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Podcast – Andrew Mackie: Transmission Films

Joint managing director Andrew Mackie from Transmission Films on the role of a feature film distributor.

Lion, Andrew Mackie, Ride Like a Girl

Lion, Andrew Mackie, Ride Like A Girl

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts

In this episode of the Screen Australia podcast, Andrew Mackie delves into the information filmmakers should know about a distributor like Transmission Films: what kind of features they represent, what makes a great pitch (and why Ride Like a Girl and Sweet Country ticked all those boxes), and why everything is geared toward opening weekend.

Distribution company Transmission Films was launched in 2008 by Mackie and Richard Payten and over the years they have released titles such as Lion, The King’s Speech, The Railway Man, Sweet Country, Holding the Man, Carol, Brooklyn and Ride Like a Girl, which was the highest grossing Australian film at the local box office in 2019.

Throughout the episode Mackie delivers a wide range of advice, from why teaming up with other producers is beneficial to why you should be tracking the local box office the same way an economist follows stock prices.

He walks through how they build a strategy for their projects, including their approach for Ride Like a Girl, and why Rachel Griffiths was one of the hardest working directors he had seen. And Mackie also talks through Transmission’s upcoming slate, including The Very Excellent Mr Dundee and Helen Reddy bio-pic I Am Woman, as well as the commercial decisions behind them.

If you're a beginner or emerging creative, we suggest listening to this introductory podcast on distribution first.


Subscribe to Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts


[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia podcast. I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publication Screen News. The world has dramatically changed since our last podcast episode. It's been heartbreaking to see the impacts of the Coronavirus, including on the Australian screen sector as cinemas closed, productions stopped and many people lost their jobs. This episode with Andrew Mackie from Transmission Films was recorded well before all that happened. It means that some of the things that Andrew speaks about may sound impossible right now, and distributors like Transmission now face incredible business challenges. We still wanted to share the interview with you because this time will pass, and when it does, the demand and need for Australian stories will be just as great as ever. Andrew is incredibly generous with his knowledge and imparts invaluable advice, so we felt it was only right to make sure that it reached you. As an aside, I just want to flag that our CEO, Graeme Mason, has been publishing COVID-19 updates on our website, which you can see on our social media or by subscribing to our newsletter. The key message is that Screen Australia is very much open for business and is still taking applications. So in that spirit, you'll still be getting podcasts from us, plus the usual written learning pieces published in the Screen News section of our website. Now to the interview with Andrew Mackie, who is joint managing director of Transmission Films. He and Richard Payten launched the company in 2008 and over the years have released titles such as Lion, The King's Speech, The Railway Man, Sweet Country, Holding the Man, Carol, Brooklyn and of course, Ride Like a Girl, which was the highest grossing Australian film at the local box office last year. Their upcoming slate includes Paul Hogan's return in The Very Excellent Mr Dundee and Helen Reddy biopic I Am Woman. Throughout the episode, Andrew talks about the distributor-filmmaker relationship, the kind of film Transmission represents, how they build a strategy for the titles on their slate, and why everything is geared toward opening weekend. If you have any feedback about this podcast, please email [email protected] ... But without further ado, here's Andrew Mackie from Transmission Films.

[00:02:32] Caris Bizzaca First of all, welcome to the Screen Australia podcast.

[00:02:35] Andrew Mackie Thank you. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:37] Caris Bizzaca And just to start off with what's your background in the industry?

[00:02:41] Andrew Mackie So my background is in distribution and exhibition. So I started, I fluked a job at Greater Union Cinemas back in the 80s and moved into distribution. So through marketing and publicity. And I've been a distributor ever since.

[00:02:57] Caris Bizzaca Yeah and so what are some titles that Transmission has had or is coming up in the pipeline?

[00:03:03] Andrew Mackie Yeah so I look the big films I usually mentioned are King's Speech, Lion, more recently Ride Like a Girl. And coming up, we've got I Am Woman. We've got Blithe Spirit with Judi Dench, we've got Six Minutes to Midnight with Judi Dench - you can see a trend forming here. Yeah, we do a lot of films that appeal to a mature, older female-skewing audience. So very much awards-driven titles, critically-driven titles. But we're more at the sort of, I guess you'd say, the quality end of the spectrum.

[00:03:34] Caris Bizzaca And there are often quite a few Australian titles as well in the slate.

[00:03:40] Andrew Mackie Definitely, yeah. No, you look back [and] we've released a lot of Aussie movies over the years, you know, Sweet Country and obviously Lion, which I mentioned. Too many to list. But usually about four or five, maybe six a year.

[00:03:55] Caris Bizzaca OK. And then typically how big is the slate in total?

[00:03:59] Andrew Mackie In total it's normally, traditionally it's been about 15-16 films a year. But we're sort of refocusing now. It's going to be more like seven, eight, or nine films a year.

[00:04:10] Caris Bizzaca You mentioned it a little bit there, but does Transmission specialise in a certain kind of movie, do you think?

[00:04:15] Andrew Mackie Yeah, definitely. I mean, we've honed that right down actually, where we were very focused on buying films that appealed to a mature female-skewing demographic. And I thine the reason we've ended up doing films like that, you know and you're talking Brooklyn, Carol, Suffragette, anything with Judi Dench, or Maggie Smith in it - the reason we do those films is the audience, they still come to the cinema. They come during the day, they will come and see a movie every week. They're not as impacted by piracy or streaming, they don't pirate as much, but they're reliable and they come with their friends and it's a social outing just as much as seeing a film. And we find that audience quite reliable if you can deliver them the right film.

[00:05:01] Caris Bizzaca And so then talking a little bit about, from an Australian filmmaker's perspective. Would they typically be able to pitch to a distributor like Transmission? And if so, how early does that happen in the process?

[00:05:16] Andrew Mackie No, absolutely. I mean, you can approach us whenever you want. We get emails with a one liner and we're happy to give you a perspective at that point. [It] may be completely useless, but you can approach us that early. A lot of people approach us when they have a script, a financing draft and a director and cast and the package, basically. And, often the week before a Screen Australia board meeting, we'll get the panicked sort of multiple submissions. But yeah, look for us, we tend to make our decision when we have a script and key creatives in place.

[00:05:53] Caris Bizzaca OK. And so you do accept unsolicited material at all?

[00:05:57] Andrew Mackie We do. Yeah, we'll look at anything. I mean, email us, the email comes to me. I'll reply to you. I try to reply pretty quickly. And it's all pretty relaxed. But we're probably more specific about what we don't do than what we will do. So, for example, we really don't generally do genre movies or horror movies. It's just not the space we work in. We're doing fewer documentaries these days, not because we don't want to, but until the ancillary landscape sorts itself out, we're finding them economically challenging. But definitely if it's at the sort of dramatic end of the spectrum and if it particularly appeals to that older audience, then we're keen. I mean, we find ourselves also drawn towards true stories, book adaptations, historical drama. So, yeah, that gives you a sense. I mean, I think if you look at our website and the kind of films that are released, you'll very quickly get a picture of the space we occupy.

[00:06:52] Caris Bizzaca And talking about pitches. What do you think makes a great pitch?

[00:06:58] Andrew Mackie What makes a great pitch? You know, there's no there's no kind of finite answer to that. We've had people come in and pitch and say, 'look, this is this film is not going to make any money'. That's how they start. But we've ended up doing the film because they felt like they had a very specific, passionate vision. And I think in a way, when you're pitching to distributors, you need to convince them that the film is in you and you need to make it and that you have fully realised what this film is going to be. And I think often we get pitches that are just a bit vague and we often find ourselves thinking after those meetings, 'well can this producer actually pull this finance plan together?' And that becomes one of the key questions we ask ourselves if we like the project, it's like, 'can they deliver it?' It's tough financing a film. Like it's a superhuman effort to finance a film these days. So that becomes a very serious secondary consideration, is can they pull off a finance plan, do they have the experience and connections to actually make this happen?

[00:07:58] Caris Bizzaca And can you think of an example of a great pitch that came in and you thought, this is it, we got to do this.

[00:08:06] Andrew Mackie I mean, Ride Like a Girl. I remember when we were pitched that very early on, we just thought, 'wow, this is great, ticks so many boxes: true story, biopic, strong female story, great creative team'. And it was something that we felt like in Australia it would get a certain level of coverage in editorial.

[00:08:28] Caris Bizzaca You said it came in early. Was it still in development at that stage?

[00:08:32] Andrew Mackie No, no. They were they were financing. They were out there financing. I mean, look another one, trying to think more recently, another one is Sweet Country where, you know, Warwick came in and pitched the story-.

[00:08:45] Caris Bizzaca Warwick Thornton?

[00:08:45] Andrew Mackie Warwick Thornton, sorry. The script was great anyway, but it was one of those pitches where you just want to work with Warwick Thornton again. He will deliver something that is creatively exceptional. So that was fantastic. And Warwick is great at doing that. I mean, I think in another life, Warwick could be a great marketer as well as being an amazing artist. So that was that was a fantastic pitch. And he yeah, he was just very passionate, but also articulated, I think from a... I think sometimes the best pitches are where the producer or creatives actually understand the distributors point of view and they kind of address what your commercial concerns might be upfront and explain why they're not going to be a problem. So I think it's important when you're pitching is to say, 'OK, I'm a distributor, why would I not want to do this?' and then have your answers ready to go.

[00:09:37] Caris Bizzaca And in terms of going on from there, how does that filmmaker-distributor relationship work? Are distributors giving notes on scripts? Are they visiting the set? Are they looking at edits as they happen? Is there a set process?

[00:09:53] Andrew Mackie There is and I think every distributor's different. I mean, our process is we might give you some notes. We don't - we tend to trust the filmmakers and if we sign onto a project, it's because we trust the filmmakers. We might give you feedback. The filmmakers will show us sort of a cut at some point, usually with the other investors. And we will obviously give feedback then with kind of rare exceptions. We tend not to be heavy handed. And I think legally, we don't really have ability to make changes anyway. So for us, it's about trusting the people we've gone into business with. And then I guess the process from there is they deliver the film and then we devise the campaign and marketing strategy and bring the filmmakers in and sit around a table, put the strategy up on a screen, talk through what we're going to do and kind of get everybody on the same page and everybody comfortable with what we're going to do when we take over.

[00:10:46] Caris Bizzaca Any speaking about strategy, how do you build that strategy for your films? You know, what are some of the questions you ask yourself at the beginning of the process? Whether that is what's the audience or how do you tailor the strategy for each film from that?

[00:11:01] Andrew Mackie What's the audience is the first question we ask ourselves. And often we're taking on films that are for a specific audience anyway. So sometimes it's about even though this film might not naturally play well to this audience, how can we make it appeal to the audience that comes to this mature female audience that we chase. So often it's about shaping the marketing campaign to open up audiences for a movie that it may not be naturally intended for. But yeah, look, we have conversations internally about how wide we should go, how much money we should spend, that's for driver, we run a PnL (Profit and Loss) and say, 'OK, we've paid this much for the movie. If we put up this much in P&A, Prints & Advertising, how much do we have to make from all the rights to actually turn some kind of profit or break even? So that's usually the first thing we do is work out how money have we got to play with. And we ask ourselves questions like, if this goes wide, will it play in a multiplex? Will it play in little regional cinemas? We often show it to key exhibitors as well to get their opinion and their buy in. And if an exhibitor is really high on a film, then that makes a huge difference to us. We'll think, OK, we'll go wider. We'll spend more because their support at the retail level makes a huge difference. So it's actually getting a lot of feedback as well. And from there, we basically execute the campaign document that we draft and that our marketing department drafts and make the creative materials and we always try to make sure the filmmakers are happy with the creative materials, and that's something we've prided ourselves on.

[00:12:32] Caris Bizzaca You mentioned one of the questions was, how wide do we go and does the approach differ from regional to say some of the cities?

[00:12:42] Andrew Mackie It does. I mean, there are some films that will play, like Danger Close played incredibly well regionally. But it's difficult to execute a campaign where you just go regionally because so much of a campaign is driven by media out of the cities. And it almost becomes when you're booking circuits like Event and Village and Hoyts and Reading, you get chunks of screens and then you supplement that with all the independent regional locations. So we've found it quite difficult just to do regional releases. It tends to sort of scale up. So you'll do cities, you'll add the suburbs and the multiplexes, you add some regionals and then you might go further and push the screen count higher.

[00:13:22] Caris Bizzaca Well, on that note, I just wanted to read a quote that Rachel Griffiths said at Screen Forever in 2019. And the quote was, so she said, "in lieu of neither of my two leads being available for our Ride Like a Girl press junket - and that is a hazard that's happening right now with the talent bottleneck - Transmission were able to secure more than 180 outlets through which I could message the film. I've no doubt that the regional three-week press blitz was impactful in getting us to our current cume of north of 11 million." Could you talk us through that?

[00:13:57] Andrew Mackie Yeah. Look, it was, I mean we didn't have Teresa Palmer, we didn't have Sam Neill, we had Michelle Payne and we had Rachel Griffiths and we had some of the support cast. But I mean, it was one of the benefits of having a star director. And Rachel Griffiths going to Noosa or Cairns is kind of a big deal and we exploited that. So she went, she worked so hard. I mean, I've never seen a director work so hard, and her profile enabled us to do that. I mean, something she said to us early on was, 'I want to crack Queensland. If we can get regional Queensland seeing this movie, then we've got a hit'.

[00:14:35] Caris Bizzaca So she was kind of aware of that.

[00:14:38] Andrew Mackie She was aware of it. And she actually she drove it and said, 'look, I'll do it'. I mean, a lot of a lot of filmmakers and actors will say, 'yeah, I'll do it'. And then when you give them the itinerary of three weeks of waking up each morning, getting on another plane or driving 12 hours.

[00:14:53] Caris Bizzaca Also a significant amount of time after they've maybe, if they're an actor, worked on the film.

[00:14:57] Andrew Mackie Yeah. It's hard work. It's really hard work. And it's relentless. But she did it. And we had regional premieres, she did press everywhere and was agreeable to do pretty much everything we threw at her and it made a huge difference, it really did.

[00:15:12] Caris Bizzaca And so was it, you realised that you weren't going to be able to have any access with Teresa Palmer or Sam Neill and at that point, Rachel's saying, 'hey, I'm available to do that'. Or was it always from the outset, you know, Rachel Griffiths is directing Ride Like a Girl, we really need her to be available for the press.

[00:15:32] Andrew Mackie Look, if Teresa and Sam were available, we would have utilised them, absolutely. But I don't know if they would have even been available enough to do weeks on weeks of this national touring like Rachel did. And Michelle Payne, she did a lot of work as well. But Rachel was the one in the trenches and it was the benefit of having a director with built-in profile that you knew you could get on the local radio station and the local newspaper would want to talk to and local television. So, yeah, huge difference.

[00:16:02] Caris Bizzaca And I mean it did amazing box office - was the highest grossing Australian film at the local box office last year. Do you think a big part of that is thanks to that kind of media push that it had?

[00:16:13] Andrew Mackie Yeah, definitely. I mean, we had a few landmines going off as well. We had the Four Corners story about the abuse of race horses, we had the Darren Weir scandal. And these happened sort of prior to our release and then happened after, and there was also kind of all these issues that were sort of hanging around the film that we had to kind of navigate and again, Rachel was a fantastic spokesperson in terms of fronting the media at a time when all they wanted to talk about was that rather than the film. So there was a bit of luck involved as well, but a lot of careful media management in terms of making sure that we were always talking about the movie and this was Michelle's story and it was about her journey to overcome and make her place in the world rather than it being about Darren Weir.

[00:17:03] Caris Bizzaca And you were saying how you had these conversations with Rachel Griffiths and she was saying, you know, 'I want to crack Queensland' and things like that. But how much is the filmmaker involved in the process of then distributing the film? How much can they have these kind of conversations about what they are hoping or what they-

[00:17:24] Andrew Mackie Yeah. I mean, filmmakers will always articulate what they want and what they want to get out of it. And perhaps whether they feel they're not doing something that we should be and that's just the normal back and forth. And I think, look, maybe some first time filmmakers are probably not sure how involved they're meant to be. But as a general rule, your distributor takes over. And I would say you need to take the lead of your distributor. But it's an ongoing dialogue from the day you sign onto the film to after its theatrical release and beyond. We're in constant communication and look having done it for 25 years, you know, there are things that when filmmakers often don't understand how it works and maybe they can't understand why the film's coming off in some cinemas after two weeks, there's an education process of how mechanically the theatrical release actually functions and the pressures that are on the theatrical release. So there is often an education process with newer filmmakers and producers, and I think sometimes that can be a bit terrifying for them.

[00:18:29] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, fair enough. And you know, in terms of saying they don't know how involved to be sometimes [with] early filmmakers - when distributors have a large slate of films, how much should a filmmaker be trying to stay at the forefront of the distributors mind? And then how much is too annoying, like don't email every week?

[00:18:54] Andrew Mackie Yeah, no, look, I don't think there's any boundaries. Certainly even if we set them, I think... No, look... when we're in the midst of an Australian film campaign, you're talking to the producer almost every day or communicating with the producer every day. It's full on. But it's because you're also, often the producer is involved in the negotiations with the actors and the PR and there are aspects where we want the producers to be involved. And often that might be a delivery thing or it might be to do with coordinating actors for a premiere or there are small things that will come up. I heard of such distributor say once the best thing a filmmaker can do is go overseas for a release. And I kind of get what they're saying. But ultimately, I think you have to trust your distributor. And if you feel like your distributor is not doing the right thing by your film and they're making an economic decision that's perhaps in their interests, but not perhaps what you perceive to be your interests, then you've got to put it on the table and talk about it.

[00:19:56] Caris Bizzaca So have those open discussions.

[00:19:57] Andrew Mackie You've got to have open discussions. And for us, I guess that's why we do this meeting at the outset where we put our campaign on the table. We all sit around a table. We page turn it. And if you've got any issues, you discuss it then when you're sort of three months out from releasing the film and we try to solve it then and that's proven to be kind of the best approach. And I think most distributors tend to work that way.

[00:20:18] Caris Bizzaca And because everything is geared towards this opening weekend box office result - why is that? What is it about opening weekend? How did that happen and why is it so important?

[00:20:29] Andrew Mackie Yeah, look, it's just the way the world works. There's maybe five or six films opening every week, often more. There's limited screen space - new films come in and films get pushed out of cinemas. And every Monday morning, our sales guys are talking to cinemas, negotiating for sessions, keeping the film on. And so is every other distributor. So it's this kind of Monday, Tuesday process we go through every week where it's about keeping the film on screen, making sure we're being looked after, making sure that a film that took less money is not getting more sessions than we did. But it's tough, you know, when you're opening an independent film against perhaps a studio movie that might be opening in a six screen cinema on three of its screens, and there are seven movies to fit in the other three screens. And your film's done well, but there are seven movies opening. You've got to be in there and you've got to be in their face and you've got to get what the film deserves and keep it hanging in there, particularly if it's a film that is relying on word of mouth to play through.

[00:21:33] Caris Bizzaca And on that note, how much control does the distributor have over, you know, programming or is that entirely with an exhibitor?

[00:21:44] Andrew Mackie It's generally with exhibitor. When we're picking the release date, we try to pick, all distributors try to pick release dates where their film can breathe and can dominate. But really, it comes down to if a films not performing, then the exhibitors within their right to kind of start to take it off a screen or take it off the screen. So it's in our interests to have a good working relationship with exhibitors. But it's tough. I mean, make no mistake, it's challenging. And if your film doesn't open well and even if it does open well, sometimes you're fighting to keep on screen just because of the volume of content.

[00:22:15] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And talking about that, studio movies do take up so much space. And I'm thinking of like a school holiday period where you might have a big budget animation, a superhero movie, a live action family film. Like, where is the space then for an independent Australian feature, particularly within those, you know, holiday weekends or things like that? How do you try and combat that? People have talked about like counterprogramming and things, but is that as much of a thing when there is limited screens or there is just a huge movie that's going to eat up everyone's time?

[00:22:50] Andrew Mackie I know. Look one of the biggest strategic decisions we make as a distributor is the release date and we look at the competitive environment for the week we're going to open, a couple of weeks before, the weeks after and it's just trying to find that gap. And often we'll say, look, we shouldn't be releasing this film for another nine months because there's literally no space. And often we will get pressure saying nine months, we don't want to wait nine months, but it's better to wait nine months and have a good shot at having great screen support, than forcing it out and then getting taken off in week two because The Avengers is opening. So a lot of it is about choosing your date and just hoping that films don't pile in on you and trying to motivate exhibitors and show exhibitors why this film is going to be commercially successful for them and get them supporting it. And with Ride Like a Girl, we made a conscious... just as an example, with Ride Like a Girl we screened it to exhibitors very early, before the film was finished, [and] we said, we want your buy-in. We want you to feel excited as we do. We want to participate in setting the date with you. So we consulted with them in terms of which date we set and made sure it was one where they felt they could look after it. But we wanted to play school holidays and the September school holiday gap that we found was perfect. So that's why we went a little earlier than Melbourne Cup. And then Melbourne Cup led into our home entertainment release and we went out at Christmas on VOD.

[00:24:16] Caris Bizzaca And I suppose the other thing you have to potentially consider is film festivals and things like that. If something's going to play at a film festival, you need to be able to have a premiere there.

[00:24:26] Andrew Mackie And there's quite a bit of complexity because you also have the international, the global situation, where I feel like in every Australian film you can have the greatest plan in the world, but if the international sales agent says well, you can't release it then because we want it to play in Cannes, and Cannes is two months later, we have to have that negotiation.

[00:24:45] Caris Bizzaca Because it has to be a world premiere to play at Cannes. Yeah.

[00:24:48] Andrew Mackie So there's festivals, there's for holdback. So we've had situations where we've had a release date set and a film has screened in Sundance and a condition of a US distributor sale is that Australia can't release before they do and certainly we can't release on VOD or DVD. So you kind of go into limbo while you're waiting for the US to decide what they're going to do with an Australian movie. And then in the case of one film I think the Weinstein Company handled, they just ended up putting it to VOD. So then it's like, OK, we've waited all this time to be told what to do and now we're just basically dealing with a piracy problem. But it's just the complexity of independent films in this global world. There's no easy solution for it. And you can't get in the way of a film selling internationally, particularly to a big territory like the US. There has to be a collaborative approach to it, but often we feel like we get the raw end of the deal. But it's a complexity and it happens in almost every movie.

[00:25:47] Caris Bizzaca And then with Australian films, because Transmission also distributes international films, or films from overseas, is there more work involved with an Australian film than, say an international film, but is the payoff then greater if it does well?

[00:26:07] Andrew Mackie Yeah. Look, I'd say it's probably four times the work. It's a lot more work. You're building the campaign from the ground up, all the creatives are here, but that's a plus because you can work them and build a much bigger PR campaign. And on ancillaries, we find Australian films tend to have a better life and free-to-air broadcasters, for example, are more inclined to buy them for various reasons. And so yeah, for that work there is potential for better upside, but they're a lot more work. It's much more resource intensive.

[00:26:39] Caris Bizzaca And because distributors are also handling, like you said, home entertainment release, the ancillaries, the sales that are happening after the cinema run. Is that the case for Australian and for those international titles within Australia?

[00:26:54] Andrew Mackie Yeah, so we handle all rights generally. I mean, theatrical is where 90% of our work goes and then the other windows are exploited in the usual way. But it's nowhere near the effort that goes into a theatrical launch, which sets up all the other rights, basically.

[00:27:13] Caris Bizzaca And I just want to ask about some of the relationships that Transmission has with other companies. So obviously, some of the films that you named The King's Speech and Lion are See-Saw Films film and the other one being the relationship with Amazon with Brittany Runs a Marathon last year which had a small theatrical window and then released on the streaming service. Can you talk us through those relationships a bit and if there are other ones that I haven't named?

[00:27:43] Andrew Mackie Sure. Yeah look Amazon is an interesting one because we signed a couple of years ago, an output deal with Amazon Studios where we would put up a percentage of the budget for their films [and] we would get the local rights, we'd also get the streaming rights, which Amazon would buy back. It was a great structure. But I think what happened is there are all these kind of corporate changes at Amazon and very few films came through that deal. So after two years, we really ended up handling, I think only two or three movies with them. They bought a couple of films at Sundance last year, one of which was Brittany Runs a Marathon, and look, I think they really made the decision that for them now streaming is the priority. They're less inclined to release films theatrically than they used to. They just really want to drive Amazon Prime. So we handled a couple of films for them. We booked screens for a fee before they went to Prime two or three weeks later. So we don't really have a deal with Amazon at the moment. And I think that's more a function of them changing their global approach to how they deal with film. And See-Saw, I mean, See-Saw we have been a sister company to since we started. In fact, Ian Canning used to work with us when Richard and I were at Dendy Films and we set up the companies together.

[00:28:58] Caris Bizzaca Ian Canning being one of the co-founders.

[00:29:01] Andrew Mackie -One of the co-founders (of See-Saw Films) with Emile Sherman. I think we introduced them actually and we decided we'll set up these two companies - distribution and production. And yeah, they've been amazingly successful.

[00:29:12] Caris Bizzaca Do you represent them in terms of their television content as well as film?

[00:29:17] Andrew Mackie Not just film. Just film. So we distribute all their movies, basically. And we've handled home entertainment on Top of the Lake, for example, but we're not involved with the series production, no.

[00:29:31] Caris Bizzaca And in terms of misconceptions around distribution, do you think that there are any big misconceptions within the industry about what distribution is and how it works?

[00:29:43] Andrew Mackie Look, there probably are. I mean, the subject and I wouldn't call it a misconception, but I think the subject that comes up most often lately is windows in this new world of streaming.

[00:29:54] Caris Bizzaca The 90-day window between-

[00:29:58] Andrew Mackie -Theatrical and home entertainment exploitation. So, I mean, a bit of background on that. Exhibitors generally, if you are going to book a film with them, they don't want you putting it out on DVD or VOD within 90 days of a release date, which is understood and the way it works. And we've always agreed with that. I mean, I'm somebody who believes that theatrical adds value to the rest of the film's life. And I think certainly in the streaming and the television world, I've spoken to people in key positions there who I suspect feel that it subtracts value. But we definitely believe in the window. And I think there is certainly, there should be at some point, I would like to see streaming world and the theatrical world come to some kind of agreement on a set window. And I don't think that will happen in Australia until anything is resolved in the US, probably between AMC and Netflix or one of the major streamers. But I do feel - and I believe they came quite close on The Irishman - but I do feel if that can be resolved and we get back to an agreed fixed streaming window, short of a 90 days, then there will be a lot of opportunity for independent film and independent distributors. But I also understand the exhibitor's point of view where they're protecting their business model at a time when there's just this overabundance of content in the streaming space, let alone theatrically. So that's, I don't know if it's a misconception, but that seems to be the kind of hot button topic that often comes up.

[00:31:30] Caris Bizzaca You were saying that there is kind of an educational aspect when working with new filmmakers. But what would be three key pieces of advice that you would give filmmakers?

[00:31:42] Andrew Mackie I would say one piece of advice is to know when to drop a project. Sometimes you will spend years developing something and perhaps by the time you take it to market, it's just not the right time for that film. Put it in a bottom drawer. We see lots of projects that go through a long development cycle that perhaps I think producers, they don't drop because so much money has been invested in it. And I understand that. But sometimes it's the wrong time to finance a film just based on what the market wants. And... that's the problem. You can feel like you've got the sense of what the market wants, but the market is fickle, and then 18 months later, when you bring that script to market, they're interested in something else. So it's a bit like a stock market, I think it's all highly subjective. So you can get, I've seen producers get bogged down trying to finance something for years when in fact they should have just given up. And I know that's a pretty awful sounding piece of advice to give, but I think a lot of the successful production companies, if you can afford to, they know when to stop developing something, they know when to pull out and where to refocus. So that's one piece of advice. Another piece of advice, I always recommend that you look at the box office chart every week. Understand it. Get a grasp of how it works. And even before films open, start to play in your office - bet what films are going to make. Try to refine that skill, and it is a skill and some people are great at it. It's thinking like a distributor and exhibitor, and it's like watching stock prices, you know, it's understanding what's going on in the market. And it tells you the sort of temperature or health of certain genres, types of film, what they can do. So, yeah, I'd say study box office, as boring as that sounds. And number three, I think for a lot of new producers, there's a lot to be said for teaming up. And I guess we saw it with See-Saw. When they started that production company, you had a UK producer and an Australian producer. But I think sort of coming together really opened up opportunities for them in both markets and exposed the meal to projects in the UK and gave Ian access to Australian filmmakers and our funding systems here. And I think particularly if you're starting out as a producer or a filmmaker, partnering is a great idea. Not necessarily internationally, although I think there are lots of benefits to that. But you look at a lot of successful production companies and they're built on strong friendships and partnerships. And I think it's about, you need to be able to build scale to cover your overhead. And I think, you look at Porchlight or Aquarius, and I think those kind of companies are able to execute a lot more, and a higher level of production, because if you're one person in a room... it's tough. It's really difficult. And I think even from a psychological standpoint, you need to have somebody to bounce things off. You need to feel like you're fighting the good fight with someone.

[00:34:40] Caris Bizzaca In the trenches with someone.

[00:34:41] Andrew Mackie Exactly. So I kind of really recommend that. And that's what I did. You know, [what] Richard and I have done. We've always work together and it's hard to imagine now - I'm almost trained, where it'd be difficult to make these decisions, commercial decisions in a vacuum, we're so used to kind of exercising out decisions and working through them together. So, yeah, I really advocate that.

[00:35:03] Caris Bizzaca And just based on a couple of things that you said then I just wanted to check, with the box office studying - when people look at box office results there's the the final number for that weekend, but I've been told to typically look at the average per location?

[00:35:22] Andrew Mackie That's a great point. So, yeah, what you should look at is how many screens it's on and the per screen average. So as a general, I mean, just to get you started, as a general rule, when a film opens on a Thursday, it's taking for the day we tend to multiply by between eight to 10 to get the week result, like the total first week box office. So, you know, if you get the first day's result, you can kind of guess what the first week will be. And then you say, 'OK, well, if it drops, is it going to drop 50% in its second week, like a big studio movie? Or is it going to hold and maybe drop 20-30% or not drop it all?' And this is the analysis we do. And per screen average is important because if it's a very low per screen average, it means a lot of cinemas are probably gonna take it off the next week. So, yeah, I think if you're going to drill down into box office, they're the main numbers you need to look at, the main fields - per screen average, daily gross, weekend gross, total gross, and number of screens.

[00:36:22] Caris Bizzaca And just to then talk about a couple of the Australian films that are coming up for Transmission. So you've got I Am Woman and then The Very Excellent Mr Dundee. So can you tell us a little bit about those projects, why they're exciting for Transmission?

[00:36:38] Andrew Mackie Yeah. Look, Mr Dundee, we've worked with, I think we've done almost all of Paul Hogan's recent films. And look, in terms of our slate, it's a bit of an outlier, The Very Excellent Mr Dundee - it's a broad comedy, very funny, but we found his films work very well regionally, which we were talking about before. They may not perform particularly well in cities, but they'll play on and on in regional and provincial areas. And they also have an amazing life come ancillary. So we were so excited to hook up with those producers and Paul Hogan again. And it's very funny and it's full of all these amazing A-list cameos.

[00:37:17] Caris Bizzaca On the back of the Tourism Australia (advertisement).

[00:37:20] Andrew Mackie Exactly. Exactly. Then I Am Woman, which is just from a very early pitch stage we chased Rosemary Blight to be involved.

[00:37:28] Caris Bizzaca From Goalpost Pictures.

[00:37:29] Andrew Mackie From Goalpost Pictures. Unjoo Moon's made a really wonderful film and Tilda Cobham-Hervey is just amazing as Helen Reddy. The music is fantastic and it's just been so richly and lovingly made that film, and we feel it's got real commercial potential and a very defined audience .

[00:37:48] Caris Bizzaca Because that premiered at Toronto last year.

[00:37:49] Andrew Mackie It did, yeah.

[00:37:52] Caris Bizzaca And you know, just to finish up with, what do you feel like the future looks like with distributors, you know, particularly in this space where streamers have come in and there's going to be even more in the Australian market. What are your thoughts?

[00:38:04] Andrew Mackie Look, I think for distributors like us, and you know, theatrical distributors feel a bit analogue in a digital world, but I feel that with the over-investment in content at the moment and this kind of ground war between the streamers while they're sort of slugging it out, it's definitely challenging. I mean, you just have to go to a film market these days and there's just fewer cast-driven packages to buy. There are opportunities, but we've even cut back the number of markets we are attending. We just don't need to be there. So there's a tangible change in the independent space. But our feeling or my feeling is - and it's an optimistic one - I feel like if we can survive the next few years and I think the whole streaming thing will play out over the next few years. And I think the consumer behaviour, there'll be a point at which there'll be a rationalisation of the number of subscriptions people have and AVOD will come into the fray and there'll be winners and losers in streaming space. But theatrical will always be there. And I look at the lifecycle of a film and theatrical is hanging in there, like it's constant, whereas all the other rights have kind of gone downhill fast. VOD and television. And the streamers are tending - they want to buy originals globally rather than just buying films from local distributors, you know, so it's tough for indies at the moment to make the model work. And we're kind of at that problem that producers have where we're buying a film not knowing if broadcast television will want to buy movies in two years time when it comes around to them wanting to buy it or not wanting to buy it. So these sort of questions we ask ourselves every day. But I think, I'm optimistic. I feel that if distributors can survive through the next two or three years, then theatrically released content is premium content. It's been marketed. It's been put on a platform. It's not just getting thrown onto a service and being buried within the database. And I truly believe, like I said before, that theatrical adds value. And I think the best films need to come to cinemas. So I feel that particularly if this window situation, there's a common ground there, I feel that could actually supercharge theatrical a little bit. So I think there are opportunities down the track. But at this point in time, I mean, there's no point denying it, there are pressures on independent theatrical distributors. It's tough and we're much more specific about what we take on. We're much more choosy. We need films that can cut through. We used to be able to do movies and think, look, it's a first time feature, the director hasn't done anything, but we'll do it anyway because at worst we'll break even. You know, DVD will cover our asses and we can sell it to pay TV. But that safety net ain't there anymore. We could lose a lot of money. And we used to do films like that. We used to go, well, look, it doesn't sound very commercial, but the filmmaker believes in it and we believe in it and we're going to take a punt. And that might be how you end up doing Samson and Delilah or something. But it's harder to make those decisions because those safety nets are all gone and you still have to spend the same amount of money to launch a film theatrically, so the revenue's really declined. So that's why we're doing fewer films and we're being very careful about what we take on because we want to make sure that they can have an impact in theatrical space - setting the film up for the rest of its ancillary life. So it's challenging. I think distributors, both major and independent are having these existential sort of questions. I mean, I went to a film market, I went to Berlin and even established distributors that have been around for 30 years are saying, 'what am I going to do in five years? This is all I know how to do.' And I don't think it's quite that bad. But distributors are definitely being careful. But I think theatrical will prevail. And you will see the little shoots of new theatrical businesses and new approaches over the next five years. But everything is being dominated by streaming and the sort of globalised approach. I think the gaps, as they always have been, are local and I mean, I look at the streamers and they don't really even have acquisitions people here who are Australian and have an Australian point of view, most of them, I mean Stan excluded, obviously. I think that's a problem for them and it's an advantage for us. So as long as streamers think like studios, then there will be opportunities for independents in individual territories like ours.

[00:42:30] Caris Bizzaca OK, well finishing with some optimism and seeing what the next few years bring. But thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today, really appreciate you coming in.

[00:42:40] Andrew Mackie No problem. More than happy too. Thanks for having me.

[00:42:44] Caris Bizzaca That was Andrew Mackie, joint managing director of Transmission Films. We'll be back again in a fortnight with another episode of the Screen Australia podcast. For those of you who are able to remember you can support Australian content by buying it, renting it and streaming it at home. Stay safe and thanks for listening.