

I am very friendly with them. I say “friendly” because I don’t see them enough. There’s a couple that I see: Ridley Scott sometimes, Darren Aronofsky. But I can’t say I am friends with them. What’s interesting is, I’ve never felt a [sense of] competition with any director. Never. The directors’ family is very, very friendly. I have a funny story: I had a film, I don’t remember [which one] but I was in New York, and I saw the poster [outside] the theater. There were two screens, and my film was playing [in the theater next to] a Pedro Almodovar film. I went in, just to smell the ambience, just for curiosity. And I opened the door and Pedro Almodovar bursts in. I said, “Oh, my God, Pedro, what are you doing here?” He was doing the same thing as me. We were laughing so much.

You’ve avoided working in the Hollywood studio system. Do they come after you?

I’ve received a script per week for 20 years. I’ve never stayed away from Hollywood. I always answer very politely, and I’m very honored. But no one comes with an Amadeus or something that I would love to do. When I do La Femme Nikita, they send me all the Nikitas — three, four, five. When I do Leon, they send me four Leons. When I do The Fifth Element, they send me all the sci-fi. That’s not interesting to me. I mean, if someone gave me Raging Bull, I would be thrilled.

The Fifth Element seems more of a success today than when it came out. Why?

Maybe the film at the time was too weird. Twenty years ago, there was no internet. And the film was wild. It was not conventional. The hero who saved the world [was] a girl with orange hair who doesn’t speak English. A classical singer extraterrestrial in space. It’s like, what the f— is this thing?

What do you do outside filmmaking?

The biggest thing is writing, in the morning. I love that. If I don’t write for a few days, I feel bad. I’m nervous and I’m not agreeable with people. It’s my gym.

Do you read a lot as well as write?

No, I don’t. Except scripts. I can’t concentrate on a book. You start the book and the guy is talking about a garden — and after two pages, I’m in the garden of my grandmother, and I think about my grandmother and that’s it, I’m out. For me, a book is a house without walls. I get in, and I can’t get out. And that’s what I love about film: You have to follow the thing; you can’t go backward or forward.

Do you enjoy producing as much as directing?

It’s not the same job. Producing is being on the bench and screaming to the players on the field, “Faster!” (Laughs.) Being a director is painful. It’s the hardest job, because you’re responsible for everything, you have people asking you questions every three seconds. You have to manage the emotional DNA of everyone on the set, especially the actors. You have to be the general of an army. And then you’re in the editing room. And you see an image of your film that is not your film, and when you’ve finished, you push the film out to the press, who most of the time kill you. It’s a hell of a job.

What makes a good producer?

I don’t know if I’m a good producer. Because a good director makes a good film, even with a bad producer. A producer is really at the service of the director, understands the qualities of the director and maybe the bad parts, and can tell him, “No, you are lying to yourself here.”

What’s the worst part of being a director?

You need to have an extra sensitivity, permanently, from the morning to the end of the day. It’s almost like you take your skin out and people are touching you all day. I remember going back to the hotel at 10 p.m. and watching TV, and they were talking about the opening of a salon of flowers, and you see some old people going there — and I’m crying. It’s terrible. And it’s terrible because you take the skin out and then every morning you put on armor, because you need both. You need to be absolutely nonsensitive. You need to be a general of an army and at the same time, if a flower [touches] your arm, you scream. It’s painful. And honestly, every time you start to film, you remember that. You say, “All right, OK, I’m going to make the film,” and you take the decision, you accept the pain. You never go, “Oh, my God, it’s going to be great! We’re going to do a film!” You know it’s going to be painful.

by Stephen Galloway THR July 17, 2017

Through a woman’s eye: Ari Wegner and the rise of our female cinematographers

The UK-based agents of Australian cinematographer Ari Wegner often forward job offers via email. “We’re just enquiring about his availability,” they say. Nothing unusual in that – except Ari is a woman.

Ari Wegner is one of the youngest members of the group of Australian female cinematographers making a big mark in feature films both here and abroad.

“Ari isn’t short for anything, it’s just my name,” says the Melbourne-raised director of photography, whose latest work, on the stunning low-budget period drama Lady Macbeth, is now on the big screen. “People always associate it with the [Arri] cameras. ‘Oh, yeah, I haven’t heard that one before’.”

At 32, Wegner is one of the youngest members of a little-noted group making a big mark in feature films both here and abroad – Australian female cinematographers.

Their numbers are small, but growing. The Australian Cinematographers Society has 272 accredited members, of whom just nine are women, but more than 13 per cent of student members are female. “That’s still way too low,” says the ACS’ Warwick Field.

“But it’s going the right way.”

If it had never occurred to you that women were increasingly calling the shots behind the camera, don’t worry too much. You’re not alone.

“It feels like there’s a lot more of us now,” says 40-year-old Katie Milwright, who shot Looking for Grace and has just wrapped Ben Elton’s forthcoming rom-com Three Summers. “But when I say that, even this year I was out on a shoot and a bunch of people said, ‘Wow, I’ve never worked with a woman doing this job before’. It’s definitely not the case that every second DP is a woman.”

The first accredited female member of the ACS was Jan Kenny, admitted to the society in 1988. The second, Mandy Walker, was accredited in 1999 – slow progress indeed.

Of course, women have been shooting movies since the earliest days of the Australian film renaissance. It’s just that few people noticed, and even fewer remembered.

Justine Kerrigan is determined to do something about that. She is working on a documentary about the pioneers in the field, women such as Jan Kenny, Erika Adiss and Martha Ansara.

They are far from household names, but what inspired Kerrigan to make her film was that few of the women in a filmmaking class she was teaching a few years ago had even heard of them.

And as a result, none of them had even thought about becoming cinematographers.

“They didn’t really know why they’d never considered it,” says Kerrigan, 48. “But there were no visible role models for them to suggest it was possible, because they just didn’t know about that first wave of women.”

Kerrigan says many of the pioneers have now left the industry, and few of them ever got the opportunity to work on big feature films. (For a variety of reasons, female DPs have tended to work more often in documentary, commercials and low-budget features.)

She cites the case of Jane Castle, who shot videos for Prince in the early 1990s and made some feature films in the US (including the schlocky horror flick Leprechaun 2) before dropping out of the industry in frustration. Now, Castle is back, making a documentary about another Australian female cinematographer – her mother.

Lilias Fraser knew early on that she wanted to be a director of photography but was told in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t women’s work. So she became a director instead. She made her first film in 1957, and is perhaps best remembered for directing the land rights documentary This is Their Land (1969).

The notion that cinematography is not appropriate woman’s work has largely subsided, say the women I spoke to for this story, though most had encountered it at some stage.

“Film sets have changed since I started,” says Bonnie Elliott, 40, who shot These Final Hours and the television series Seven Types of Ambiguity. “I very rarely see any real sexism on set, there’s a very good culture to work in now. I haven’t seen anything overt for a very long time, though there are always subtle things that go on around gender. But I try not to dwell on them too much because I feel there’s a lot of positivity about working with a female cinematographer now.”

Like many others, Elliott cites Mandy Walker as a major inspiration in her career. “It was incredibly important for me that Mandy was out there shooting features when I first studied film,” she says. “Knowing there were women out there, doing that work, made it feel tangible and possible.”

Walker, 54, remembers that when she started out there was only one woman shooting drama regularly, Jan Kenny. “So I went to see her when I was about 18 and told her what I wanted to do.”

Walker, who grew up in Melbourne but now lives in Los Angeles, where she shot the Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures, approached Channel Seven looking for work and was told “we don’t really have girls” in the camera department. “That’s OK,” she says now. “I didn’t want to do TV anyway.”

Her break came when she attended a film class at the CAE run by the legendary John Flaus. After class, she and her father stopped to talk with their teacher, who asked the 18-year-old what she wanted to do. “I told him I really wanted to work in film, and he said he had a friend who was making a film, he’d give him a call.” Days later, she started working as a runner.

At 25, she shot her first film, Return Home, the 1990 feature debut of Ray Argall, a former cinematographer himself. In 2008, she became the first woman anywhere to shoot a film with a budget of more than $100 million, when Baz Luhrmann picked her for Australia.

In 2013, she shot Tracks, in which a gruff old character actor named John Flaus had a small role. “It was so nice to connect again,” she says.

Walker attributes her success to having never allowed her gender to be an issue, and to always being confident and ready to take opportunities.

It probably doesn’t hurt either that her husband gave up his career as a chef to become a stay-at-home dad when their daughter was born 19 years ago. Because more than sexism, it is the issues around work-life balance that present the biggest challenges to female DPs.

Few film sets have child care, the working hours are insane (for everyone), and DPs are often on set for at least as long again as the shoot, all of which pose immense challenges to a healthy home life.

“What’s hard for women as cinematographers is that there’s a certain momentum for careers and that makes it very hard to know when to stop and have a baby,” says Bonnie Elliott.

“For men or women it’s really challenging to make time for your family,” says Katie Milwright, who has a four-year-old daughter and a partner who is also a DP (they try to alternate assignments).

“I’ve done quite a few long projects since my daughter was born – and I do sort of sign off for a couple of months, and parent on the weekends, which is kind of tough.”

For Wegner, those issues are yet to arise. She’s single, doesn’t have children, doesn’t have a mortgage. “I’ve got a lucky window at the moment where I feel I have the freedom to be wherever I need to be, wherever the most interesting project is.”

I ask her, as I do the others, if she thinks there’s a “female eye”, a way women see the world through the lens that’s different from the way men see it.

“I’ve thought about this a bit lately,” she says. “I don’t think there is. I think men and women operate on a spectrum of female and male. I think everyone’s got a bit of both in them.

“I certainly don’t wake up in the morning and think about being a woman,” she adds. “When I look through a camera there are plenty of other things there as questions.”

Karl Quinn – SMH – July 2 2017

Anatomy of a hit: IF speaks to the brains behind ‘Lion’

Oscar heavyweight Lion has earned more at the Aussie box office than all of last year’s local films combined – not bad for a filmmaker making his feature debut.

Garth Davis was approached about the project by See-Saw Films’ Iain Canning and Emile Sherman at the Sundance Film Festival, where the trio were premiering the first season of Top of the Lake.

Davis heard the story and raced off to his lodge to read up on the extraordinary case of Saroo Brierley, a small boy adopted by an Australian couple after falling asleep on a train and waking up on the other side of India, unable to find his way home.

Angie Fielder, Luke Davies, star Dev Patel, Garth Davis and DP Greig Fraser.

To map out Brierley’s story, the producers turned to screenwriter Luke Davies, an old collaborator.

Davies had worked on Candy, based on his own autobiographical novel, with Sherman producing, while Canning was the film’s European sales agent and an executive producer. Canning and Sherman became friends, formed See-Saw and went on to make The King’s Speech.

On Lion, the producers turned to Aquarius Films’ Angie Fielder to lead the production process and work closely with Davis. Fielder jumped on-board in late 2013, before there was a script.

Davies’ work on the film began with what he describes now as “a really intense research trip.”

Over two and a half weeks, the writer travelled to India to with Saroo to visit key locations, then on to Tasmania to meet Saroo’s family and friends with Davis.

“About two weeks after that Garth came to LA and he and I sat down with a whiteboard for about a week or ten days,” recalls Davies. “Very casual, cups of tea all day long, filling up his whiteboard, throwing ideas around.”

Davis remembers “lots of conversations about what we liked about the story, [and] the rhythms of it. There’s a lot of emotional engineering going on. Obviously the more practical question was: what’s the structure of the film?”

After that initial session, story meetings continued via conference call, with Davies back and forth between Sydney and LA, Davis in Melbourne, Fielder and Sherman in Sydney and Canning in London.

“There were a lot of calls at odd hours of the day and night,” says Fielder. “We started out with a beat sheet and then moved to a treatment and then moved to draft.

The film’s chronological structure was decided upon early.

“It would have been much more conventional and probably much safer to start the film with Saroo as an older man,” says Fielder. “So you start the movie with Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman and flash back to what happened to him in India.”

“But Luke was very committed to the idea of trying to tell it in a linear way. We really wanted to put people in Saroo’s head, and when you tell the story to other people, you don’t start with: ‘there’s this guy living in Tasmania and then one day he decided to look for home’. You tell the story from the beginning – there’s a little boy from a small village in India and he gets stuck on a train and gets lost.”

“We knew it was a risk, because we were essentially making a film in which the first fifty minutes were in India with very little dialogue and what dialogue there was was in Hindi or Bengali. But we were very lucky in that we found Sunny Pawar, who plays little Saroo, and his performance is so compelling that I think the audience doesn’t actually realise that they’re in a non-English language film.”

Davies wrote the first draft in less than twelve weeks, then another after notes, in what he describes as “a really rapid, compressed, six month period. Six months, two drafts,with gaps in between.”

That draft was shopped at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2014, where The Weinstein Company snapped up international rights, completing a financing pie that included Screen Australia, location attraction money from Film Victoria and a distribution advance from Transmission.

The filmmakers spent 2014 scouting India, did a large-scale tech recce in September and began official pre in November.

“We wanted to get into production as soon as we could,” says Fielder. “We were a little bit limited by the weather in India and not wanting to shoot in monsoon season.”

For Davis, the realisation that a five-year old had to hold the first half of the movie was “a pretty sobering concept.”

Finding the right child to play Saroo took around five months, with casting director Kirsty McGregor enlisting a local casting agent, Tess Joseph, who suggested the team focus on three cities.

“We went to schools over four months,” recalls Davis. “We couldn’t go to the streets because the kid we cast had to go to Australia, so we had to get them a visa and they had to have some sort of paperwork. So our net was a lot smaller, and we needed a kid that was quite streetwise – that was tricky.”

Visiting schools, Joseph would film 30-second scene with kids who would come in, do a scene, take a photo, then move off.

“Hundreds of children would arrive in my Dropbox every week, and I’d go through and put little coloured dots on good/bad/fair whatever, and over the months we developed a shortlist of a few hundred children,” says Davis.

Davis and McGregor later flew to India with Miranda Harcourt, an acting coach from New Zealand.

“We met up with Tess and her team and we workshopped the children for about two weeks in three cities,” says Davis.

“And if we found someone we liked, we’d bring them back every day for three days to see if they would return; whether the parents would cope with it, kind of testing their filmmaking stamina. Because so much rested on this performance.”

The Lion team tapped production services company India Take One Productions, an old hand at servicing foreign productions such as Slumdog Millionaire, Eat Pray Love and Zero Dark Thirty, to help them navigate the bureaucracy and work through the preparation time.

“They provided us with all the crew and helped us cast the whole thing,” says Fielder. “They were invaluable.”

When it came to crewing up, Fielder adopted the “mirror system”.

“This is something I’ve done on all the foreign shoots we’ve done at Aquarius: Wish You Were Here was Cambodia, Berlin Syndrome was Berlin. You bring your own HODs, your own first AD, your own cinematographer, your own production designer, costume designer. And then you also have a local working in a similar capacity but reporting to your head of department. Because they come with their own team, they’ve got their own networks and contacts.”

The one exception was the camera department, which was brought over wholesale from Oz, right down to the data wranglers.

“That’s a department you don’t really want to hand over to anybody else,” says Fielder.

Lion began shooting at the beginning of 2015, with six weeks scheduled in India and four in Oz.

Fielder describes shooting in India as “Great. Not without its challenges.”

“You’re dealing with language barriers, cultural barriers, a really harsh local environment, and a system that is heavily bureaucratic. It means you need a lot of lead-time in your preparation, which is why we spent the whole of 2014 going back and forth to India setting everything up.”

While editing the director was also on the hunt for a composer, listening to music endlessly.

“I landed on Hauschka [Volker Bertelmann] and Dustin O’Halloran. Both beautiful musicians but different. Hauschka had this childlike, raw quality, and I thought he really suited India. And then Dustin had that emotional quality.”

“I love movies like The Mission and The Piano where the music is very front and centre, which has been lost a little bit in cinema. Everyone’s very anti-music. I wanted to bring back that emotional music, and I thought Dustin did great melodies.”

Bertelmann happened to be playing at the Melbourne Recital Centre while Davis was in post, and the director went along.

“I was sitting there and he goes, ‘this piece of music is like being in a train with the window open and the landscape flashing by’. I thought: that’s so weird.”

After the show Davis caught up with Bertelmann and asked about collaborating with O’Halloran on a film score, only to learn that O’Halloran had been the best man at his fellow muso’s wedding. A deal was struck.

The film has racked up award nominations – and big box office – ever since TIFF, even though “a lot of the reviews weren’t great, actually, after that [Toronto premiere],” Davis
admits.

“That’s a wake-up call, as a filmmaker. But I do know we have the audience.”

As for Davies, who’s now working on projects with several Aussie filmmakers, including David Michôd and Kim Farrant, he cries every time he sees it.

“I shouldn’t, because I wrote it, so I know everything that happens, but I do and I think it is because Garth’s a magician. He made me an observer again.”

By Harry Windsor – INSIDEFILM – [Fri 31/03/2017]

What networks and production companies should learn from House of Hancock

In the wake of Channel Nine and CJZ’s apology to Gina Rinehart, production companies should be wary of the issues that landed these companies in hot water with the mining magnate. In this post, media lawyer Stephen Digby explains the strategies required to avoid the same fate as TV series House of Hancock.

Stephen Digby is the principal and co-founder of Digby von Muenster Law – mumbrella

– March 7, 2017

After Rinehart’s successful legal action in the Supreme Court of NSW in 2015, which gave her access to part two of House of Hancock ahead of its screening on Nine, it appeared that the parties had come to a settlement that, whilst confidential, seemed to allow broadcast of part two of the docudrama under certain conditions.

Some of these conditions included specific disclaimers in the opening and closing credits the show was a “drama, not a documentary”, and that Rinehart was not interviewed by the producers. Several minutes of footage were also cut from the broadcast.

However, this did not seem to placate Rinehart, as she took Nine and CJZ back to court claiming defamation and malicious falsehood, as well as misleading and deceptive form that excused almost everything, including any “breaches of alleged moral behaviour”. These releases were repeatedly tested in US courts by, amongst many others, unwitting college guys, politicians and etiquette tutors.

The lesson from Borat is that with release forms – provided that they are true and accurate in their disclosures and well packed with the required indemnity and warranty protections – you can significantly limit your exposure to liability from any loss, or damage that may result from the broadcast.

So, whilst Borat offended almost all of its participants, it still lives on in cinema, and House of Hancock which offended one person, is seemingly off the air forever.

3. Use settlement as a bar to future proceedings

Despite an iron-clad release, as outlined above (and as Borat showed), court proceedings can still be unavoidable. If that does happen, then it is almost always more sensible to seek some form of out-of-court settlement that all parties can live with, or, is the best “worst-case”. This appeared to have been the case with House of Hancock, but, unlike that situation, the settlement did not prevent Rinehart from bringing further proceedings.

With this in mind, any production company (or broadcaster) should be very careful to make sure if it does reach settlement outside court, that a key part of this agreement is a widely-drafted and extensive release clause which acts to bar the party who brought or threatened the action from re-visiting the matter in any future legal proceedings in relation to it. Without knowing the full details of the Nine/CJZ/Rinehart confidential settlement, we won’t speculate why this don’t happen on this occasion, but, ideally, these types of clauses as part of a settlement are designed to put an end to all legal proceedings, once and for all, now and in the future.

4. Preparing for the worst

As an essential pre-requisite to a broadcast commission, production companies are required to take out errors and omissions insurance. Whilst these policies can often be difficult to navigate, the House of Hancock experience will force production companies to look more deeply into what these policies do and don’t cover.

Whilst premiums can be expensive, broadening the insurance to specially cover the company from the costs of litigation against all types of allegations could well be worthwhile. Given the breadth of the allegations made by Rinehart, these claims may go beyond simply unauthorised use of titles, copyright infringement and breach of privacy, to defamation, idea and story theft, and injurious falsehood, as well as misleading and deceptive conduct. A full and frank conversation with your insurers at the time the policy is being put in place, and close attention as to what it includes, and, more importantly, excludes, could give producers a great deal more comfort when faced with these types of proceedings.

Is it worth it?

Like all businesses, production companies need to do a cost/benefit analysis of the risks and rewards of doing these sorts of shows, but, with luck, these types of measures might help reduce that risk. However, as House of Hancock proves, this type of issue is not always possible to avoid.

Luke Davies on ‘Candy’, mature share houses, and the magic of Garth Davis

Aussie screenwriter Luke Davies lives in LA with director David Michôd, and is repped by UTA’s Bec Smith. Both are former IF editors, and Davies himself used to contribute DVD reviews to the magazine. We spoke with the honorary old boy on the phone from Bondi, where he was staying on a layover in Oz late last year.

Your path into screenwriting began with Candy, is that right?

Yeah. I was always obsessed with film but didn’t know how to break in. So I said to Margaret Fink, the producer, that she could option the book if I was allowed to try my hand at the first draft of the screenplay. That was the beginning of the path that led to here.

Had you been reading screenplays before that point or did you just learn on the job?

No I was really obsessed. There was actually a screenplay store in Sydney that lasted for about ten years. Honest to God, they must have lived on a shoestring, those guys. But I was one of the faithful customers. It was pre-internet, mid-90s, in the city. It was down near Darling Habour. I used to obsessively buy screenplays of films that I loved and I’d watch the film and try and work out what had changed. My first draft of Candy was very much of its time (laughs). Wall to wall voiceover. Very Goodfellas-esque, like a lot of what people were writing back in the late 90s.

Gradually over the years of working on the screenplay with Neil Armfield, we stripped most of the voiceover out of it. We were all busy living other lives, doing other things, the years passed and it really was hard to get that film financed. But then Heath Ledger came along and got it financed very easily. It was a five year period [of writing] where I was learning, and Neil Armfield was a real mentor.

When did you move to the States?

After Candy I went to America to have a little exploration. I really don’t know what I was thinking. I thought maybe I’d get an agent or something. It wasn’t a grand plan. In April it will be ten years I’ve been in LA. The first five years were really difficult. I was poor and I really didn’t know if it was going to pan out. In 2009 I started sharing a house with Alex O’Loughlin (Hawaii Five-0). Then David Michôd, who I had been friends with for some years, and his girlfriend, Mirrah Foulkes, started coming to LA around the time that Crossbow was suddenly leading to all this buzz and to David making Animal Kingdom. They’d be going to Sundance, or whatever, and they would stay at our place. We all got on and we became fast friends. At a certain point we were like, ‘Why don’t we all get a bigger house? We come and go a little bit, and if there’s four of us it’s cheaper’. We started doing that six years ago and two houses later we’re still doing it. It’s a lovely house that’s kind of an oasis in Koreatown. It’s like a mature share house and it works (laughs).

How did Lion come to you?

I had a pre-existing relationship with See-Saw Films and Emile Sherman, who along with Margaret Fink was one of the producers of Candy. Emile met Iain Canning on the Candy shoot.

Iain was the European sales agent and exec producer. They became friends and formed See-Saw Films and went on to make The King’s Speech. We had maintained a working relationship and fiddled around with a couple of things that never really happened. So then they gave me Saroo’s book and asked how I would approach adapting it. I got the job, then went to India to meet Saroo and see the real places where everything happened: the train station, the orphanage, his home town. And then to Tasmania with Saroo to meet Garth and Sue and John, Saroo’s parents.

And Saroo’s friends. Everything mattered at that moment. That’s how it began; a really intense two-and-a-half week research trip.

At what point did you start writing?

About two weeks after that trip, Garth came to LA and he and I sat down with a whiteboard for about a week or ten days. Very casual, cups of tea all day long, filling up his whiteboard, throwing ideas around. From that point I sort of disappeared into the cave and started writing and by then it was September or October. I wrote the very first draft in less than twelve weeks and then there was feedback and notes and I wrote another draft. That draft was what See-Saw Films took to Cannes in May 2014. The Weinsteins won a bidding war, and the money that the Weinsteins paid to secure international distribution rights became a portion of the budget. So then the film went into pre-production and it was shooting by the beginning of 2015. There were still more script changes going on right up until shooting but essentially the first two drafts after the research session were done in this really compressed six month period. Six months, two drafts, with gaps in between.

What do you think of the finished film?

I cry every time I see it. I shouldn’t, because I wrote it, so I know everything that happens, but I do and I think it is because Garth’s a magician and he made me an observer again. We’ve been doing all these Q&A screenings and it’s really, really nice to be promoting a film that you actually love. There’s no feeling of fakery about having to push the thing. Garth’s identified the different kinds of criers now; people who start weeping in the first minute, the people who hold off and have muscular tension for the whole two hours and then cry at the end and then there’s all these gradations in between. We love the fact that it connects with audiences.

By Harry Windsor INSIDE FILM Mon 20/02/2017

Crime and adaptation: Dennis Lehane

Live by Night author Dennis Lehane is a writer often divided

Dennis Lehane, author of Live by Night, adapted for the screen by Ben Affleck. Photo: Getty Images.

  • The Australian

Dennis Lehane moves between fiction and film, and has a rueful way of describing the difference between the two. “When you’re writing a novel, you’re God. When you’re working on a film, you’re one of 147 guys.”

He published his first crime novel in 1994; Hollywood came calling for his sixth book, Mystic River, the story of three men who have known each other since childhood, a recent murder and an incident from the past that haunts them still. Clint Eastwood directed the adaptation and it won Oscars for actors Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.

Since then there have been adaptations of several Lehane crime novels: Shutter Island, ­directed by Martin Scorsese; Gone Baby Gone, directed by Ben Affleck; and now Live by Night, a crime drama set in Florida in the 1930s, written and directed by Affleck, who also stars in it.

Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin and Chris Messina as Dion Bartolo in a scene from 
<i>Live by Night</i>.

Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin and Chris Messina as Dion Bartolo in a scene from Live by Night.

Lehane has written scripts for film and TV but has tended to stay away from adapting his own work. A screenplay and a novel are completely different entities, he says. “It’s like comparing a giraffe and an apple.” The task is different, the relationships with others are different, yet he finds things that he needs in both.

“Sometimes you want to be God, sometimes it’s OK to be one of 147 guys. Each activity fills a different gap,” he says. “When I write a screenplay or a teleplay, I say, ‘Oh, it’s so great not to have to describe the room, it’s so great not to have to create this from whole cloth, it’s so great just to sit down, know where I’m going, to have a road map and follow it.’ In the case of a teleplay, 15 days later I’m done; in the case of a screenplay, 45 days later I’m done. And then all of a sudden one day you wake up and you go, ‘I really miss prose, I really miss painting the scene. I really miss that part of my personality.’ So then you start to write a book.”

Lehane, 51, born in Boston to Irish parents, was a voracious reader as a child. At the age of 14 he came across Richard Price’s novel The Wanderers, set among gangs of youths in a Bronx housing ­project, and it gave him the feeling that he could write about what he knew. Years later, he and Price worked on the groundbreaking TV series The Wire. Being in The Wire writing room, he says, writing episodes for the last three series, “was my perfect graduate school in screenwriting”.

Lehane studied creative writing at Florida International University and wrote a draft of his first novel while in college, but it was several years and many drafts until A Drink before the War was published in 1994. It won the Shamus Award for best first ­private eye novel, and he has been writing steadily ever since.

Live by Night is part of a loose trilogy that began with The Given Day, a sprawling tale set in Boston in 1919; at its centre was an Irish family, the Coughlins, who lived on both sides of the law. Live by Night is a spare narrative focused on Joe Coughlin (played in the film by Affleck), who’s definitely on the wrong side of it.

Lehane spent a year researching the period for The Given Day, but is cautious about the ­experience of immersing himself in the period. Too much detail, he says, can kill a book. “You have to sprinkle it very judiciously because it pulls people out of the narrative, which is the absolute unforgivable sin in any book.”

He tackled Live by Night a little differently. He was steeped in the world his central character had come from and decided, he says, that “I’m not going to research anything on this book until I need to”. Instead, he tackled questions when they came up. “What did a suit cost in 1925? How afraid were people of flying in 1935? It was a much more pleasant way to do it; I highly recommend it.”

When it comes to adaptations of his work, Lehane says, he leaves it to the screenwriter to initiate contact. “I feel like they should be left alone to do what they have to do.” Affleck asked him to read the first draft of Live by Night, he says, and to give him notes. “I gave them to him, and some he took to heart and some he discounted, just as I do when I get editorial notes.” He saw two cuts of the film and then the finished product.

Elle Fanning is Loretta Figgis in 
<i>Live by Night</i>.

Elle Fanning is Loretta Figgis in Live by Night.

It’s always strange, he says, to see characters he created on screen in new incarnations. “There’s a feeling of dislocation, no matter how good the film is. People are surprised that Ken Kesey’s never seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I’m not. I’m not surprised at all. They say, ‘Well it won five Academy Awards, it’s one of the best movies ever made.’ Yeah, but it’s not what he had in his head. No matter how great it can be, it’s never exactly what you had in your head.

“So the best you can do is judge it on its parts. I don’t think a novelist can truly judge something on its whole unless it’s wholly terrible, and then it’s, ‘Oh, that thing sucks, no big deal there.’ But if it’s good, and I’ve had four good ­adaptations, including Live by Night, then you just kinda go, ‘Well, the pieces sure seem to be lining up, the cinematography is beautiful, the performances are great …’ But I can’t fall into it the way I fall into Casablanca or The Silence of the Lambs, or something I didn’t write. You know, that suspension of disbelief that is so ­crucial for a moviegoer.”

He half-broke a rule about not adapting his own novels when he wrote a screenplay based on one of his short stories, Animal Rescue. It ­became a 2014 film called The Drop, which he then turned into a novella of the same name.

And now, he says, he’s broken it completely. He has a new novel coming out in May called Since We Fell, and he has already written a screenplay. The project is in its early stages, he says. It has been acquired by DreamWorks after a bidding war but there’s no director as yet. The story has a female central character whose life is turned upside down by a chance encounter. “It’s very contemporary, very Hitchcockian. No more trips into the past for a while.”

He’s well aware, of course, that the scriptwriter’s work can often end up in limbo. I ask him about the fate of several screenwriting jobs he had been involved in recently. Lehane had been writing an adaptation of A Prophet, Jacques Audiard’s absorbing drama about a young man in prison quietly building himself a new life. He wrote a pilot for a series set in the hospital from Shutter Island. He had been working on a new version of the Irish TV series Love/Hate. And he had been involved in a miniseries that was to revisit the legendary law enforcer of the 30s, Eliot Ness.

He takes me briskly through the state of play. “A Prophet is still alive; it’s called American Son now, last I heard. Eliot Ness is dead. The Shutter Island project is dead. The Irish TV series is in limbo.” He laughs. “Welcome to Hollywood.”

Live by Night is screening nationally.

Screen Oz boss launches broadside

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason has given a scathing assessment of many deals for film and TV projects that are submitted to his agency.

Speaking at Screen Producers Australia’s annual conference in Melbourne, Mason laid part of the blame on international sales agents and distributors, accusing some of being “greedy” on commissions, inflating expenses and trying to pass off gap financing as equity.

He was also critical of “rights-grabbing” by unnamed global broadcasters and he complained that Australian commercial free-to-air (FTA) networks are demanding new seasons of local shows to cost less but maintain the same standards.

When he took the helm three years ago, it was rare for the agency to be offered terrible deals. Now, he said, in some funding rounds “every second deal seems bad – for all of us.”

Noting that commercial FTA revenues are falling as overnight ratings decline, he told attendees that broadcasters “expect new seasons of series at the same quality for smaller budgets. We and others have traditionally been less invested in second series, if at all. Many of you have had to accept smaller fees and cuts to overheads as a result.”

He continued, “Producers are getting caught in the intransigent behaviour of some global broadcasters worried about new players and platforms. Some projects have nearly fallen over because of rights grabs, compromising Australia’s ability to capitalize on lucrative global opportunities. International sales on several of our TV dramas are phenomenal. Should producers try and bypass traditional media at times?”

He revealed that Screen Australia’s biggest ever return on production investment was generated by See-Saw Films’ Top of the Lake.

Some producers are being railroaded into asking Screen Australia to sweep aside its long-held terms, he said, adding, “A lot of money is flowing in from international but please don’t sell the farm to get it.”

Illustrating the pressure on the agency’s funding after government budget cuts, he estimates the number of applications for feature film and TV drama funding in the current fiscal year will be double that of eight years ago.

Given the rising demand for TV drama funding, he flagged a rethink of the agency’s approach, asking whether assessments should be made on the basis of business sustainability, intrinsically Australian stories or whether projects appeal to mass or niche audiences.

On a positive note Mason said attendees at Mipcom raved about Australian talent in all areas, adding, “The expectation is that one of our scripted shows will pop globally and there was surprise that they haven’t yet.”

Don Groves – 17-11-2016 – C21Media

TV industry ‘running out of famous Australians to make series about’

The TV industry is in danger of running out of famous Australians to make mini-series about, one of the country’s leading producers has warned. The comments came from Posie Graeme-Evans at the Screen Forever conference in Melbourne. Graeme-Evans, who created long-running Nine drama series McLeod’s daughters, made the comments as she delivered the Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture.

She told delegates to the Screen Producers Australia event that while local audiences are showing appetites for biopics, they have often failed to sell in the international market.

Recent biopics have included retellings of the lives of INXS front man Michael Hutchence, TV presenter Molly Meldrum, media mogul Kerry Packer, magazine pioneer Ita Buttrose and billionaire Gina Rinehart. Graeme Evans warned:

“It’s smart that the commercial free-to-airs and Foxtel and the ABC all want to show our audience high end minis about iconic Australians. They play brilliantly at home. Time and sales have suggested that not all do quite so well in the overseas market. Like the issue of running out of Daughters on McLeod’s… – though, we did find a few more along the way – I wonder if we’ve reached peak ‘Famous Australian’ yet?”

New biopics in the works in the coming months include Nine’s miniseries on businessman Alan Bond and criminal Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. Seven’s pipeline includes the life story of cricketer Shane Warne and singer/actor Olivia Newton-John. Graeme-Evans – a former director of drama for the Nine Network who is now working full-time as a novelist – warned that the networks would soon be reduced to the B-list. She said: “Bio-pics based on the B-list… are not quite the same.”

Reasons for the rise of these mini-series are not just because they rate reasonably well, said Graeme-Evans. The shows are also an efficient way for the networks to achieve their obligatory quota of hours of locally-made drama, and also win tax-payer funding via Screen Australia. She said: “Now, none of us is naïve in this room.

We know that commercial FTAs seek to maximise content points making minis – and high concept is often high success if it’s well made. Or not, if it’s not. Art and commerce do collide in the business of TV – sometimes in the worst way in the world.”

Later in the speech, she said that networks are now more likely to commission based on finances. She said: “Today I think it can be argued that accountants are the most important people in our production landscape.” However, she added that as costs of production come down – and secondary channels and streaming services make new commissions – new opportunities are opening up. She cited examples including ABC’s Bondi Hipsters TV series, Soul Mates, and streaming service Stan’s series, No Activity.

Later in the presentation, Graeme-Evans proposed the creation of a national on-the-job learning program to give future TV makers a chance to serve an apprenticeship.

She said: “Could the screen agencies consider coming together to create a pot of cash from which the Shadow program can be funded? Perhaps the unions and associations can contribute, too. Or, perish the thought, the networks.

“Further, perhaps this becomes the first part of what could develop, over time, into a joint strategic training plan for the whole industry – run over a number of years in areas of perceived need and with agreed aims. At the moment, we all do our own State-based programs and initiatives separately. And the ways things are set up are governed by each State Government’s expectations for its own part of the industry in Australia.

“Now, I can’t see individual State Agencies agreeing to trade away competitive edge where attracting shows to their state is concerned. But training? It might make sense.” She warned: “If we don’t, maybe soon there really will less than 10 writers in the country the networks approve to write their high end shows.”

And she also called for overseas-based streaming services such as Netflix to be taxed and the money used to make more local content. She said: “Could Netflix, or Amazon be tithed to create an alternative source of funds? Support the Australian industry by putting 10%, say, of acquisition budgets ie for the programs they do not originate, into a pot that can be used to commission Australian programming.

“Or, and I reckon we’d love this, what about 10% of the budget of the original drama it shows. Australia’s making money for the SVODs. Some of it should come back home. Yes, I know it’s a free range thought. But, supporting our local producers and our local FTA networks – who must make Australian content as a condition of their licences – out of, in effect, a different kind of license fee is worth thinking about.

“And imagine if we could snare 10% of the value of Game of Thrones, or House of Cards or… I can hear the shrieks from here. Impossible. Ridiculous. Can’t be done.

Robbery! Why? Unpop that box of lawyers, I say, have a go. You won’t get everything but you might get more cash into the industry that doesn’t come from government.”

by Tim Burrowes – mumbrella – November 16, 2016 10:26

Screen Australia announces more than $2.3 million for documentary projects

Screen Australia has unveiled nine distinctive documentaries that will share in $2.3 million in funding from Screen Australia’s Documentary Producer and Documentary Commissioned programs.

Five are feature-length documentaries; two are for the ABC, one is for SBS and one for Foxtel.

“These projects do not shy away from hard-hitting stories that show the realities of living in a complex world. These teams impressed us with their desire to tell compelling personal stories and explore important social issues of today,” said Liz Stevens, Senior Manager of Documentary at Screen Australia.

The successful Documentary Producer projects are:

 An intimate look at the life of iconic INXS singer/songwriter Michael Hutchence in Mystify. INXS music video director Richard Lowenstein will combine never-before-seen archival footage and interviews with those closest to Michael for this documentary from Ghost Pictures which has also received Film Victoria support.

 Social impact feature documentary Dying to Live follows Allan Turner’s campaign to make Australia an ‘opt out’ organ donation country – a journey borne out of the heartbreaking loss of his seven-year-old daughter, who became one of the nation’s youngest ever donors. This was one of the six titles selected to participate at Good Pitch 2016.

 The story of five-time Walkley Award-winning journalist Liz Jackson turning the camera on herself for the most challenging story of her career – about her Parkinson’s diagnosis – in A Sense of Self from Contact Films with Film Victoria support. This documentary will air Monday 21 November at 8.30pm on the ABC.

 Feature documentary Flight of the Rhino from Wildbear Entertainment – a uniquely Australian perspective on the plight of the endangered rhino, a victim of illegal poaching. It follows a team of conservationists who embark on a controversial mission to airlift a herd of breeding rhinos from South Africa to Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo in the hopes of protecting the species for future generations.

 Feature documentary From Under the Rubble, which takes a look at the devastating cost of war on the civilian victims of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Survivor Zeinat Samouni recounts the January 2007 attack on her Gaza neighbourhood that killed 48 members of her extended family; from Sensible Films.

 An untitled project from Oscar-winning director Eva Orner (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Hilla Medalia; more details to come.

The successful Documentary Commissioned projects are:

 Observational documentary series The Mosque from Southern Pictures for SBS, which will use unprecedented access to an Australian Mosque and the community it serves to explore firsthand what it means to be a Muslim in Australia today; with funding support from Screen Queensland.

 Foxtel commissioned four-part documentary series The Archibald from Mint Pictures, chronicling a year in the life of eight Australian artists as they choose subjects for a portrait that will ultimately compete in the nation’s most prestigious art prize, culminating in the announcement of the 2017 winner.

 A behind the scenes look at one of Australia’s most influential and successful indie rock bands in Right Here: The Go-Betweens from Essential Media and Entertainment. This documentary is the first recipient of Screen NSW and ABC TV Art’s Documentary Feature Fund, and will premiere at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival.

The Documentary Producer program is designed to give producers the foundational funding required to leverage their projects creatively and commercially, and must have a clear path to audience.

The Documentary Commissioned program is designed to support the production of a diverse range of quality projects for television broadcast that offer a compelling vision with a clear and enduring cultural value.

Go here to see further information about this round of successful projects:

www.screenaustralia.gov.au/funding-and-support/documentary/funding-
approvals/2016-2017-documentary-production

16 11 2016 – Media release

Is there a theatrical future for Australian movies?

Screen Australia’s Head of Business and Audience, Richard Harris, talks to IF about the year that’s been, what’s ahead and the risk of betting big on blockbusters alone.

How’s this year looking to you as compared to last year?

Last year was pretty remarkable. One of the problems I have, and particularly after a big year like last year, is the kind of short-term-ism of trying to guess how things are performing. One of the things you get with a big year like last year or a really poor year the year before is [people say], everything’s terrible or everything’s great. We [Screen Australia] are looking at reporting things on a longer term basis. Last year, for example, we got great results that came through from The Water Diviner but it didn’t actually recognize that The Water Diviner had released over two years. It released after Boxing Day. This year the ultimate results for the year won’t necessarily be as good as they would be because, you know, they had actually previously released Oddball last year when it was actually originally scheduled for this year. And then Red Dog [True Blue] is going to release at Christmas and play over January. So we’re looking at trying to capture things in a three-year cycle as opposed to a single-year cycle. I think this is a broader concern that we have: [that] this kind of spike and ditch [mentality] doesn’t necessarily reflect the way things are.

Last year was always going to be hard to top.

Last year was actually a funny year because we had a record year but in June that year we’d actually written in our distribution paper that this is the most challenging time ever for Australian independent films. And then suddenly we had this record year. So it was a bit strange (laughs). Here we are claiming it’s all going to hell and high water, and then we turn around and a whole bunch of films kick a bunch of goals – which is great. But even though the year was great, the underlying challenges in distribution remain. And they particularly remain for independent films. What we do know just from that paper and from the research we did, is that there are slightly more screens than there were five years ago. The number of screens increased but actually the number of films taking up the majority of screens has reduced. Last year we had films like Mad Max and Dressmaker and Last Cab to Darwin, all of which played on more than 100 hundred screens, which is fantastic; the distributors felt they could find an audience and they all played well. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that most of our films are playing in these smaller zones and there’s more competition in that zone. More films, less screens. More and more I think you’re going to see films going direct to either an iTunes release or perhaps to a VOD release. Stan is very interested in finding films that may not have a theatrical home but actually create a good thing for their brand in terms of being a disruptive sort of film.

Speaking of small films that might be disruptive and provoke social media chatter, a film like Down Under perhaps could have been a perfect film for that platform.

I think that’s exactly the sort of thing [we should do]. Hopefully smart distributors will go: rather than spending some money on P&A and having a film that goes out to not many – we hardly even recoup that P&A – maybe we should just do a direct sale to Stan and allow them to have a disruptive film that builds the brand. [Down Under] Is a good film but not a theatrical film. There seems to be three broad areas that are working for films in cinemas at the moment. Theatrical has a challenge in that it’s coalescing into about three areas: one is kids – people are still taking their kids to see Pixar films, Secret Life of Pets – or they’re going to blockbusters.

Although this year has been weaker than last year because a few of them have come out and absolutely tanked, but nevertheless that’s a theatrical space that people are still going to watch films that they feel they have to watch on the big screen. Then there’s the older-skewing and female-skewing films. So if you look at the Australian films that worked last year, you look at Dressmaker, that worked in the older-skewing, Last Cab worked in the older-skewing, Mad Max worked in the blockbuster space, and the kids space was Oddball, Paper Planes and Blinky Bill. And Water Diviner also played well in the older skewing space. All of those films really landed where theatrical audiences are going now.

Given how many sequels have underperformed this winter, is there any trepidation about Red Dog: True Blue, which opens on Boxing Day, especially as it’s a few years since the original?

I think this is different. And [that’s] something that theatrical exhibitors have said [to me]. I first started in this job eighteen months ago and I was meeting with a few exhibitors, and having come off such a poor year, I was trying to work out: have they given up on Australian films or are they still thinking that they play? And actually, they all felt Australians responded to films when they worked. Their view was [that] when Australian films work they actually over-index. I think Red Dog has such a broad family appeal: it plays firstly into the space of what is a classic space that theatrical audiences are still going to. It’s a film that plays young but can play across to families. I think the response so far to the film has been that this film can really appeal. And it is a bit of a prequel, so I think that also works for it.

Stan are looking to get into the longer-form space, as you mentioned before. Does Screen Australia have any sense of whether the streaming platforms are putting any pressure on theatrical?

I certainly don’t have any data. I think they’re keen to find ways that they can actually get films earlier and have films that might do a small screening and then be allowed to have a shorter window and get onto Stan. What that release is allowed to look like is a continuing conversation with exhibition and exhibition is naturally and quite justifiably concerned about the integrity of those windows. It’s between 90-120 days.

It was 120 but there’s been a bit of slippage on that. 90 days generally. So Stan I’m sure would be keen for a film to have a small release or a couple of marquee screenings and then head straight into the platform. There have been some films that have done those sorts of releases but they’ve tended to go straight to transactional.

How happy the exhibitors are with the idea is another question.

Outside of streaming platforms themselves nabbing theatrical films, do you think those platforms are putting more pressure directly on cinema-going because people are staying home watching on their laptops?

I don’t think so. I think the challenge on exhibition has been there for some time. The fracturing of all of those platforms is an ongoing thing. It’s a challenge for everyone.

Foxtel is challenged by streaming as is the free to air [networks]. Everyone’s place in the ecosystem has been challenged and the general sense I’m getting is that the arrival of the streaming platforms has actually increased overall viewing rather than cannibalizing everyone [else]. Having said that, I think there are absolute challenges, particularly for free to air. I think there are bigger challenges to linear watching than there is to the exhibition space, actually. What’s happening to the exhibition space is that there’s going to be continuing pressure on really making those small films work, and that’s the challenge. If I was in theatrical, I’d be concerned that if your diversity of offering is reducing, and you’re actually putting your bets on those three areas, then your capacity to keep getting audiences is at risk. We’re seeing it a little bit this year when the blockbusters don’t work. What other films do you have to actually get people in to your cinemas? But I don’t think there’s anything that says that Stan turning up has meant less people going to your cinema. Overall there are a series of thing happening in the home which Stan and Netflix have just added to. To leave the house, to pay money for babysitting, for parking – all of that now means that I need to make a conscious decision about whether I’m going to see something on the big screen or stay at home and watch something else. That’s the challenge that exhibitors face, and why they’re putting these bigger bets on these things that you must go out and see on the big screen.

By Harry Windsor INSIDEFILM [Mon 14/11/2016]