The Power List

FilmInk runs the rule over the power players in the local movie industry and makes the call on who stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to influence, opinion and decision-making might.

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The Hollywood media continually churns out power lists, and FilmInk thought it was time that we weighed in on the debate, turning our eye to those who hold the most authority in the Australian film industry. In the issue out July 18, we’ve compiled our inaugural power list, outlining who we believe to be the twenty most powerful figures working in the local film scene.

While these types of lists are often littered with actors and celebrities, our list is based on those who actually have the muscle to get a project greenlit in Australia. While the list includes familiar names like Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, it also encompasses directors, producers, MDs and the type of heavy hitters who have the ability to light the fuse that begins a movie. It’s always going to be a contentious subject matter, and the hope is that it kickstarts a conversation.


So, what makes Baz the most powerful person in the Australian film biz? He’s made every one of his films (apart from Romeo + Juliet) locally; he has his wife, Catherine Martin, as a producer and production designer; he brings massive productions and overseas studio money into Australia; he makes the films that he wants to make, and gets actors and film studios to support his vision; and his enormously ambitious movies make money back for investors. In any year, Baz Luhrmann would be in the Top Five, but with The Great Gatsby still red-hot, he would have no problem getting a greenlight on a follow-up feature right now…if only he worked that quickly.


Underdog Oscar winner, The King’s Speech, catapulted Emile Sherman into another league, and his subsequent films (Oranges And Sunshine, Shame, Dead Europe) as a producer have continued to challenge the status quo. But it’s Sherman’s partnership in the production company, See-Saw, with British based Iain Canning, plus his large share of Fulcrum (run by Sharon Menzies), which provides gap-finance and cash flow loans to feature films (including the likes of Animal Kingdom and Snowtown), that really gives him the ability to get a film made in this country. 


The CEO of Village Roadshow Limited, and Australia’s biggest “independent” film distributor, Roadshow, Graham Burke is a veteran of the industry, whose experience goes all the way back to Australia’s New Wave of filmmakers in the seventies. Roadshow has an output deal in place until 2017 with Hollywood’s most successful film studio, Warner Bros., and also has first look deals with a number of Hollywood mini-studios, including The Weinstein Company and Lionsgate. Village Roadshow is also committed to co-produce six to eight Hollywood films per year through their joint venture with Warner Bros. On the local front, Burke has helped get Australian films made since the mid-eighties, with his most recent success story being Red Dog.


Why is Screen Australia so high up on the list? Because without a government agency’s support, the Australian film industry would not exist. Their lobbying of the government for the importance of a native screen culture is tantamount, but moreover with the recent introduction of the various offsets, which Screen Australia authorises for each production, theirs is the model upon which our current filmmakers operate.


Although beset by recent disappointments, including the closure of Dr. D Studios; the nixing of the Justice League movie; and moving production of Mad Max: Fury Road to Namibia, Dr. George Miller is still one of the most exciting filmmaking figures in this country, whose production company, Kennedy Miller Mitchell, has a pedigree like no other. He mixes personal projects with higher concept movies, and usually attracts sizeable audiences. Mad Max, Babe and Happy Feet are hugely popular internationally, and Dr. George has big ideas about the future of cinema, both local and international.


In an age when leading actors attract the biggest salary on a movie, and when stars of Jackman’s calibre unquestionably make a major impact on opening weekend box office figures, it follows that Hugh Jackman is quite the power player, whether sporting Wolverine claws or not. The fact that he was able to charm The Prime Minister into allowing The Wolverine to qualify for the Producers Offset says something about this power.


Troy Lum joined Dendy’s Sandie Don and former NewVision boss and bankroller, Frank Cox, in launching Hopscotch Films in 2002. It’s been a rapid rise for Lum, and in 2011, Hopscotch was bought out by Canadian distribution powerhouse, Entertainment One. All along this journey, Lum has been actively engaged with the local industry (a high point being producing Mao’s Last Dancer), and most recently, he drove the formation of Hopscotch Features, a joint venture with screenwriter and famed script doctor, John Collee, and producer, Andrew Mason, which received a one million dollar funding grant through Screen Australia’s Enterprise Program.


Although now based in the US, this head of sales agent, Arclight Films (and before that, Beyond Films), still has his finger firmly on the pulse of the Australian film industry. Hamilton not only co-owns the niche local distributor, Greenlight, with Michael Wrenn, but also helped guide The Spierig Brothers’ currently-in-production Predestination to the screen. Hamilton’s biggest asset, however, is his connection to Asia, which he cultivated during his Arclight days, and which is now seeing great rewards, as evidenced by the phenomenal international success of the recent shark thriller, Bait.


Roadshow Films’ managing director oversees both the theatrical film distribution side of the business along with its acquisitions team, and most importantly for the local filmmaking side of things, he oversees Roadshow’s Australian production division. For all the whiners that say that Australian film can’t compete with Hollywood studios’ marketing might, Roadshow beg to differ, as evidenced in their releases of Mao’s Last Dancer, Bran Nue Dae, Red Dog, and most recently, Any Questions For Ben? and Goddess. It helps that Pearlman is passionate about Australian cinema, and that he keeps coming back to support local filmmakers even after a film flops.


Forging their partnership twenty years ago with the formation of The Globe Film Co., Mackie and Payten started Transmission, helping guide the likes of Balibo, Charlie & Boots, Samson & Delilah and Wog Boy 2 to the screen. Transmission’s high point was their involvement in the Oscar winning hit, The King’s Speech, which comes off the back of their stake in See-Saw Films. Perhaps most critical to Transmission’s power in the local landscape is their output deal with Paramount Pictures, who are able to flex their muscles when selling-in Transmission’s films.


The Oscar winning actor has been threatening to direct for more than a decade, but it finally looks like he’ll deliver with The Water Diviner. But that’s not the only reason why Big Russ has made it onto the list. This famously terse and savvy performer has laid the groundwork for a more involved engagement with the local industry. Crowe has built a state-of-the-art post-production facility in East Sydney bearing the name of his favourite rugby league team, and on a number of occasions, has anonymously lent it out to independent productions.


Australia was once famous for directors finding it almost impossible to follow up their debut. It always helped if your film is a success, commercially or critically. Falling into the latter category, Justin Kurzel made Snowtown, and two years later, he’s slated to direct two films: Our Kind Of Traitor, a John Le Carre adaptation by Hossein Amini (Drive), starring Ralph Fiennes, Mads Mikkelsen and Ewan McGregor, and a version of Macbeth back in Australia, with Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman, for See-Saw Films.


Film production is a really complicated business, so it’s good to have a solicitor on board who can manoeuvre through all the deals involved in putting it all together. Bryce Menzies provides both legal counsel to productions, and also acts as an executive producer on the likes of the recent Blinder and 100 Bloody Acres, and a number of Rolf De Heer’s films.


The Animal Logic brand is one of the most powerful in Australian film, and the recent increase in Screen Australia’s Post, Digital And Visual Effects offset from 15 to 30% has made it even more attractive. Co-founded in 1991 by Nalbandian, the visual effects and animation company really came into their own with the effects on Babe, The Matrix and Australia’s first digital feature, Happy Feet, for George Miller.


Currently in post-production on The Rover (David Michod’s follow-up to the universally loved Animal Kingdom, which she also produced), Liz Watts is one of the principals in Porchlight Films, alongside producer, Vincent Sheehan, and company director, Anita Sheehan. Watts has the experience and the nous to produce serious, artistic movies such as the recent Dead Europe and Lore, and the ability to pull off a German-language film shot entirely in Europe with a German cast as an Australian production with no one questioning her for one second.


Recipient of Screen Australia’s prized Enterprise Program – which funds companies to develop a slate of projects, amongst other things – Goalpost is run by four independent producers: Rosemary Blight, Ben Grant, Kylie Du Fresne and Cass O’Connor. Rosemary Blight is arguably the figurehead of the company (which evolved from RB Films, after forming an alliance with UK sales agent, Goalpost Film), having produced the Sundance hit, Clubland (written by Keith Thompson) and most recently, The Sapphires (co-written by Keith Thompson), which has really put her, and the company, on the map.


Producer/director, Robert Connolly, learnt his trade alongside legendary Kiwi producer, John Maynard (An Angel At My Table, Vigil, The Boys, Romulus, My Father), and then moved into directing with The Bank, Three Dollars and Balibo. More recently, Connolly has dipped his toe into the fresh waters of television, directing episodes of The Slap and the telemovie, Underground: The Julian Assange Story, which ended up premiering at The Sundance Film Festival, and enjoying an event-style release in select Australian cinemas, orchestrated by Connolly.


Another Kiwi who has made Australian cinema his home, Tim White is currently deep in post-production on Julius Avery’s feature debut, the mining heist film, Son Of A Gun, starring Ewan McGregor. In the past, White has been the representative of two companies – Icon and Working Title – who have set up office in Sydney to develop movies, with only the latter producing anything, namely Ned Kelly and Gettin’ Square.


Power comes when you’re one of the writers of a game-changing blockbuster like Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, and it’s multiplied when you’re the only writer credited on Collateral, a Michael Mann movie starring Tom Cruise. Power and respect come, however, when you return to Australia for your directing debut, Tomorrow, When The War Began, and the film performs more than respectably, especially on home turf. Next up for Beattie will be the release of the high concept comic book adaptation, I, Frankenstein, and a possible sequel to Tomorrow, When The War Began.  


If only we had more space, we would have included the likes of Wayne Blair, Chris Brown, David Michod, Nelson Woss, Tony Ayres, Michael Petroni, The Spierig Brothers, Geoffrey Rush, Julie Ryan and Patrick Hughes. There’s always next year…

This online article is a shortened version of FilmInk’s inaugural Power List, which is featured in the August issue, available now.

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