Dov Kornits

Whilst his promising debut feature, Red Billabong, gained a strong following through the pop culture circuit and social media, unfortunately that potential audience’s chances of seeing the film on the big screen were squandered when few cinemas chose to give this local genre flick a chance by at least running a limited season.

Now it comes to digital, DVD and Blu-ray, and audiences can finally decide for themselves whether they want to check out this slick local indie.

Red Billabong is a fun creature feature that shows very little creature for the majority of the film, instead focusing on building the personalities and dynamics of its attractive young cast (Dan Ewing, Tim Pocock, Sophie Don, Jessica Green, Ben Chisholm, Emily Joy). When the creature finally arrives, it is found in the recognisable Australian bush and shrouded in Aboriginal mysticism.

We spoke with the film’s writer/director about the journey of bringing the film to life.

Your background is in costumes/wardrobe, how does Red Billabong fit into that story? “I’ve made mention to FilmInk before that I’m a huge movie lover, so being involved in so many great productions – in any capacity – has been something really special to me. I tell anyone wanting to know how to crack into the industry: just start working on set, even in the smallest position. And if you want to learn, it’s all there in front of you for 12 plus hours a day. My time as costume and advising really took me into the inner workings of filmmaking with some spectacular mentors to bounce ideas off – and I took out of it what I thought was the best way to tell my stories.”

How long did it take to make Red Billabong, from idea to completion, and how did it change in that process? “I started writing it just before going off onto the TV mini-series The Pacific, which was 2007. In 2012 we were almost ready to move with our war film The 34th Battalion but had a rug pulled from under us by other factors, so I pulled out this script and got to work rewriting it into something we could get going ourselves. I had done all the research on Aboriginal mythology and I think the whole concept is very unique, so I didn’t want it to go waste. About the only thing that changed was the creature design and how we were going to achieve that.”

There seems to be a movement in Queensland, especially around genre films. Whereas in the past cast and crew would move to Sydney/Melbourne there now seems to be an industry in QLD. What do you put that down to? Roadshow Studios? “We had a good run up here in the early 2000s with back to back films and that’s been slowly building again, which is great to see. I think Roadshow has a lot to do with it and I take my hat off to those guys for really pushing QLD as much as they do. Australia still needs to embrace genre films a lot more though, they’ve got some of the loudest, largest and proudest fans around the globe – who wouldn’t want to tap into that?”


How has the film been received overseas? “It’s had a strong performance through parts of Asia, Japan opens soon and china just bought it. UK and USA buyers are still viewing and negotiating from AFM [American Film Market]. We had a screening in LA in October which was positive, everyone laughed at the jokes, sang to the songs and seemed to enjoy themselves. It’s not a film that is too serious, just have fun with it.”

It seemed to me that you really worked hard on building a fan base for the film, but there wasn’t the same enthusiasm from ‘the biz’ and cinemas. Do you have something that you’d like to say about this? “Would I like to say something about that? How long do we have? It was disappointing that the larger cinemas didn’t give us a go after the team did work really hard on making the awareness as big as we could afford – all from private funds. At the time of release, we had a very strong social media presence with over 24,000 actual real fans we had from the groundswell after attending pop culture conventions and billboards in every state. Sometimes it felt like an un-winnable situation: We had been told by a few particular companies early on, ‘Come to us with a great marketing campaign and X amount of audience and we’ll do it’ – so we come back with even more and they’re like ‘Oh, we didn’t think you could do it. So sorry, no.’ When your social media and head office gets inundated by fans, and people don’t budge, is that when you can say something is very wrong?

“Our screen averages were good. Sydney screening on Friday night was the most of all the films there. Cineplex in QLD were the best to us and had it in multiple locations with good crowds for this type of film. I truly believe we could have had about the same nationwide average, as say, The Free State of Jones had we actually be given the chance. A few smaller cinemas in holiday towns played it for like 8 weeks over school holidays. It was meant to be a fun film for that type of audience.

“But I think it shows a larger more disturbing picture of Aussie cinema. You’ve got this new generation of filmmakers coming through that are either A) Trying to do something different, or B) Actively trying to create exciting films that would play well on the big screen. Just in the last year we’ve had Crushed, Scare Campaign, Red Billabong and now The Legend of Ben Hall: all independent genre films in one way or another. All with a fan base actively wanting to help see it on the big screens – but we have cinema chains where, whether or not it’s going to be shown, comes down to one or two guys’ decision. And that’s it. I don’t think the movie going public know that’s how it works. I keep having people say ‘my cinema would have shown it, then they asked head office and they couldn’t’ – because the decision was already made and that’s it.

“It’s great to have Aussie films with important messages, like Down Under, get some big screen time – but let’s not forget the pop culture fans or film buffs that want to experience something large on the big screen with big sound.

“Platforms like FanForce and Tugg are great for some areas, but I also worry it’s an easy excuse for the chains to relegate all genre films or independent films in the future without looking at the overall package filmmakers are putting together or giving them a go.

“On the flipside, I absolutely understand it’s a business for the cinemas. It’s a business for us too. I know the last thing they want is an empty cinema, but if something doesn’t change soon – independent genre films in Australia will be dead. Perhaps Screen Australia should be looking at taking some money from production funding and throwing some to subsidising cinema chains for screening a certain number of Aussie films per year? Rather than helping films with no place to get screened, help Indies that went out and did it by themselves. Especially ones that have their shit together.”

Are you working on something else already? If so, can you reveal any details? “We’re in late development/early pre of my next genre film – that’s right, going to keep pushing this subject. I’m really excited about this one and we’re in early talks with some great cast. I’m also aiming to continue the Bunyip legacy story from Red Billabong. I’ve got a fantastic treatment for a sequel that I’m going to get into production one way or another. Maybe a TV show – that would be awesome…. Just putting that one out there.”

Red Billabong is available from December 14 on VOD and will be out on December 21 on DVD and Blu-ray.


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