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IF Magazine

  • Michael Fassbender and Carmen Ejogo in 'Alien: Covenant', shot in Sydney.

    In the 2015-16 year, foreign location spending in Australia was recorded at $273 million. Foreign Post, Digital and Visual effects (PDV) spend in Australia reached a record-high of $105 million.Œ

    Australian director James Wan (Saw, Furious 7) will return home shortly to direct Aquaman. Rob Cowan, producer of San Andreas, which shot in Queensland in 2015, will return to the Gold Coast to produce.Œ

    In the last 12 months Australia has hosted Thor: Ragnarok, Alien: Covenant and Pacific Rim: Maelstrom, while Aussie vendors have completed post work on the likes of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, Dr Strange, Game of Thrones and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.Œ

    Ausfilm, Australia’s marketing and representative body abroad for the Australian production industry, continues to advocate for a permanent increase to the Location Offset. They’re not alone — Animal Logic CEO Zareh Nalbandian, who wants to see it double to around 30 percent, described the current Offset to IF as “broken”.

    A partnership between private industry and government, Ausfilm receives financial assistance from the Department of Communications and the Arts. It’s also supported by membership of Australia’s state screen agencies and private sector businesses: the major studio complexes, production service providers and post, sound and visual effects companies.

    Ausfilm began in 1994 when Austrade, the promotional arm of the Australian Trade Commission, identified opportunities for the film and television industry in the US market and created EFSA, the Export Film Services Association. In 1998, EFSA became the incorporated association Ausfilm International Inc.Œ

    These days, CEO Debra Richards runs a team of four out of the Sydney office while Kate Marks is EVP of international production in LA, where the org maintains a team of three.Œ

    Marks, who is also president of Australians in Film, moved over to LA in October 2014 after managing the incentives program and production attraction team at Film Victoria.

    “So I’d already built many relationships with studio and production executives here in LA,” says Marks. “The work we do is very much built on the relationships we all have both here in the US and back home in Australia.”

    “We represent the businesses that have the expertise and creativity to help get a major project off the ground and are looking to make their film in Australia.”

    “Our role is predominately inward investment to secure international productions, creating jobs for our membership base and driving economic and industry growth.”

    Fundamental to the gig is “hunting down leads,” says Marks.

    “The core part of our business is sourcing and pitching on international productions looking for incentives or locations. We feed these project leads onto the state agencies and our members to pitch.”

    That role has evolved since the introduction of the Producer Offset in 2007.

    “Ausfilm has the responsibility to promote the Producer Offset and the co-production program in tandem with Screen Australia, so we promote our creative talent to achieve this — our producers, writers and directors,” says Marks.Œ

    “The US in particular is very interested in working with Australians and accessing the Producer Offset. However to do this they must be collaborating from early development with Australian creatives, so we are connecting the two.”

    The Ausfilm team regularly meets with Australian writers, director and producers visiting LA (or those already based there). Œ

    “Where appropriate we assist in connecting these filmmakers to clients that we believe are a good match and could help move their projects forward.”

    “We also work a lot with independent production companies in LA who are working with, or looking for, an Australian screenwriter. If they already have one, we will help by connecting them to an Australian producer. If they don’t, we provide information [about] who is out there.”

    “Our aim is always ultimately to get production back to Australia and [get] work for Ausfilm members.”

    While Ausfilm is adamant it flies the flag for the entire industry, it is only paying members who can attend the org’s exclusive events globally or be listed in its directory. Dues are spent on the promotion of members via rollouts such as Ausfilm’s recent ‘60 Seconds With’ campaign.

    Every year for the last eight years Ausfilm has hosted a business to business event entitled ‘Partner with Australia’ in Los Angeles, in which Aussie producers can network with US executives over the course of four days.Œ

    Marks also hosts Ausfilm Week Los Angeles each October, which sees corporate members and screen agency representatives travel to LA for around 12 events over nine days. Last year nearly 40 members from Australian screen businesses attended.

    More recently, the organisation has put the growing Chinese film industry in its sights.

    The Australia-China Film Industry Exchange, previously the Australia-China Film Industry Forum, was initiated by the Australian Embassy in Beijing.

    “They hosted a networking event in Beijing to introduce the Australian screen agencies and member companies travelling to China,” says Marks. “We have been in this market partnering with Screen Australia and the Embassy for over six years now.” Œ

    The two-day event involves showcases what Australia has to offer to Chinese filmmakers, particularly what we have to offer in the post, digital, and visual effects space.Œ

    Ausfilm also runs the Australian Familiarisation Program in partnership with the state screen agencies. The program brings international filmmakers — from China, the US and elsewhere — to Australia for location scouts and meetings with Ausfilm member companies, line producers and HODs. Under the scheme, a delegation of Chinese filmmakers visited various Australian states in 2015.Œ

    Marks points to Bleeding Steel, the recent Jackie Chan film filmed in Sydney, as an example of a film that came out of relationships nurtured under these initiatives.

    With Alien: Covenant (shot in Sydney), Pacific Rim: Maelstrom (Sydney and Queensland), HBO’s The Leftovers (Melbourne), Kong: Skull Island, Thor: Ragnarok and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (all three shot on the Gold Coast) set for release this year, the skill of our technicians will be on frequent display. That expertise is much sought after in China.

    “They’re not quite ready, which is why we’re getting a bit of work at the moment,” says Ausfilm CEO Debra Richards.Œ

    “They want to get all our expertise and skills. They will recreate it, we understand that. But there’s an opportunity now because of the relationship that we’ve built up.”

  • Bradd Morelli.

    As a partner at Jirsch Sutherland, a specialist insolvency, forensic accounting and turnaround business, Bradd Morelli has been the liquidator of a large number of SPVs where the Producer Offset has been successfully claimed.

    Below, he outlines the key steps to ensure smart cash flow for those in the creative industries.

    Lumpy cash flow is the cycle of life for many people in the creative industries. Large invoices paid at irregular intervals can often make you feel broke one day and rich the next. But a little planning can smooth out your cash flow to create certainty in your financial life.


    In your bank is a lovely big deposit. What now? Buy a car? Pay off debts? Treat yourself to a holiday? Œ

    You could do that or you could speak to your accountant or financial advisor. Their business is managing money and cash flow and their support to get you the most from your income will pay dividends. Accountants and financial advisors work with all types of people to develop and implement plans to help you succeed financially. They can also provide sound advice when you need to make decisions about investing, setting financial goals, sourcing finance and expanding your business.Œ

    So first speak with your accountant or financial advisor about how they can work with you to prepare for the cash flow peaks and troughs.Œ

    Know your financial starting point

    1. Figure out your likely income over the next few months.

    You have just earned a lump sum, but when is the next project and when will it pay? Will it last until the next payday or do you have an alternate income stream to get through the dry period? Œ

    2. Know what your costs are to live each month.

    How much are your costs for rent, food, insurance, clothing, education, utilities etc? Work out the minimum you need, and then add some buffer as a comfort factor.Œ

    3. How many months do you need to support yourself?

    Set aside money to pay yourself a regular monthly salary.Œ

    4. Set up a monthly payment plan.Œ

    Speak to someone who can help set up a payment plan to pay yourself automatically like an employee. Your accountant or financial adviser can also help you set aside money for taxes, GST or BAS if they apply. Alternatively, you could transfer your money into an online high interest savings account and pay yourself a monthly ‘salary’. Choose one with a notice period to access the funds to avoid impulsive spending.

    5. Negotiate a better deal.

    Lump sums make cash flow hard. Negotiate your contract to split up invoice payments with partial pre-payments, staged payments or draw-downs against milestones. Œ

    6. Pay your bills and creditors thoughtfully.

    Bills have credit terms. Don’t pay a 30-day account on day one. Use the credit terms to smooth out your own cash flow by paying only when you have to. Perhaps use a credit card to effectively gain another 30 days to pay.Œ

    7. Have an emergency fund.

    Peaks and troughs are expected, but what about if you need to take time off or are unable to work for a period of time? Having an emergency fund of at least three months living costs in a separate account is a great way to ensure you are always prepared and will help you sleep better at night.

    8. Get professional advice.

    Get your accountant or financial advisor to help you action your plan. Œ

    What to do if you run out of cash?

    If the job you were relying on falls through, how will you survive before crunch time? Sometimes the best laid plans can go awry making it necessary to plan in advance for all situations.

    Seek professional advice on your options at the earliest opportunity if the worst does happen and you run out of cash, particularly if you need to consider voluntary administration, liquidation, bankruptcy, or a personal insolvency agreement.


  • (l-r) Lisa Shaunessy and Leonie Mansfield (photo credit: Nick Prokop)Œ

    Experienced producers Lisa Shaunessy ('Killing Ground') and Leonie Mansfield ('Kick-Ass 2')] recently formed a new venture, Arcadia. The company was created with the aim to produce projects with 80 per cent female writers, directors and protagonists.

    They work alongside former international sales agent Alexandra Burke, who runs Arcadia’s distribution arm. Shaunessy and Mansfield talk to Jackie Keast about their decision to come together. ŒŒ

    Lisa Shaunessy:Œ

    The start of Arcadia was so organic, it took us all by surprise. A casual dinner, some red wine, a desire to tell women’s stories, work with great filmmakers, reach international audiences. You know, the usual.

    I feel like I was looking for my tribe for such a long time and these two incredibly talented, smart, internationally experienced, similarly-thinking women just walked into my life at the right time. Œ

    We definitely want to work with more women and to create opportunity for more female-led stories and female talent. We’re women ourselves and we know the challenges that other women face trying to land those leadership roles. And we like stories about women. It’s pretty simple. Œ

    We really want to focus on stories that will work in the international marketplace. Working with Alex, who has been working in international sales for years [Burke previously worked for Danish outfit LevelK], brings such a great rigour to our conversations and decisions about projects. Œ

    As a collective, the influences on your slate are different than when you’re a solo producer and that has been both tough and refreshing. We did very sadly have to part with projects we’d loved and nurtured. We’re really happy with our slate at the moment though. It feels diverse, international, fresh, exciting and like it defines Arcadia, not just ourselves as individuals.

    Because mine and Leonie’s skills are similar, it allows us to see easily where we can support each other, run with something, or take over in each other’s absence from projects. And I just love how kind and honest Leonie is. I recently met an ex-colleague of Leonie’s in LA and I saw the remorse of not working with her anymore in his eyes, and I felt so lucky.

    All three of us have a great ability to laugh in the middle of a potentially stressful situation. Our ability and desire to not take ourselves too seriously is something I really cherish.

    Leonie is a great teacher of being present and in the moment. She’s always conscious of what is going on around her; people’s feelings, impending problems. It’s such a great quality and I’ve learnt to try and dig my head out of the information super highway and enjoy the moments in front of us.

    [This year] we plan to move our projects into production, release our Sundance Film Festival co-production Killing Ground, and launch our distribution arm with our Sundance Film Festival purchase, First Girl I Loved.

    Leonie Mansfield:Œ

    Lisa and I met through a mutual friend, who kept saying we would really get on. And she was right.Œ

    We formed Arcadia in April last year. Lisa and Alex met at Rome Film Festival a few years back, and Alex and I actually went to school together. None of us had worked together before so it was a bit of a risk, but we had all admired each other’s careers from afar. When we started talking about the company seriously, it felt really right.

    Initially, in amongst all the usual paperwork, we were combining our slates into one, defining the brand of the company and unifying our voice. We all share the same taste, but it was still a process to consolidate the overall talent on the slate plus finish the projects we all had underway before Arcadia. Œ

    We formed in the midst of Gender Matters mania. I have been working for women in the industry for a while now through the producers collective I founded called Screen Vixens, and as part of the 2016 executive for WIFT NSW. It made sense for us as a company to value and prioritise women on our slate and in our crews.Œ

    It’s vitally important to have diverse voices on screenŒ—Œnot just for the women in the industry but for our audiences and our cultural identity.

    I love working with Lisa. She knows everyone in the business and she’s business savvy, smart and funny. We share the same working style in that we are both creative producers, and we’ve had very similar backgrounds working on big studio pictures with high profile bosses. Lisa worked at Seed for Hugh Jackman and also ran South Sydney Media for Russell Crowe, and I spent five years in the UK working with Matthew Vaughn at his company MARV.

    In terms of working styles we are totally aligned. We love to debrief and talk things through, we are both super organised and treasure a calendar.Œ

    Most of our slate we are producing together which is so nice; to be part of a team. We plan to be in production for most of the second half of this year so that’s when we will probably be forced to take the lead on certain projects in order to keep all the balls in the air.Œ

    We’ve just completed our first shoot together — Outbreak Generation by Brooke Goldfinch — and the image of Lisa in a public park in Kurnell at 4:45am, resplendent in her head-torch, will stay with me forever.Œ

    I’ve learnt so much about the local industry from Lisa, having been away in London and then returning to Sydney and being on maternity leave. She’s taught me patience and the benefits of not being too quick to judge a situation.Œ

  • On location shooting 'Dance Academy'.

    Speaking to IF from her home in Melbourne, Dance Academy producer Joanna Werner begins by apologizing for the “squawking” that might erupt at any moment.

    “I have a nine-week old-baby who’s happy — at the moment. I found out in week one of pre-production that I was pregnant, and I’ll always remember exactly how long it takes to make a movie because she was born two weeks after we finished the film.”

    The Dance Academy feature, in 211 cinemas around the country from April 6, revisits the characters we last saw in the series, which ran on the ABC for three seasons beginning in 2010.

    The show’s success on Netflix in America helped Werner and series co-creator Samantha Strauss put together the feature with the backing of Screen Australia and the show’s German distributor ZDF Enterprises.

    StudioCanal came onboard as the Australian and New Zealand distributor, and the film was shot last year on a budget in the $5-10 million range.

    Directed by Jeffrey Walker (Ali’s Wedding), who helmed the show’s pilot, the feature shot in Sydney for five weeks, followed by a four-day stint in New York in July.

    “Our first day we shot a 12-hour day in Times Square,” says Werner. “Our lead actor Xenia had arrived a day and a half earlier and was then shooting in 44-degree heat in the middle of Times Square.”

    “One of the real trials was getting visas and all the logistics of getting to New York and being allowed to film over there and unions.”

    “But we worked with a fantastic company, Jax Media, that Jeffrey Walker had worked with on a series he shot in New York, Difficult People, and they have huge experience helping out film crews in New York.”Œ

    Werner describes the four days in the Big Apple as long, with frequent changes of location.

    “One day we started at Battery Park and then we were on the Staten Island Ferry and then at Grand Central Station and then on Broadway. We really fit a lot into that time.”

    Now the producer is focusing on the film’s Australian release with “fantastic partners” StudioCanal, while an international rollout is still being negotiated.

    “Our distributors from Germany are coming over for the Australian release, to really see how all that goes and take it from there,” Werner says.

    “There’s big interest in Europe and the States, which is fantastic. We’ve got a huge fan-base all over the world. The TV series has sold to 160+ countries. We’ve done a big social media rollout. We’ve got over 300,000 Facebook followers and over 50,000 Instagram followers, so we’re hoping that they’re motivated to go out and buy tickets.”

    “And a lot of our fans are international, so every time we load something about the Australian release, all we get is: when is it coming to Portugal, when is it coming to Brazil? Russia, South America and Europe have huge fan-bases which hopefully will mean a big international rollout. But we’re letting the Australian world premiere happen first.”

    Werner is also in development with the ABC on a ninety-minute telemovie which she hopes to shoot in Sydney in July.

    “It’s the first adult drama from my company. I produced the political thriller Secret City with Matchbox Pictures, but this telemovie will be the first adult drama show for Werner Film Productions.”

  • '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.