Oscars and IF Awards, kings and canines. For producers Emile Sherman and Nelson Woss, 2011 has been a year of surprising success.
In conversation on the final day of the 2011 SPAA conference, the producers (of The King's Speech and Red Dog respectively) revealed that while the the films may differ in terms of story, both have performed strongly for similar reasons.
"It was never a period film for us, it wasn't a story about the period," Sherman says of The King's Speech, which won four Oscars. "It was such a unique friendship, a triumph of the human spirit that just doesn't come along that often.
"There was a real sense that it could be special, but, that said, a film about two middle-aged men talking in a room was a really tough sell."
For Red Dog too, Woss attributes its popularity to the emotion of the story. Aside from grossing more than $21 million at the local box office, the film has screened in festivals everywhere from Korea to Israel.
"It's about heart and finding your home," he says. "No matter where you're from or what language you speak, if you like dogs, you love this movie."
Both films tested well in the lead up to release. For The King's Speech, this aided in attracting almost $10 million worth of pre-sales. But for Red Dog, this almost proved a concern for the film's distributor.
"It scored 89 per cent on the top two boxes and 93 per cent for 'definite reccomend'," says Woss. "The problem was it was right across all ages – from seven to 70. That freaked Roadshow out, they said 'You've got not target audience!'"
With the film already set for a UK release, cracking the US market has been more of a challenge. According to Woss, a mainstream release would cost up to $40 million. Part of the issue is the money studios are willing to spend on prints and advertising (P&A).
"Red Dog is not an arthouse film, it's not a film you can open in New York and LA on 20 screens," he says. "They'd rather spend $100 million P&A on a movie that costs $120 million than spend $30-40 million on a movie that costs nothing."
Sherman agrees: "It's hard to make an Australian commercial film and actually make it work internationally, because different distributors have to take it and they have to release it incredibly wide. It's really the P&A that's the commitment."
When it comes to making films locally, the producer feels that the Producer Offset should be more like a tax rate system, with a 50 per cent offset on films with budgets up to $15 million, 40 per cent for those between $15-30 million and 35 per cent from then on.
"The government would end up paying the same amount of money, but you would have a real industry of films being made," he says.
Woss, on the other hand, admires the French method, which involves one dollar from every DVD purchased and ticket sold at the box office being put toward making your next film.
"If you want to build an industry, that's a better model to use," he says. "It's simple and it's fair, and it allows films to get made based on box office."