With a little more planning and insight, the Adelaide based conference has managed to embrace its digital obligation and deliver an engaging, interactive program comprised of three principal events spread over a month-long timetable.
Kicking off September 10 with a headlining two day Conference incorporating a number of inspiring creative panels and insightful business discussions, MCX Screenmakers will then transition to its Format Lab on September 12.
Produced by Media Mentors, the Format Lab will help aspiring content creators understand the skill sets of crafting unique formats with the help of industry experts, including the creators of the wildly successful reno series The Block.
Then, on October 8, aspiring creators will have the opportunity to land a $20,000 prize pool thanks to the ABC TV/ iView Pitch-O-Rama competition, which will play out next to an industry roundtable and offer the chance to secure a one-on-one chat with a number of industry leaders from the likes of ABC, Stan, SBS, Roadshow and Madman.
With the ambition of setting itself apart from other industry conferences, MCX Screenmakers has undergone a quantum shift in accessibility and practicality over the past three years, thanks largely in part to the leadership of Karena Slaninka, who as Chief Executive Officer of Mercury CX, brings with her a hybrid of professional/bohemian philosophy to South Australia’s screen community.
Slaninka’s influence was first witnessed by Tasmania’s screen industry when she was CEO of Screen Tasmania, which saw the Apple Isle flourish with productions such as The Kettering Incident, Rosehaven and The Gloaming, elevating Tassie onto the world stage as a feasible and viable production hub. Since her tenure at Mercury CX, the Melbourne native has produced one of the industry’s most anticipated calendar events, even under the stresses of a global pandemic.
“We did it digitally last year, which was crazy, moving from a physical conference to transitioning across into this huge, massive online event,” explains Slaninka when the inevitable subject of COVID and the impact of taking the conference online emerges.
“The difference between last year and this year though, is that we did a one day event last year and it was very compressed. We just did three or four conference sessions.
“We didn’t have the Pitch Market Day, so we didn’t have 250 pitching slots to curate and match. We didn’t have 40 round tables consisting of a host and 8 delegates. It’s those two big events at the conference itself that made a two day conference more manageable.”
While many festivals and conferences have had to transition from a physical presence to online, the challenges faced by MCX Screenmakers has allowed Slaninka and her team an opportunity to foreshadow a new normal. And while the ultimate goal is to return in 2022 with physical audience and guests, the enforced digital exile has opened up the conference to a broader and more diverse audience, both on a domestic and international level. A benefit that Mercury CX has plans to implement into future events.
“Absolutely, I think one of the great things about having it online is that it makes it very accessible for people wherever they are. That I think is really fantastic in and of itself, but it also has opened up fthe opportunity to have speakers and panelists from all over the world. And that is actually gold because it’s normalised that kind of format. People looked at video conferencing in a way that was very second class as an experience. But now, I think people are more attuned to it and more appreciative. And so, I think we can strike further afield in a really exciting way.”
Much like the conference’s own intent in doing things a little differently, curating an event designed to break open the status quo rather than indulge the traditional audience and speaker format, MCX Screenmakers 2021 has landed an exciting showcase of talent to participate and mentor audiences during the month-long program.
“We’ve got some really fantastic speakers. We’re really excited about all of our panel sessions,” reveals the Mercury CX CEO with genuine enthusiasm. “We’re not like SPA, or your typical conference – we are all about supporting and exploring ways of doing things differently, so even if we have speakers that you might see at other conferences, we’re always looking through the lens of probing more deeply and exploring and challenging the status quo.
“Of recognising that there is huge disruption in the industry and that the ways that we learnt to do things when we went to film school – how you put a deal together or how you finance the show or how you worked creatively in developing something – has shifted and changed, a lot, and continues to do so.
“All the panel sessions will be looking through the prism of that lens of doing things differently and having a fresh take on the way things are done.”
As for the actual talents themselves, which includes a striking number of film and broadcast professionals from across every imaginable field, Slaninka hints that a few conference guests are still being kept under wraps, but gladly, she offers up a taste of her more anticipated speakers set to headline a number of panels, along with their creative executions.
“We really love championing the outliers and the people who are doing things differently, so talking to screenwriters Benjamin and Michelle Law who are outspoken advocates and who have forged their own path, so that’ll be a fantastic session to look forward to.
“I’m also really excited about the two girls Meg LeFauve & Lorien McKenna [above], who are behind The Screenwriting Life podcast. It’ll be a show within a show within a show because we’ll be interviewing them, and they will be recording their podcast at the same time. That podcast will go out globally a week later, live from the conference here in Adelaide, South Australia. That’s kind of cool because all of a sudden our conference goes out to a global audience.
“It’s all about also doing things differently and using technology in ways that are really different as well.”
As for those looking to attend MCX Screenmakers in its virtual capacity, the inclusiveness of the conference in casting its net to embrace ‘Content Creators’ as opposed to only film or broadcast industry hopefuls, is another aspect of the disruptive nature that MCX is intent on fostering. As well as delivering a safe, supportive and professional community that will hopefully pave Australia’s entertainment future.
“There are lots of people doing things – TikTok and YouTube – utilising technology. Australians are known as being early adapters of technology and I think that comes from being remote.
“My perception is that necessity is the mother of invention, and often what you find are these really interesting but small pockets of people who are creating interesting content from unexpected places and locations and that really excites me,” muses Slaninka when asked to define who the audience is that the conference, and Mercury CX itself, hopes to attract.
“They’re not the normal run of the mill, come up through the traditional pipeline and gone to film school. They might be a gamer or an app developer – because content creator, I think, also encompasses that as well. They can be in the wilds of Tasmania and technology enables that ability to create a pipeline of content and get it out to the world.
“When I took over about 18 months ago, I recognised that these old screen development agencies across Australia have all but gone, because they weren’t relevant anymore. They weren’t able to reimagine themselves, and I really wanted to do that with this organisation. To reimagine what it can be and envisage a different future for it.
“So, we positioned it and the new vision for it is as Mercury CX. The CX standing for Centre of Excellence. The idea is to be a bit of a Sundance Institute and to really foster excellence in story and talent; a chrysalis for developing talent at a national level.
“That’s a long term vision: to be that Centre of Excellence for the national industry and not be an education institution. It’s really about specialised and professional development opportunities and to bring great people to mentor and cultivate talent through our programmes.
“I think the conference really epitomises that. To be a bridge – to create that connection between market and industry, and professionals and people who are aspiring and emerging, or even if they’re at the midpoint of their career and are looking for a way in.”