Direct-to-digital pilot scheme for Oz films

04 March, 2015 by Don Groves

Screen Australia will fund the direct-to-digital release of up to four low-budget films in a pilot scheme over the next two years.

The initiative is part of $3.2 million in funding for 10 production companies and organisations under the agency’s new Enterprise Industry program announced today.


The scheme will entail each film having event screenings at selected cinemas and being released the same day on iTunes and all other electronic platforms.

Screen Australia will fund the marketing costs, which COO Fiona Cameron estimates will be between $300,000 and $500,000.

“Some low budget films need to be accessible and to find their audiences immediately,” Cameron tells IF. “It’s a good place for Screen Australia to explore because there is considerable risk. We want to see if this is a commercial proposition for certain other films.”

The event screenings- which may mean four-walling cinemas- will guarantee each project qualifies for the 40% producer offset. Those that don’t have a cinema release would get the 20% offset for TV and online content.

One or two films that will be used in the trial will come from Ticket to Ride, the low-budget production and financing offshoot of Jamie Hilton's See Pictures, whose debut feature was Josh Lawson’s The Little Death.

While the sex comedy grossed a modest $308,000 in Australia it’s been sold to nearly every territory internationally and the remake rights are being negotiated in as many as five markets. Ticket to Ride’s financial model involves re-investment of fees and thus does not require Screen Australia production investment.

Cameron says one or two other films for the scheme could come from projects which receive investment from the agency.

Angus Sampson and Tony Mahony’s dark comedy The Mule was released direct-to-digital by EOne in Australia and New Zealand last November. EOne has not disclosed the results but one drawback with that type of release is that DVD and Blu-ray stores often refuse to stock films that are available online.

See Pictures also gets money to develop mid-range budget features in collaboration with Australian and international talent.

Among the other recipients of the Enterprise Industry program are Arenamedia’s Robert Connolly, the Van Vuuren brothers, Every Cloud Productions, Werner Film Productions and FremantleMedia Australia.

Documentary Australia Foundation will be supported to bring philanthropists and filmmakers together to create a new source of funding for the sector.

The Independent Cinemas Association of Australia will be funded to expand marketing and promotion activities, especially in regional areas, following its successful campaign for Connolly’s Paper Planes.

Bogan Entertainment Solutions will get assistance to mentor and train a team of four emerging writers and two external directors, matched with local and international talent. The goal is to develop an animated feature film and a 3 x 26'  animated TV series to market-ready pitch stage.

Screen resource organisation Open Channel will be funded to develop market-ready scripts for film, television and multiplatform projects.

The Enterprise program aims to develop projects and talent that will expand production and broadcast pipelines. Cameron says, “It gives approximately 100 writers, producers and script editors an unprecedented opportunity to hone their skills and gain greater exposure domestically and internationally. This is filling a serious employment gap in the industry identified by the sector through our consultation process and serves to regenerate our screen industry.”

Through the Enterprise Growth stream, Connolly will expand his Cinema Plus roll-out of event screenings, first utilised by The Turning. The next project earmarked for that distribution model is choreographer and director Stephen Page’s Spear, which will chart the journey of a young Indigenous man as he grapples with what it is to be a man in the modern day world. It’s adapted from Page’s original work of that name and is being co-produced with Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Spear will premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival followed by event screenings around the country including outdoors and regional areas that don’t have cinemas. Connolly tells IF the marketing of the film will be a joint effort with Bangarra.

The Van Vuuren brothers and producer Chloe Rickard will be funded to develop and produce five projects across all platforms over two years including Kiwi Assassins: The Musical and Bondi Hipsters: The Movie, a spin-off of their ABC2 comedy series.

In the Enterprise Stories stream, FremantleMedia Australia is partnering with Screen Australia in a matched funding arrangement in the Blue Sky Drama Initiative, which will target up to four high-end drama concepts for commission outside the traditional broadcast model.

FMA will make a public call for submissions and successful applicants will participate in the financial success of any commissioned projects. There will be a development program with an international script mentor for high-concept projects with international appeal, plus a drama workshop with international script mentors to develop and expand the skills of Australian creatives. The aim is to generate fully developed projects to first draft script stage, ready to take to the international market.

Every Cloud’s Parlay program aims to intensively develop four distinctive projects with emerging writers in consultation with broadcasters. The projects will encompass an international co-production; Australian family drama based in WA; passion projects; and a multiplatform project in partnership with Northern Rivers Screenworks.

Werner Film Productions’ The Story Lab will provide the opportunity for up to 20 writers, five script editors and five creative producers to participate in a series of intensive US writers’ room- style workshops this year.

Each workshop will drive development of a high-quality TV series, which will provide a foundation for the lead writer to then further develop and produce materials to take each series to market. The program includes a Call for Concepts with treatments for original new drama series being sought via an open-call to agents and practitioners at various stages of their career.