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.

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

ADG launches shadow directing initiative for female directors in TV drama

The Australian Directors’ Guild (ADG) is offering up shadow directing opportunities for female directors on Australian TV dramas.

Thanks to funding given to the organisation through Screen Australia’s Gender Matters: Brilliant Careers initiative, up to six female directors over the next year will have the opportunity to direct an episode of a show while being ‘shadowed’ by an experienced TV drama director.

The first two shows to participate will be Playmaker Media’s Love Child and Seven Productions’ Home and Away in early 2017.

ADG CEO Kingston Anderson said this was the first time a scheme of this type – directly targeting female television directors – had been developed.

“It will provide real job opportunities for experienced female directors to enter the television industry,” he said.

Screen Australia’s head of production Sally Caplan said it was thrilling to see the ADG already putting their Gender Matters: Brilliant Career funding to work to offer high-profile opportunities to the next generation of female directors.

“We congratulate the ADG and all the partner production companies involved in shaping this program, and encourage those applying for the Shadow Directing roles to give it their all.”

Other shadow directing opportunities with participating production companies and shows will be announced in 2017.

To be eligible, potential applicants need to:

• Have directed TWO short drama films that have been selected for public screening

or ONE feature or short drama film that has screened at Sundance, Berlin, Venice, Cannes, Clermont-Ferrand, Busan, Rotterdam, SXSW or Telluride.

• Have completed a directors’ attachment on a feature film or TV drama show or have significant experience in the film or television industry in a related field, for instance as a First AD or editor or have significant experience as a director in other media such as documentary or commercial content.

Applications close December 16. For more information and an application form, email development@adg.org.au or call (02) 9555 7045.

Media Release – Thursday 10 November 2016

Screen Queensland’s Tracey Vieira nabs business leadership gong

Screen Queensland CEO Tracey Vieira was named the 2016 Telstra Queensland Business Woman of the Year at a ceremony in Brisbane Friday evening. Vieira also took out the 2016 Telstra Queensland Business Women’s Corporate and Private Award.

Before taking the helm at SQ, Vieira spent a decade in Los Angeles, where she worked as executive vice president of international production for Ausfilm and attracted more than $1.5 billion of production spend to Australia.

Vieira joined Screen Queensland in 2014.

“It wasn’t until I walked into an organisation in crisis that I understood my own strengths and my love for transforming an industry,” she said.

Vieira is also a non-executive director of RSPCA Queensland, QMusic and the Sunshine Coast Arts Advisory Board, and sits on the board of advisors for Australians in Film.

Now in their 22nd year, the Telstra Business Women’s Awards are Australia’s longest running women’s awards program. They are designed to recognise and reward the “courage, leadership and creativity of brilliant business women”.

Vieira, along with the other state and territory category winners, will be flown to Melbourne for the National Awards on November 16.

Media Release – Monday 17 October 2016

The Code tops the AWGIE Awards

Shelley Birse has taken out the top prize at this year’s AWGIE Awards, winning the Major Award for the second season of ABC cyber-thriller The Code.

The first season of The Code also took out the Australian Writers’ Guild Major Award in 2014. This year’s award makes it the only series to have been recognised by two Major Awards for both of its seasons. The Code also received the AWGIE Award for the Television: Miniseries – Original category.

Overall, more than 25 Australian writers – from radio, television, film, theatre and interactive media – were honoured at this year’s AWGIE Awards, held in Sydney on Friday evening.

Andrew Knight and Osamah Sami’s Ali’s Wedding took out the award for most outstanding script for an original feature, while Shaun Grant and Craig Silvey received the award for most outstanding feature adaptation for Jasper Jones.

Samantha Strauss was honoured for her original telemovie, Mary: The Making of a Princess, and Barracuda’s Blake Ayshford and Belinda Chayko took out Television Miniseries – Adaptation category.

Andrew Knight also scored a second AWGIE Award for his work on Rake.

The 2016 Fred Parsons Award for outstanding contribution to Australian Comedy was presented to Barry Humphries. Humphries, whose career has spanned 60 years, was honoured for the contribution he has made to Australian and international comedy writing.

The AWG also honoured Craig Pearce – co-writer of Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Charlie St Cloud and The Great Gatsby – by awarding him the Australian Writers’ Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.

AWG president Jan Sardi said that, at a time when television is experiencing a global renaissance, the Annual AWGIE Awards are a way of honouring the world-class talent of Australian screenwriters and playwrights. “With the advent of streaming services such as Netflix and Stan revolutionising the way we all consume screen content, there is an undeniable buzz and energy around our film and TV industries in particular,” he said.

“This heralds exciting times ahead not only for Australian writers for performance, but for the millions of viewers hungry for top-notch content on their screens and stages,” he said.

The 2016 screen winners:

Major Award

The Code: Season 2 – Shelley Birse

Telemovie – Original

Mary: The Making of a Princess – Samantha Strauss

Television: Miniseries – Adaptation

Barracuda – Blake Ayshford and Belinda Chayko

Television: Miniseries – Original

The Code: Season 2 – Shelley Birse

Television – Series

Rake: Season 4, Episode 407 – Andrew Knight

Television – Serial

Neighbours: Episode 7202 – Jason Herbison

Comedy – Sketch or Light Entertainment

The Weekly with Charlie Pickering: ‘Halal Certification’ and ‘Stadium Naming

Rights’ – Gerard McCulloch with Charlie Pickering

Comedy – Situation or Narrative

Please Like Me: Season 3, ‘Pancakes with Faces’ –Josh Thomas and Liz Doran

Feature Film – Original

Ali’s Wedding – Andrew Knight & Osamah Sami

Feature Film – Adaptation

Jasper Jones – Shaun Grant & Craig Silvey

Short Form

Slingshot – David Hansen

Interactive Media

The Forgotten City – Nick Pearce

Animation

Beat Bugs: ‘Yellow Submarine’ – Josh Wakely

Documentary – Public Broadcast or Exhibition

Baxter and Me – Gillian Leahy

The Silences – Margot Nash

Documentary – Corporate & Training

Seven Women Nepal – The Birth of a Social Enterprise – Gaby Purchase and Claire

Stone

Children’s Television – P Classification

Sydney Sailboat: ‘Trash and Treasure’ – Rachel Spratt

Children’s Television – C Classification

Ready for This: ‘The Birthday Party’ – Leah Purcell

Special Awards

David Williamson Prize

Given in celebration and recognition of excellence in writing for Australian theatre

The Bleeding Tree – Angus Cerini

Richard Lane Award

For outstanding service and dedication to the Australian Writers’ Guild

Karin Altmann

Dorothy Crawford Award

For outstanding contribution to the profession

John Romeril

Fred Parsons Award

For outstanding contribution to Australian comedy

Barry Humphries

Hector Crawford Award

For outstanding contribution to the craft as a script producer, editor or dramaturge

Marcia Gardner

The Australian Writers’ Guild Lifetime Achievement Award

Craig Pearce

Unproduced Awards

Monte Miller Award – Long Form

Mary, Mary – Penelope Chai & Adam Spellicy

Monte Miller Award – Short Form

It Will Peck You – Katie Found
Media Release – Monday 17 October 2016

Virtual reality, personalised content, more local shows: this is what Australian TV will be like in 2020

PICTURE donning a virtual reality headset to watch the football from a player’s perspective, catching the evening news bulletin with stories tailored to you and having more choice in content than ever.

This is the future of Australian television and it’ll be here by 2020, as the industry enters its biggest era of change.

The fact that a Hollywood megastar like Rachel Griffiths would lend her talent and expertise to a low budget YouTube comedy shows how much the landscape has evolved. In between major film and TV roles, the acclaimed actor co-produced and starred in Little Acorns — a hilarious web series about workers at a suburban childcare centre.

Rachel Griffiths and co-stars of new internet series Little Acorns, Fanny Hanusin, Maria Theodorakis, Belinda McClory and Katerina Kotsonis.

While the online space offers enormous opportunities to tap into a global audience hungry for video content, Griffiths said there are challenges that come with it.

“We wanted Little Acorns to be on a network,” Griffiths admitted. “We went to all the usual players. It was like, oh well, if no one wants to give us money we’ll just find another way. But make no bones about it — no one makes money from this format.”

The cost of making a TV drama runs anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million per episode, so broadcasters are less inclined to take risks.

“These days, you have to prove your product and your voice, and the web series thing is a platform through which to prove what you’ve got,” Griffiths said.

One player embracing change is Fox Sports, where digital is seen as a way of enhancing the viewing experience. The subscription TV giant has a research lab where a dedicated team explores broadcast innovation, chief executive Patrick Delany said.

“We’re releasing an app next week called Fox Vision and the first event we’ll use it for is Bathurst, and there will be a map in all of the papers next Thursday that you can point your phone at that to make it 3D so you can explore the terrain,” Delany said.

“At the same time, you can go inside the car with a 360-degree camera and look around, as it hurdles around the track. These are really cool technologies that we can use to enhance the live sports experience. I only see that growing.”

With new gadgets, content boom, alternative platforms and personalised experiences, Australian TV will look vastly different by 2020.

Here’s a snapshot of what’s coming.

Developments in virtual and augmented reality will see the TV experience shift significantly, Delany said. “We’re getting into that space already,” he said. “You can put a pair of glasses on and (be) at the ground, in the stand, and be immersive. We’re exploring how we can improve that and apply it to our service.”

When it comes to sports, the big screen will remain the primary source but secondary, personal devices will allow “add ons”, he said.

“Whether it’s things like a variety of camera views — inside the cars for the V8s or alternative angles from drones — or player stats and charts relevant to what you’re seeing on screen, that’s how I see it going.”

Regardless of how TV changes, Adrian Swift, Nine’s programming and production boss, believes content will always be king.

“We’re still paying money to create great content and we’ll continue to do that,” Swift said. “Our job and strategic focus is to keep ourselves as a destination as things change around us. We play to our strengths and that’s news, sport, big events, stripped reality shows and fun, light, clever Australian drama that the whole family can sit down to watch.”

What this means is TV networks will develop their own content niche, Mason said.

“The big play for broadcasters is local — they understand what Aussie viewers want and it’s shows that reflect them.”

Consuming content online, whether live or via catch-up, is a trend that Swift expects to continue in the coming years. There will come a time when Nine is a button on a remote as well as a mobile app, an add-on to set top boxes and game consoles, and a website.

It’s a trend the company is already seeing — 9 Now has a unique total audience of 1.4 million, Collins said.

“What we’re seeing is more engagement — more minutes consumed. A prime example is the drama Love Child. The last series did one million long-form streams and 28 million minutes of content was consumed.”

Live news could soon contain stories that are tailored to a viewer’s preferences, based on past trends. The idea of customised content is something American outfit CBS News Digital is exploring, its senior vice president and general manager Christy Tanner said.

“We have developed different interfaces that offer some degree of personalisation and the ability to tailor their own news cast,” Tanner said. “It’s a real balancing act for us though. We believe in the power of journalists to curate for the audience so we want to deliver a balance of personalisation and editorially led curation.”

Otherwise a fully personalised nightly news bulletin runs of the risk of just being stories about the Kardashian family.

TV sets themselves are changing, with trends pointing towards devices that are integrated in the room. Some manufacturers are offering ‘in-wall’ sets that aren’t visible when not turned on, as well as screens built into mirrors.

And the latest products are being billed as works of art. Regardless of where it’s seen, Swift said TV will be “a different version of the same thing”.

Shannon Molloy, National TV Writer, News Corp Australia – October 2, 2016

Australian screenwriters win sponsorship deal with powerhouse US showrunners

David Taylor, from Playmaker; Graham Yost, writer/producer of The Americans, Justified; and Shelley Birse, writer/producer of The Code.

Australian television is undergoing a revolution, albeit a gentle one, in which the voices of screenwriters are rising in volume. It is, in part, a response to the success of risky genre-based dramas such as The Kettering Incident, Wentworth, Top of the Lake and The Code. “I feel like there are more broadcasters prepared to take those kind of risks, more than ever before,” screenwriter Shelley Birse says. “I’ve been writing 20 years, and it feels like the last three or four, the ceiling on what you can get people excited about has just been blown out of the water.”

Birse, who wrote The Code for Playmaker Media, is in Los Angeles as part of a program sponsored by Playmaker’s US parent, Sony Pictures Television.

The program, Scribe, pairs Australian writers with US writers as part of a program to help them develop new work and skill them as writer “showrunners”.

The writer “showrunner” model dominates US television, with most scripted projects steered by a writing producer, typically teamed with a directing producer and several other co-executive producers.

In Australia, the writer’s voice has historically been less prominent and drama development has been network executive led.

“The writers’ rooms are not that different, but the continuation of that writer’s voice into production, that’s where the gulf in Australia has been really different,” Birse says. “That just doesn’t exist. [In the US] the writer’s voice is the loudest and most important all the way through.”

Birse and another writer Glen Dolman, who wrote the award-winning telemovie Hawke for Ten, are the first two writers in the program.

Birse is working with Graham Yost (The Americans, Justified) and Dolman with veteran CSI producer Carol Mendelsohn.

The intention is that Yost and Mendelsohn will continue to steward the two writers, and the projects they are working on, remotely once Birse and Dolman return to Australia.

Playmaker’s David Maher says the scheme is also a reaction to a larger cultural shift in which borders are breaking down and local fine print – such as accents – are mattering far less to international broadcasters who are looking for new content.

“There are no concerns about accents, and parochial storytelling or overt regionality being a barrier, to be able to do that is far less of a concern now than it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago when I was working for Fox,” Maher says.

Australia’s success in exporting scripted formats is mixed, though we were unusually early pioneers of the idea.

In the 1980s Grundys, now Fremantle Media, was a prolific seller of scripted soap opera remakes to Europe, including The Restless Years, Sons & Daughters and Prisoner.

More recently, Fremantle’s Wentworth has been reversioned in the Netherlands, Germany and now Belgium, and Maher confirms an Italian adaptation of Playmaker’s drama House Husbands is underway.

In the case of Birse’s The Code, the series was sold – in its current format – to the BBC in Britain and to DirectTV in the US. It has also been sold to Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland and Canada.

Maher hopes the relationships built empower Australian writers and push them out of their comfort zone.

“Empowering writers is the reason we did it, and the chance to access some of those amazingly talented writers, like Graham and Carol,” Maher says.

“It’s an opportunity to bring Australian writers to LA for a week where they can actually sit and work, bringing their ideas and to work with craftsmen like Graham and Carol, it’s just invigorating,” Maher says.”To then get home and have someone like that still there as a long-distance mentor, is very lucky.”

Birse says her experience working with Yost has already paid dividends.

“He will push me to think a bit more boldly and tell me to make some mistakes that I might not be prepared to make without feeling like somebody that experienced is helping hold the wheel a bit,” she says.”I feel like he’s going to give me a lot of shit a long the way,” she adds. “That’s good. He’ll hassle me, give me a hard time, but it’s of the best kind of quality.”

Michael Idato – SMH – August 11 2016

NCIS: Los Angeles creator Shane Brennan commits $1m per year to Aussie talent

He is one of Australia’s most successful television exports, making his considerable fortune at the helm of the world’s most watched US drama franchises. Now, NCIS showrunner and NCIS: Los Angeles creator Shane Brennan is plunging some of his hard-earned money back into the local industry which gave him his start.

The internationally acclaimed, Bendigo-born screenwriter has committed $1 million a year of his own fortune to fund the development of Australian screenwriting talent, in an unprecedented philanthropic gesture which could help grow more of our own storytellers.

Brennan has teamed with his former script-producing buddy, Tim Pye (an in-demand writer and script consultant on TV favourites including House Husbands and Dr Blake’s Murder Mysteries), launching the fund later this month, in Sydney and Melbourne.

Pye and Brennan have begun canvassing leading production houses and independents for writing talent and scripts to develop and invest in; with a determination to give writers more power and control over their stories, from pre-production to broadcast.

Pye told TV Insider Brennan’s financial support would provide an extraordinary boost to local screenwriters (who often get pushed down the financial and artistic pecking order here — after actors, producers and directors).

“It’s really exciting to have this kind of philanthropy in the Australian marketplace … and shifts the power to writers which is how it happens in the US, where (screenwriters) have much more control.”

Brennan began his career in journalism, but switched to TV writing back in the 1980s; cutting his teeth on local TV productions including Special Squad, The Flying Doctors and All Together Now. It was while working on an Australian-based remake of Flipper that he came to the attention of US television studio bosses.

Brennan travelled back and forth to Hollywood, before jagging his biggest career break, in 2003, on the original NCIS program (now in season 15, starring Mark Harmon and broadcast to more than 200 countries). He is credited with creating the spin-off series, NCIS: Los Angeles (starring Chris O’Donnell, LL Cool J and Linda Hunt) where he has been at the wheel since its launch back in 2009.

Last month it was announced he would be stepping down as showrunner at NCIS: LA after eight seasons and penning 168 episodes.

Holly Byrnes, The Sunday Telegraph – August 7, 2016

Andrew Knight on Jack Irish: “I’m really pleased with it”

Asked how he’s doing after a whirlwind year, screenwriter Andrew Knight is characteristically understated: “I’m alive and trying to construct a breakfast at the moment”. In between film work last year, Knight wrote new seasons of Rake and Jack Irish simultaneously, a process he calls “a blur”.

The new Jack begins tonight – a six-part series instead of the earlier telemovies.

Knight calls the change “liberating. We had more time to tell a story. The hard part was working out where everything would fall. We had an overall story, but assigning things episodically was a constant trade-off and shifting game”.

“I worked closely with the other two writers, Matt Cameron and Andrew Anastasios. The three of us would go away and write our bits, then we’d come back and say – that needs to move, this needs to shift”.

“If you’re just writing a tele-movie, you know where you’re starting, you know where you’re ending, you know where the cards will fall. It’s harder to work out over six hours. Right up to shooting we were saying ‘uh-uh, this doesn’t belong here’. Even in the cut we moved quite a few things”.

“You’ve got more time to spend with characters. The tension with a series like Jack Irish is that you want the humour and the warmth of the characters, but sometimes if it’s not plot-related they can feel like spackle. Thrillers demand plot. It’s a constant balancing act”.

“It was harder in the telemovies to cut to the guys at the bar or Harry (Roy Billing) and Cam (Aaron Pedersen). I would artificially weave plot in there, just so the audience feels like you haven’t completely walked away from the story, and sometimes that makes it just a little bit muddy. I felt I muddied up the first telemovie, the one I wrote”.

“I hadn’t done thrillers before. I think I was probably trying to put too much of the book in there. As John Collee said, books are contemplative and films are immersive, and the distance between that is really rather great.

The first two episodes of the new series are directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith, the rest by Mark Joffe and Daniel Nettheim. Knight describes a helter-skelter shoot.

“In England you’d get fifteen days per episode to shoot something. We get half that time: seven and a half days per ep. You don’t have thinking time once you go”.

“[Essential’s Ian] Collie and I had to be constantly thinking: where the hell are we in this series? As my father in law once said: it’s a bit like trying to fart Annie Laurie through a keyhole – it’s an achievement, but you want to make sure the end result is something you want”.

The new series is the first whose plot has not been taken from one of Peter Temple’s original novels, a change Knight calls “great and fearful at the same time. You don’t want to lose his voice – the Temple tone or humour. But it was also fantastic to be able to keep his world but come up with a plot that we owned”.

The TV veteran calls the changing landscape for local drama on the small screen “an absolute thrill. I think we’re doing some really interesting stuff”.

But Knight also sounds a note of warning.

“I think the problem is that we don’t have enough long-running series. 26-parters. Because nobody’s going to risk a six-hour, eight-hour series, on new talent. And new talent has to find a starting level”.

“When I started at Crawfords as a production manager and producer, they were pumping out hours and hours of soaps and series. Even though at the time I hated what I was working on, you definitely picked up a skill base, you definitely understood how the process worked, you definitely understood what a screenwriter did as opposed to a novelist, you definitely began to understand how to work under pressure and with urgency – and that’s missing now”.

“I would really love to see the ABC find time-slots for new talent. I started with John Clarke and the Working Dog guys. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we learnt it”.

“At the same time, I think the industry is in a spectacular place now”.