Piracy still plagues Oz teen drama

06 January, 2015 by Don Groves

More than two years after Circle of Lies had its North American premiere in Canada on iTunes and cable systems, the producers are still battling to stem the illegal downloading of the teen drama.

When director Matt Cerwen’s film launched on iTunes 11 days later in the US, the executive producers believe the title had already been viewed more than 350,000 times. Now they estimate the worldwide figure is 1.35 million.


“For a small budget Australian film this is a financial disaster,” John Kearney, who executive produced the independently-financed film with Ian Kirk and David Field, tells IF.

“If those illegals were legal at, say, $1.90 per time (average return to the production company) then there would be reason to smile. Ian Kirk has issued seven take-down notices to YouTube and there could be more very soon.”

A former head of Film Victoria and Crawford Productions, Kearney takes issue with a recent Choice survey which found 85% of people who illegally download material stated they were “more than happy to pay, provided the costs were cheaper,” and if content were available here as soon as it was released anywhere in the world.

Choice argued that government should turn its attention to Oz TV networks and film distributors to make them more responsive to audience demands and not target illegal downloaders.

Disputing that view, Kearney points to Sony’s Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy The Interview, which launched on digital platforms and in more than 300 cinemas in the US on Christmas Day.

Within 24 hours poached copies of The Interview had been downloaded by 904,237 clients worldwide, according to piracy-tracking firm Excipio. Of those, 28% were in the US.

Kearney says, “Well so much for the illegal downloaders who Choice interviewed; here was a film released simultaneously and at a cheap rate – and who knows what that figure has grown to?”

In Australia Sony has dated The Wedding Ringer, a comedy starring Cloris Leachman, Jenifer Lewis, Kevin Hart, Olivia Thirlby and Mimi Rogers, for January 22 in place of The Interview. 

Produced by Steve Jaggi and scripted by Adrian Moses and Scott Herford, Circle of Lies follows high school student Denise (Hilary Caitens), who is bullied by classmate Kirsty (Anna Lawrence), the leader of a bunch of ultra-cool kids. The cast includes Ryan Harrison, Nikki Webster, Karina Banno, Stephen Multari and Luke Webb.

In Australia the film premiered in 11 indie cinemas a few weeks before being released on DVD and Video-on-Demand in 2013.

It screened at 9.30 pm on New Year’s Eve on the Nine Network’s youth-oriented digital channel GO! Jaggi says, “It’s very difficult to get a television sale for local films – let alone such a great slot for a premiere. A great result for a film made entirely outside of the agency system that continues to demonstrate that alternative releasing empowers the producer and delivers results.

“Given the results we’ve achieved with Circle, we’re certainly going to be thinking very long and hard before handing over any future titles to domestic distributors.

“Taking into account foreign and domestic sales figures (including broadcast, theatrical and home entertainment) and the Australian producer offset, Circle of Lies has recouped its production budget. There may be ancillary costs and deferrals that have yet to be serviced.

“Having said this, we do of course feel that online piracy is cannibalising returns. The illegal download figures point to audience interest in the picture and we look forward to putting our key learnings into practice on future titles."

Warner Bros. acquired the VoD and SVoD rights in North America and the film was acquired by free-TV broadcasters in French Canada and Mexico, pay-TV in the UK, the Middle East and North Africa, free-TV and VoD in Spanish-speaking US and VoD in Argentina.

Kearney and Field are now producing Space Buddies, an animated children’s drama series for the Nine Network. Created by writer-director Shannon Walker, the plot follows space characters who travel the world to learn about different countries.