Sunday, December 17, 2017

OA FILMS NEWS - a LONG overdue update...


So much has been happening here at Opening Act Films, we've simply not had the time to talk about it. Fishing, rather than talking about fish, so to speak.

So, for the curious of heart about what we've been up to, here are the highlights for 2017 at Opening Act Films:

 - In early January, our film 'Dedo' screened at the Oscar-accredited film festival, Flickerfest (LINK)
 - Then, in late January, 'Dedo' had its broadcast premiere on the ABC in Australia (LINK)
 - Keeping rolling in January, we announced the completion of our film '12.12.12' (LINK)
 - By April, it was time for the cast and crew screening of our new film 'Pilè'
 - Our founder, Pete Ireland, had his 35th birthday in June, around the same time we were informed our film 'Pilè' had been pre-selected for the Venice Film Festival. A huge honour, despite the fact we didn't eventually make the final festival selection.
 - In July, we were thrilled to be selected for Screen Australia funding and development of our long form concept (in collaboration with our friend Tony Radevski at Runtime Pictures) 'Risen' (LINK)
 - Shortly after, in September, we received word that our film 'Pilè' had been selected for the 24th Oldenburg International Film Festival, described as 'Top Five Film Festivals worldwide' by the Ultimate Festival Guide, voted one of the '25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World' by Moviemaker Magazine, and labelled 'the German Sundance' by the Hollywood Reporter (LINK)
 - In October, 'Pilè' screened at the 12th Annual Macedonian Film Festival in Toronto, Canada
 - Also in October, we rolled into production on a five day shoot for the 'Risen' short film/pilot.
 - In November we started assembling a brilliant cast for our new project 'Romp' (in collaboration with our friend Tonnette Stanford) (LINK)
 - Then, in December we were delighted to hear 'Pilè' has been selected for the Oscar-accredited short film festival, Flickerfest, screening on Sunday 14 January, 2018. (LINK)

It's been an incredible year of highs and lows. Thanks to every one of our collaborators and supporters for making 2017 a true creative adventure.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

OA FILMS NEWS - poking our head above water for the first time since 2015


My goodness, where has the time gone?

The last time we gave you news from Opening Act Films, Donald Trump wasn't yet president. What a time to be alive.

So, to get you up to speed, here are the highlights for what our 2016 looked like at Opening Act Films:

 - In March, we held the cast and crew screening for our new film, 'Dedo', which SBS Radio also attended (LINK)
 - In early April, we started production on our new film '12.12.12'
 - Also in April, I was interviewed in the Western Weekender newspaper about our new film '12.12.12' (LINK)
 - Still in April, our film 'Chip' was selected for 58th Rochester International Film Festival in Rochester, New York. For the festival I was interviewed on NPR Rochester radio (LINK)
 - Upon returning from the U.S. we launched a successful crowdfunding campaign for our new film 'Pilè' which eventually raised $16K
 - In June, our friend and collaborator on 'Dedo' and 'Pilè', Tony Radevski, was interviewed by SBS Radio about our two films (LINK)
 - From August, we started pre-production on 'Pilè', including the difficult task of finding a regional location
 - In October, we held the cast and crew screening for '12.12.12', which was a roaring success
 - Later in October, we had a three day, intense, location-based film shoot for 'Pilè' in the Wolgan Valley
 - Finally, in December, we were excited to find out 'Dedo' had been selected for the Oscar-accredited short film festival, Flickerfest. (LINK)

All told, between shooting two films, a U.S. trip for a film festival, and life in general, 2016 was seismic in proportions.

Our sincerest gratitude to all of our collaborators, friends and supporters, for helping Opening Act Films thrive in 2016.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

ARS GRATIA ARTIS


Some home truths for you.

In 2016, the Government of New South Wales has allocated $1.6 billion for sporting stadium refurbishments.

'That allocation will include $350 million for a new stadium at Parramatta, $450 million for a refurbishment of Allianz Stadium and $700 million to turn ANZ Stadium into a permanent 75,000-seat rectangular stadium.'


Around the same time, the same Government announced that an additional $20 million would be set-aside for screen production in NSW. The idea, as the Government spokesperson puts it, is to ask:

"Why can't we make the next Star Wars episode here?...Why can't we bring Game of Thrones here?"

For reference, 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' cost $306 million to make. 'Game of Thrones: Season 6' cost $100 million to make.

But yes, we'll secure all of that with an extra $20 million in the bank. Right.

There is a broader question at issue here, however.

The announcement of an extra $20 million in funding for the screen arts is cause for celebration, no doubt. But to have the funds instantly committed to the competitive pursuit of attracting productions we don't own the rights to; and therefore won't profit from?

A cigarette to my helium balloon.

"But these international productions will mean jobs for our film and TV industry technicians!"


(SIDE NOTE: it's always funny to hear conservative politicians justify giving public money to Hollywood studios because it will create jobs. Something about the glamour of the film business suddenly turns right-wing public servants into socialists.)

I could rejoinder this broad, economic brush-stroke of 'job creation' with a long analysis of the cost-benefit of these international film/TV production cash subsidies.

I really could.

But such a long-winded analysis is unnecessary. Throwing huge wads of taxpayer money at billionaire entertainment corporations so they (temporarily) hire our film workers, then leave and reap the rewards of owning the IP, doesn't pass a basic common sense test. It would be like China paying Apple to set-up an iPhone sweat-shop for 6 months.

So, I will leave you instead, with the simple notion that the black-box "positivity" accounting involved in these large 'one-off' international film and TV production subsidies, is dubious at best.

You may be wondering then, how does a sports stadium become prioritised in the public consciousness, over the screen arts, to the tune of 17 times more funding in this particular case?

I am too.

Is it because sports are events that generate so much revenue and public benefit?

Well, if that were the case, it would only strengthen the argument that the Arts are not receiving their fair share of the pie. Or, as one writer put it:

'More than 18 million Australians buy tickets to live shows every year. That’s more than attend all sport in this nation. By this statistic, sport is for elitists and the arts are for everyone.'


The funding deficit is not logical, then. It's idealogical. The home truth I promised you, it lives here:

Art has no right to exist.

Of course I want art to exist. We all do.

Art, unequivocally, is the glue that holds our bonds of civilisation together.

But still, be it dance, or film, or writing, or painting - whatever your cultural vice may be - art has no right to exist.

Art needs angels. It must be spoken for. Willed into being.

Either spawned through the harmonised chorus of your desire, and the skill of artist who's work moves your dial...

...or extinguished, by the collective silence, roughly the size of a crowded sports stadium.

I just have to shake my head at the state of affairs sometimes. Despite all that we know and love, what kind of society are we building here?

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Sunday, June 05, 2016

THE SUPER TICKET


Nobody watches the movies anymore.

TV hit cinema over the head with a shovel, and the booming experience economy buried the body in lime.

Do I really believe that film has met its gruesome end? Not really.

My perspective doesn't stop this mythology from propagating though. The once unshakeable identity of the cinephiles has cracked like a Hollywood footpath. Weeds of pernicious doubt grow though.

And yet, it's a fool's errand to argue that viewing habits aren't changing. The "millennials" (oh, how I loathe that aggregation) have voted with their wallets, making the focus all about 'experiences' over possessions. Three calls of the crow over consumer culture.

Could a generational value shift really signal the end of the theatrical movie industry? Has the one-off delight of film fallen so far behind the serialised commitment of episodic television?

To be honest, it's hard to say. Billions are still being made in the film business, but millions are flocking to the boob tube. Piracy warrants a mention here too, in so much as its absence would likely make the playing field level and comparisons less opaque.

Alas, a larceny free digital world is a lost Eutopia.

So, mired in the abundance of doubt and risk, we stand pat. Atrophy with stoicism rather than evolve with conviction. All the while the audience changes in many ways except one...

...the appetite for great stories.

Still, the question lingers. As the delivery of feature-length cinema remains relatively unchanged over 100 years, can we refine the experience?

There are convenient answers. 3D, with its expensive trickery and borderline eye-strain. Event cinema, where a live event/performance is simulcast to a cinema audience. Perhaps even VR, which I would argue is actually an entirely different mode of visual storytelling altogether. Far more a cousin than a sibling.

At this impasse, with the cupboard of solutions seemingly laid bare, none of the above ideas have stemmed the long-term trend of diminishing ticket sales.

But do not abandon hope.

There are pioneers out there still. Experimenting. Tinkering. These renegades have realised that perhaps, if enhancing the 'audience experience' is the key, the innovation is not so much needed on screen as at the once untouchable unicorn of the film release chain: the ticket booth.

Enter the 'Superticket'.

Launched for the release of 'Pacific Rim', the US$25 ticket bought cinemagoers their movie ticket, plus a HD digital download of the film. A simple, yet interesting value add.

'Transformers - Age of Extinction' was the 'Superticket' follow up, this time offering a cinema ticket and a digital download of one of the previous Transformers films. This attempt is even more intriguing for its intention to create 'fandom' via exposure to the previous films in the franchise.

Not to be outdone, Paramount Pictures launched the 'Megaticket' for the Brad Pitt zombie film 'World War Z'. For US$50, audience members receive their cinema ticket, small popcorn, custom 'World War Z' 3D glasses, a limited edition poster, AND a digital download of the film. Without a franchise to rely on, this version of the bundled ticket concept is clearly a 'shock and awe' merchandise assault.

Unfortunately, with a binary approach such as this, there is a natural limit to what a bundled ticket can offer a potential audience member. At a certain point, adding more swag to the transaction, for a higher price, simply becomes a classic consumer endeavour.

Here is where evolution is needed.

What higher plane could we mature the 'superticket' to, with some directed empathy and creativity?

Could you, for instance, segment and activate a legion of "superfans", along genre, actor, director, production company or franchise lines? From there, a 'superfan engagement' (their words) company like ZinePak could create "fan experiences", combining unique fan merchandise with cinema and home entertainment.

I know that sounds like the winning ticket for buzzword bingo, but there are already existing models for how this can work in reality. Apple deliberately stages the iphone boxing so that it excites as you progress. In the art world, indie musician Jonathan Coulton created a "fan experience" for his latest album, where each stage of the unboxing was planned to be mysterious, engaging and fun; i.e. the complete antithesis of the modern music download era.

But what if?

What if we're not thinking big enough, still?

So many of the methods for audience engagement already exist, what if we simply brought them into a beautiful marriage of story, event and memento?

You start with a horror film 'A'.

You've heard about the film and want to see it.

You register for the film and you receive a mystery box. As you open the box each section reveals something interesting about the story world. The items within are unique and personalised from the filmmakers to you.

In the bottom section of the box, there are two tshirts. You have a choice to make. Do you wear the red shirt to the premiere? Or the black shirt? A small envelope contains a message to text your answer to a mysterious number. In response, you receive the address of the screening location.

Your ticket, also in the box, is in the form of a wristband with an RFID chip embedded in it.

You head to the screening, having chosen to wear the black shirt, and find that there is an interactive event at the screening location. Your tshirt, as well as being a souvenir, affects the way you enter the film screening via the interactive experience. The RFID ticket wristband, when scanned, instantly uploads your photo to your social media and lets the community of fans know you are part of the special premiere event.

In this environment of total immersion, the film has heightened emotional tension and transcends to a sensory experience. The filmmakers are there too, to thank you and answer your questions. Amazing.

On the way out of the theatre, you receive a final mystery box, with a commemorative memento of the experience, and another RFID wristband ticket. This one, can be activated online for a friend you bring along at the repeat screening, and you get to come along to the event for free...wearing the red shirt this time.

Best of all, the RFID wristband and the online registration are all part of a broader gamification (I've written about this before), where you earn pins, unlock achievements and earn status in the community of fans for this filmmaker/actor/genre/production company/film festival/cinema chain/etc.

Whew.

Impossible, right? Pure fantasy.

Wrong.

A hotel in Ibiza used the RFID wristbands to create a completely socially connected party event. At the beginning of the tourist season, the club had 4,000 fans on its Facebook page. By the end of season it had close to 70,000.

Vail Resorts went from the also-ran of ski resorts, to the most talked about in the skiing community, after they introduced a gamification achievement system (using a combination of smart phones and RFID). The system allows skiers to record their achievements, earning points, winning badges, and unlocking pins based on their actual skiing adventures.

Oh, and let's not forget the massive 100,000 tickets sold for the 'Star Wars-Empire Strikes Back' immersive event in London.

The tools are there.

We don't need to reinvent the art form of cinema to reinvigorate time-poor audiences' passion for our medium.

The answer is not softer chairs, or more buttery popcorn.

It's quite simple. For the first time in 100 years we have to finally do something we've neglected.

Put the audience experience first.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

THE COMFORTABLE OUTRAGE OF STEVEN SPIELBERG


You!

Yes, you!

Wake up!

You're in DANGER!

From Virtual Reality!

It's coming for you...

...and the narratives you hold dear.

That's what Steven Spielberg thinks, in any case.

He actually used that word 'dangerous'. Like VR would sneak into your home at night and kidnap your family.

Mr Spielberg's concern is what you, the audience, will do with the power of choice. That you will ruin the artistry of cinema. Choosing where to look takes control from the filmmakers and places it squarely into the eyeballs of the viewing public.

This is where we have come to in our paranoia over technological disruption?

Is turning away from the story action (then having to rewind) really that new of an idea? Clearly Mr Spielberg's television follows his eyesight wherever he gazes. Must cost a fortune.

There are so many infinitely larger challenges facing filmmakers and artists, that the growth of VR should barely warrant a bemused shrug.

Forget virtual reality problems, the real world has all the difficulties artists can handle.

In Australia, funding for the screen arts keeps facing cut, after cut, after cut. So much so, that thirty-year-old filmmaker resource organisation 'Metro Screen' was forced to shut down at the end of 2015.

Is it any wonder that 'Median earnings for a visual artist are $25,800 from all sources; half earn less than $10,000 a year from their art, according to a 2010 Australia Council study.'


How would you respond to hearing the news that artists in Australia can barely afford a biscuit?

Take the biscuit, of course.

Or perhaps you would decry this new reality for the modern artist. Uprise in an arcing rage, and stand in unison with the vocal critics of the current Federal Government Arts funding armageddon shouting:

'The emasculation of the arts sector...that began under Tony Abbott’s administration has continued seamlessly under Malcolm Turnbull. While arts communities easily cast Abbott as a villainous Philistine and held out hope that his more urbane successor would put his money where his artistic patronage was, Turnbull has just been more of the same with nicer manners.'


Alas, the obstacles are not only limited to Australia.

In Hollywood, noted luminaries like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Soderbergh, and Spike Lee have all commented on the virtual extinction of the mid-tier budget film. It's either a 'Disney-Marvel-Warner Brothers-DC-Pixar-Universal-superhero-animated-sequel-blockbuster', or the budget has to be less than $2 million. Neither one of those scenarios leads to a golden age for screen culture.

At Cannes 2016, aside from Amazon swinging their gigantic...chequebook...around to make an identity statement, the film market was reportedly very quiet on the sales side.

Which leaves Netflix, the touted saviour of all screen storytellers. Unfortunately, the Netflix rescue fantasy conveniently leaves out that the company operates on extraordinarily small profit margins, in an increasingly competitive global business. Sort of like your knight in armour showing up on a three-legged horse.

I could go on.

But I'll boil it down for you: living the life of an artist is hard.

There's doubt.

There's rejection.

And there's the constant hustle for resources.

Even Orson Welles once said:

"I would have been more successful if I'd left movies immediately, stayed in the theatre, gone into politics, written, anything. I've wasted a greater part of my life looking for money and trying to get along, trying to make my work from this terribly expensive paintbox which is a movie. And I've spent too much energy on things that have nothing to do with making a movie. It's about two percent movie-making and ninety-eight percent hustling. It's no way to spend a life."

The least of our problems is the emergence of a new storytelling technology. Only a very comfortably wealthy artist, part of the billionaire elite in fact, would consider the growth of VR to be anything more than 'uptown problems'. Outrage from a gilded perch.

No, the real "danger" of our present era is for the audience.

You are under siege. Encircled by a pervasive monoculture, run by wealthy corporations that want to homogenise your stories. To starve out the diverse artist ecosystem for their profit. And worse, this blockade is run, in collusion it seems, with the outdated 'trickle-down' economic ideologies of the current political class.

This should make you mad.

No?

Imagine your world without movies, television, music, books, paintings, sculpture, dance, theatre, poetry...

Correction: this should make you furious.

We artists don't want much. We know it's hard. It's meant to be hard. But, as Orson Welles said, in the other half of that quote:

'I think I made essentially a mistake in staying in movies but it’s a mistake I can’t regret because it’s like saying I shouldn't have stayed married to that woman but I did because I love her.'


We're in this for life.

We're fighting to create stories for you that will enrich your existence.

Will you fight for us too?

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

RIP QUICKFLIX


So it is predicted, so it shall be.

Unfortunately, I was right on this one. In my '2016 Year In Review', I divined that Quickflix would be the first major casualty of Netflix's Australian arrival, coupled with the launch of new, local video streaming options. Specifically, I wrote:

'There are too many mouths at the trough, with not enough audience to go around. Unfortunately, after heavy losses throughout 2015, I don't think Quickflix will survive 2016. They were one of the earliest in the streaming space in Australia, but sometimes being first mover can actually work against you, particularly in a small market.'

In the last month, rather quietly, a news story broke that Quickflix is in administration.

Oh well, another company spins the wheel and tastes the bitter wine of failure, you say. And you would be right, of course.

Except...I can't help but pause for a moment, before starting to shovel dirt on this coffin.

In the kinetic, somewhat surreal, universe of global film and TV distribution, it can almost appear like there are no humans involved. The pundits scream the names of brands and oligopolies, while the faceless men and women behind the velvet curtain simply pull the oars and keep the machinery in full, violent roar.

"Warner Brothers. Universal. Stan. Foxtel. Disney. Netflix."

But Quickflix was not an opaque titan. The company started in Perth in 2003, by a group of entrepreneurs including current CEO Stephen Langsford. And, while the startup certainly wasn't a family-run operation, it is publicly known that Langsford invested a sizeable amount of his own money into his movie distribution venture.

In 2012, the gamble looked like genius.

Quickflix was valued at roughly $70 million. The business had strong content deals. DVD postal rentals were doing well, and Langsford was ready to guide the business into online subscription streaming.

Yes, Quickflix would be the first mover on online subscription streaming in the Australian market. The opportunities for success loomed large.

But lo, how colossal the fall from the peaks of prosperity.

By early 2015, Quickflix was worth $2.7 million.

The streaming business was a shambolic mess of technical glitches and bizarre pricing structures.

Even worse, Netflix arrived. Stan and Presto too, like the three horseman of the Quickflix apocalypse.

And now, it's over.

Quickflix was not the first company to fail after being ahead of it's time, mind you. Before the iPod came to dominate the collective eardrums of the world, there was the RIO MP3 player. Commercially successful long before Steve Jobs took over our cochleas, the RIO should have conquered the music world.

Instead, the manufacturer of RIO went bankrupt in 2003.

But how? What did the iPod have that RIO did not?

Answer: the iTunes store.

What does Netflix/Stan have that Quickflix didn't?

Answer: user interfaces that worked, with a 'simple to understand' subscription model.

This is the immortal truth, friends. Ideas are magic. Intention is wonderful. Enthusiasm, essential.

But it's all for nothing if you don't execute flawlessly.

Survival of the fittest reigns in the screen industry, and all players must prove their mettle.

It's a harsh world, no exceptions.

I won't celebrate being proven right on my Quickflix prediction. Instead, I'll reflect on the reminder of how perilous it is for all of us in the arts.

'...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.'


Farewell, Quickflix. I sincerely hope the landing is soft.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

I WAS WRONG...AND GEORGE LUCAS WAS RIGHT


Well, this is awkward.

It's been barely more than three months since I repeated my argument that George Lucas was ludicrously misguided with his predictions about the film industry:

"You’re going to end up with fewer theaters, bigger theaters with a lot of nice things. Going to the movies will cost 50 bucks or 100 or 150 bucks, like what Broadway costs today, or a football game....There’ll be big movies on a big screen, and it’ll cost them a lot of money. Everything else will be on a small screen" (George Lucas)


Then news breaks of 'The Screening Room.'

A new tech startup lead by Sean Parker, formerly of Napster fame and the guiding hand of a small company (you may have heard of) called Facebook. 'The Screening Room' will provide streaming access to new release films for subscribers.

"...(cough)...Netflix...(cough)" you say.

But this is different. 'The Streaming Room' is not offering the traditional 'new releases' of the local video store, now itunes. This service streams actual NEW RELEASES, as in films that are playing in cinemas. The idea is to allow those audiences who simply refuse to attend a cinema, to see the films they want in the comfort of their own home. Good for audiences. Great for the business.

Another stake in the heart of film piracy.

The cost? $50 per 48 hour movie rental.

A premium movie service for the modern hermit with disposable income.

Yes, I know this is exactly the opposite of what George Lucas predicted. That he suggested the plebeians would pay a high price to visit a scarce movie theatre, for a 'big screen event' film. Viewing from home was never in the equation.

And I know that the service is far from available. That the the traditional film distribution guardians have erupted into white-hot rage, even while numerous top filmmakers support the idea.

Still, a $50 movie. That's essentially a bullseye for ol' George.

But where does that leave the rest of us?

Should we be pleased that someone is finally attempting a new method of release to the stalwarts of the film viewing world?

Excited that the film establishment have leaped so quickly to the defence of the cinema experience?

Proud that George Lucas managed to get at least one element of his prediction correct?

Clearly I'm not qualified to answer that, given I was wrong in the first place.

But I am left with one troubling question about this new proposal. One I won't hazard an answer to. Perhaps you can ponder it for me.

What person, who steals movies for free, would pay $50 for them instead?

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