Category Archives: Latest News

New drama TV announced at Channel 7

New Australian programs for Seven’s main channel include Secret Bridesmaids’
Business (an adaptation of Elizabeth Coleman’s play, it tells the story of three friends
who are inextricably changed when one unwittingly invites a malevolent stranger
into their world); Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries (a spin-off of the popular
ABC drama, it centres on Phryne Fisher’s niece, Peregrine, and is set in 1960s
Melbourne); and Between Two Worlds (a scripted series from Packed to the Rafters
creator Bevan Lee, which promises to “push the boundaries of popular commercial
drama”).

From Michael Lallo, SMH 26 October 2018

Essential Media returns to drama space with Essential Scripted

Essential Media Group (EMG) has re-activated its drama arm with the mandate to produce premium international TV dramas and theatrical features via the newly-
unveiled Essential Scripted.

Michelle Hardy, who produced the International Emmy® Award-winning multi-
platform ABC2 comedy #7DaysLater, has joined as vice president of scripted,

Australia, while Simonne Overend continues as VP of scripted, US.
Essential Media has also signed a first-look deal with Hardy White Pictures, a joint
venture between Hardy and director Erin White (Sando, Little Lunch).

The move marks a return to the scripted sphere since founding partner Ian
Collie departed last September and Essential sold its drama slate and catalogue to
Easy Tiger Productions, launched by Collie and FremantleMedia.

It follows the acquisition of EMG (formed by the merger of Essential and Quail
Entertainment) by Canada’s Kew Media Group for $32.8 million, a deal which is
expected to close next week.

EMG CEO Chris Hilton said: “We’re relishing the prospect of our return to drama
production in Australia and the US at a time when the opportunities have never been
greater. We have an exciting new slate and with the support of our new partners at
Kew we’re looking forward to bringing more premium scripted content to audiences
around the world.”

Hilton recalled that he and Collie started from scratch in drama in the early years at Essential Media and Entertainment, producing a raft of shows including Rake, Jack Irish and The Principal and the Disney movie Saving Mr Banks on the back of the company’s factual slate.

Essential Scripted is working with new and emerging writers including Yolanda
Ramke (Cargo) and Chris Squadrito (who worked on Hoodlum Entertainment/
Netflix’s Tidelands) on a slate which includes six TV dramas and as many features.

Hardy has been working unannounced for Essential for some months so some
projects are in advanced development or are close to the pilot stage. The projects are
being developed in partnership with networks and distributors.

“Australian broadcasters are aspiring to produce dramas that are comparable to
those screening on Netflix,” Hilton tells IF. “That means you need sufficient quality
to attract pre-finance from European or US broadcasters or a deep-pocketed
distributor.”

Hilton has identified the need to develop the next generation of writers partly
because creatives such as Andrew Knight, Sarah Lambert and Kris Mrksa are tied up
with their own projects. His plan is to put emerging writers together with
experienced writers and showrunners.

Overend is working with Ramke as she develops a TV series based on a crime novel
and a feature screenplay. Hardy’s credits include Skit Box’s Wham Bam Thank You
Ma’amand Back Seat Drivers, a comedy entertainment series for ABC2.

She worked with Greg Quail, who is now EMG’s chief content officer, on several
projects including Timothy, a half hour narrative comedy that was part of Mental As,
ABC’s Mental Health Week.

Last year she produced a low budget feature film in Los Angeles for Essential,
working title Wild Woman. The survival saga set in the desert from writer-director
Nick King is yet to be released.

Hilton is discussing several feature films and feature docs with Kew Media’s
international theatrical sales company, observing, “Being part of a large group means
we can leverage their resources.”

06 July, 2018 by Don Groves INSIDEFILM

Go West: Seph McKenna on his vision for Screenwest

Formerly the head of Australian production at Roadshow Films, Seph McKenna left
the east coast to take on the role of Screenwest CEO in January, succeeding Ian
Booth.

But the former exec says he’s no stranger to Western Australia. Roadshow has been
involved with many recent films that were shot in the state, including Bran Nue Dae,
Red Dog, Paper Planes and Red Dog: True Blue. It acquired Simon
Baker’sBreath and will distribute upcoming See Pictures film Go Karts, shooting
in Busselton.

McKenna particularly credits regional film festival CinefestOz for luring east coast
distributors and producers like himself into the west’s regions over the past seven or
eight years.

“It woke all of us up in the east to the potential of the west,” he says.
Western Australia has grown as a production destination over the last decade. Ten
years ago it was averaging about one feature-length film a year. In 2015-16,
Screenwest supported a record seven feature-length films to shoot in WA, and in
2016-17, the production of four and the post of two others.

McKenna says that while he was at Roadshow they found their biggest films, in terms
of indie Aussie fare at least, came out of WA.

“Red Dog was the standard bearer there – until Lion came along it was the highest
performing independent Australian film of the last 20 years.

“What we found was because Western Australia is a big outdoor canvas for our
filmmakers, all of Australia really embraces the film. It feels like they are big, epic
Australian films of scale on the big screen, because you have these phenomenal
landscapes. You don’t run into any rivalries between Sydney and Melbourne.

“Films that are made here are just intrinsically Australian, and we found we could
sell that to audiences successfully.”

Vision and new opportunities

Given its varied and spectacular landscapes, WA is a natural home for the outdoor
film, says McKenna.

“If you’re looking for a big canvas to paint on, you can’t lose in WA. And we have
both experienced crews now and post facilities to do everything here.

“I think there used to be this presumption – I used to have it years ago at Roadshow
– that you could do some things in WA, but you couldn’t do everything here. Now
you can do everything here.”

McKenna praises his predecessor Booth, and Screenwest head of development and
production Rikki Lea Bestall, for the uptick in production activity and the growth of
infrastructure in WA.

“Including – and they so often don’t get the acknowledgement because you don’t get
the big splashy roll outs – our documentary producers who are the vanguard of
selling to international.

“Our documentary companies are the bedrock of the Western Australian screen
sector. In the feature land we can learn from what they’re doing because they’re
having such success.”

In his new role, McKenna is keen to capitalise on that level of production nous and
capacity that now exists in WA.

He says his time at Roadshow has left him with a sense of what works in the market,
what doesn’t and why. It’s a skill he believes will be important at Screenwest now
that it has transitioned from a government agency into an independent non-profit
organisation.

“I do think there is a sense of cautious optimism about what the new Screenwest
structure can bring, and it really is on me to deliver.”

Under the new non-profit structure, Screenwest continues to receive funding via the
WA government and Lotterywest. However, McKenna envisions the agency will now
have the flexibility and opportunity to ramp up its production attraction by building
partnerships with organisations in a way that may have previously been in conflict
with government policy or restrictions. This includes market and fundraising
partnerships.

“When I say fundraising, I mean going out and trying to raise funds around either
specific films, helping producers go out and do that, or finding pots of money that
can come in and partner with us in a general slate way – something you absolutely
couldn’t do in government.”

McKenna argues these partnerships will help Screenwest to find potential flagship
projects to “sell the state on” that will play both in Australia and find a home
internationally.

Small screen

While the west has seen a strong upswing in feature production, there isn’t much TV
drama being produced in the state at present – with some notable exceptions like the
ABC’s Mystery Road.

For McKenna, drumming up more is a key focus. In particular, he’s keen to see a fan-
driven drama in the vein of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries that would attract fans to WA to visit the show’s locations – just as they might visit Hobbiton in New Zealand or Highclere Castle in the UK, where Downton Abbey is shot.

“I would not only love to see that, I’m actively looking for a production or
productions that could fall into that category.

“And I think we’re probably more likely to find a television series of scale than we are
to find a movie of scale. But of course we’ll take either, or both.

“But for crews and consistency of work, nothing beats television. Series television is
becoming more and more difficult Australia wide to find, produce and fund. Our
most natural partners in that are the ABC and SBS, and we are working closely with
them.”

Just as CinefestOz was successful in luring east coast feature film execs to the WA
around seven or eight years ago, McKenna says there is more work to do to bring
those working in TV in the east over to the west to show them what’s possible.

“I think once they get familiar with the opportunities, the place and the locations,
they’ll start to see that. So it’s about getting our east coast TV people comfortable
with the idea that you can shoot in the west and that’s okay.

“And we have WAAPA, and WAAPA brought us Hugh Jackman. I think we have the
best acting school in the country here – don’t tell NIDA. But it’s certainly producing
strong students who go off to do amazing things. There’s a wellspring of talent here
and they’re happy to stay here if they can shoot here.”

Challenges and promise

Lotterywest, which runs the lottery in WA, supports both Screenwest and the Perth
International Arts Festival, as well as other cultural activities in the state.

However, The Australian reported in late January that lottery driven revenue was
declining in Western Australia by almost $300 million per year and that $16.5m out
of $25m multi-year grants issued by the state arts department were due to be funded
with revenue from Lotterywest, but a nearly $2m gap opened up between what it was
able to be eventually delivered.

“Younger people aren’t buying lottery tickets at newsagents, they are either not
gambling or they’re gambling online; it’s just a declining source of revenue,” says
McKenna.

“Lotterywest funding is really what has supported the organisation’s funding into
production for quite some time. So that’s a concern to everybody, and everybody’s
well aware.”

However, McKenna says the Western Australian Regional Fund – “purpose-built to
bring work into the nine different regions of WA” – is healthy and been “quite a tool”
for Screenwest.

Established in 2016, the $16 million Western Australian Regional Fund is designed
to support high quality international and Australia feature films, high-end television
series and documentaries to shoot in regional WA. It’s already helped to attract Ben
Elton’s Three Summers, Mystery Road and the upcoming Go Karts to the state.

“Everyone is pretty excited by that because it absolutely has been successful in
bringing in productions,” says McKenna.

The fund does have defined rules – you have to show economic and cultural benefit
to the region, and it has a minimum 2:1 spend – so McKenna says it can knock out
productions that are sniffing out extra funding from any old place.

However, he says for the productions that are aligned to a region, it can be a terrific
fit that can overcome the higher costs that can be associated with shooting in the
west if people need to be flown over. “That’s major for us.”

As for what is working else to attract productions, McKenna says: “We’ve got money,
we’ve got weather and we’ve got locations. That’s the west sell.”

The challenge for interstate or overseas producers shooting in WA will always be the
tyranny of distance, but McKenna counters: “It’s just being away from home, which
is something all producers face as they run around the world for places to shoot.

“The good news for Australian producers that need otherworldly landscapes is you
can find it here in Australia. You don’t have to go abroad; it’s here.”

18 May, 2018 by Jackie Keast INSIDEFILM

How Canada Became a Springboard for Female Directors

Perhaps Australia could learn from the Canadians about how to nurture the careers of our female directors.

This article by Etan Viessing of THR explains the Canadian success. Of note is their support for micro-budget features that have a chance to break through into the film festival circuit.

See below:

How Canada Became a Springboard for Female Directors: Multiple government initiatives are pushing for gender parity in the film business by 2020.
2/12/2018 by Etan Vlessing THR

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proudly displayed his progressive bona fides three years ago when he announced that his 30-member Cabinet would be the country’s first to represent men and women equally, 50- 50. When asked by a journalist why, he made global headlines with his blunt reply: “Because it’s 2015.”

Roughly a year later — and well before the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements — Telefilm Canada, the powerful, well-funded film financing arm of the Canadian government, followed Trudeau’s lead and unveiled its own ambitious drive to achieve gender parity in the film sector by 2020. The goal was clear: The agency would choose which films to finance based on whether projects were directed by, or revolved around, women (among other criteria).

The initiative already is having an effect: A 2017 Telefilm study shows a 27 percent increase in agency-backed projects directed by women since 2015. And it’s not just Telefilm: The National Film Board of Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and the Canada Media Fund also have unveiled plans to achieve gender parity by 2020.

But with its deep pockets — the agency invests around $100 million annually in homegrown filmmaking — Telefilm is leading the way.

“There are systemic barriers to funding,” says Federal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, a close ally of Trudeau. “We believe that we should, as a feminist government, have a clear commitment to overcome these barriers.”

The practical initiatives from Telefilm include its Talent to Watch program, formerly the Micro-Budget Production Program. Telefilm renamed and revamped the 5-year-old micro-budget program in November with a mandate to back 50 first-time and, where possible, female-led features annually, with investments capped at $120,000 for each movie.

That in turn led organizers to consider how they could help maintain a young filmmaker’s momentum in the industry after completion of that all-important first project. So, also in late 2017, Telefilm unveiled its Fast Track program, which assures $500,000 in second-feature financing for filmmakers producing internationally recognized first features.

To promote female voices and visions, Telefilm, when considering funding for projects of equal value — determined by such factors as the script, talent attached and the production team — between a male or female applicant, is favoring projects directed and/or written by women. “We want to create a path to success,” says Telefilm executive director Carolle Brabant. “We want to reward the success of the first features by having emerging directors make their second film.”

Take Werewolf, writer-director Ashley McKenzie’s debut feature about youth and drug addiction in a small Nova Scotia mining town. The indie received microbudget financing from Telefilm and became a critical hit on the film festival circuit after bowing at Toronto and screening at Berlin.

Now McKenzie is eyeing possible Fast Track financing as she develops her second feature. “There’s a gap for filmmakers to take the next step after their first feature,” she says, adding that Telefilm has helped to shorten the time she and her producer Nelson MacDonald need to secure financing for their sophomore effort.

Brabant says Canada’s push for gender parity has helped alter long-standing perceptions in an industry where female filmmakers have become accustomed to discouraging barriers to the industry. “It has made women realize, ‘Well, it can happen,’ ” she says. “It’s comforting to know you can get your foot in the door,” adds Sonia Boileau, who leveraged Telefilm investment for her debut feature,Le Dep, to develop her second film, Rustic Oracle, about an 8-year-old Mohawk girl searching for a missing sister.

The push for gender parity has implications beyond Canada. Jordan Canning, who directed more than a dozen short films before completing her first and second features, We Were Wolves and Suck It Up, respectively, says Telefilm’s Talent to Watch and Fast Track programs can help open doors in the U.S. and other foreign markets.

“Once you have two features, you’re hopefully at a level where you can access funding in different countries and team up with international co-producers,” she says.

With the various gender-parity initiatives gaining steam, insiders say the lure of financing is also leading filmmakers to rethink projects from the conception point.

“In the general community at large, people are just hungry to attach women to projects and slates, because it’s smart from a tactical viewpoint. I’d do the same,” says Molly McGlynn, whose debut feature, Mary Goes Round, was produced through Telefilm’s Talent to Watch program.

Toronto-based director Michelle Latimer says the initiatives help female filmmakers avoid “going up against the old guard.” After the success of her documentary short film Nucca, which screened at Sundance and Toronto, Latimer nabbed a yearlong filmmaking fellowship with Laura Poitras’ (Citizenfour) documentary unit Field of Vision.

“[Telefilm] is democratizing the way we secure film financing, and it’s particularly good for younger filmmakers who can’t go the regular financing route,” Latimer says.

The Canadian film sector is also focusing on hiring more women in key positions throughout the industry. Jane Tattersall, senior vp at Sim Post Toronto, who supervised the sound editing on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, says she’s hiring more women as mixers and editors in a traditionally male-dominated business.

“I’m not being idealistic or doing favors,” she says. “It’s much more selfish — the workplace is more interesting and more normal when you have a mix of women and men.”

Marjolaine Tremblay, VFX producer and supervisor at Rodeo FX, insists that the Canadian industry needs to allow women to move from management and backroom jobs to active creative roles, including overcoming technical VFX challenges. “I have a great employer now that believes in all of my skill sets and supports me all the way,” says Tremblay.

Another point of emphasis for Minister Joly is creating a healthy environment in the Time’s Up era. To that end, she says the Canadian industry now has a zero-tolerance policy for workplace harassment.

“The #MeToo movement for us is clearly a fundamental change of culture,” she says. “It’s changing the way people will interact with each other and make sure there’s more respect between men and women, and ensuring the entertainment-sector workplace, as all workplaces, is much safer.”

Australian director Kate Dennis continues to triumph

Melbourne director Kate Dennis, now based in the US, has continued to triumph with an Emmy nomination for The Handmaid’s Tale. This article by IF Magazine’s Don Groves talks about her dilemmas in choosing the projects she will work on after being deluged with offers of work.

Dennis continues to work in Australia as well, having directed Queensland based but global focussed Harrow, a co-production with ABC and Disney-owned ABC Studios International, which screens in Australian on March 9, according to Groves.

See article here:

Kate Dennis, go-to director for US networks, lands another US gig

Kate Dennis, go-to director for US networks, lands another US pilot
12 February, 2018 by Don Groves INSIDEFILM

If there were an award for the hardest working, most travelled and in-demand
Australian director in US and international TV drama, Kate Dennis would be a prime
candidate. Next month in New York she starts shooting an untitled, character-driven
medical drama for NBC that follows the maverick director of the city’s Bellevue
Hospital, her seventh US pilot which also happens to be the first shot on US soil.

Her burgeoning career got an adrenaline shot last year when she was nominated for a
prime-time Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale after directing episodes of multiple
series including Fear the Walking Dead, CSI: Cyber, Suits and TURN:
Washington’s Spies.

Last year Dennis was the set-up director of Harrow, Hoodlum’s 10-part crime
drama commissioned by the ABC and Disney-owned ABC Studios International,
which premieres in Oz on March 9.

Ioan Gruffudd plays Dr Daniel Harrow, a forensic psychologist who harbours a dark
secret, alongside Mirrah Foulkes, Remy Hii, Darren Gilshenan, Anna Lise Phillips,
Damien Garvey, Ella Newton, Hunter Page-Lochard and Robyn Malcolm.

Dennis was directing an episode of Marvel/Netflix’s Jessica Jones when Hoodlum’s
Tracey Robertson offered her the gig but she was initially reluctant. “I told Tracey
that procedurals and me are probably not a good mix but I read the script and
thought this one was different and out of the box,” she tells IF via Skype from her
home in LA. “It’s very character-driven and there is the mystery of the man at its
core. I was very attracted to it.”

She created the look and tone of the show co-created by Stephen M. Irwin and Leigh
McGrath with Robert Humphreys, who was the DOP on the first five episodes
(Simon Chapman shot the remainder).

Dennis directed the first episode while Tony Krawitz (The Kettering Incident), Tony
Tilse (Wolf Creek, Underbelly), Daniel Nettheim (Doctor Who, Broadchurch),
Peter Salmon (Doctor Doctor, Rake) each handled two and Catriona McKenzie (The
Warriors) did one.

It was her third collaboration with Hoodlum following Secrets & Lies and the US
remake of the crime series created by the prolific Irwin.

The NBC drama is inspired by Dr. Eric Manheimer’s memoir Twelve Patients: Life
& Death at Bellevue Hospital, a facility billed as the only one in the world that can
treat Ebola patients, prisoners from Rikers Island and the US President under one
roof.

She’s excited to be collaborating with David Schulner (Desperate Housewives, Trauma, Emerald City), the writer/creator and co- executive producer, and co-executive producer Peter Horton, who set up Grey’s Anatomy.

The creative team includes DoP Stuart Dryburgh (who was Oscar-nominated for The
Piano) and production designer Kristi Zea, a frequent collaborator with Martin
Scorsese. She likens the tone to West Wing in a hospital.

Her US credits include I’m Dying Up Here, the Showtime comedy/drama set in the
Los Angeles stand-up scene of the early 1970, which screened here on Stan; Damnation, a 1930s-set drama shot in Calgary about a preacher who rallies the townsfolk in Iowa to stand up against industrialists, which aired on the USA Network and on Netflix internationally; and GLOW, another Netflix show which revolves around US women wrestlers in the 1980s.

She also directed an episode of Heathers, a black comedy inspired by the 1988 movie
of the same name, which will premiere in the US on the Paramount Network on
March 7.

Dennis has just come back from Belfast where she directed Krypton, the story of
Superman’s grandfather as he fights for justice on his home planet, for the Syfy
channel. She was much impressed with the super-efficient showrunner, Australian
Cameron Welch.

Asked about the criteria she uses when deciding whether or not to accept offers,
particularly the barrage she has received since the Emmy nomination, she says, “I try
to keep myself out of a genre box. I like taking all sorts of work. It can be a high-risk
way to approach things but luckily it seems to have paid off.”

A very good year? What the box office figures really say about Australian cinema

Australian cinema has just enjoyed another big year. But scratch the surface and
the picture is far from rosy. Take Lion out of the equation and it would have been a
dismal year financially.

Australian cinema is in serious trouble, although you wouldn’t necessarily know it
from the most recent annual box-office round-up.

The figures released last week showed Australian box office totalled $1.2 billion in
2017, a drop of roughly 5 per cent from the previous year but still the third-highest
result ever (after 2015 and 2016).

As late as November, some players were predicting a 10 to 12 per cent year-on-year
drop, so the total – helped by the $50 million or so Star Wars: Return of the Jedi added in just two weeks – was not too shabby after all. As Motion Picture Distributors’ Association of Australia boss Lori Flekser says, “film is a cyclical business, and it would have been a miracle if it had gone up again in 2017”.

Even Australian releases seemed to fare well, at first blush at least. Their $49.4
million was 4.1 per cent of the total. In 2016, they managed just $24.1 million, for a
1.9 per cent share.

Drill down into the figures, though, and you’ll find the true state of affairs is cause for
concern rather than congratulations.

While there are more screens (2210) than ever before, attendances are on the slide.
Precise numbers are hard to come by, but it’s likely there were around 85 million
cinema visits last year – down from 91.3 million the year before (the figure is arrived
at by dividing total box office by average ticket price, which is around $14.13). Frequency of visits, which peaked at 11.3 in 1996, now sit around 8.5 a year.

We are going to the movies less often despite the fact we now have, in theory at least,
more choice than ever before.

According to the MPDAA, there were 697 new-release films on our cinema screens
last year – and that doesn’t include festival releases, re-releases and carry-over titles
(typically those films released on Boxing Day of the year prior).

But in truth, our choices aren’t as great as those figures would suggest. According to
Screen Australia, blockbusters – defined as movies released on 400+ screens –
accounted for 4.5 per cent of releases in 2017 but they took more than half (50.9 per
cent) of the box office dollars. Wide-release movies (200-399 screens) accounted for
a further 9.1 per cent of releases and 35.4 per cent of revenue.

In other words, our screens are hogged by Hollywood action-adventure, superhero,
fantasy (like Disney’s chart-topping live-action Beauty and the Beast), and animated
family films, with the result that the top one-seventh (14 per cent) of new releases
took a whopping 86¢ of every dollar at the Australian box office.

And that left the rest – about 600 movies in all – fighting over the scraps.

For anyone who still clings to the idea that our cinemas should find space for adult-
oriented and/or home-grown fare, this is terrible news.

There is a clear (though not guaranteed) correlation between number of screens and
box office success. Fifteen of the top 20 films last year were “blockbuster” releases;
the other five were “wide”. For smaller releases, it is now becoming so hard to find
screens that many are doomed to underperform from the outset.

As a general rule of thumb, the narrower the release, the smaller the spend on
advertising and marketing and the lower the likelihood of audiences even being
aware of a film’s presence, let alone of being persuaded to give it a shot.

This dynamic is especially acute for Australian movies, 55 of which (including feature
documentaries and event screenings) made it to the cinema in 2017, according to the
MPDAA. But only four of the new releases made it onto more than 100 screens. The
vast majority were shown on fewer than 20.

Lion, which had the widest release of any Australian film (more than 250 screens),
was the biggest local film of the year, taking $29.5 million. Next was Red Dog: True
Blue, which was released in December 2016 but took most of its $7.54 million in
2017. Three more titles passed $2 million (Jasper Jones, Dance Academy, the
documentary Mountain) but only one more (Ali’s Wedding) topped $1 million.
Take Lion out of the equation and it would have been a dismal year financially
(though not artistically: Killing Ground, Berlin Syndrome, Hounds of Love, Whiteley, Hotel Coolgardie, The Go-Betweens: Right Here and many others had plenty to offer audiences, if only they could find them).

The release-return correlation isn’t a guarantee, of course. Ben Elton’s Three Summers went out on more than 100 screens but took just $792,000 <from a budget of $3.5m>. At the other end of the spectrum, Hounds of Love was on just seven screens, but its $209,000 gave it a better per-screen average than many bigger films. Remarkably, Jennifer Peedom’s documentary Mountain topped $2 million off just 36 screens nationally.

What all this points to is a massive constriction of opportunity for smaller-release
movies in our cinemas. And that’s especially bad news for Australian filmmakers
(and not much comfort for fans of indie fare from America, Britain and the rest of the
world either).

For small-release movies, the competition has never been so great. Screen Australia’s
analysis suggests just under 83 per cent of all films released in 2017 – about 580
films – slugged it out for a combined 9 per cent of the box office. It’s a miracle,
perhaps, that Australian cinema registers at all.

What’s more, that 9 per cent is increasingly fought over by films that are targeting
audiences that a decade or two back didn’t even exist: Chinese-language cinema
accounted for around $14 million; movies from India for more than $24 million;
special event screenings (live theatre, ballet, Doctor Who telemovies on the big
screen) for almost $6.5 million.

In truth, many of the Australian movies getting a cinema run do so only because they
are obliged to as a condition of receiving the producer offset. It’s a requirement that
has, in recent years, been forgivingly interpreted, and at least one of the content
reviews underway in Canberra will surely recommend that it be significantly
amended, if not dropped entirely. That would free the way for many titles to focus on
digital release strategies, a cheaper and potentially more effective approach.

There are of course people who will claim that Australian movies struggle because
they are no good, and it’s true that not every Australian movie is worth seeing. But
here’s the counter-argument: Fast and Furious. Enough said.

Right now, you could go to the cinema to see Warwick Thornton’s excellent outback
Indigenous western Sweet Country, a film that speaks directly to the Australian
experience and which has been racking up awards internationally. It’s on 72 screens
nationally, a decent, though far from massive, release.

Alternatively, you might prefer to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a movie that will
surely go down as one of the more so-so entries in the ever-expanding franchise. It
opened last December on 970 screens – almost half of the available space in the
country – and has so far taken more than $56 million locally, and almost $US1.3
billion ($A1.6 billion) globally.

The choice is yours. But, one has to wonder, for how much longer?

Karl Quinn – SMH – January 28 2018

‘EMO the Musical’ snapped up by Netflix

Writer-director Neil Triffett’s EMO the Musical is said to be poised to break even after being acquired by Netflix.

The streaming giant has bought exclusive, worldwide SVOD rights (excluding Australia/NZ) to the high school comedy, which stars Benson Jack Anthony, Jordan Hare, Rahart Adams, Jon Prasida and Lucy Barrett.

Producer Lee Matthews said: “The Netflix deal as negotiated by XYZ Films in the U.S. will enable me to pay off the film’s debts, albeit over a three year period, so thanks to the generous production grant from Screen Australia, the Australian government’s Producer Offset and Film Victoria’s assigned production investment, the film will be able to break even.”

EMO the Musical premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2016, before heading to Berlinale in 2017. The film went on to receive a limited theatrical release in Australia via Bonsai Films, which saw it take $40,640, and was picked up by Madman for home distribution. Australian broadcast and SVOD rights are yet to be signed.

Triffett said Netflix was the perfect platform for the film, which he had always hoped would appeal to a wider audience.

“Particularly because it is a global release, I’m excited to reach our followers around the world, from Berlin to Brazil, who might not be able to access the film as easily otherwise,” he said.

“The film and its themes about identity and difference are most relevant to young people, but they’re not necessarily the kind of audience who watch films at the cinema these days, so Netflix will allow them to access it more easily. We’re also hoping that older audiences who get the film’s offbeat humour, will be able to stumble upon the film along the way. I feel our film and Netflix’s already awesome collection will complement each other well.”

The film will premiere on Netflix February 1.

IF Magazine 30 January 2018

Female-Driven Filmmaking Gave Sundance 2018 a Jolt

The Hollywood Reporter Critics’ Conversation: Female-Driven
Filmmaking Gave Sundance 2018 a Jolt

by Jon Frosch , Todd McCarthy , Leslie Felperin , David Rooney THR

JON FROSCH: Hi, team! Now that we’ve emerged from the slush and sleep
deprivation of Sundance, let’s get down to it. Last year, the festival unfolded in the
shadow of Trump’s depressing inauguration but distracted us with a pretty dazzling
array of films: Call Me by Your Name, Get Out, God’s Own Country, The Big
Sick, Mudbound, Quest, Step, Marjorie Prime, Ingrid Goes West and the list goes on.
A few of those went on to become some of the most widely praised works of the year
— and, not that it’s a reliable metric of quality, major awards contenders. And while
it’s always hard to generalize with Sundance — your assessment really depends on
what you see; sometimes you strike gold, sometimes you strike out — the 2018
edition seemed to me not nearly as strong. Nothing I saw came even close to
heavyweights like Call Me by Your Name, or Manchester by the Sea the year before.
Of all the fests, this one is perhaps the most susceptible to deafening on-the-ground
buzz — most frequently in the form of feverish Twitter takes that may have more to
do with a film’s topicality and timeliness than its quality (remember Birth of a
Nation?). This year, critics seemed readier than ever to forgive or overlook certain
movies’ shortcomings because of their political urgency, their ability to tap into the
passion of movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. I’m thinking of bold and
provocative but wildly uneven films like interracial buddy comedy Blindspotting; The
Tale, an alternately powerful and clunky drama about a woman coming to grips with
past sexual abuse; and Boots Riley’s initially ingenious, then increasingly labored
race-and-corporate-greed-and-who-knows-WTF-else satire, Sorry to Bother You.
I’m not saying titles like these are undeserving of attention; films that start, or
continue, necessary conversations should be seen, no matter their technical or
artistic merits. But I do wonder how they’ll play outside the Park City bubble. [News
came in Friday that The Tale was sold to HBO, which I think is a good fit; stretches of
the film have a kind of expository procedural bluntness that’s better suited to the
small screen than the big.]
That said, credit where it’s due — this is a festival that walks the walk when it comes
to diversity both behind and in front of the camera. My two favorites this year were
from women filmmakers making triumphant returns after long-ish absences: Leave
No Trace, a drama directed by Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) — about a father and
daughter living in the Pacific Northwest wilderness — that’s a model of unshowy
emotion and intelligence; and Tamara Jenkins’ rich, rewarding, painful
comedy Private Life, starring a peerless Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti as a New
York couple embroiled in an epic fertility struggle.
What about you? General impressions, highs, lows?
TODD MCCARTHY: I can only second your feeling, and that of many critics, that it
was a relatively lackluster year. Unlike at other festivals, there are large pockets of
support in every audience for every film at Sundance that cheer no matter what; you
have to adjust to that. This year I felt that I could “read” the room a little better and
separate out the automatic support factions from the more objective audiences, and I
sensed that reactions were a bit more reserved. It’s definitely true that there were no
real breakthrough equivalents to the several that hit it out of the park last year, and
the nature of the business for what can be called specialized films is in flux; some can
now become hits on the order of Get Out and The Big Sick, but many are left by the
wayside, probably more than before, due to the vast amount of provocative and
original shows on TV. Is anyone going to devote an evening to going out and paying

for Reed Morano’s failed sci-fi film I Think We’re Alone Now (screened in the U.S.
competition this year) when they can watch an episode or two of Netflix’s
brilliant Black Mirror at home?
To rebound on Jon’s point about female filmmakers at this year’s fest, the most
powerful and startling film I saw, the one I can’t shake, was indeed directed by a
woman, and a first-timer at that. However, it isn’t uplifting and I would say that were
it directed by an American woman, it would have been considered too outre, anti-p.c.
and even transgressively pornographic for Sundance. The film is Holiday, a Danish
gangster flick set and shot in Turkey, shown in the World Cinema dramatic
competition, directed by Isabella Eklof and written by her and another woman,
Johanne Algren. The leading character, Sascha, is a twentysomething gangster’s
moll, and Eklof stages an absolutely shocking sequence of hardcore sex between her
and the gangster involving intercourse, then oral sex, then a disgusting bit that is
violent and forced and completely degrading by design. What makes the scene
defensible and essential is that it’s the gangster’s way of bringing her down to his
level and, ultimately, making her a criminal like him; once you are defiled, you can
become a defiler yourself, without remorse or morality. What I loved about it was
that Eklof, by putting this character through the wringer, succeeded in creating a
female version of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley. How far this film can go on the
festival circuit and then into commercial release with that scene intact remains an
open question; in the current political climate, there are bound to be those
vehemently opposed to its showing.

LESLIE FELPERIN: I didn’t see Holiday, but I did see The Tale, another female-
directed film about sexual abuse, which Jon mentioned above. I admired it, with

qualifications. It was certainly the most zeitgeist-y film in the festival, even dubbed
by Slate magazine “the perfect movie for our #MeToo moment.” Part of its impact lay
in the way it explored women’s often fraught, denial-fueled relationship to the
“victim” label — but it was also straight-up shocking to see a 13-year-old girl being
coerced into having sex with an older man in wince-inducing scenes. (The actual sex
scenes were filmed with a body double, but the cutaway shots to the victim’s pained
face show 11-year-old actress Isabelle Nelisse, who plays the role the rest of the time.)
The innovation of the film is the way it blurs lines between fiction and documentary;
all the roles are played by actors, but director Jennifer Fox (played in the movie by a
gutsy Laura Dern) described the story as “100 percent memoir,” a recreation of what
happened to her when she was 13 and was manipulated into a sexual relationship
with her track coach. A striking formal sleight of hand involved using one actor
(Sarah Jessica Flaum), who looks like a 15-year-old, at first, only to have the casting
“corrected” when Fox’s mother (played by Ellen Burstyn) shows her a picture of what
she really looked like at age 13; the scenes are then rerun with younger actress

Nelisse, confronting the audience with how much creepier it seems with a 13-year-
old than a 15-year-old. I agree with Jon that the expository dialogue is clunky as hell,

and the movie gets off to a very clumsy start. But the film’s formal trickiness
reminded me in some ways of documentary Casting JonBenet, the standout of the
fest for me last year.
Overall, I concur that the vibe on the street suggested a so-so Sundance. I did like the
Midnight entry Assassination Nation, a teen exploitation flick for the Trump era
where the four diverse young heroines are up against a town-turned-mob, whose evil
sheriff calls them “very fine people” (echoing a Trumpian phase in the wake of

Charlottesville). It was soaked in blood and pretty amoral, but a blast. Elsewhere,
Amy Adrion’s Half the Picture, a talking-heads-driven exploration of why there are
so few female directors in Hollywood, was full of smart women like Penelope
Spheeris, Ava DuVernay, Mary Haron and Gina Prince-Bythewood being witty, wise
and wound-up by the power imbalance in the industry. I chuckled
at Transparent creator Jill Soloway suggesting, tongue only partly in cheek, that part
of the problem is that film criticism is dominated by men, and proposing that all the
guy critics on the trade publications be replaced by women. (Thanks for the support,
Jill, although heaven knows I’d miss you guys.) Over to you, David.
DAVID ROONEY: I agree that Sundance last year yielded an exceptional crop, so it
was always going to be a challenge for the 2018 lineup to measure up. (Though
paradoxically, last year’s Grand Jury Prize winner, I Don’t Feel at Home in This
World Anymore, a minor quirkfest, disappeared into the Netflix maw immediately
after the festival.) But I did see a handful of beautifully crafted movies.
As Jon noted, a significant amount of attention was generated by Sorry to Bother
You in the Dramatic Competition, with some people calling it this year’s Get Out and

piling on the (I think mostly unjustified) superlatives. The movie has a certain out-
there audaciousness and an infectiously rollicking start, but falls apart and becomes

a bludgeoning experience with an incoherent point of view. Todd mentioned that
sharp television like Black Mirror gives audiences less incentive to settle for inferior
sci-fi, and the same applies to films about the complexities of contemporary black
identity when we have incisively observed shows like Insecure, Dear White
People, Atlanta and even network entry Black-ish on TV. The comparison with the
wickedly smart Get Out is a stretch.
I found much more confidence and a clear authorial voice in Reinaldo Marcus
Green’s Monsters and Men, a symphonic consideration of the ripple effects of a
death in a black Brooklyn community caused by an NYPD officer’s use of excessive
force during an arrest. It’s such a sober drama that it risks passing under the radar,
but I think there’s real maturity in the daring three-act structure, each part with a
different protagonist, and the seamlessness with which the writer-director weaves in
elements ripped from the headlines. It’s also beautifully acted.
The same goes for Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher, in which the titular
character (Maggie Gyllenhaal) develops a fixation on a young pupil she suspects may
be a literary genius. At a time when there’s much discussion of the
underrepresentation of women filmmakers and women characters, this was a prime
example of the female gaze illuminating the psychological complexity of a
dangerously single-minded female figure, shedding light on the encroaching
emptiness in her life as the driving force behind her increasingly irrational choices.
You can’t look away from Gyllenhaal’s understated intensity.
Beyond the competition, Joshua Marston’s Come Sunday was easily his best film
since Sundance breakout Maria Full of Grace 14 years ago. I have to confess I read

the synopsis — Pentecostal preacher has crisis of faith and loses his Oklahoma mega-
church — and glazed over. But this is a fiercely smart, searching movie about faith

that is fair-minded in its examination of a religious man and the beliefs that he
unexpectedly begins chafing against. Chiwetel Ejiofor as real-life bishop Carlton
Pearson gave probably the best performance I saw at Sundance this year. I think for

those of us who tend to define the religious right by their political positions, this is an
important movie that invites us to look at evangelicals as everyday people. It’s also
just mesmerizing drama.
FROSCH: David, I’m with you on Gyllenhaal in The Kindergarten Teacher. I
thought the movie was fine — softer-edged and less powerfully unsettling than the
2014 Israeli drama it’s a remake of — but she’s riveting from start to finish in a
super-tricky role. It takes a an extremely smart, subtle actress to ground that
character’s sneakily outlandish behavior in relatable human feelings and impulses —
in this case, disappointment in how her life has turned out and a gnawing hunger for
that elusive something more.
I also liked Monsters and Men, though maybe less than you did, David. I admired
much about it, including the seamless fluidity of that three-act structure. But I found
its restraint a touch too deliberate and its dramatic beats, as quiet as they are, ever so
slightly on-the-nose. I felt similarly about another strong entry, Paul Dano’s elegant
adaptation of the Richard Ford novel Wildlife. It’s an assured, lovingly crafted
directorial debut, and Dano does a deft job harnessing the star power of Jake
Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan as the unhappy married couple at its center. But the
whole thing felt slightly too harnessed to me, a bit too self-consciously controlled and
cautious.
Wildlife did feature a superb breakout performance from a young actor I’d never
seen: Ed Oxenbould, who makes his 14-year-old protagonist’s stoic decency both
interesting and poignant, without ever pandering to the viewer’s emotions. Two
other young discoveries were Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie in Granik’s Leave No
Trace — it’s the kind of low-key, note-perfect turn that blossoms in your memory —
and the volcanically gifted Helena Howard in Josephine Decker’s latest
experiment, Madeline’s Madeline. Playing an unstable teen actress, Howard yanks

you right into her character’s fraying headspace, aided by Decker’s typically nerve-
rattling interweaving of sound and image. After the Timothee Chalamet revelation

last year, Sundance continues to be a platform for exciting new acting talent.
MCCARTHY: Speaking of promising discoveries, I found two films in the often
venturesome Next sidebar formally quite interesting: Qasim Basir’s purportedly (but
I don’t believe it) all-in-one-take Trump-election-night tale A Boy. A Girl. A Dream.,
which follows a sharp-looking black man and woman who have just met on an almost
dreamlike nocturnal odyssey around Los Angeles; and the far more fully
realized Search, in which debuting director Aneesh Chaganty pulls off a legitimately
suspenseful and involving crime story exclusively told through what the main
character can see on his computer screen.
I want to pick up on Leslie’s mention of Jill Soloway’s remark about the absence of
female film critics. I think Soloway’s comment rather ignores the actually
considerable, and sometimes remarkable, contributions of female critics today and in
the past. Right now, the profession seems inordinately weighted toward men because
the vast majority of geeks and fanboys online (and who populate the Rotten
Tomatoes lineup) are male. But most of these people aren’t hired; they just start
writing and have gotten their stuff out there in the internet era. When I was growing
up in Chicago, it was a four-newspaper town, and two of the four papers had women
as film (and theater) critics. And not long after that, the two most powerful and

influential film critics in New York (other than whoever was at The New York Times,
where the power came by virtue of the position more than the individuals) were
Pauline Kael and Judith Crist. The late ’60s and ’70s saw the emergence of such
notable critics as Penelope Gilliatt, Janet Maslin, Molly Haskell, Renata Adler, Caryn
James, Lisa Schwarzbaum, Carrie Rickey and others, and I’m only mentioning the
best-known and relatively mainstream ones. Also, let’s not forget that the most
famous and prestigious film magazine of those decades, Sight & Sound, was edited
for 34 years by Penelope Houston.
The trades, which Soloway singles out, were without question more dominated by
men for a longer period than more mainstream papers and magazines; this is
attributable to the fact that they were largely published and edited by older men
whose careers dated back to the 1940s and 1950s and who, regrettably, weren’t
particularly thinking about hiring women. But it’s been clear that quite a few of the
very best critics in the history of film criticism have been women.
FELPERIN: I’m sure Soloway’s suggestion about making all trade critics female was
intended to be provocative, and I quoted her in the same mischievous spirit. It would
be remiss of me to not point out that, as a woman critic, I owe my own career in no
small part to the support and encouragement of many male colleagues. That said,
Todd, I think your rebuttal in some ways actually supports Soloway’s and other
feminist critics’ point, one that goes to the very heart of the argument in Half the
Picture. Historically, there was, if not complete parity, at the very least a strong and
sizeable contingent of women film critics, some of them like Kael holding the most
important positions in the field. As film became more and more dominant and
powerful as both an art form and an industry, though, men started to take control,
and the same slow and insidious process spread to film’s ancillary industries, like the
journalism that covered it — until we got to the point where men make up about 73%
of the “top critics” on Rotten Tomatoes, according to a recent study. That’s a better
proportion than directors, and a much better representation than in most of the
technical below-the-line fields, but still we’re very far from parity.
It all comes back, as so many arguments do these days, to whether quotas and
affirmative action-type approaches are an effective tool to combat this disparity. I
heard whispers from some on the ground that this year the programmers at
Sundance felt it was particularly important to give extra weight to female filmmakers
and woman-centric stories in the line-up, a move I applaud personally even if the
quality of such films was inconsistent. All the big festivals have been “trying” to
redress the gender imbalance over the last few years, but the pressure is particularly
acute now in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp. If you think of festivals as
universities, Sundance is the U.C. Berkeley of gender-positive programming: an
almost firebrand institution that wants to position itself on the vanguard of
progressivism.
ROONEY: One film that in many ways exemplified Sundance’s progressivism was
the small but captivating Next entry We the Animals, which has been drawing
comparisons to Malick and Moonlight. While you can see echoes of the early scenes
in The Tree of Life, I think director Jeremiah Zagar has his own voice that honors the
prose roots of the material and filters them through an impressionistic canvas. The
movie is dreamy and lyrical but also quite disarmingly frank in the way it addresses
preteen queer awakening.

And, speaking of female-driven Sundance films this year, I can’t end this
conversation without singling out Ari Aster’s debut Hereditary in the Midnight
section, led by the always wonderful Toni Collette in her best role in years. This fest
has been instrumental in the discovery of some truly memorable and original horror
in recent years, like Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook or Babak Anvari’s Under the
Shadow, or even David Lowery’s exercise in haunted existentialism, A Ghost Story,
last year (not to mention Get Out). Hereditary sits comfortably among that group
and may stand a chance of going far commercially because of the degree to which it
also functions as a domestic drama about family breakdown. It kept me glued for two
hours of unrelenting slow-burn tension building toward a climax of operatic Grand
Guignol — and that’s thanks in large part to Collette. She’s the diesel-fueled engine of
a rock-solid ensemble. Then of course there’s also the amazing Ann Dowd adding
another memorable monster to her growing gallery of uniquely scary ladies. Dowd’s
remarkable mid-career ascent in film and TV in the past few years is a real statement
of female empowerment — and in its own way a corrective to years of
marginalization of women in an industry more inclined to have them conform to
cookie-cutter “types.” With five films at the fest this year, she might just be the new
Queen of Sundance.

Hollywood Rerporter 27 January 2018

Number of women directors up slightly in 2017 but still only 11%

This article from Screen Daily by Orlando Parfitt (11 January 2018) indicated that there has been virtually no change in the participation of women directors.

Patty jenkins gal gadot clay enos dc comis

Source: Clay Enos, DC Comics. Patty Jenkins directing ‘Wonder Woman’

Women directed 11% of the 250 top-grossing films in the US last year, rising from 7% in 2016.

The figures come from an annual report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

The study, entitled ‘Celluloid Ceiling’, shows that women comprised 18% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films, a rise of 1% from 2016 but unchanged from 1998.

25% of all producers for the top 250 films were women, (up 1%); 16% of editors (down 1%) and only 4% of cinematographers (a decrease of 1%).

The number of women writers was down two percentage points, to 11%.

Once again, the report also flags up that almost all blockbuster films are directed by men. Only one film directed by a woman made the top 20 highest grossing films: Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, the third highest grossing film of the year in the US with $412m.

The next highest was Pitch Perfect 3 directed by Trish Sie, at number 34 in the US chart.

Some more statistics from the study:

  • 88% had no women directors
  • 83% had no women writers
  • 45% had no women exec. producers 28% had no women producers
  • 80% had no women editors
  • 96% had no women cinematographers
  • 30% of films had no or 1 woman in the above roles

As in 2016, no women directors were nominated for a Golden Globe or a Bafta this year.

The Celluloid Ceiling report has been published annually since 1998.

Read more: Baftas 2018 – full list of nominations

How an independent Aussie production company made it in Asia

In September 1988, Sydney television producer Michael McKay started a small
independent production company called activeTV.

ActiveTV is best known locally for putting on the Carols In The Park event, which is
broadcast on Seven. Outside of Carols, however, the company is best-known for its
success in Asia. In 2006, activeTV Asia was established in Singapore off the back of
the company’s first production of The Amazing Race Asia for AXN.

The company is now headquartered in Singapore with a strong production base in
Manila, as well as the foundation business in Melbourne.

“When we first came into Singapore in 2006 no one had really done reality TV so we
quickly trained up a lot of people and a great many have progressed in the industry
today because of that training,” McKay told Mediaweek’s Peter Olszewski in an
interview this year. “We did the same thing up in Manila. We also take on interns, we
try to train and develop people and if I was proudest of anything it would be that.”
However, McKay’s strategy for success in Asia involved looking beyond just
production.

“We wanted to be not just a production company,” said McKay this week. “I was
worried production companies were a dying breed – the margins are always getting
crunched and getting tougher and tougher. At the centre of our business now we have
content we own, or that we at least have a partnership in.

“We then ask if we can make money off the production and then can we make money
from the distribution and sell sponsorship too. We look at every possible revenue
stream, from events to government funding.”

ActiveTV has recently been commissioned to make three stand-up comedy specials,
although McKay was not able to give any more detail on that project yet.
“We created a series called Celebrity Car Wars, which is coming up to its third
season. It is family entertainment where we take six celebrities and three motor
racing drivers who teach the celebrities how to really drive a car via some crazy
challenges.”

McKay said he uses his experience from years of making The Amazing Race on the
challenges. ActiveTV worked on that format in Asia, Australia and Israel.
With three seasons for Celebrity Car Wars on Asia’s History Network, McKay said
interest in the format is growing from international markets outside Asia. “People
have realised this is much more than a car show for blokes.”

Other programs on the slate include Food Files for National Geographic
internationally, which examines what is really in the food people are eating. “We
have fun with that too. Our style when we make informative programs is to have
fun.”

ActiveTV more recently did the Asian TV Awards, which were broadcast in Singapore
on Friday December 1. “We have just started to produce content in 4K. The biggest
issue for us is that it eats up much storage space on our server. We have our own
post-production facility in Singapore where we run eight edit suites and we add to
that out of Australia if we need more.”

James Manning – mediaweek – December 14, 2017