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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday December 3, 2019 

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YORAM GROSS: Blood, Sweat, Tears & 'Toons

Yoram Gross Studios snuggles into suburban Sydney with deceptive modesty, an old factory on the corner of two side streets. It is a deceptively low key site for the home of Australia’s best known ‘toons. Yoram, his wife Sandra and a team of dedicated artists have built a unique Australian animation studio over almost 30 years. ANDREW L. URBAN profiles the work of one of the Whizzards of Oz, a filmmaker with 50 years in the business.

In 1968, Yoram Gross brought his family to Australia from Poland via Israel, where he had made a number of acclaimed shorts, features and animated films. He wanted a new and safer environment for his children.

"For the first ten years," recalls his wife Sandra, the studio’s executive producer, "we had no way to make a feature film in animation. There was no climate of investment. Only the television networks commissioned work, and that was short term, own-use programming. For ten years we served the local market with documentaries, tv commercials and infotainment."

In 1975, Yoram was among the first applicants for funding through the then newly created Australian Film Development Corporation, forerunner of today’s Australian Film Commission. With the wallet-busting budget of $180,000, Yoram and his team made Dot and The Kangaroo, as animation with live action backgrounds. The AFDC could only provide half the budget, the rest came from the Gross family home - by way of a mortgage.

"the budget was a joke and many people worked on the film for peanuts" Sandra Gross

"It was unbearably difficult," sighs Sandra. "The AFDC had no expertise as yet, the budget was a joke and many people worked on the film for peanuts - plus, we nearly lost our home."

By the time Yoram was ready with his next film, The Little Convict, the Government had changed direction and new tax concessions were in force to prompt private investment. The well received local release of these two films did nothing to alert the international film community to the presence of a great new film maker in Australia. It was only with the help of marketing loans that the studio started to attract the attention of the world, "but it took us until about our fifth or sixth film to command decent overseas prices," says Sandra. "But all this time, of course, we were developing our technical and marketing expertise."

The studio was also helped a lot by the gradual change in the marketplace, with the emphasis falling on quality children’s programming - and the growth of video and cable outlets around the world.

"spent our blood, sweat and tears convincing them it was worthwhile investing in us," Sandra Gross

Film making, even in Hollywood, relies for its financial success on a huge global market, not the relatively limited domestic population: private investors are shy of the film business, with its relatively low average success rate (only one in seven movies makes any profit). Private investors are rare in Australia, but the Yoram Gross team nurtured those that came on board early with the advent of tax concessions, and "spent our blood, sweat and tears convincing them it was worthwhile investing in us," says Sandra.

There was just as much effort involved in arguing for Government investment, but as the studio became a regular supplier of quality entertainment product to the world, Government funding became less critical - until it became redundant (at least for now) in 1994.

"By 1994 we felt strong enough," explains Sandra, "to go to the market with co-production, investment and pre-sales in combination, to raise the finance for the second series of Blinky Bill."

And the studio has not applied for Government investment since. "It doesn’t mean we won’t," Sandra hastens to add, "if it was required or justified."

The Government’s long term support for the Yoram Gross Studio has been a sound investment, and an example of how such funding can generate tremendous returns to Australia, not only culturally, but financially.

The productions have earned Australia a spectacular $27 million...

In the 18 years that Yoram has been persuading Governments to invest in his movies, the taxpayer has provided a total of $9.6 million for Yoram Gross productions. Almost every dollar of these funds has been spent in Australia on Australian goods and services. Yet the productions over that period have earned Australia a spectacular $27 million in a combination of investment (in Yoram’s films) and exploitation of rights; that is, sales of licences to broadcast Yoram’s work overseas.

Coincidentally, at $9.75 million, the latest Yoram Gross project, a tv series based on Skippy will have cost just a fraction more than all of the past 18 years of Government funding, and almost 60 per cent of it is foreign investment; the French and German investors are putting up 25 per cent each, and a Chinese production company is investing something under 10 per cent. Of the balance, Nine is putting up 15 per cent, while Yoram Gross Film Studios and private investors are staking the rest.

"kids want to be entertained … they want to see adventure, jokes, action…they don’t sit there looking at hundred dollar bills." Yoram Gross

With all that money at stake, making fun can be a very serious business, although you would not know it when in the company of Yoram Gross. As he says, "kids want to be entertained … they want to see adventure, jokes, action…they don’t sit there looking at hundred dollar bills."

Neither does Yoram Gross.

FOOTNOTE:
The studios of Yoram Gross also house the Guy Gross studio, a music suite set up and operated by Yoram and Sandra’s musician son, Guy, who is a composer of substance in his own right. Guy is another Whizzard of Oz who will be profiled in these pages soon.

YORAM GROSS - CAREER MILESTONES:

GOODBYE CHOPIN, HELLO JERZY
Yoram Gross celebrated his 50th year in the film industry on May 3, 1997. On this date 50 years earlier, he started working for Film Polski as assistant to the director Cenkalski on the full length feature film 'Jasnewany' - a realistic love story about a city teacher and a country girl. Yoram says this film was not well received because it addressed sensitive issues facing working class people.

"All I wanted to do was play Chopin," Yoram Gross,20 yrs

He was 20 when, after studying music ("my first love - all I wanted to do was play Chopin," he says) Yoram became one of the first students of the Polish Film Institute, which was set up by Jerzy Toeplitz, the man who later became founding director of the Australian Film & Television School.

Yoram went on to work with Yoris Evans, a Dutch documentary maker. They produced a film called 'Three New Democrats' - about working class people in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Hungary. The documentary was originally called 'Four New Democrats', but halfway through shooting, Yugoslavia fell down to the communist rule of Russia.

ISRAEL AND ANIMATION
In 1950 Yoram moved to Israel and started working as a camera operator and laboratory assistant with a Russian director. The director was originally a pharmacist and knew the secret recipe for 'film developer' - very rare for someone in Israel. Yoram says he was employed purely for his ability to speak a little Russian.

In 1953 Yoram joined the Israel Army's film unit and had his first experience with animation.

He started to make experimental films for pleasure and in 1961 produced 'Joseph the Dreamer'. The film received huge critical acclaim, but financial rewards were few.

In 1964, he organised four film-maker and actor friends to produce the full length feature 'One Pound Only' - a slapstick comedy and box office hit. Yoram says he did this to "satisfy my bank manager". The film sold out all 2000 seats in the cinema and tickets went on sale on the black market.

While in Israel, Yoram also put together a documentary called 'Hifa' - about the trade union. The documentary had no narration and the only words that featured were in a dedication "to all the people going to work when it is dark and coming home when it is dark". The soundtrack was Bach, played by Anatol Regne, an 80-year-old guitar player.

DOT AND BLINKY
In 1968 Yoram and Sandra moved to Australia with their two-year-old son Guy. They decided that war-zone Israel was not a good place for children. Yoram presented 'Hifa' to Film Australia, who commissioned him to produce the short documentary 'Prelude', depicting the Sydney Opera House before its completion.

He then landed a job on Channel Nine's 'Bandstand'. Yoram's role included compiling video clips and commercials - he was camera operator, script-writer, editor and director. One of the first video clips he put together was for singer John Farnham.

In 1977, Yoram and Sandra released 'Dot and the Kangaroo'. Yoram says that having come from Poland and Israel, he wanted to do something typically Australian. The cinemas, most of which had a contract with Disney, were reluctant to show the film, but the then Hoyts Distribution was pressured by the Australian Film Commission to show the film - which they did, on Sunday mornings at 9.00am. This time slot didn't really pull the crowds so Yoram and Sandra set up 'Young Australia' - a group that took the film from school to school, charging 20 cents for a viewing.

In 1992, Yoram released the feature film 'Blinky Bill' and organised the first Children's Film Festival in Sydney, with all proceeds going to UNICEF.

At the end of 1996, Village Roadshow acquired a 50% interest in Yoram Gross Film Studios.

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Sandra and Yoram Gross: overnight success in 30 years


Dot and The Kangaroo - first big hit




Blinky Bill




Below: Yoram Gross through the years:












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