Coping with COVID-19: Matchbox Pictures’ Alastair McKinnon
Matchbox Pictures’ MD Alastair McKinnon outlines the company’s readjustment and emphasis on development, reflects on the success of Stateless and his bullish, post-pandemic outlook.
Q: Apart from the shutdown of Clickbait and the delay in shooting The Real Housewives of Melbourne, Matchbox Pictures’ productions have not been impacted by the lockdown?
A: They are the only two programs that were in physical production that needed to shut down. However we had a number of other shows at various stages of development for which our schedules and timelines have absolutely been impacted by the lockdown.
It has been a period of intensive readjustment and planning to adapt to the new environment and make sure our energy is in the right place, which I feel absolutely confident it is.
Q: I assume you and your colleagues are devoting more time to development, including the adaptation of Rebecca Starford’s novel Bad Behaviour with writer Pip Karmel and director Corrie Chen?
A: We have a very healthy development slate and the great opportunity that has come out of this terrible situation is that we are able to really focus on getting a number of projects to a production-ready state.
Our objective is always to work with the very best Australian talent, both established and emerging, and we are making sure that we continue to do so. As soon as restrictions are lifted sufficiently to allow production to begin again we intend to be ready.
Q: You welcomed the injection of more funds for development from Screen Australia and state agencies?
A: Absolutely. It’s fantastic that Screen Australia and the agencies have responded to the challenges we face as an industry by re-framing their investment to suit the needs of the industry. Development is where everyone’s focus is right now so it makes absolute sense that that is where the support shifts its emphasis to.
Q: Given the terrific ratings and acclaim for Stateless, are you, Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton talking about collaborating on another project?
A: We enjoyed a wonderful partnership with Dirty Films on Stateless and it is a series we are incredibly proud of. The talent it attracted both in front of and behind the camera is just extraordinary. Cate, Tony Ayres’ and Elise McCredie’s vision was so strong and born of such passion that it was easy to get on board.
It is also very gratifying that audiences and critics alike responded in the way they have and I am excited to see what the global response will be when we launch on Netflix later in 2020.
Q: I think it’s generally accepted that the suspension of the local content quotas for the commercial broadcasters and pay TV drama channels won’t mean much in practical terms this year as no one can produce anything. But are you concerned the government may decide to extend the quotas next year?
A: I think this is part of a bigger conversation that has in some ways only just begun. The question of whether or not quotas in their pre-existing form remain the right approach into the future is the subject of much debate.
However I think that there is general accord that there needs to be some sort of incentivisation or mandated requirement that Australian content appear on Australian screens. What format that should take is something we need to address as an industry, and quickly.
Q: Screen Australia’s funding announcement last week was welcome, not least with the four TV scripted series commissioned by the ABC, Nine and SBS. In general, are the networks still open to commissioning?
A: We are still talking to the networks where we have relevant projects for them as there is no doubt that, once we all come through to the other side, the one thing they are all going to need is content.
We also know that Australian audiences value Australian content above all else and whatever challenges we are all facing, I think the networks understand that, as much as the production sector does, and as a result those relationships will continue.
Q: On a personal note, how are you doing? Still in the office or working remotely? How are you filling in the downtime?
A: All of us at Matchbox have been working remotely for going on six weeks now. We took that decision very early on, before it was being mandated by Government so it almost feels normal now. The team has embraced the technology and everyone is probably suffering from Zoom-fatigue at this point.
The truth is there hasn’t really been any downtime for us and in many respects we’ve never been busier – but it’s obviously lopsided and everyone is willing on the moment when we can all go back to normal. Or whatever the new normal is going to be.