Aurora becomes Amplifier: breaking down the key differences

07 August, 2016 by Harry Windsor

Karen Radzyner.


Screen NSW development and production executive Karen Radzyner is spearheading Screen NSW’s new script development program, Amplifier. IF gets the lowdown on how it differs from its predecessor.

Why the change from Aurora to Amplifier?

Amplifier will build on Aurora’s successes, this time with an individual focus on each project. We wanted to signal the change in the program to the industry. Giving it a new name and shape we hope will magnify Amplifier’s fresh approach.

What are the key differences?

The main difference is the bespoke nature of the program. Its defining factor is that it is customised to the individual projects. We will make the key decisions about how Amplifier: Adaptation can best nurture each project, only when we know those projects have been selected. In this way, we can work with the creative teams to make Screen NSW's funding and relationships bring maximum bang to their development strategy. Amplifier is not a workshop or lab-based program, with one set of advisors providing feedback to diverse films. Amplifier will establish beneficial long-term relationships for the life of the films.

Why adaptation as the inaugural theme?

Adaptations have been shown to perform 30% better at the box office and a reassuringly disproportionate percentage of AACTA Awards for Best Film, as well as Academy Awards for Best Film have gone to adaptations and true stories. There’s a rich seam of works to mine for film adaptations. 

When adaptations like The Dressmaker are done well, they seem to have the ability to tap into a female market that's undernourished by Hollywood franchise product. Do you think adaptation is a way in which we can shepherd more female stories to the screen?

Hollywood franchises are massive marketing machines and a lot of them are adaptations too, capitalising on an existing fanbase. There’s no doubt that the cinema audience for Australian films has a skew towards adult women. The beauty of adapting a produced work is that it’s likely to have a built-in following, which can make the film’s pathway to success more stream-lined – regardless of who that audience is. Some of the marketing work is already done. We would love to see Amplifier: Adaptation rake the path for some more great female stories to make their way into cinemas.

Last year's local films were largely adaptations of plays (Ruben Guthrie, Last Cab to Darwin) and novels (Holding the Man, The Dressmaker). What impact did their success have on your decision to make the inaugural Amplifier all about adaptation?

The last few years have seen wonderful successes both locally and internationally for Australian adaptations: of musicals, plays, memoirs and novels, all sorts. With Amplifier, Screen NSW is formalising the strength of our conviction that adaptations benefit the filmmaking process and appeal to an audience. We have high hopes for upcoming adaptations Ali’s Wedding and Jasper Jones. Designing Amplifier: Adaptation is a strategic decision. We want to be part of converting the next batch of various types of texts into audience-ready films.

Aurora nurtured the likes of Somersault, The Black Balloon and Satellite Boy, films directed by women. Amplifier will nurture up to four projects  re you hoping at least two of them will be female-driven?

All projects selected for development will have strong concepts, clear pathways to audience and talented filmmakers with a vision for the film. We are confident that many of these projects will be female-led. Screen NSW is committed to a gender equity target of 50:50 by 2020. That means an equal split of men and women in key creative roles across the projects that we support.

Amplifier will reportedly place a greater emphasis on thinking about distribution and talking to distributors from the beginning of a project's life. The distribution and (especially) exhibition space is largely dominated by white middle-aged men, and there's been talk for a while about a 'trust gap' at play when it comes to distributors getting behind female stories. How are you looking to ensure writers and filmmakers are thinking practically about the marketplace without pandering to it, and without being limited by its prejudices?

Adapting a pre-existing work is a natural way of extending the audience for a story, tapping into an invested following, and satisfying audience intrigue. People have a natural curiosity to see how a film has dealt with a story/book/play that they are already familiar with. Plus there is scope to reissue the book or restage the play in time for the launch of the film. The very idea of adaptation is a practical approach to the marketplace because it frees filmmakers up to be as creative and visionary as they can, in the knowledge that an audience already has a connection with and understanding of the materials. A good example of the power of adaptation is Holding The Man – which was a memoir, then a stageplay and then a film and at every stage of its evolution through a different medium it has become a resonant piece of work. It’s also interesting to note that adaptations work at both the arthouse indie end of the pond and with big ticket, huge budget films.

Applications to Amplifier close at 5pm on September 2.