Feature Story: Lessons from a Weinstein deal

While the international success of Wolf Creek brought him to the attention of Hollywood moguls, filmmaker Greg Mclean’s baptism of fire in the US moviemaking system came with his follow-up film Rogue.

In the second part of an extended three-part feature, he tells INSIDEFILM what he learnt. Interview by Simon de Bruyn and story by Philippa Maclachlan.

When Miramax picked up Wolf Creek for US$3.5 million following its premiere at Sundance in 2005, it seemed that nothing could stop director Greg Mclean in his tracks. Following a big US release, the brothers who ran Miramax, Bob and Harvey Weinstein handed over $25 million for him to a second feature back in Australia.

However this second feature Rogue, about a group of tourists in the Northern Territory who become prey to a man-eating crocodile, was stalled during post production by the very people who had given Mclean his big break in the first place, the Weinstein brothers. After long delays the film was finally released to muted response in Australia, and a one week run in the US.

“I was really, really obviously disappointed, we all were, with the delays and all the stuffing around and their release and their determination not to do anything with the film,” he says. “I can only blame myself for doing that deal.”

But he says he is happy with the way the film turned out.

“I made exactly the film with Rogue, that I was making for ten years, exactly the way I wanted, with exactly the people I wanted and the film they put out was exactly what I wanted to make. So that’s the plus side,” he says.

Mclean says many films face distribution problems but it doesn’t mean the end of a film. “There are a couple of genre films that have been made, financed then just literally either released really badly or not even released. But what’s interesting is with films like that they take on a life of their own,” he says.

“People will catch it on cable or see it playing and go, ‘what is this film?’ Because the quality is so good and they can’t understand how these films just don’t get released properly. So hopefully they’re the sort of things we’ll find.”

Rogue ended up making $4.2 million at the international box office after making $1.8 million in Australia, a stark contrast to his success with Wolf Creek which well exceeded its modest $1.38 million budget. He is now developing a range of projects, including World War II action-horror Dark Forces.

Mclean recognises the challenges of filmmaking in Australia, particularly for genre filmmakers who are trying to work with the prevalent government funding model. He says the challenge of trying to write compelling films that also comply with what the Australian funding bodies want can be frustrating.

“For twenty years they’re educating people in saying, ‘we only want this type of film that can be shot’ and then overnight the rules have changed with the funding bodies now saying, ‘we now want commercially viable, big Hollywood-financeable movies’. We’re the writers that have been trying to do that so it’s an incredibly hard situation,” he says.

He applauds writers who are forging a path of genre creation in Australia but says it isn’t always viable here.

“I think the thing is you’ve just got to go where you’re nourished and appreciated and you can only hit your head against the wall so long before something breaks,” he says.

While many Australian genre projects are currently made outside this system on small budgets, special effects laden genre films need bigger budgets and Mclean recognises the need for overseas finance for his more ambitious films.

Indeed he would even consider working with the Weinsteins again, although he doesn’t have any picture deal he has to wind up with them.

“There’s no [requirement] for further pictures with them, but anything can happen in this crazy town, you never know.”

Hosted by Damian Walshe-Howling, and screening throughout May and June, Flickerfest on Extra features the work of filmmakers including Frank Woodley, Rachel Griffiths, Jan Chapman, Jan Sardi, Nash Edgerton, Fred Schepisi and Gillian Armstrong.

Mclean is the sixth episode in the series, which goes to air on June 19 at 10:30 on Movie EXTRA, and will feature his interview, short film ICQ and a special presentation of Rogue.

Read the first part of the interview here. INSIDEFILM will publish the final part next Wednesday, June 10.