Ian Booth: Bang for Buck

December 6, 2019
We looked into the future of film finance with Indian Pacific Pictures’ Ian Booth.

While CEO of Screenwest, Ian Booth was involved in financing, including feature films Australia, Jasper Jones, Breath, Bran Nue Dae and many more.

After almost a decade at Western Australia’s peak film financing body, in June 2018, the Perth-based, former lawyer, moved on to form a new film production venture, Indian Booth Pictures; with partners Rikki Lea Bestall and Stephen Langsford.

Inaugurated in June 2018, the company was formed to provide backing for ambitious Australian productions aimed at the global market, which are Australian-made, yet world-oriented.

We caught up with Booth to get his take on the disruptive landscape of film financing, the avenues available to filmmakers and producers, and the opportunities in a globally open marketplace.

Previously, you were CEO of Screenwest and on the board of Ausfilm. Films you’ve helped finance include Mystery Road, Breath, Satellite Boy and Paper Planes. The financing market is constantly changing. What are your thoughts on the marketplace, and what are you looking for in projects from producers?

There are more opportunities than there ever has been before in this time of disruption. What you need to cut through is something that is great and not just good. There is now a big gap in the market between something that needs to be in cinema, and the real and significant opportunities there are in the streaming world. Traditionally, there are a lot of Australian films that were made that perhaps weren’t strong enough to really garner a great theatrical audience. Whether they were too quickly put into production, or they didn’t have enough time on the script, or the cast was not at the level that really meant that you’re going to see it at the theatre. Those films are still finding a home, the well-crafted, good stories. They’re finding homes online, as opposed to a cinema release. If your aim is high and you want to do something that is great and of scale and significance, then there should be a market for you at the cinemas and you’ve also got more chance of securing sales to streamers.

The complexity in the market is around how do you finance things on a lower budget level. Particularly with streamers, as unless it’s a series they usually come on after the film’s release. From a finance company perspective, it’s a really interesting time in the market. Projects which have an international appeal, and have scale, have stars, and something to say and usually have a great director attached, they’re going to do well. And it may not be at the movies. I Am Mother for example, the scale and ambition kept growing because the quality of the filmmaker Grant Sputore is amazing, and he just continued to pour effort and time and love into the film. He set his sights high on cast and just had more and more interest as it went through and was able to finance it. And then on completion, after the film’s Sundance 2019 release, it was picked up by Netflix, and bang. The audience is ultimately what it’s about. More people will see that film because a great company like Netflix decided to acquire it, than if it had a traditional release.

What is the focus of Indian Pacific Pictures?

We set up the company to focus on films that are international in focus that need to be made in Australia but can utilise the support and quality of the crew, stories, talent and money that’s available in the Australian system; movies for the world.

There was a record six Australian films at Sundance 2019 (Animals, I Am Mother, Judy and Punch, Little Monsters, Top End Wedding and The Nightingale) that seemed to connect with viewers internationally. How important are both global relevance and festival screenings to a film’s distribution prospects?

Festivals have always been important. Festivals are a launchpad and a platform. A recognition of the quality of the project and a way for it to be discovered. They’re really crucial. Every year there are always Australians films that get to that level of Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, Venice and of course Cannes. There are always Australians at that level. So, there’s no doubt we can make films that the world’s interested.

Do Australian filmmakers and producers punch above our weight internationally?

There’s no question. For a long time, the world has been interested in what Australia has to offer in terms of our talent, and I think it’s broadened out from just film, into television as well. Some of our amazing directors are doing their highest quality work internationally which is really exciting. The way our company is structured, we’re looking for those opportunities that can work for the world and be made here. There are real opportunities out there. It’s exciting.

Can you can you tell us about what’s on your slate?

We’re a brand new company. We’re currently working on a feature film with Gary Foster (producer, The Score, Sleepless In Seattle) which is really exciting and is progressing well. Hopefully that will be into finance and shooting next year. Following that, we have a number of great projects in development. We’re optioning a great book. We see opportunities for film as well as series for the major streamers. We’re being really selective and taking our time and using our resources wisely.

 Animals and The Nightingale are two examples of films that made a significant impact internationally. Do you have any perspective on those films and how they’ve crossed over to viewers globally?

They’re both films made by amazing filmmakers who are fiercely creative and driven to do amazing work. The Nightingale polarises audiences and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But absolutely, you cannot deny there’s amazing talent. Another thing that’s really exciting is there’s so many great talented female filmmakers that have been found in Australia. There’s just a wealth of amazing, talented creatives here. I think the world is really interested in who’s next. It’s interesting that Jennifer was the only female director at Venice when The Nightingale premiered. This opens the door for other opportunities. I’m sure they’ll all be looking for more out of Australia as well as more female and diverse stories and filmmakers. Quality opens doors for other people.

Is the global door more open than ever to Australian stories?

Absolutely, and we have so many stories to tell that have not been touched on yet.

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