How do you get cinema owners to play Australian movies instead of Hollywood blockbusters? What about getting them to invest in those movies, so they have a vested interest in putting them on their screens – and in keeping them there.
That's the inspired solution the makers of Brothers Nest have come up with to one of the local industry's greatest challenges.
“Its all about getting into a cinema,” reflects Clayton Jacobson on what might just be a first in film financing in this country, if not the world. “And I thought, Ive got friends who are cinema owners. Why dont I just go direct to them?”
Clayton directs and co-stars in the darkly comic thriller about two bumbling brothers intent on murder; his brother Shane, with whom he made Kenny in 2006, plays the other brother.
Their first movie together was a surprise hit, costing just $500,000 to make and taking $8 million at the local box office (and plenty more via DVD sales afterwards). It was the launch pad for Shanes seemingly unstoppable showbiz career but, remarkably, Clayton has struggled ever since to make a follow-up.
“There hasnt been a week since the release of Kenny where I havent tried to get one of my other 12 projects up through the normal paths,” he says. “One in particular was a bit of a darling for about 11 years and then it fell over.”
That must have been heartbreaking.
“You go numb after a while. But if you dwell on the hours youve spent on it youd slit your wrists – and everybody elses in the room with you as well.”
Finally, and at the urging of a friend, the elder Jacobson decided to revisit the Kenny model in order to finance Brothers' Nest. Initially envisaged as a very small project with a budget of $200,000 or so, it ended up costing close to 10 times that.
But it has already surpassed expectations, playing at the South by South West festival in Austin, Texas, in March to strong reviews ahead of its Australian release on June 21. And thats great news for the investors.
This may be the first film in Australian history to include a dozen cinemas in the end credits. They got there by essentially pledging an advance on expected ticket sales.
For $5000, a cinema gets trailers and radio spots that name-drop the cinema and locality, plus the right to screen the film for up to three months, with complete autonomy about which and how many sessions to give it.
For $10,000, they also get to host the filmmakers (but not Shane) for Q&A screenings. For $20,000, they get both brothers for a red-carpet premiere.
Eddie Tamir owns the Classic in Elsternwick, the Lido in Hawthorn and the Cameo in Belgrave. He went a step further, investing $25,000 in the movie. In exchange for that, he gets it exclusively in each of his territories.
“We want to make our cinemas compelling, we are into the carnival aspect, we want to be a community hub, a bit of spectacle, great food and drink offers,” he says. “But most importantly we want interesting programming, and unique programming.”
The dollars involved are, he says, “big enough for most cinemas never to have done it in their history, and for many not to have picked up the opportunity to do it now.
“Is it a lot of money?” He pauses before answering. “Its a calculated risk.”
That risk took an unexpected turn on May 27 when car-mad Shane injured himself while celebrating Daniel Ricciardos win in the Monaco Grand Prix. He flew back to Australia believing hed twisted an ankle. It turned out hed snapped his Achilles tendon and had developed two blood clots in his leg.
“The doctors told him he cant fly,” says Clayton, who had to rapidly rethink, with producer Jason Byrne, how to organise a national tour with a wheelchair-bound star. “They said if he got on a plane hed die.”
A day later, theyd come up with a plan: they will now be taking the Brothers Nest tour bus on the road.
“The idea of Shane rocking up at screenings in a wheelchair with his foot elevated above his heart, thats better press than rocking up on a plane like every other schmo,” says his brother.
Those cinemas that have invested will keep 100 per cent of revenue, with half going to pay back their “advance” and the other half being pure revenue. When (or if) the investment is paid back, a more traditional split kicks in.
Will it work? Well, the film is good, but its a vastly different beast from Kenny, and Jacobson insists he has been careful to lower peoples expectations.
“I would be silly to go out there and promise another Kenny, because we didnt see that coming,” he says. “We based a lot of our thinking around a film that would do moderately OK.”
And if by some miracle it does better than that?
“Hopefully everyone, all the partners, gets to enjoy a bit of that as well.”
Karl has been a journalist at Fairfax Media since 1999, in a variety of writing and editing roles. Karl writes about popular culture with a particular focus on film and television.
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