Louise Gough, Robert Patterson and Rachel Connors.
Robert Connolly refers to Arenamedia as a boutique, director-driven production company but it’s just gotten a lot bigger and more globally-focused.
The Melbourne-based producer, director and writer has opened a Sydney office and hired three senior executives: London-based Aussie producer Rachel Connors, former director of ABC Commercial Robert Patterson and former Screen Australia development executive Louise Gough.
“We have made a big commitment as we have a massive development slate,” Connolly tells IF, speaking at his Sydney office on the site of the former art deco Valhalla Cinema in Glebe.
“With the demand for innovative content greater now than it has ever been, the appointment of Robert, Louise and Rachel to these key roles will position us to increase our capacity and give us a bigger global presence.”
Connors will spearhead the drive into production in the UK and Europe while Patterson’s hiring fits with the objective of expanding the TV drama and comedy output following Arenamedia’s first TV venture, The Warriors for ABC TV.
Connolly first met Connors when she ran Slingshot, the UK’s first digital film studio, where she produced the features The Tormented, French Film, Sugarhouse and Faintheart.
Now they are collaborating on Jamaica, a comedy based on a Malcolm Knox novel which follows six wealthy Australians who travel to the Caribbean island to compete in a marathon relay swim. Each is on the edge of crisis, none more so than one who is hiding a terrible truth.
Arenamedia and Connors’ Black Milk Productions will co-produce the film scripted by Melissa Bubnic and Connolly will direct.
Connors’ appointment is supported by Film Victoria’s Screen Business Ventures program. She will complement the output of Melbourne-based producer Liz Kearney.
“In addition to overseeing our UK-based activities, Rachel’s skills are of enormous benefit to our entire development and production slate. We also look forward to working with Rachel on a number of her own projects which will be produced with the support of Arenamedia,” Connolly said.
Connors said the new structure will open doors to new creative and commercial partnerships in Europe as well as strengthening Arenamedia’s ability to deliver great stories to global audiences.
Based in Sydney, Patterson is serving as executive producer across all the company’s entire slate as well as head of business affairs while Gough is head of development.
Connolly says Patterson’s network of contacts around the world will be valuable in finding co-producers, international partners and other co-investors.
Patterson left the ABC at the end of last year after more than two decades. As director of commercial since 2012 he oversaw the division’s transformation to focus on online retail and identified new revenue opportunities.
After meeting at the University of NSW in the early 1990s, Connolly and Patterson ran a theatre production company, Missing Link Productions, for a couple of years until Connolly went to film school and Patterson pursued his love of music.
The two kept in touch as the ABC released the soundtracks of Connolly’s movies The Bank, Three Dollars, Balibo and Paper Planes.
Patterson tells IF: “Arena will be doing more in the TV space. Until a few years ago who could have predicted the renaissance of TV drama and comedy and the vast sums being pumped into content by the SVOD platforms?”
He plans to start discussions with US and international broadcasters and platforms at MIP TV.
Connolly said: “Robert’s unique skill-set, impeccable creative instinct, commercial acumen and global network of contacts will be a huge asset to Arenamedia.”
Gough served as development executive at Screen Australia after a long career as a freelance script editor, script assessor and dramaturgical consultant.
Her CV includes ABC TV drama and narrative comedy editorial manager, development executive for Robyn Kershaw Productions and script manager for Film Victoria.
“Louise possesses an extraordinary range of development experience built over two decades working with leading creative organisations in Australia and internationally. She will bring a level of expertise that will benefit all of our projects, enhancing Arenamedia’s reputation for the creation of world-class, distinctive screen content,” Connolly said.
The company’s development slate includes Blueback, Connolly’s follow-up to Paper Planes which he is writing, adapted from the Tim Winton novel about a boy who befriends a giant groper; and Magic Beach, a live action/animated omnibus movie based on Alison Lester’s classic children’s novel, with each of 10 segments created by a different animator.
Kearney’s projects include Celestial Blue, a thriller set during a pandemic in Perth from writer-director Zak Hilditch, and Sweet As, Indigenous filmmaker Juc Clerc’s coming-of-age story about an Aboriginal girl who is selected to go on a National Geographic safari.
Separately, Connolly is attached to direct The Dry, a thriller scripted by Harry Cripps based on Jane Harper’s debut novel which centres on two murders 20 years apart in a small town in drought-stricken rural Australia, produced by Bruna Papandrea.