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IF Magazine

  • 'Dance Academy' star Xenia Goodwin shooting in New York (courtesy Werner Film Holdings).

    Screenwriter Samantha Strauss makes her feature debut this month with Dance Academy, based on the show she created with producer Joanna Werner in 2010.Œ

    Earlier feature scripts went nowhere, the writer tells IF. "I’d written a film before that had a young female protagonist and that was incredibly difficult to get up. We were told at the time that it’s not a market for Australia."

    But the support of StudioCanal and the show's German partner ZDF made a Dance Academy feature possible, and Strauss is thrilled with the result.

    "Everything I’ve ever worked on, you just hate everything you’ve ever written and every moment is awful and you can’t imagine what it looks like," she said.Œ

    "This is the first experience whereˆ no I shouldn’t say that (laughs). But when we saw the rough cut, Joanna the producer went and cried and I was in a state of shock because Jeffrey Walker and Geoff Lamb the editor had assembled this thing that we are just so unbelievably proud of."

    Strauss is also keeping busy with other projects, including "an adult dramedy" the scribe has written for See-Saw, which she describes as "very different to Dance AcademyŒ—Œvery black."

    The series would be ongoing and is awaiting the green-light from a broadcaster, Strauss says.

    "And I’m writing a film based on a book. It’s set in 1919 about an Australian woman who ends up having an affair with the future King of England."

    Strauss, who received Gender Matters: Brilliant Stories funding last year, is adapting Robert Wainwright's biography of Sheila Chisholm, the daughter of a wealthy grazier from NSW who arrived in London society in 1914.

    Strauss is writing the feature for Goalpost's Rosemary Blight and Revlover’s Martha Coleman under a development deal with Transmission.

    Chisholm married Lord Loughborough, a hopeless gambler, and conducted affairs with screen star Rudolph Valentino as well as with Prince Albert, or 'Bertie', the future George VI.Œ

    George VI was played recently by Colin Firth in The King's Speech and by Jared Harris in Netflix's The Crown. Ben Mendelsohn will play the role in Joe Wright's upcoming Darkest Hour, with Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.

    Chisholm was married three times, and eventually opened a travel agency in London, where she died in 1969.

    Strauss is also writing another film for Werner, who was recently appointed to the Screen Australia board, andŒthe pair are developing a children’s series.Œ

    Dance Academy: The Movie is in cinemas April 6.

  • Kimberley Project Teaser.

    At last week’s Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC), two docos were ‘hacked’ by a team of national and international experts in the impact field, who suggested strategies to maximise each film's social outreach.Œ

    One of those films wasŒThe Kimberley Project,Œcurrently in pre-production. The feature will explore the threats to remote Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley region from industries such as mining, fracking and agriculture.Œ

    Director and producer Nicholas Wrathall (Gore Vidal: The United States of Amensia) told IF the aim of the film was to give voice to the local communities of the region and explain "how this pressure is affecting them, how they’re feeling destabilised from it, and [explore] what their future is with this new interest and development in the area.”Œ

    Wrathall first teamed up with producer Stephanie King (Observance), who had been working on other documentary projects in the region, in 2015, after news broke that theŒKimberley Land Council was going to the United Nations to appeal their rights following proposed community closures.

    “I’d just come back from New York at the time and was looking into different projects here," said Wrathall. "It just seemed like such a big story that wasn’t really getting any coverage beyond the headlines. So we started investigating it together.” Œ

    The producers have spent the last 18 months travelling to the region and prepping the film. The film's third producer is Steve Kinnane (The Coolbaroo Club), an academic and a Marda Marda from Mirrowong country in the East Kimberley.

    “We’ve taken a long development, because this is a really complex story. It’s not two-sided,” King told IF.Œ

    With production investment from Screen Australia, Screenwest and Screen NSW, the team intend to begin the main block of shooting in May. Œ

    And while it’s still early days, the film’s impact and outreach campaign has been a priority.

    Wrathall said the team has set various goals for what they want to achieve, and will need to decide how those goals are most effectively achievedŒ— i.e.Œif it works best as a tool for poltiical lobbying or for educationŒ—Œonce the film begins to take shape.

    Both King and Wrathall agree the AIDC’s Impact Strategy Hack session was a useful forum for them to network and strategise.

    One idea that emerged in the sessions was seeding early material through micro-docs to help build an audience for the film before its release.Œ

    “We had an early ambition to do that, and we were concerned about time and cost and being distracted by the main film," said King.

    "But I think we’ve been really empowered through this conference to remember how accessible that [kind of content] is on an iPhone. There is this other filmmaking that doesn’t have to be the slick polished feature film, that is accessible and does have a huge impact, sometimes a greater impact, or at least can speak to the bigger film."

    Building relationships with outreach partners could be one way to reach a different audience, Wrathall said.

    "Especially with remote communities or even young people that aren't watching television so muchŒ—Œyou've got to take the films to them and you've got to reach them on the media they're using."

    One of the strongest messages out of AIDC’s impact sessions was the importance of partnerships and not trying to reinvent the wheel, said King.Œ

    “It’s about finding the right partner for the film and then being able to divide and conquer rather than trying to become an expert overnight in these issues," she said.Œ

    "We're busy making the film," said Wrathall, "[and] to become the impact producer as well as producing and directing is a big ask. So we need to bring in those people."Œ

    http://www.documentaryaustrali a.com.au/films/4065/kimberley-p roject/

  • Silvey on set with stars Levi Miller and Angourie Rice.

    'Jasper Jones' author Craig Silvey came on board to adapt his own novel after multiple drafts had been penned by Shaun Grant ('Snowtown', 'Berlin Syndrome').Œ

    How involved were you in the development process?

    I was the second screenwriter to come on board. I was more or less a consultant for a few years [beforehand] while I was touring the book and working on other things. Pre-production tends to move quite slowly. I came on board in a much more influential way later in the process.Œ

    Was it strange, returning to a story you thought you had put to bed?

    It’s a process of identifying the key elements of the story. I had a really good opportunity to know what those were, simply because I’d toured the book so much and talked to so many readers who were really passionate about it. So I knew the critical beats. Additionally I had the great fortune of having the book adapted for [the] stage by a very talented writer called Kate Mulvany. So I had an opportunity to see what it could look like in a different medium. And under the direction of Rachel [Perkins] and the producers as well, it wasn’t too difficult to find what was going to work and what had to go.

    What were the big challenges?

    Shaun [Grant] is a very experienced screenwriter, and one of the elements he identified as problematic was the issue of making Charlie, the main character — who is this kind of shy, awkward and frightened young boy, [and] who’s very much an observer in the novel — a little bit more influential in the film. It’s difficult in film to have somebody as a main protagonist who isn’t pushing the action and influencing scenes. So it was a matter of trying to retain the character’s true nature, which is very reactive and pensive, but also give him the opportunity to make changes within the story. Part of the solution was making Charlie a little bit more of a detective in trying to solve this mystery, and make him a little bit more accountable for some of those decisions.Œ

    Were you involved in the shoot?

    I was there for the duration. Rachel was insanely generous and insanely respectful of the source material, and I guess she found a great resource in me given I knew the book and the script so well.Œ

    There’s that famous William Goldman line that goes something like: “Your first day on a movie set is the most exciting day of your life, and the second day is the dullest.”

    (Laughs). Certainly the saying ‘hurry up and wait’ is very true. But I found myself busier than I thought I’d be, and I felt very privileged and very grateful watching a fantastic crew work so hard, and [watching] these very talented actors spark these characters into life.Œ

    What did you learn from being on-set?

    You require a fair bit of agility on a film set. Sometimes things aren’t working or certain elements need to change and you’ll have to very quickly write solutions to those problems. So there’s a lot of writing on the fly. I certainly wasn’t blocking shots or getting in anyone’s way, but I was a resource for the kids in particular who might have had questions about their characters. I was also more or less a cricket coach for Kevin [Long], who played Geoffrey Lu. The character is a very accomplished cricketer. Unfortunately Kevin had no idea about the game of cricket at all, and in a few short months I had to train him to the point where he could passably act as a very proficient cricketer. So moments I wasn’t on-set I was down at the nets with Geoffrey, practising his cover drives.

    Where did you shoot?

    There was some discussion about that. The Corrigan in the book is drier, flatter, more of a wheat belt town, with a distant mine attached. It felt in my mind a lot hotter and crisper and browner. But then we found Pemberton, and it’s got these beautiful old mill houses and it just feels very complete. It’s quite contained, and we just knew that it was the perfect place to set our film. So suddenly a mining town turned into a mill town, and certain peripheral aspects of the story had to be tweaked. But I think the film is no less beautiful for it; the country down there is spectacular. And there’s something eerie and suffocating about the bush down there.

    Have you caught the screenwriting bug?

    I don’t think it’ll be the last film I write. When I get the first spark of a story now, my first thought is: what is this — is it a novel or a film? I’ve got a couple of projects that I’m loosely developing and I think would work on the screen.Œ

    Silvey and director Rachel Perkins recently received funding from Screen Australia to develop a contemporary western titled 'The Prospector', set in WA, in which "a woman risks everything to find her missing husband". Blackfella Films' Darren Dale and Miranda Dear are on board to produce.

  • Tim Minchin in last year's 'Matilda and Me'.

    On March 5, a fresh post on Tim Minchin’s blog offered an ominous introduction to the man himself:Œ

    “Composer and lyricist of musicals Groundhog Day and Matilda, Tim is also a pianist, singer, comedian, actor, and — until 2 days ago — a director.”

    In a personal message, Minchin went on: “I’ve recently been working in three different continents, missing my kids a lot, sleeping too little and not playing piano enough. And then a couple of days ago, the animated film to which I’ve dedicated the last four years of my life was shut down by the new studio execs.”

    That film was Larrikins, the outback-set feature Minchin joined as composer and lyricist in 2013 after sparking to a script from Harry Cripps (Paws, The Magic Pudding).Œ

    The film’s icing comes in the wake of layoffs at Dreamworks, which was bought by Comcast/NBCUniversal last year for $3.8 billion. The new regime also canned a sequel to 2013’s Croods last November.Œ

    As well as providing the songs and music, Minchin was also co-directing Larrikins with Chris Miller (Shrek).

    Very sad to hear DWA killed LARRIKINS, their Aussie project. I was the first designer on that and had high hopes. Silly me. Fun though! pic.twitter.com/CkzV93HcIP

    ˜ Peter de Sève (@peterdeseve) March 6, 2017

    'Larrikins' concept art byŒPeter de Sève.

    The film was set to feature 72 Outback animal characters, all of them speaking in an Australian accent, and the project had attracted a stellar Australian cast, with Margot Robbie, Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver, Josh Lawson, Damon Herriman and Ewen Leslie all recording their voices last year.Œ

    Talking at Screen Australia’s Family Film Forum last year, Cripps said that Dreamworks had been looking for an Australian story — to do for Australia what Kung Fu Panda had done for China, he said.

    The scribe came onboard in 2011, after six of his pilot scipts for the American marketplace had gone nowhere. Part of the appeal was doing something new, Cripps said at the time.

    "I don't think there's been a musical about guys and their friendships in Australia", the writer said, "it's not Frozen".

    For his part, Minchin described the film to Fairfax as “a bit Star Wars, a bit [The] Gods Must Be Crazy, a big road journey.”

    Putting Larrikins into turnaround means Dreamworks will have no animated feature for 2018. Still on the studio’s slate is The Boss Baby (out in Oz March 23 via Fox), How to Train Your Dragon 3 (2019) and Trolls 2 (2020).Œ

    IF reached out to Minchin, who declined to comment further.

  • Rachael Fung.

    Young Aussie producer Rachael Fung has wrapped production on her first feature, Little Woods, starring Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok) and Lily James (Cinderella).

    Fung has been back and forth between the US and Oz for years, having been accepted into New York University’s film and television program straight out of high school.

    In her first semester, the Sydney native produced a radio drama in her audio class and was hooked.Œ

    “I ended up winning a small award for that radio drama and that was all the encouragement I needed to pursue producing full time,” she tells IF.Œ

    Fung spent the first few years after graduation working on shorts and music videos before landing a job at Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin’s company, Bazmark.Œ

    “I worked there for four years developing my business and management skills as a producer and they were incredibly supportive when I told them I was moving on to produce Little Woods."

    The film tells the story of two sisters in a North Dakota oil boomtown, one of whom has been bringing medication in over the border from Canada. Fung started working with the film’s director Nia DaCosta, another NYU grad, in November 2014.Œ

    “The world of fracking boomtowns was completely foreign and fascinating to me,” says Fung.

    “I couldn’t believe that there was actually a makeshift shanty town of trailers in the supermarket parking lot because of the housing crisis.”

    Fung admired the way DaCosta’s script explored the healthcare issue through the human beings tangled up in the system, rather than “the more clinical lens of politics.”Œ

    In 2015, the pair decided to make a road-trip to North Dakota to experience the area first-hand.

    “The stories we heard from the women in these towns really energised both of us to bring that world to the big screen.”

    Raising the money was made easier when DaCosta met the swiftly-rising Thompson at the Sundance Director’s Lab in 2015. The pair “really connected creatively and personally,” says Fung.Œ

    “Tessa has built such a solid body of work that I have no doubt that her support really helped get the ball rolling, and she was an invaluable teammate throughout the process, both on screen and off. She really puts everything into her work and it shows in her tremendous performance."Œ

    As well as Thompson and James, Little Woods stars James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3), Luke Kirby (Rectify) and Lance Reddick (John Wick).Œ

    Gabrielle Nadig joined the project as an additional producer in 2016 and worked with Fung to raise the money for a five-week shoot, wrapping in mid-February this year.Œ

    The shoot was less tough than what came before — attaching cast and raising the money, says the producer.

    But there were still plenty of challenges on-set: “Losing locations last minute, the ever-unpredictable weather, how best to create a schedule that works for cast, crew and budgetˆ”

    “But our cast and crew were fantastic and incredibly supportive and made getting through those challenges that much easier," says Fung. "There were certainly moments that were extraordinarily stressful but I think deep down the stress is what drives me to be more creative.”

    The filmmakers aim to have the film completed this year, ready for a 2018 release.

    Next up? “I’m headed back to Sydney and can't wait for some time at home,” says Fung.