Kriv Stenders reflects on success and failure

Kriv Stenders on the Mumbai set of ‘Jack Irish’ last year (Photo credit: Martin McGrath)

Kriv Stenders has an enviable track record as the director of both Red Dog hits, The Principal, The Pacific: In the wake of Captain Cook with Sam Neill (co-directed with Sally Aitken), The Go-Betweens: Right Here and episodes of Jack Irish, Doctor Doctor and Hunters.

But even he acknowledges it took him 10 years to make his first feature – which he self-funded – and he has had his share of failures.

Currently in post on his Vietnam War movie Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan for producers Martin Walsh and John and Michael Schwarz, Stenders shared his experiences to encourage directors who are struggling to make their first or second features.

He was responding to a ground-breaking study by UK analyst Stephen Follows, reported by IF, which shows far fewer directors in Australia get the chance to make their second feature, or more, than the global average.

According to Follows’ global research of all titles released in the past 70 years, while 63.5 per cent of directors have one feature film credit, 36.5 per cent made a second feature. Just 8.6 per cent directed more than five and only 0.1 per cent have more than 20 feature credits.

By comparison, Screen Australia’s most recent research – admittedly over a much shorter time frame – found 62 per cent of directors had one credit in the five years to June 2017 and 44 of the 144 surveyed – 19 per cent – had made a second feature.

Stenders says: “It’s certainly a brutal and tough game for feature film directors in any country at any level. It took me 10 years through the 1990s to get my first feature up after a number of failed take-offs. I had to entirely self-fund that first feature, Blacktown, in 2005.

“My second film, The Illustrated Family Doctor, crashed and burned with the critics and at the box office. I was dead in the water if it wasn’t for Katrina Sedgwick, who had seen Blacktown and offered me the chance to make Boxing Day for the Adelaide Film Festival. So within the space of four years I had already made three features.”

After that, he shot Lucky Country in 2009 and whilst that was being financed producer Nelson Woss offered him Red Dog.

Stenders advises filmmakers to try to develop a number of projects at the same time because one can never predict which ones will get up. Citing the old saying “you’re only as good as your last gig,” he says it is important to try to maintain momentum.

“Every film can’t be a hit or a critical success,” he concludes. “Failure is part of the process, and accepting and recovering from failure is a key to developing your survival skills both as a director and as a human being. As I keep saying to myself now… there’s always going to be death, taxes and film reviews.”

Transmission Films will release Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan, which stars Travis Fimmel, Luke Bracey, Richard Roxburgh and Daniel Webber and chronicles the heroics of Australian and New Zealand soldiers in a pivotal battle in 1966, later this year.