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Call Me Dad was commissioned by ABC TV. Well into filming, it went to Good Pitch2. The amount subsequently raised was nearly half the production budget.


Call Me Dad was commissioned as a result of ABC TV calling for concepts for a season of one-off documentaries about family. Well into filming, it was invited to be part of the inaugural Good Pitch2 Australia. An amount was subsequently raised that was nearly equivalent to half of the $414,000 production budget that the filmmakers already had in the bank. Some of this new money was used to create a feature-length version but most went on ensuring the finished film had an impact. There’s no one way to finance or release a documentary; Call Me Dad is a lesson in the value of staying alert to opportunities as they arise.

Title Call Me Dad
Genre Observational documentary (80-minute and 57-minute versions)
World premiere/release details November 26, 2015, on ABC1; available on request for community, educational, government and corporate groups for a fee.
Distribution partners Sideways Film
Synopsis A group of men attempt to take responsibility for their violence and change themselves – and perhaps heal the fragile bonds with their loved ones
Website callmedadfilm.com

<em>Call Me Dad</em>

From the producer

<h6>Madeleine Hetherton, Producer</h6><br />Director Sophie Wiesner and Rebecca Barry, Madeleine’s partner in production company Media Stockade, were also producers.
Madeleine Hetherton, Producer

Director Sophie Wiesner and Rebecca Barry, Madeleine’s partner in production company Media Stockade, were also producers.

Financing Call Me Dad: “opportunity meets circumstance”

“In 2012, I taught on a part-time basis at the Australian Film, TV and Radio School as part of the short-lived but excellent Graduate Diploma in Documentary. In early 2013 ABC TV put out a call for one-off documentary ideas for a season about family and the future of family. I remembered that one of the students, Sophie Wiesner, had a great idea for a film about dysfunctional fathers attending a better-parenting program and had established relationships with people in the field. At that stage she wasn’t planning to take the project further. I called and asked if she would like to make Call Me Dad as her first broadcast documentary under the Media Stockade production umbrella – with us and her as producers. It was a case of circumstances meet opportunity.” (Hetherton owns Media Stockade with Rebecca Barry.)

“The ABC wanted a standard concept pitch of two to three pages. The idea was enough. They didn’t need a finance plan at that stage. They gave us $10,000 worth of development funding. It was difficult to find the right group to film with and to secure access. We went quite a long way down the track with a men’s group in NSW but a change in management at an institutional level meant permission was withdrawn because of the sensitivities. We then threw the net out very wide. These programs are not very available in Australia – in some places they’re like an endangered species – and we were drawn inexorably to Victoria where there is a higher number running and a depth of practise.

“Sophie was initially interested in the emotional processes that these men were going through. The aspect I connected to deeply was fathers wanting to be better fathers. And I liked the non-traditional approach of a family story told through men’s eyes. Violence emerged as a key focus via the program.”

The ABC commission triggered other funding

Call Me Dad was eventually commissioned by the ABC, at what was then the lowest (for documentary) acceptable commission rate for Screen Australia support: $135,000 per hour. The ABC has a pretty standard run: five broadcasts over seven years. You do a lot of development work prior to any commission: treatments, character reels, and so on. And the ABC had to look at the project through the prism of ethics and their duty-of-care protocols.”

The minimum licence fees required by Screen Australia from Australian free-to-air and subscription television operators have since changed. As indicated here, they vary from $100,000 to $180,000 according to how much funding the agency is contributing and how much funding is coming from outside Australia.

“Phil Craig was head of factual at ABC TV then and was prepared to take a punt on a first-time director and a pretty new production company. Commissioning editor Andrea Ulbrick was also fantastic. Once they told us ‘We want to do this’, we submitted it to Screen Australia and Screen NSW for financing. It has a very simple finance plan. Screen Australia put up $135,000 and Screen NSW $40,000 and the PEP (Production Equity Program) added $82,800. Then there’s the ABC’s $135,000 and also $21,200 equity from Media Stockade. We were fully financed in mid-2014, which is not too bad in terms of how long it took.

“This gave us $414,000, which is what we thought was the minimum viable budget, but it was very challenging given the (men’s) course ran for 16 weeks and there was a significant research period plus pre and post shooting. Observational documentaries take ages to shoot and edit and Sophie had to move to Melbourne full-time for six months. Transport and accommodation costs add up quickly.”

<em>Call Me Dad</em> Call Me Dad

Good Pitch² “turbocharged” the film

“It was a standard commission at the start but became a hybrid when we were accepted into the inaugural Good Pitch in 2014. That was a really great moment. We got turbocharged by the $197,000 raised on the day and over the next three months. We were financed and filming at the time but used $60,000 for post-production on a feature-length version. The rest went on our impact campaign. When I say hybrid I mean that Call Me Dad had traditional distribution – a local broadcaster and a TV distributor selling it to international broadcasters – plus there was a feature version for film festivals and our comprehensive Australian impact screening campaign.”

Good Pitch2 Australia is a vehicle through which philanthropic and corporate funding is raised and partnerships forged to ensure ground-breaking documentaries on important social issues have a lasting impact. Good Pitch2 has raised more than $7 million for 13 documentaries to date. The third and at-this-stage final event is being held in November 2016.

“Good Pitch provided an amazing opportunity: we had very little in the marketing budget beforehand. We were able to substantially support the broadcast, create expertly-written educational materials including a toolkit and plans for short and whole-day workshops, employ an impact producer and, before the broadcast, hold multiple parliamentary and thought-leader screenings across Australia targeting domestic violence groups, the police and correctional services, legal organisations and general practitioners.

“The one-hour version screened on ABC1 at 8.30pm on November 26, 2015. November is the International Month for the Prevention of Violence Against Women and we wanted to be front and centre and feed into the national debate. The audience on the night and on catch-up hit just over half a million people. We got really great media coverage and exceptional reviews.” (The documentaries that were commissioned by the ABC under its family concept call out, were not broadcast together as a season.)

“The ABC allowed us to have a dedicated website for the outreach campaign which was very helpful. We’ve held more than 20 community and educational screenings since – working with the NRL (National Rugby League) and other major organisations. We are currently processing about 50 requests. A $300 public licence fee or $350 educational licence fee applies, but we are prepared to negotiate if it’s for, say, a small community group operating on a shoe string. Audience numbers from these screenings will eventually eclipse the ABC ratings but it’s the impact that’s important not the numbers. Our 200 hosted screenings of our previous film, I Am A Girl, provided a consistent secondary income stream.

“We don’t know of any like films, not just in Australia but globally, that look at what happens in men’s behavioural group, apart from promotional films. Our main message is that there are other options for violent men besides jail. To draw attention to this before the police are called seems very sensible. We saw our audience as primarily men. Women are usually the victims, along with children. Telling them there’s a problem doesn’t solve anything. The film is a call to men to step up to the problem, to address problem behaviours to be leaders in calling out violence and modelling best behaviour.”

<em>Call Me Dad</em> Call Me Dad

A distributor takes profit but gives expertise

“Sideways Film came on as our distributor in late 2015. They weren’t part of the financing. There are a lot of distributors, each with different strengths. Sideways appealed because of its enthusiasm and the strength of its experience – especially with Private Violence, about domestic violence in the US. We have a standard deal: Sideways takes 30% from every sale. You lose profit to your distributor but international broadcast sales are not our forte and they have established contacts with broadcasters and attend the international markets. At this point we have five or six potential TV sales, worth about $20,000, for once the festival window has closed. The biggest territories with the most revenue potential for us – the UK and the US – are still available. Broadcasters will probably take the one-hour version. It’s a tough subject – not everyone’s idea of a great night in – but people with the interest and the stomach for it get a lot out of it.

“We have recently been approached to remake Call Me Dad in the UK and are just starting preliminary negotiations there.

“Observational and social justice documentaries are not the most lucrative pathway into television. Media Stockade started out making single observational documentaries, which we make very economically, but they take a long time and require a great commitment from the key creative team. Also, there is less and less interest from broadcasters globally to commission them and it’s tough to get a big audience because there is a reluctance to invest in promotion. Series are seen as a more effective way to build audience.

“It’s our fourth birthday in April so we’re surviving – and slightly past toddler stage. We are soon to embark on some bigger projects, including extending an existing single film, The Surgery Ship, into an eight-part series. We try to be very careful about what material we take on, try to have a range of projects and try to be very realistic about the market and budgets. Bec and I started Media Stockade out of a sense of frustration: we were finding it difficult to get noticed by broadcasters and to get reasonable terms from other production companies representing our work. When we set up the company, we wrote the Media Stockade manifesto, and one of the things it says is that we want to be the kind of producers we would like to have had. We take mentoring our new directors seriously and in four years have taken three young women from talented newcomers to makers of fully-funded broadcast documentaries. But you’d have to ask them what we’re like to work with!”