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PART 4: PRODUCER IAN COLLIE ON THREE ESSENTIAL DRAMAS

All three of Essential Media and Entertainment’s most recent dramas – Rake, Jack Irish series 1 and The Principal – are selling well internationally. All are represented by DCD Rights. Ian Collie provides some thoughts on the international sales scene, then discusses each drama.

<h6>Ian Collie</h6><p>Partner / Head of Scripted, Essential Media and Entertainment</p>
Ian Collie

Partner / Head of Scripted, Essential Media and Entertainment

From the producer

Some drama requires a local strategy; others an international one.

The big distributors are stepping up

“Producers are always on the back foot in terms of international sales because generally people want to see their own shows in their own voices, although that is slowly changing at least in the cable and SVOD (subscription video on demand) arena. SVOD is giving a lot of shows a new lease of life. Very few Australian shows sell to network TV or premium cable in the UK or the US, although the odd comedy can break through.

“If a television project is predominantly of local interest, you have to work out which local broadcaster it suits and then see if they like all the elements. If they do they will probably come in early in terms of development. Once the first draft has been embraced by the network, you can feel reasonably confident it will be financed, unless it has a bigger than usual budget. You know where the sources of money are and what you’ll get from broadcasters, government agencies, the producer offset, and others. If it is feature film there is a lot more uncertainty.

“What’s interesting and heartening is that quite a few big distributors are not just bringing an advance to the table but also financing development. They have to put risk money up because so many big production companies are affiliated or co-owned by big media companies, tying up a lot of programming. We have seen that with local companies like Matchbox, Playmaker and Screentime. Distributors want to get in early with independent companies with clout and reputation. I’m talking about FremantleMedia International, all3media International, DCD Rights, ZDF Enterprises, Entertainment One International Television and Red Arrow International.

“Lately there’s been more certainty around what you’re going to get from an international distributor as an advance – say $50,000 to $100,000 per hour — than around how much you can get from government agencies because of cut backs.”

“Deferring fees is a very bad idea”

“In my experience, all sales are subsequent to delivery but distributors don’t tell you much on this. They’re probably informally selling as part of their due diligence around negotiating the advance. They’re calling their mates and saying ‘would this work for you?’ Not many will presell unless they’re co-productions.

“If something is more international in scope, you would probably talk to the distributor first rather than the local broadcaster. We have a German/Australian co-production in development that we hope to get a German broadcaster on board and a few other projects that could be very interesting to international audiences.

“It is a risky business to predict what a show is going to do in terms of rest of world sales revenue and to then depend on sales. It’s why deferring fees is a very bad idea. If a show is in season four and it’s been selling well, you can make an informed decision, but for a new show there’s too much competition. So many shows vie for slots.

“In publicity terms all the shows have been great for us. What’s been an eye opener in terms of what we (equity investors) get back is the huge amount that has to be paid to actors as residuals from the first instalments of net sales receipts, that is, after the distribution advance has been recouped. It can be quite punishing. You think: how am I ever going to make any money from this show? It’s because residuals are calculated from gross receipts but paid from first net receipts. The ATRRA (Australian Television Repeats and Residuals Agreement) is being revised, however, and we will see how that plays out.”

<em>Jack Irish series</em>

Jack Irish: Peter Temple “is an international name”

“We are chuffed that Jack Irish – Season One has done well internationally. Being crime and because of Guy Pearce (being in the lead role), we had hoped the three telemovies (Jack Irish: Bad Debts, Black Tide and Dead Point) would sell better than they have but we came unstuck on the format. Programming slots are generally 60 minutes so telemovies of 90 minutes don’t fit. It’s probably why they have not yet recouped their advances. Hopefully they will soon.

“We developed the six-parter because the telemovies presented a scheduling issue for the ABC too and also, from a marketing point of view, the broadcaster gets more bang for its buck over a six-week period than with a telemovie that comes and goes overnight. We anticipated the series would sell well and it has. The telemovies were all with ZDF Enterprises and the company did a good job. DCD Rights acquired the series. Our long relationship with DCD incorporates Rake and The Principal.

“The history of Jack Irish is that the novel Bad Debts was being developed as a two-parter by another producer with the ABC, but then the ABC passed on it and the rights reverted back to (author) Peter Temple. I thought ‘You beauty!’ but then thought ‘But if the ABC has passed, I am not confident the networks  would take it”. This was six years ago when network cops/crime drama was a bit more formulaic. Our main character Jack was neither a cop nor a private detective but a burnt out middle aged former lawyer still haunted by the violent death of his wife and doing odd jobs to make a crust.  That doesn’t exactly fit the crimebuster archetype!

<em>Rake series 1</em> Rake series 1

“So rather than a one off, I pitched a series of telemovies to the ABC, each being an adaptation of the four Jack Irish detective novels, and used the moniker of Jack Irish similar to say the Wallander or Rebus crime books that were adapted for TV, and the ABC agreed. We shot Bad Debts and Black Tide concurrently, and later Dead Point. This third telemovie we did without Screen Australia funding thanks to additional equity investment from the ABC but went back to the agency for money for the series.

“I always thought Jack Irish would have international appeal. Peter Temple won a Gold Dagger Award in 2007 from the Crime Writers Association in the UK for the best crime novel of the year. It was for The Broken Shore – not his Jack Irish books – but it made him an international name. Also, his UK publisher Quercus has published it and his other work in the UK and also Germany. (Essential has also adapted The Broken Shore for television.)

“There weren’t enough storylines in the fourth Jack Irish book, White Dog, to sustain a six-part series so we sought permission from Peter to expand the story. We had a set of amazing characters, knew their voices and gave them a broader canvas and bigger themes, being the worldwide shift towards religious fundamentalism and intolerance. Marta Dusseldorp’s character (Linda, a journalist) is posted to The Philippines and Jack is investigating a case there. Shooting part of it in Manila also introduced a new visual pallet.

“Traditional mystery/crime programming sells like hotcakes. I’d put Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and The Doctor Blake Mysteries in that category. I’d call Jack Irish a crime thriller with a noirish feel, specifically, Melbourne noir. It’s got that droll, sardonic sense of humour that’s so very Peter Temple. Perhaps it’s too Australian; the distributor said buyers had trouble understanding the old guys in the pub and all their talk of football. The Europeans, who really devour crime programming, are into tougher shows such as the Scandinavian series The Killing and The Bridge. I wouldn’t call Jack Irish comic book but it does have occasional funny action man moments. There are echoes of Wallander in Jack Irish, in that they are both broken down middle aged men on the outer in both their professional and personal lives, but each character has a strong moral compass.”

Rake: “never wanted to play by the rules”

Rake has been a huge success but our Achilles’ heel was the lack of a sale to network TV or premium cable in the

<em>The Principal</em> The Principal
UK. The first three seasons are on Netflix in the UK, as is the case in the US, and it’s on Sundance TV in Europe. We tried to sell it to Dave – part of UKTV – and others but it didn’t quite fit. In the early days the feedback from the UK was that ‘we have enough legal shows’. While that’s true, we are different because, if anything, we’re a satire on legal drama.

Rake is not quite comedy, not quite drama, not quite a particular genre. Peter Duncan (co-creator, co-producer, one of the directors, and co-writer with Andrew Knight), Andrew Knight and Richard Roxburgh (co-creator and plays the lead role of dissolute barrister Cleaver Green) have never wanted to play by the rules or be formulaic. They always wanted to give audiences the unexpected. Also, Richard Roxburgh is huge here but not as well known in the UK. We would like to get the widest possible audience but have never been driven by international sales.”

The Principal: SBS “pushed us into darker territory”

The Principal is a four-part crime show set in a tough boys high school in suburban Sydney that was made for SBS. It was the broadcaster’s first drama commission for about two years. It’s a show I’m very proud of, although what’s not to be proud of with Jack Irish or Rake!

“The initial idea came from my development producer Rachael Turk and myself bellyaching about our teens not doing well or being motivated at school, and reflecting on how we hadn’t seen a high school drama for a while on Australian TV. This dovetailed nicely with some similar ideas writer Kristin Dunphy had. Alice Addison was the other writer. We pitched it to the late Caterina De Nave at SBS and she loved it but pushed us into darker territory and away from the teacher as hero, a Goodbye Mr Chips scenario.

“The program performed very well for SBS, attracted a lot of positive reviews, was invited to film festivals like Series Mania and the Mannheim Heidelberg Film Festival and this year Alex Dimitriades won a Logie for Most Outstanding Actor for the series and the cast won the Equity Ensemble Award.

“The finished show has sold well for DCD to Netflix and Hulu in the US and to the Sundance/AMC Channels internationally.”