End of year greetings from Melbourne, the most locked-down city in the world - six lockdowns totalling 263 days since March 2020. So momentous we even bought the T-shirt.
The whole lockdown thing, in some ways, was business as usual. It takes time to develop projects – they say on average seven years to get a feature film up, most of mine took four. So following 18 months of “development hell” after my sabbatical at Film Victoria, I officially re-launched Cathartic Pictures in November 2020. What else do you do in a pandemic?
There were two big issues that dominated our macro business environment in 2021 – COVID (duh) and the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 5) Bill 2021 (WTF?).
That thing we’re living with
Australia was one of the first countries to bounce back into production mid 2020, partly because of our hard borders, partly because of industry and government working together to create the Australian Screen Production Industry COVID-Safe Guidelines. US productions headed downunder, local productions found a way through, Sydney eventually joined Melbourne in lockdown, a stick up the nose was all in a day’s work, and still we found ways to be filming.
I was fortunate to be invited onto the feature film The Girl at the Window which we filmed across August/September (our cast and crew are pictured above). Here in Victoria, the economic benefit of production saw rules evolve that if you were already in physical production when we went into a lockdown, you could keep filming. By the skin of our teeth, we got into physical production as a lockdown was imminent, found ourselves a bubble in a suburban warehouse, and shot a taut little thriller, with Radha Mitchell and Ella Newton. Keep an eye out for it 2nd half of 2022 in a cinema near you.
In the shadows
Our big doco project A Tree is for Life stalled in 2021. Planning a global shoot in a pandemic is hard enough, but imminent changes to the Producer Tax Offset made it impossible. A big chunk of our film finance plans include this Offset, a 40% tax rebate for feature films, 20% for TV etc. Proposed changes would increase the TV/streaming to 30% (good news) but at the expense of producers overheads, lower budget films/docos (eligibility threshold up from $500k to $1m) and, critically, offshore shooting, with the “Gallipoli clause” in the firing line. This clause is based on the fact that if you’re making a film about Gallipoli, you have to go there to film, so expenditure on Australian’s overseas should be eligible spend.
Not only are we planning a documentary on Trees that needs to shoot around the world, I’ve also used the Gallipoli clause on drama, when we had to shoot in Germany for the Finnish/German/Australian co-pro Iron Sky.
With these threats to our fundamental financing, I actually got off my butt and lobbied my local member, the minister and shadow minister. Miraculously, on 1 December, the legislation passed, with all the good bits and none of the bad bits. Thankfully, we head into 2022 with at least one significant degree of certainty. This is excellent news for documentary, for co-productions and for TV/streaming drama.
But enough about the macro (and I’m not going anywhere near the meta). What’s been most important to us here at Cathartic Pictures in 2021 are our fabulous team/s and projects.
In August, Cathartic officially welcomed Geskeva Komba (Maz) on a Producer Placement, supported by Film Victoria. Maz is a writer/producer and a key creative on Common Ground, so we’ve already been working together for nearly two years. She hit the ground running in the production office of The Girl at the Window and is working her magic across our full slate.
Naomi Ball joined in September on a part-time contract to kick start our social media strategies for the business and across projects. Watch this space in 2022. And I’m hoping she’ll stick around to help us out on our Trees impact strategy.
Clea Frost continues to bring her amazing story and people skills to drive development of Common Ground. Thanks to Werners for sharing her with us.
We’re hot out of another story room, for the amazing Michele Lee’s comedy drama Next Big Thing, along with Rachel Perks, Zoey Dawson, Sonya Suares and Kelly Lefever, with Screen Australia support.
We’re deep in an exciting creative documentary project that’s yet to be announced, prepping for completion funding in the new year with Clare Plueckhahn, Sean McDonald, Kathryn Vinella et al.
We expanded our Locked In team in 2021 [it was called that pre-pandemic, really]. Alex von Hofmann and I have been working with the inimitable Kelly Lefever (again), Eloise Healey and Jessica Brookman to nail the rules of the world and ramp up our character and horror arcs. And talking to FX peeps about how to create an awesome creature on our modest budget.
To the Common Ground team – Maz Komba, Ez Eldin Deng, Andi Shiferaw and Dorcas Maphakaela, I say thank you for staying the distance - almost two years of development so far, endless zooms, and joyously being creative in person for a handful of days. To ABC, thank you for taking a risk on us with your Fresh Start Fund. This development kept us all sane during lockdown and I believe we’re creating something special.
To Documentary Australia Foundation, thank you for supporting us with A Tree is for Life, we haven’t delivered yet, but we will. And thank you also to our early donors and impact partners.
To Tony Ginnane and Mark Hartley, thank you for inviting me aboard The Girl at the Window. It was a pleasure and a privilege.
To Film Victoria, thank you for development support, most importantly for Maz on her Producer Placement, but also Locked In and Why Trees Matter .
To everyone we’ve worked with this year, it’s been fun, let’s do it again some time.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy festive season, and all the best for the new year.
- Cathy Rodda