Bill Bennett plots a new course for distributing movies – and repaying investors

‘PGS – Intuition is your Personal Guidance System’.

Like many filmmakers, Bill Bennett is convinced the traditional theatrical distribution market is dead for most Australian films.

So the veteran producer/director/writer is pursuing a new model for releasing his theatrical feature documentary PGS – Intuition is your Personal Guidance System, which he is confident will repay his investors.

Three years ago Bennett and his wife, producer Jennifer Cluff, raided their superannuation savings to buy the equipment for the film, a very personal journey in which he searches for the source of a voice which saved his life while he was driving years earlier.

The filmmaker, whose credits include Backlash, Spider & Rose, Kiss or Kill and The Nugget, applied for funding from Screen Australia and was knocked back on the grounds the project was viewed as “too commercial” and he should be able to raise the money himself.

So as he and Cluff roamed the world interviewing leading experts on intuition including scientists, ministers of religion, spiritualists, writers and military commanders, people progressively offered to invest after hearing about the project from Bennett’s social media posts.

All told 27 investors, ranging from accountants to single mothers, of whom 40 per cent live overseas, contributed funds. That was a leap of faith as none knew what the final budget would be or when it would be completed. During the shoot he showed investors clips from the film.

The budget ended up at $1.4 million and the first screening was held at the Dendy Opera Quays on October 11.

He describes the experience of shooting without any government funding as liberating, explaining: “I don’t have to follow defined pathways to audiences. I can take on a distribution model which best suits the film, not best suits a government agency.

“The traditional model is no longer connected to the real world yet it’s propped up by exhibitors who care less about the movies they screen and more about selling tubs of popcorn that feed the obesity epidemic and choctops that are obscenely overpriced.

“The current model is cruel to creatives and investors and is inherently dishonest because distributors, exhibitors and sales agents promise what they know they will never deliver. And yet the government agencies perpetuate it because they aren’t nimble enough to change and adapt to new paradigms. They are ruled by legislation that was written around about the time when VHS reigned supreme. The world is moving fast and there are opportunities for filmmakers and investors, but it requires fleet of thought and the courage to run with the new wolves or dingoes.”

Bennett’s unorthodox approach involves cinema-on-demand screenings in Australia and the UK via FanForce (a February launch is planned in the UK) and in the US via Gathr. There will be a premiere in New York on January 11 and he’s had publicists in Los Angeles and New York working on the release for three months. Tracey Mair is handling publicity in Australia.

Down the track he will release the title on the PGS movie’s web site to rent for two days, priced at about $US7, followed by download to own  for about $US24.95.

He calculates that if he can sell 100,000 copies on a ratio of 65 per cent rental/35 per cent purchase, he will gross around $US1.2 million, which means the movie will be in profit.

He rules out selling the film to a Netflix or Amazon, reasoning that the long licence period would limit the upside potential.

“My priority is to find a distribution model which has the best chance of the investors getting their money back, plus some,” he said.

“The existing models don’t do that because cross-collateralisation kills it stone-dead for investors and for the creative people who have participation in the film.”

A year ago the highly prolific Bennett announced a three-book deal with Penguin Random House for Palace of Fires, a young adult thriller trilogy set in the world of modern-day witchcraft. The first novel, Initiate, will be published in late January and he’s just delivered the 100,000 words manuscript for the second, Unholy.

His next feature is likely to be Buen Camino, a dramedy inspired by his e-book The Way, My Way, which charts his experiences walking along the 800km Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail across Spain.

Screen Australia has helped to develop the cast-driven film which looks at people from all over the world who meet at the start of the Camino, how they interact and how the walk changes them.

As the budget is $10 million he is taking the traditional approach to financing and distribution. Spain’s Morena Films will co-produce, Myriad Pictures will handle international sales and Becker Film Group will release in Australia. Greg Apps has started casting and the plan is to start shooting next October.