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Hounds of Love: plotting 30 festival releases

Producer Melissa Kelly walks us through the film festival release strategy for thriller Hounds of Love and the Western Australian talent that helped make the film a reality.

In the nine months since its world premiere at Venice Film Festival in 2016, acclaimed Australian nail-biter Hounds of Love has been selected to screen at 30 film festivals around the globe.

The release strategy for writer/director Ben Young’s feature debut has been a careful and considered endeavour by sales agent Urban Distribution International and producer Melissa Kelly’s Factor 30 Films. But Kelly says a lot of it is out of your control.

“You’re still at the whim of the festival to make their own decision,” she says.

And it also comes down to timing and when you complete your film. For example, Hounds of Love was completed in June, so they knew its world premiere could be in the right window for Venice, Toronto or Sundance film festivals.

“But you run the risk that if you don’t put into Venice and then you miss Toronto and you miss Sundance, you’ve held your film over for seven or eight months and then there’s the question people may start to ask which is, ‘is there something wrong with your film?’,” she says.

<h6>Producer Melissa Kelly</h6><p><em>Hounds of Love</em> producer Melissa Kelly at the film's premiere in Perth / Label Distribution</p>
Producer Melissa Kelly

Hounds of Love producer Melissa Kelly at the film's premiere in Perth / Label Distribution

For Hounds of Love, Venice was a “really good fit”. Not only is there a great deal of prestige screening at the oldest film festival in the world, but she says they premiered in the Venice Days section, which is the equivalent of Cannes’ Directors Fortnight.

“We felt that was a really appropriate thing for Ben as a debut feature director and it would serve him and the film well.”

It did.

Hounds of Love, a tense psychological thriller about a 17 year old who’s abducted by a serial killer couple (played by Stephen Curry and Emma Booth) in the late 80s, pulled in solid reviews. And Ashleigh Cummings, who plays the couple’s captive, went on to win the Fedeora Award for Best Actress in a debut feature film.

Kelly says that momentum they got out of that premiere screening was incredibly important.

“Positive reviews at its international premiere were so integral to the perception and the success of the film,” she says.

“To have those amazing reviews come out the very next morning after our premiere screening was in many ways life-changing for Ben. [He] had already secured management in the US but he secured an agent that very morning. And from that point on he was being sent Hollywood scripts.”

Once they hit the marker of Venice, they began looking at the different territories that would make sense for Hounds of Love.

“And of course you’re then at the mercy of a selector. So with Hounds of Love, we really thought that the film would be a good fit for Sundance, but it wasn’t selected and there’s nothing we could do about that. That’s just the festival’s choice. But then within 24 hours of Sundance saying no, SXSW sent us an invitation. And so you realise that the film is hitting its mark irrespective of where you think it should be. You don’t have that control. That’s the market deciding.”

They applied to numerous different festivals, and from Busan, to Dublin, to Tribeca, to Tasmania’s 2017 Dark Mofo festival, they got accepted.

“I understand why it’s connecting with festival selectors,” Kelly says.

“It is a well-crafted film on every level. And it is difficult subject matter. So you’re not selling a rom-com. You’re looking at the human condition from a very, very intriguing and unique point of view.”

Emma Booth and Ashleigh Cummings star in Hounds of Love / Label Distribution

But because it is difficult subject matter, does Kelly ever find it frustrating to compete for eyeballs when so many theatre screens are filled with big-budget franchise blockbusters?

<h6>Director Ben Young</h6><p><em>Hounds of Love</em> director Ben Young accepts Ashleigh Cummings' Best Actress Fedora Award at Venice Days / Venice Days<p>
Director Ben Young

Hounds of Love director Ben Young accepts Ashleigh Cummings' Best Actress Fedora Award at Venice Days / Venice Days

“Absolutely it is. Without the support of screen agencies like Screenwest and Screen Australia, and these people who understand creative endeavour and artistic merit, these films don’t get made,” she says. “Screen agencies are so important to filmmakers in Australia.”

Hounds of Love came about after Kelly had returned to Perth after living in New York and ran into Young at an industry event, 10 years after they first met. She remembered Young had been a great writer and asked him to send her some material. A script was waiting in her inbox the next morning and Kelly, impressed with the quality of Young’s work, suggested they look at some ideas. Within that month Screenwest announced the Director Navigator initiative, where directors pitched to experienced industry representatives including Gillian Armstrong and Roadshow’s Head of Production Seph McKenna.

“We were able to go around in a kind of round robin and pitch three ideas and Hounds of Love was one of the ideas everybody said [we] should develop,” she says. “So that was the nucleus.”

Young wrote the script and Hounds of Love went through the eQuinoxe program with Australian script advisor/editor Claire Dobbin, as well as securing Screenwest’s West Coast Visions funding.

“Once we secured that funding, I was able to leverage on that so when I went to the marketplace, we had $750,000 already to back the project, which gave it so much more cachet,” Kelly says.

“That said, I must’ve gone to market three times before I found the right market partner. There was certainly interest. But I was very specifically looking for a sales agent that understood what this story was about.”

The final piece of the financing puzzle came from Screen Australia, and Kelly credits investment manager, the late Susan Wells, for backing the vision they had for Hounds of Love.

“You need advocates in the screen agencies who are willing to support you as filmmakers. But these are things you just can’t control [either]. You’re in somebody else’s hands. So 12 months later, if you came in with the same project, you might not get funded.

“It’s timing, it’s serendipity and it’s persistence.

“You just never give up as a filmmaker. If you are a natural storyteller, if that is your calling, just never give up. And Ben just never gave up.”

Young and Kelly both hail from Western Australia and she says the level of expertise that’s been built up there now is impressive. So for Hounds of Love they mined the WA film community for the best technicians – from production designer Clayton Jauncey (Beneath Hill 60, Last Cab to Darwin) to DoP Michael McDermott (Mal.com).

“I think you’ll find that most of the people who are at the top of their game here in Perth have been working interstate and have chosen to come home to be closer to family and we’ve got this incredible talent base in Perth right now.”

She says you only have to look as far as the local cinemas to see this.

“There’s been a photograph that’s been floating around on social media which was taken at Luna Cinemas and it had posters of I Am Heath Ledger, Jasper Jones, Hotel Coolgardie, Hounds of Love, Whiteley and Bad Girl on the sides of the cinema.

“And every one of those projects is either about someone from WA, like Heath Ledger, or the director is from WA, like James Bogle made Whiteley, [or it was filmed and set in WA like] Hotel Coolgardie, Hounds of Love and Jasper Jones.

“It’s really wonderful timing to just remind people WA tells stories too. We’re so used to seeing stories come out of the eastern seaboard it’s just lovely to include the west more.”

Hounds of Love releases in select Australian cinemas on 1 June through Label Distribution. Click here for more info on where to watch it.