The prognosis for Aussie films

20 November, 2013 by Don Groves

Over the next five years Australian producers will find it even harder to secure theatrical releases for their films around the world but films will be capable of reaching even more eyeballs via myriad digital platforms.

That was the consensus view among the experts at the panel entitled My film is great, so why is no one interested?: Positioning your film for the marketplace, at the Screen Forever conference on Wednesday.


Bec Smith, an agent at UTA Independent Film Group in Los Angeles, predicted theatrical deals for Australian films will be “more elusive” and a lot of content will migrate to digital platforms.

Craig Emanuel, a partner at LA-based entertainment law firm Loeb & Loeb, opined that in five years theatrical releases for independent films worldwide will be the exception rather than the rule.

But he told the assembled producers that that if that happens it would not necessarily be a bad thing because there would be many more platforms which would enable Australian content to reach more eyeballs.

He hailed the virtues of producing films for HBO in the US and for cinemas release in the rest of the world, at lower budgets than for fully theatrical projects, citing the success of Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra.

Emanuel noted that his client, writer-producer-director Ryan Murphy, is taking a similar route with his film The Normal Heart, based on a Larry Kramer play.

Asked by session moderator Brian Rosen for his five-year outlook for Aussie films, Arclight Films senior VP Clay Epstein said, “I am optimistic.” But he added one caveat, predicting that distributors around the world will be even more selective than they are today.

Epstein agrees that there will be a proliferation of VOD outlets but worries that Australian and other independent films may get lost among, figuratively if not literally, 10,000 titles on offer.

Earlier at a seminar entitled Screen splinters- shakeups in large and small screen distribution, there was no consensus on how or when the 120-day window between cinema and home entertainment will be relaxed and a more flexible model introduced.

Rights Stuff founder Wendy Bernfeld suggested trials on releasing individual titles on shorter windows. She pointed to France where Canal Plus lobbied successfully for art house films and documentaries to be exempted from the legislated holdback period; that fare is now being released one month after its theatrical premiere and in some cases pre-cinema launch.

Universal Pictures Australasia MD Mike Baard said some “realignment” is needed but he stopped short of specifying a solution.

Madman Entertainment co-founder Paul Wiegard said he thinks a new release paradigm will evolve as exhibitors respond to their customers’ needs and wishes, and as cinemas (such as Hoyts) enter the VOD business.

Baard and producer Ben Grant raised the issue of the “scary” cost of releasing films theatrically, but Baard characterised this as the golden age of distribution, with more pipes than ever to reach consumers.

Producer Vincent Sheehan suggested the era of producers using a sales agent as a one- stop shop to secure an advance against all rights for all territories may be coming to an end. Instead he envisioned producers exploring myriad possibilities in the foreign sector.