Principal lawyer Marshalls + Dent Bryce Menzies, Screen Australia head of production Sally Caplan and outgoing Film Victoria CEO Jenni Tosi at the 2020 Vision | Feature Film Forum. (Photo credit: Film Victoria).

Aim high, be distinctive, avoid the mediocre and know your audience: Those were among the tips for feature filmmakers from key players in production, exhibition and film sales at a forum organised by Film Victoria.

The 2020 Vision | Feature Film Forum on development drew a packed house of writers, directors and producers at Village Cinemas’ Jam Factory on Tuesday.

Film Victoria’s outgoing CEO Jenni Tosi told attendees: “We must focus on maximising the opportunities from the films we’re making and give audiences something to remember. Aim high with your scripts. We need to see more Lions and hear them roar.“

Tosi challenged filmmakers to ask themselves: Does this idea really warrant being seen on a big screen in a cinema which will require a marketing spend of $500,000 or more to draw an audience of more than 100,000 and take more than $1 million at the box office?

And do those numbers make financial sense when the budget needs to be between $3 million-$6 million to get the production values and cast needed?

Marketplace support via DGs, advances and sales is harder to get and often can only be achieved with name cast and possibly also a name director.

“Audience numbers at the cinema for many of our indie Oz films are sadly dwindling,” she said, warning of the prospect that in the next few years agencies may be forced to examine whether this trend represents a sufficient return and public value on taxpayer dollars.

She quoted research which showed the gross BO for art house and limited release films has plunged by 45 per cent in the past 14 years, based on US figures and extrapolated to Australia.

Tosi voiced a common complaint that too often creative teams, out of financial need, start production on films knowing the script is still not quite there.

That underestimates the smarts of the audience and also robs the creatives of that ‘Lion’s roar’ they are seeking, she said, declaring: “Today’s audience is sophisticated and film savvy. They want value for their money and they want to be entertained and surprised.

“They want a ‘story’ experience that creates an emotional response and a physical reaction – to laugh, to cry, to jump in fright or gasp in shock. Add to this a stellar cast with great production values and you’ll give the audience something to remember, to share with their friends and even come back a second and third time.

“We want you to make informed decisions about the type of projects you choose to develop and how to harness their audience potential. The bar is already high – the audience can choose from around 60 films to see in any given week. Mediocre is not going to cut through.”

In a similar vein, Cornerstone Films’ co-founder Mark Gooder advised filmmakers to find their own distinctive voice, noting: “It’s the Australian-ness of our films that makes them travel.”

Via Skype, US producer Sheila Hanahan Taylor, who was an EP on the Final Destination franchise, advised writers to: “read more scripts than you think is possible, absorb what the big, successful people are doing then make it fresh.”

Roadshow Entertainment chief sales officer John Davie highlighted the challenges facing distributors with increased competition for screens while downstream revenues keep falling. “Films have to be profitable in the theatrical space,” he said.

From the exhibitor’s perceptive, Cinema Nova general manager Kristian Connelly told attendees: “We’re looking for cinematic, engaging films that really connect with an audience on a big screen; it’s not about budget or VFX.

Goalpost Pictures’ Kylie Du Fresne.

“I encourage producers to think beyond the end of production, even in the pre-production stages. Fundamental basics, like remembering to take lots of photos on-set, can make a huge difference when it comes to the marketing campaign, particularly in a marketplace where the ability to market is increasingly splintered and marketers need more resources than ever.”

Connelly tells IF the event was worthwhile as a rare opportunity for producers to consider the nature of exhibition and the feedback has been enthusiastic.

Outlining her criteria for developing projects, Goalpost Pictures’ Kylie du Fresne said, “We need to fall in love with the script and are attracted to films that have something to say… It’s that last 5 per cent that turns a really good script into a financeable script.”

Lee Matthews, producer of EMO The Musical advised, “Know your audience, understand how competitive it is and make a story that really deserves to be told on the big screen.”

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