'The Dry'.

Roadshow’s The Dry has enjoyed a stellar run since its release on New Year’s Day, taking in nearly $7 million to date.

Robert Connolly’s adaption of Jane Harper’s best-selling novel returned to the top of the box office last weekend with takings of more than $2 million, bringing its overall total to $6.9 million.

It comes after the film grossed $3.5 million on its opening weekend, joining Happy Feet and Mad Max as one of the biggest box office debuts for an Australian film.

Roadshow Films CEO Joel Pearlman said the results “absolutely confirm” Australian films can deliver blockbuster results alongside their Hollywood counterparts.

“This result is an incredible example of just how willing Australian audiences are to support their own cinema and stories and how important it is for the local filmmaking community to continue to be provided with opportunities to create great works of cinema for Australians to delight in,” he said.

Three Australian projects selected for Sundance 2021

Valerie with ‘Bruce’ the mechanical Great White during the filming of JAWS.

The Sundance Film Festival is set to continue its tradition of launching Australian projects into the US market with feature documentary Playing with Sharks, virtual reality project Prison X – Chapter 1: The Devil & The Sun, and short film GNT to screen at the event, taking place both online and in-person across the US from January 28 to 3 February 2021.

Playing with Sharks, a documentary about iconic Australian diver and filmmaker Valerie Taylor, will make its world premiere in the World Documentary Competition.

The WildBear Entertainment production is directed by Sally Aitken and produced through Bettina Dalton.

Virtual reality animation Prison X – The Devil & The Sun will make its world premiere in the New Frontier section which showcases emerging media storytelling, multimedia installations, performances, and films across fiction, nonfiction and hybrid projects.

The project, directed by Violeta Ayala, who also produced with Dan Fallshaw and Roly Elias, takes viewers on a mythological journey inside a Neo-Andean underworld.

Animated short film GNT, which won the Yoram Gross Animation prize at Sydney Film Festival 2020, will screen in the Short Film section.

The film, which follows one woman’s mission to conquer social media and upstage her friends, was written, directed and produced by Sara Hirner and Rosemary Vasquez-Brown.

Vale Susie Maizels, esteemed casting director

Susie Maizels.

One of Australia’s pioneering women in film, casting director Suzie Maizel, has died following a long battle with cancer.

Considered an icon of the Australian casting industry, Maizels blazed a trail for women in the industry during late 1970s and early 1980s.

In 1983, she cast Nicole Kidman with a lot of promise in BMX Bandits, a film that would help launch the actress’s career.

Her work can also be seen in films such as Lantana, Jindabyne, Oyster Farmer, and Bliss, as well as TV productions including Poor Man’s Orange, The Harp in the South, The Potato Factory, and Always Greener.

Casting Guild of Australia president David Newman said Maizel’s life and legacy should be celebrated.

“We thank her for her passion, laughter and strength,” he said.

NITV updates leadership team

NITV has begun 2021 with a new look senior leadership team.

Kyas Hepworth (nee Sherriff) has been appointed head of commissioning and programming, overseeing a 2021 slate that includes the return of Little J and Big Cuz, and the premiere of drama series Copping it Black.

Rhanna Collins, who has been with NITV since 2014, has also been promoted to head of Indigenous news and current affairs, from her position as executive editor.

In recognition of the range of projects delivered across sport, lifestyle and entertainment programming on NITV, Latj Latji and Gurang Gurang man Adam Manovic has been announced as the head of Indigenous events, entertainment & creative. Manovic has been managing producer at NITV since 2018 and has been working at the channel since 2008.

Journalist and Western Arrernte woman Karla Grant has become executive producer for Living Black and special projects. She will remain the host of Living Black and Karla Grant Presents programs, while also expanding across other projects including working with the Indigenous production sector leading NITV’s Our Stories content initiative.

Acclaimed Birpai-Dunghutti writer and journalist, Jack Latimore, is also stepping into the new interim role of acting managing editor, from his current role of digital editor, to oversee news content across NITV’s digital platforms as the channel’s plans are further developed in the new year.

Filming underway on horror-satire ‘Sissy’

Aisha Dee.

Arcadia (2067, Killing Ground) and DEMS Entertainment’s (Ladies in Black, The Furies) horror-satire Sissy has commenced shooting in Canberra.

The film stars Aisha Dee (The Bold Type) in the titular role, alongside Emily De Margheriti (Ladies in Black), Yerin Ha (Halo), Lucy Barrett (Bloom), Daniel Monks (Pulse) and Hannah Barlow (For Now), who, alongside Kane Senes (For Now, Echoes of War), also co-penned the script and will co-direct.

Dee plays Cecilia (aka Sissy), teen BFF of Emma (Barlow), and victim of bully and tormentor Alex (De Margheriti), who drives a wedge into the friendship.

Twelve years later, Cecilia is a successful social media influencer until she runs into Emma for the first time in over a decade.

Invited away on Emma’s bachelorette weekend, Sissy finds herself stuck in a remote cabin with her high school bully and a taste for revenge.

Lisa Shaunessy (2067, Killing Ground, The Furies) of Arcadia and John De Margheriti of DEMS Entertainment and The Academy of Interactive Entertainment are producers, along with Jason Taylor (X-Men: Days of Future Past) of Freedom Films.

Alexandra Burke, James Boyce, William Day Frank, Mathieu Van de Velde and Vicki De Margheriti serve as executive producers.

Produced at Film Plus, the film has received major production funding from Screen Canberra, Screen Australia, the Academy of Interactive Entertainment, ACT Film One Investors, Freedom Films, Mind the Gap and Arcadia.

More speakers, initiatives for Screen Forever; SPA’s Ones to Watch unveiled

Screen Producers Australia has added founder and CEO of the Black List, entrepreneur Franklin Leonard, to its Screen Forever program.

The Black List publishes an annual survey of the best unproduced screenplays, an online marketplace and screenwriter labs. At Screen Forever, Franklin will appear in conversation with journalist and author Benjamin Law, as they discuss the company and all things independent film.

SPA has also partnered with TikTok to launch pitching competition ‘Got a Minute?’, which calls for participants to submit a pilot for a 10 x 1 minute series.

Three finalists will be flown to the Gold Coast to pitch their series to a panel of industry experts in a mainstage session on the second day of Screen Forever (February 17), where the winner will be chosen.

The winner will take home $15,000 in funding from TikTok to boost the production of their series, two project development sessions with Lee Naimo, senior investment manager at Screen Australia, and a TikTok content strategy mentorship.

In addition, two runners up will receive $5,000 each in production investment from TikTok along with a TikTok content strategy mentorship.

SPA has also named its 12 ‘Ones to Watch’ for 2020. They are:

• Hayley Adams, Passionfruit Bites (VIC)
• Joanna Beveridge, Paraverse Picture (NSW)
• Peter Daly, Delirium Animation (VIC)
• Philip Tarl Denson, Odd Pirate (NT)
• Joshua Longhurst, Wintergarden Pictures (NSW)
• Chris Luscri, Flood Projects (VIC)
• Ljudan Michaelis-Thorpe, Zero Divide Media Productions (QLD)
• Danielle Redford, Loveology Films (QLD)
• Ruby Schmidt, Toy Shop Entertainment (QLD)
• MahVeen Shahraki, Thousand Mile Productions (NSW)
• Clare Sladden, Broken Head Productions (QLD)
• Liz Tomkins (QLD)

Each is now spending eight weeks undertaking a series of skills focused webinars to get their nominated projects “pitch perfect” for Screen Forever. In addition, the producers will receive ongoing one-on-one virtual mentoring with a leading producer from within the SPA membership.

Screen Forever is taking place at the Gold Coast and online February 16-18.

Screen Queensland recruits US showrunner Bradford Winters for 2021 Writers’ initiative

Screen Queensland has partnered with showrunner Bradford Winters (The Sinner, Berlin Station, The Americans) as part of a development program for the state’s upcoming lead writers and showrunners.

The initiative will bring five Queensland creatives into an intensive writers’ room structured on the US showrunner model, which involves “breaking” their series concepts, creating a “mini-bible” and honing their pitch.

Next, the writers will pitch their series to a panel of Australian broadcasters and streamers, and at least one participant will be selected to run a writers’ room for their project and to write the pilot episode of their series, with support from Winters.

This series will then be pitched to market with a guarantee from Screen Queensland to co-finance development of the project, should it secure matched funding from a broadcaster or streamer.

Applications for the program open January 28, on the same day as an in-conversation event with Bradford Winters, 2pm – 4pm at BEMAC.

Screenworks announces participants for Career Pathways programs

Screenworks has revealed the nine regional practitioners that will take part in its three Career Pathway Programs for 2021.

Mouche Phillips from Byron Bay and Makushla Bourke from Kalaru on the NSW South Coast have been selected for Screenworks Regional Producer Elevator Program.

They will each receive $3,500 to support their professional and career development as well as a consultation with producer Andrena Finlay from Screen ABC, attendance at Screenworks Regional to Global Screen Forum in March and support from SPA.

Ashley Gibb, a Wiradjuri man currently living on the Coffs Coast, and Beverly Callow and Darius Devas, both from the Byron Bay region, were selected for Screenworks’ Director Pathways Program, in which participants receive $3,500 to implement their unique career development programs and be supported by the ADG.

The Inside the Writers Room initiative will see Jane Hampson from Mayfield in Newcastle and Katie Tonkin from Northern NSW observe writers rooms at Fremantle Australia, while Gabrielle Stroud from Merimbula on the South Coast of NSW will go to See Saw Pictures, and Claire Pasvolsky from Merewether in Newcastle will go to Every Cloud Productions.

Entries open for AACTA regional pitch program

Entries are now open for the second AACTA Pitch: Regional Landscapes in partnership with Screenworks, with early-career screenwriters, particularly those from regional areas, encouraged to apply.

This year, finalists in the initiative will be pitching for the chance to receive professional script development sessions, profiling and industry opportunities through the Australian Writers’ Guild Pathways program, a three-day pass to all sessions at the Screenworks 2021 Regional to Global Screen Forum, AACTA annual membership, Screenworks annual membership, Australian Writers’ Guild annual membership, and two tickets to the 2021 AACTA Awards.

Entries close February 22, enter here.

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