Creative Industries

New Aust-China co-production rolling

SCREEN Australia has announced a new Australian-Chinese co-production feature At Last, making it the eighth official co-production to receive approval.

The announcement was made at a screen industry networking event in Beijing recently, in partnership with Ausfilm and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The event was designed to further energise Australian-Chinese working relationships and identify co-production opportunities with Chinese producers and production companies. 

In attendance were Ausfilm members including Screen NSW, Film Victoria, Screen Queensland, Screenwest, City of Gold Coast, Soundfirm, Spectrum Films, Show Group, Stage & Screen and The Appointment Group.

Stand-alone private enterprises were also present, including production house Sydney Films which intends to identify 20 existing or potential co-production films with a total investment budget of A$400 million (¥2 billion*).

Screen Australia manages the official co-production program on behalf of the Australian Federal Government.

“We have seen increased interest in Australian-Chinese co-productions with At Last being the fourth feature announced since late 2015,” Screen Australia’s head of business and audience, Richard Harris said.

“This upswing in activity is the result of seven years of engagement with the Chinese screen industry and the sustained support of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television in China.

“China is currently the world’s second-largest movie-going market and co-productions are an essential growth stream for the Australian industry, this is over and above the existing appetite for Chinese television and film productions being shot in Australia.”

Ausfilm CEO Debra Richards said, “We have been building the Australia China Film Industry Exchange in partnership with Screen Australia and the Australian Embassy in Beijing for the last seven years. And more recently Ausfilm and its members, with the support of the Embassy have brought an annual delegation of Chinese filmmakers to Australia to see the locations; the state-of-the-art facilities, studios and services; and to meet with Australia’s world renowned technicians, crew and talent - essentially to experience all that Australia has to offer.

Bleeding Steel, which filmed in Sydney and starring Jackie Chan, is one such outcome of this ongoing relationship.”

The latest co-production At Last is the story of a couple from Beijing who find themselves caught in a complex art heist while on holiday in Australia. The feature will be written and directed by Yiwei Liu and produced by Jackie Jiao, Todd Fellman, Charles Fan and Vanessa Wu, from China's Monumental Films, Australia’s Roadman Films and Story Bridge Films.

Casting is currently underway with production expected to commence in Australia from mid-July. Financing will be provided by Orient Image Entertainment, Gravity Films, Shineland Media, China Lion and Screen Queensland. 

Screen Queensland CEO Tracey Vieira said At Last would shoot in Queensland, providing approximately 200 jobs and injecting $10.8 million into the local economy.

At Last has come to Queensland as a direct result of the Queensland Government’s $30 million screen industry funding injection over four years,” Ms Vieira said.

“The film will showcase a range of Queensland locations and will be the setting for this film which has the potential to grow tourism from China into our state,” Ms Vieira said. “Queensland producers have been working extensively to build relationships with Chinese producers and it is fantastic to see another official co-production in our State.”

At Last is the eighth Australian-Chinese co-production announced since the official treaty was put in place in 2008, and joins a growing list which includes Guardians of the Tomb starring Li Bingbing from writer/director Kimble Rendall (Bait 3D) currently in post-production; and two additional features My Extraordinary Wedding and Tying the Knot which are yet to commence production.

A further feature Dog Fight wrapped production last year, with 33 PostcardsThe Dragon Pearl and Children of the Silk Road also produced to date.

Beyond co-productions, several Australian films have enjoyed Chinese box office success, most recently Hacksaw Ridge which grossed A$80 million (¥419 million) and was granted an extended theatrical release, rare for foreign films usually limited to a 30-day run.

This follows the success of cult hit Bait 3D which grossed A$24.4 million (¥127 million).

Australian films are also regularly selected for Chinese film festivals, including The Death and Life of Otto Bloom, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Tiantan Award at the 2017 Beijing International Film Festival in April.

In addition there are a growing number of Chinese productions being filmed in Australia, including Bleeding Steel starring Jackie Chan, which was the largest budget Chinese production ever to shoot in Australia and for which a new teaser was unveiled at the Beijing event.

The upcoming production Butterflies Across the Sea will be one of the biggest budget Chinese television series to ever have been filmed outside of China and joins Speed which recently wrapped filming in South Australia.

The number of Chinese films released in Australian cinemas is also increasing. There were  30 releases in 2015 compared to 13 releases in 2014. The 2016 hit The Mermaid  achieved A$1.3 Million (¥6.7 million) at the Australian box office.

Australia’s Ambassador to China Jan Adams  said, “The Australian Embassy proudly supports Screen Australia, Ausfilm and the Australian screen industry. Our work together delivers public diplomacy and economic diplomacy benefits by highlighting Australian creative excellence, deepening cultural understanding and delivering business opportunities in a fast growing market. 2017 is the Australia China Year of Tourism and marks the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations. It is a great time to be making co-productions.”



ABC drama Harrow films in Qld for global distribution

THE ABC – in partnership with Hoodlum Entertainment, ABC Studios International and Screen Queensland – will film a major new television drama series, Harrow, in Brisbane and South east Queensland later this year and will be seen by audiences across the globe.

Screen Queensland CEO Tracey Vieira congratulated Brisbane-based production house Hoodlum on “the development of another successful series”.

“This is a tribute to the talents of Emmy and BAFTA Award-winning Hoodlum, which continues to build an international reputation for creating groundbreaking film and television,” Ms Vieira said.              

“The development and filming of Harrow in Queensland is a great coup for our state and will drive Queensland’s ongoing momentum for making and attracting quality local and international productions.”

The unorthodox hero of the series, Dr Daniel Harrow is no ordinary forensic pathologist. Dr Harrow’s total disregard for authority and his unfailing empathy for the dead help him solve even the most bizarre of cases. He is driven to give victims a voice, and will bend every rule to get to the truth of what happened to them. But when a terrible secret from his own past threatens his family, his career, and himself, Dr Harrow needs all his wit, wile, and forensic genius not to solve a crime, but to keep it buried.

ABC head of scripted production, Sally Riley described Harrow as “Darkly funny, totally irreverent, and always surprising – Harrow is an addictive new crime show”.

“The ABC is thrilled to be working with the award-winning team at Hoodlum to bring the complex and compelling Harrow to life,” Ms Riley said.

“Trying to unravel the mystery and understand just what makes Harrow tick will keep audiences guessing right to the end of this exciting new drama series.”

ABC Studios International managing director for international content and talent, Keli Lee said,  “As our first foray into series production, we’re so excited to produce Harrow for worldwide distribution. A compelling story and great characters resonate all over the world.” 

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said: “The Queensland Government investment in the home-grown thriller Harrow, through Screen Queensland, will deliver job opportunities and skills development for the local screen industry, with broader economic benefits for Queensland.

“The filming of the series will result in direct expenditure of more than $15 million into Queensland jobs, goods and services … and will also showcase Queensland locations globally, opening the doors to tourists considering where next to visit.”

Filming for Harrow is due to begin in August.



Enterprising people and industry through Screen

SCREEN AUSTRALIA’s Enterprise Program for Industry and People funded some fascinating initiatives to develop emerging production and screenwriting talent, to the tune of $2.5 million in 2016.

Announced in late 2016 – and with more opportunities to come in 2017 for local companies to explore new ideas and business models, develop innovative projects and cultivate the careers of emerging talent – the Enterprise program alumni include the likes of CJZ (Go Back To Where You Came From), Jungle (Here Come The Habibs), Ludo Studio (Doodles#7 Days Later) and Werner Film Productions (Dance Academy). 

In the most recent round of Enterprise funding, six companies and five individuals shared in $2.5 million from across the Industry and People strands.

The successful proposals in 2016 included a screenwriting development initiative by Scripted Ink. in partnership with the Australian Writers’ Guild; giant screen cinema projects from Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa) and Jo-anne McGowan (Art + Soul); targeted content development; and placements with leading industry producers such as Vicki Madden (The Kettering Incident) and Angie Fielder (Lion).

“I would like to offer my congratulations to those who were successful – in an extremely competitive round of Enterprise funding – for presenting us with such distinctive and compelling business ideas,” Screen Australia head of business and audience, Richard Harris said.

One of the six successful Enterprise Industry applicants’ proposals will see the Australian Writers' Guild  create an extension of Scripted Ink.The Writers Room Project, offering an opportunity for up to 20 experienced and emerging writers from their acclaimed Pathways Program to develop their skills and maximise the market potential of their TV drama projects.

Brisbane-based kids' content specialists Like A Photon Creative are being funded for a series of writers rooms designed to develop content for their slate – targeting the particularly challenging tween market, create a long-term marketing strategy, and enhance their team. 

Highly experienced content producers at Lingo PicturesHelen Bowden and Jason Stephens, will use the funding to create Australian IP from the ground up with a focus on attracting international pre-sales, enabling co-productions and non-traditional equity investment. 

Independent distributor Madman Entertainment is launching VoD service ‘Docplay’ in December 2016, a destination hub for Australian and International documentary content with a revenue-share model for filmmakers. They will use this funding to acquire and curate quality independent Australian documentaries for the platform.

Film and television production company Revolver will capitalise on their relationship with sister company, internationally award-winning TV commercials production company Revolver, to explore the acknowledged opportunity for brand association at the development stage of content creation.

And documentary specialists Stranger Than Fiction Films (STFF) headed up by Jennifer Peedom and Jo-anne McGowan will use this funding to investigate the international market potential of immersive giant screen films, using the release of their film Mountain in June 2017 as a launch pad.

“We are so pleased to have received this support from Screen Australia, which will enable us to expand and explore international partnerships across our slate including feature documentaries and the growing giant screen market,” STFF’s Jennifer Peedom said.

The five successful Enterprise People placements include comedy writer Tristram Baumber who will expand on his credits at Aquarius Films where he will be mentored by creative partners Angie FielderCecilia Ritchie and Polly Staniford (LionBerlin SyndromeWish You Were Here), and highly-respected script executive Greg Waters (Dance AcademySecret City).

Penny Harrold will join Vicki Madden at Tasmanian-based company Sweet Potato Films (SPF) in the role of creative producer, giving her exposure to the industry and the opportunity to assist SPF to capitalise on the phenomenal success of The Kettering Incident.

Producer Lisa Hoppe will be mentored on all aspects of producing by leading children’s animation content maker Avrill Stark (The DeepSanta’s Apprentice) at A Stark Production with a view to seeing her achieve broadcast producing credits;

Producer Melissa Johnston will undergo a placement at film and TV production house Ruby Entertainment where she will be mentored by principal Stephen Luby (The Secret RiverCrackerjack), focusing on the company’s development slate, online content and her own projects;

And producer Jessica Mitchell will be mentored by Western Australia-based film and TV production company WBMC’s Janelle Landers (Son of a Gunwhere she will work across the company’s development slate and attend domestic and international festivals and markets.

“I am so thrilled to have been given this opportunity to acquire on-the-job experience, gain credits and further develop my career working with Vicki Madden at Sweet Potato Films,” Penny Harrold said.

SPF’s Vicki Madden said: “Enterprise People funding will allow me to employ talented upcoming producer Penny Harrold with whom Sweet Potato Films has a long association. This is invaluable at a time when the company has seen recent success and will allow us the opportunity to produce a slate that is sustainable and internationally focused. A win for SPF and the Tasmanian screen sector.”

A further two Enterprise Industry projects have received conditional funding and will be announced at a later stage pending approval.

Enterprise Industry and People has come to the end of the intended three year cycle and will now be reviewed with the aid of industry consultation. A new program and focus will be revealed in 2017.



Aquaman draws heroic govt support

YOU KNOW there is money in a movie when it gets the backing of both the Federal and Queensland Governments.

And you know it is on the economic radar when announcements of support come from no less than the Australian Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Federal Arts Minister and the Queensland Premier.

Such is the case with a new movie franchise in Disney’s Marvel comic superhero stable, Aquaman, which is set to be filmed in Australia this year.

“The Turnbull Government has announced $22 million to secure Australia as the filming location for the blockbuster feature film Aquaman, the next DC superhero movie by Warner Bros Pictures,” Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said.

“The funding secures a major investment in Australia that will create more than 1000 jobs and inject over $150 million into the economy. It will also give thousands of Australian businesses the opportunity to provide the specialised goods and services required for the filming of Aquaman.

Mr Morrison made the announcement with Arts Minister Mitch Fifield, based on the UIS production’s economic credentials – which are significant given that others in the franchise may also soon be enticed.

So far, Mr Morrison noted, similarly supported movies such as Thor: Ragnarok, Alien: Covenant and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales have injected “more than half a billion dollars into the country with long-term benefits in innovation and international collaboration”

The Federal Government appears to be getting its wish that large budget international production continues to be an important part of the Australian film and television production sector.

“It strengthens Australia’s capacity to produce high-quality content and provides valuable skills development opportunities for our talented crews,” Mr Morrison said.

An added bonus for filming Aquaman in Queensland is the return of Australia’s multi-award winning director, producer and screenwriter James Wan – well-known for his work on Saw and Furious 7 – who will be returning home to direct an all-star cast including Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) in the title role.



Lion roars into contention with six Oscar nominations

AUSTRALIAN movie Lion is set to become one of the most acclaimed Aussie films of all time, receiving six Academy Award nominations in late January, including for Best Picture.

Nicole Kidman was nominated for for best supporting actress, Dev Patel for supporting actor, Luke Davies for adapted screenplay, Greig Fraser for cinematography and Dustin O'Halloran and Volker Bertelmann for original score. 

The news follows Lion’s record-breaking opening weekend in Australia.  The $5million weekend box office was the largest opening ever for an Australian independent film. Lion remained at number one on the Australian box office charts on Australia Day.

The film was adapted from the  true story A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley.

We are humbled and grateful this morning for this fantastic honour," Lion producers Emile Sherman and Iain Canning, from See-Saw Films, and fellow producer Angie Fielder said in a released statement.

"It’s so wonderful that the Academy has connected with Lion, a film about hope, and one which portrays the best aspects of humanity. It is so exciting to see so many people who have worked so incredibly hard on this film nominated, and to be able to bring the true story of Saroo and his families to an international audience."

Lion is Nicole Kidman’s fourth Oscar nomination for a performance. She won the Best Actress Award for The Hours.

Ms Kidman said:  It is such as thrill to be part of a Australian film that has received such critical acclaim and been embraced by audiences around the world. My deep appreciation to the Brierley family for allowing us to tell their personal story and particularly Sue Brierley for trusting me to portray her life.”

Richard Payten and Andrew Mackie from Australian distributor Transmission Films said:  “What a perfect way to end the opening week at the Australian box office for this remarkable film.  Lion is truly a film that Australian and international audiences have fallen in love with and it is thrilling to see it getting the critical acclaim it deserves.   Our congratulations to the filmmaking team and amazing cast.”

Lion was directed by Garth Davis from a screenplay by Luke Davies. See-Saw Films produced the film in association with Aquarius Films and Sunstar Entertainment.

Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Angie Fielder are producers with Andrew Fraser, Shahen Mekertichian and Daniel Levin executive producing.

See Saw’s previous films include the Academy-Award winning The King’s Speech and Tracks, while Angie Fielder has just returned from the world premiere screening at the Sundance Film Festival of Aquarius Films’ new feature Berlin Syndrome.


Screen Australia announces more than $3 million in development

THE LATEST Screen Australia funding covers a diverse slate of projects including a true post-War story from the Oscar-winning team behind The King’s Speech, a Dreamtime virtual reality experience, to an online series about bipolar disorder that is being co-executive produced by British comedian Stephen Fry.

Two Indigenous television projects and eight multi-platform projects have received production funding. Eight feature film projects have received development funding, and two individuals and two companies have received talent and sector development funding, totalling more than $3 million in funding from Screen Australia. 

The two Indigenous television projects to have received production investment funding are ABC TV’s The Warriors and the NITV documentary Carry the Flag.

The Warriors is a new Indigenous comedy drama series from Arenamedia, set in the competitive world of Australian Rules Football, with major production investment from Screen Australia and funding support from Film Victoria.

NITV documentary Carry The Flag (working title) delves into the story behind the Torres Strait Island flag designed by Bernard Namok, from Tamarind Tree Pictures with Screen Queensland and Screen Territory support.

Eight multiplatform projects have received production investment funding.

Virtual reality project The Buried  is a 3D immersive experience that plunges the viewer into a magical Dreamtime world, from Indigenous writer/director Tyson Mowarin, creative director Stuart Campbell and producer Justin McArdle, with funding support from Screenwest.

Conspiracy thriller Event Zero is a hybrid-format SVOD feature film and TV series based on the 2012 web series of the same name, from producer/director Enzo Tedeschi (AirlockThe Tunnel).

Australian Irish co-production teen comedy series Drop Dead Weird, for Seven Network and RTE Ireland, follows an Australian family who move to rural Ireland to run the family B&B. Its producers are Monica O’Brien and Sally Browning and it has funding support from Screen NSW.

British comedian Stephen Fry and Gina Carter are executive producing the web series HighLife, a companion piece to the highly acclaimed series Low Life from creators Adam Dolman and Luke Eveabout 17-year-old Genevieve who experiences her first manic episode of bipolar disorder.

Meanwhile, the punk rockers from Newcastle return for another season of antics in YouTube mockumentary These New South Whalesfrom writer/director/producing team Jamie and Ben Timony and Todd Andrews, with Laura Waters (8MMM) joining Jeffrey Walker (Dance Academy) as executive producer.

The latest round of Story Development funding, from July to September 2016, saw eight feature film projects share in more than $250,000 worth of funding.

Among those funded is The Unknown Soldier, based on the inspiring true story of the British priest who created the first Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to help a nation grieving after The Great War. Its acclaimed screenwriter Jan Sardi (The Secret RiverShine) is joined by the Oscar-winning team from See Saw ProductionsEmile Sherman, Rachel Gardner and Iain Canning.

High octane thriller Celestial Blue’s premise featured air hostess Avery faced with a deadly pandemic that breaks out on board mid-flight. Celestial Blue comes from These Final Hours writer/director Zak Hilditch and producer Liz Kearney (Paper PlanesSpear).

The Blue Tinis a powerful dramatisation of a death-in-custody tragedy and a family’s struggle for justice, from producer David Jowsey (GoldstoneMystery Road) and writer Stephen Sewell.

Sci-fi dystopian drama In Vitro from writer/director/producing team Will JaymesTom McKeith and Talia Zucker is the second outing for Jaymes and McKeith whose debut feature Beast with Sam McKeith was selected for TIFF in 2015.

Jirga, from writer Benjamin Gilmour and producer John Maynard (Sherpa),  is about a former Australian soldier who returns to Afghanistan to find the family of a man he killed in combat.


How $7.6m in arts funding worked for Australia

THE Australia Council for the Arts’ recent $5.7 million investment in 177 projects – spread among individual artists, groups and small to medium arts organisations – has been the catalyst for “an impressive level of diversity, innovation and collaboration” according to the council’s chief executive, Tony Grybowski.

Mr Grybowski said through the council’s June grants round – along with $640,000 through the annual Australia Council Fellowships program, $343,772 through Visual Arts and Craft Strategy (VACS) individual grants, and $929,928 through Playing Australia national regional touring grants – many landmark projects were developed.

Mr Grybowski said while the latest grants round had been highly competitive.

“Almost 1,200 applications were received for the June round from small to medium arts organisations, and individuals and groups,” he said. “Consistently strong and highly contested, 177 projects will be funded through the fourth round of the revised grants model.

“I continue to be inspired by the diversity and depth of artistic quality and cultural ambition across the applications which reflects the strength and vibrancy of the arts across all of Australia”, said Mr Grybowski.

“Of successful applicants to arts projects, 30 percent nominated audience engagement and access to and participation in the arts as their key project outcomes. The Australia Council is committed to supporting opportunities for Australians to access and participate in the arts as consumers or creators.

“Positive trends continue with the increased number of new applicants to the Australia Council grants model, and of those, an increased number of new successful applicants. 

“The new grants model was designed to be more accessible and flexible in response to feedback from the sector. These results continue to build on previous grant rounds,” Mr Grybowski said.

Eight of Australia’s most accomplished artists working across diverse art forms have been recognised with prestigious Australia Council Fellowships: Lisa Maza (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts); Rebecca Reid (community arts and cultural development); Brooke Stamp (dance); Sarah Jane Pell (emerging and experimental arts); Julia Leigh (literature); Sandy Evans (music); Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy (theatre); and Danie Mellor (visual arts).

Some of the successful new applicants in the round included Natasha Phillips through Community Arts and Cultural Development for her China AUS Arts project, aimed at strengthening cultural literacy and investigating creative exchanges between Australia and China within the independent contemporary arts.

Earlier this year, the ARIA Award winning band The Jezabels released their third studio album, Synthia, to excellent reviews and a number four spot on the Australian chart. The band has received funding to support their North American tour later this year, further building the momentum of exceptional international success currently enjoyed by a high number of Australian contemporary music artists.

In the Emerging and Experimental Arts space, Tammy Brennan, Josh Harle and PACT Centre for Emerging Artists will all receive funding across a variety of projects that use cross-disciplinary processes and forms. \

New Landscapes Institute will receive $50,000 for The Long Paddock, an expanded public program and design and construction of ‘The Plant’. This is an experimental and multi-disciplinary project exploring Australia's Travelling Stock Routes. The 12 artists, architects and designers involved have developed work which explore the historical, environmental and cultural significance of these pathways.

Express Media has been funded to deliver a national program to support young writers. Tracks: a pop-up program for young writers, will bring the best of Express Media’s workshops, networking opportunities and showcase events to five locations across Australia.

Slingsby Theatre Company, Arena Theatre Company, Brink Productions and Gravity and Other Myths will each receive funding across a variety of projects that engage young people, create theatrical installations and develop future touring opportunities.

The Australia Council’s grant model enables applicants to select the practice area panel of expert peers they would like to assess their application. Panel options included: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts; Community Arts and Cultural Development; Dance; Emerging and Experimental Arts; Literature; Multi-art form; Music; Theatre; Visual Arts; and Artists with Disabilities.


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