EXCLUSIVE: Roland Joffe’s Singularity, starring Josh Hartnett, in administration

02 February, 2012 by Brendan Swift

The company behind $28 million Australian-UK co-production Singularity has been placed into administration, owing millions of dollars to creditors including cast, crew and suppliers.

The film – directed by Oscar-nominated Roland Joffé and starring Josh Hartnett, Bipasha Basu and Neve Campbell – was plagued by budget troubles for months before administrators were finally called in late last year.

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It is one of the biggest disasters to befall the Australian film industry in years. An estimated $15.13 million is owed to creditors, according to Worrells Solvency & Forensic Accountants, which is winding up Singularity Productions Pty Ltd.

Worrells told creditors that it had now secured all of the company’s books and records, which it was reviewing, while outstanding company returns had now been lodged with the Australian Taxation Office.

A number of sources have said the problems were directly caused when Belgian-sourced funding secured by film company Corsan – controlled by one of the film’s offshore producers, Paul Breuls – dried up during production.

Queensland-based producers Grant and Dale Bradley oversaw the Australian leg of the production. “Our number one focus is to do everything we can to get the Australian creditors paid,” Grant Bradley said, describing the state of the film as a “legal quagmire”.

The ambitious period piece is initially set in modern-day Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, where marine biologist Jay Fennel (played by Hartnett) undertakes a near-fatal dive to save his wife while exploring an 18th Century merchant ship wreckage. In a dream-like coma, he envisions India in 1778 where British captain James Stewart (also played by Hartnett) is about to embark on a dangerous mission while falling in love with a beautiful palace guard.

However, problems began shortly after the film began its initial seven-week shoot on the Gold Coast in late-2010, according to on-set sources. “It became apparent early on that the film wasn’t well budgeted and wasn’t handled well,” one on-set source said.

Payments to cast and crew were delayed, prompting stop-work meetings and the local union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, to become involved. It is understood that the MEAA required money to be placed in escrow before allowing the Australian team to head to India for the second stint of the shoot in early-2011.

Nonetheless, conditions during the four-week Indian shoot worsened, according to on-set sources, with constant late payments and threats of strike action. One source said Joffé had personally bankrolled one key day of shooting although some crew still refused to work.

A third and final two-week shoot (to film the contemporary part of the screenplay) scheduled for Australia (before the location was switched to the UK) never occurred. However, another on-set source said about 90 per cent of the footage had been shot by that stage.

If the film can be completed it would trigger substantial production rebates, which should add to the pool of money available to creditors. More than $13 million of Australian-based expenditure is expected to be eligible for the 40 per cent Producer Offset rebate.

However, the Australian-shot footage is understood to still reside in Australia under lockdown while the Indian-shot footage is being held offshore, presumably by Breuls – the result of a highly-strained relationship between the producers.

The biggest Singularity creditor is Film Finance IV ($13.65 million) – an investment vehicle understood to be controlled by Breuls. The next biggest creditor is the Australian Taxation Office ($960,000). Grant Bradley said he was also owed a “significant” amount of money.

Meanwhile, the impact on the Australian industry is still reverberating. Many on-set sources said they have never experienced a production with so many difficulties.

“There are certainly places and government departments which won’t let films be shot in their areas until bills are paid – there’s a big fallout.”

Bizarrely, Screen Queensland touted the production as a positive for the local industry in its recently-released 2010-11 annual report.

“Queensland’s success with co-productions and the benefits they bring to the industry through employment and the exchange of creative and technological innovation is demonstrated by three feature films made in 2010-11, Singularity, Bait 3D and Iron Sky,” Screen Queensland chief executive Maureen Barron (who was recently poached to head Screen NSW) wrote in the report.

While a $300,000 production investment is listed in the annual report (via Bradley’s Limelight International Media Entertainment) it is understood the payment was never made, partially because Singularity never had a completion bond.

The Bradley’s Limelight International Media Entertainment has continued to make films, with the support of Screen Queensland. The state agency invested $415,000 into their film Undertow, which was made about the same time as Singularity. Their next film, Bad Karma, which stars Ray Liotta, will be delivered to distributors in March.

Contact this reporter at bswift@if.com.au or on Twitter at @bcswift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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