This article orginally appeared in IF Magazine #149 (October-November 2012).
We’re a family business – multigenerational at that. I went to law school in the early ‘70s and discovered that the last thing I wanted to be was a lawyer. I joined my father in 1976. He was such an easy, understanding fellow. Anyone who knew Russel knows just what a nice guy he was. I wish I could live up to that.
The business was largely TV distribution and I did a little bit of work on some very small films that we bought. One of them was the Dairying Dobermans; a story of Doberman dogs trained to rob a bank. In the ‘80s we ramped it up and we started buying a considerable number of films. Eventually, I sold out of that company which was then publicly listed. My father was very ill so I was able to spend some time with him.
After he passed away I felt that I’d like to go back to it. Rather than have a big business like we had before I wanted just to buy the occasional film and handle it myself. Then Elle joined me.
I thought it was only ever going to be the odd job here and there. She embraced the whole idea. Next minute I know, I couldn’t have done it without her. So I started with my father accidently and loved working with him and it’s funny that that’s how Elle joined me. It’s the sort of industry once you get engaged with it’s very hard to get out of your system.
She’s a very creative girl. She’s constantly thinking. Her life and her career are intermingled. I know that when I was first married, my father would come over and we would talk work all the time and that must have been frustrating even though Suzie, my wife, never complained.
I was hoping that wouldn’t happen with Elle but Elle’s so happy in her job that her mother thinks it’s the best thing.
I have a son, her older brother, who coincidentally also works for me. We have a vineyard and a winery and he’s our winemaker. So we have two businesses that both provide enjoyment.
We work together on each film. We have a good creative argument about films we should be taking. If you work by yourself I learnt very quickly that you operate in a vacuum. If you can’t convince someone else that you’ve got a good idea you’ve got some flaws in that idea.
She has a million ideas. It’s hard to keep her down. When we first started we were just getting into a couple of indie cinemas. Now we’re not buying more films but buying better films. It’s really thrilling to watch these ideas and campaigns grow through just a couple of people.
As you can imagine I was constantly surrounded by film growing up. I got a good feel for the film business from an early stage. I always had a passion for the film industry but when I left high school I wanted to do something outside the family business so I decided to do a Bachelor of Design.
I went interning, working for a couple of designers here and there. It was pretty bad timing when I graduated in terms of getting jobs in design. I asked if I could join him part-time and then not too long down the track I joined the business. I wanted to do bigger films. He loved that idea so he went ahead and did it.
He always knew I wanted to join the company and it was while I was studying that he sold out of that. I don’t think he thought that I would come back. Because he just started doing little films I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to start working with him like he did with his father.
My dad and my grandfather were working together for 35 years. They had such a close relationship so I hoped to have that with my dad, carrying on from where my grandfather started. I know a lot of people who would hate working with their parents but I couldn’t think of anything better. He’s got so much experience and in three years, in my career at Beckers, I’ve learnt so much.
Just sitting down with him and working out our release pattern, how wide we should go and booking quality screens, I think, is where he’s taught me so much. That’s the driving force behind a film – finding that audience.
We target an older audience. We’ll always focus on quality, drama films with a strong cast. I want to keep where we are now and just keep strong titles coming out on the back of each other.
There are so many elements to this business. Starting from scratch, there’s so many things I had to get my head around and I think that’s really challenging. At the same time if you just get thrown amongst it but you work really hard, it will work out.