RAZORBACK & RAPID FEAR: REAPING REWARDS
Two decades ago, Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback ripped across the Australian cinema landscape before its production company went bankrupt. Now, Los Angeles & Melbourne based Australian, Anthony I. Ginnane, has taken on the film for a new lease of life on DVD around the world, with a restored version that will hit Australian DVD shops in the first quarter of 2005. And Ginnane’s IFM World Releasing is selling another 45 Australian productions, including low budget genre films, like Rapid Fear. The box office has moved, as Andrew L. Urban reports.
The atmos-laden horror film, Razorback, was made 20 years ago in 1984, directed by first timer Russell Mulcahy (he went on to direct Highlander I & II, but more notably Swimming Upstream in 2003 with Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis), whose experience in music videos gave him the cinematic tools to turn ideas and feelings – like horror - into images. The film was nominated for France’s Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival’s Best Film award, the award that two years earlier had been taken home by Mad Max 2. Razorback lost out to The Terminator. But Dean Semmler’s cinematography (with camera operator John Seale) earned Semmler the Cinematographer of the Year award from his peers at the Australian Cinematographers Society.
" a dirty little secret"
The film also boasts an impressive cast: Gregory Harrison, Arkie Whitely, Bill Kerr, Chris Haywood, David Argue and Judy Morris. For all that talent and those awards, Razorback didn’t really connect with critics. But the film did reasonably well at cinemas in Australia, taking $801,000 – in today’s terms that would be about $1.5 million.
Its finance company, UAA, went famously belly up a few years later. And Razorback has a dirty little secret: it was financed by UAA using Section 51(i) of the tax act. The now notorious tax break was used by professionals on high marginal tax rates to put money into films (usually American) and get full tax deductions for ‘general expenses’. To put a local gloss on it, UAA raised money for an Australian film: Razorback.
It has taken the UAA liquidator over 10 years to extricate the rights to Razorback, and the film’s producer, Jim McElroy, believes it “has a timeless quality. The production values were so far ahead of their time.” McElroy decided it was worth re-birthing the film, complete with a restoration and a 16:9 widescreen presentation, new director’s commentary and other extras, for the booming DVD markets of the world. This is where Ginnane comes in. McElroy offered the offshore rights to Ginnane’s company, well known within film industry circles as a specialist sales agent working with genre films. And Australian genre films, as well.
"a commendable, tight thriller"
In fact, Ginnane has just picked up the latest low budget Australian genre film, one that Australians will not see in theatres, if at all. Rapid Fear, produced and directed by Queenslander Geoff Cox, was shot on HD. “Geoff has put together a commendable, tight thriller,” says Ginnane, “which was made for well under $1 million, but looks like a $3 or $4 million dollar movie.”
Set among wild landscapes, Rapid Fear is “fast-paced and exciting with a cast that includes some of the hottest new acting talent about to burst onto the scene,” Ginnane believes. Steven Grives plays an ex-con with a chance at parole who is teamed with six teenage offenders in a rehab program designed to frighten them into going straight. They’re dropped in an isolated forest to travel down river by raft. But someone with powerful connections and the capacity to carry out his threats, doesn’t want them to survive.
Ginnane now has the sales rights to 45 Australian productions, all of them low budget, most of them genre films: horror, action, thriller. Recently acquired Australian titles include the vampire thriller Reign In Darkness, written and directed by Kel Dolen & David Allen, the turbo-charged, wheelie action thriller, In The Red, written and directed by Glenn Ruehland, starring Steve Bisley, and Geoff Cox’s previous thriller, The Turner Affair. The latter has not been released in Australia as yet, the former two were released on DVD in 2003.
Ginnane says he wanted his company “to stay connected to Australia, the new kids, the people coming up. We hadn’t been able to previously do that easily, because the bar had been set too high for us to take the economic risk. We couldn’t take the risk with high minimum guarantees of one or two of these failing. But with these little films you find a niche…Most of the kids doing these seem to be much more commercially oriented than some of the filmmakers one generation back. They seem to be interested in thrillers, they seem to be interested in pleasing the market, they seem to be interested in popular response rather than intellectual response. And that’s the way to groom the next generation, without having to go through bureaucratic hoops.”
"micro budget films"
As Ginnane sees it, the way ahead for the new generation of Australian filmmakers is micro budget films. “This is the way: $20 to $50 thousand dollar DV movies, or $100 thousand dollar Super 16 movies… the title’s right, the genre’s right, the kid gets some exposure, the film gest screened around the world, we make a little bit of money, the kid gets an agent and the next thing you know… away we go – and no cost to the taxpayer.”
There is early evidence of how films like Razorback will reap new rewards. “Today,” says Ginnane (mid September 2004), “I signed the first deal for Razorback with a US/UK company for the DVD rights, at a high end price - and I expect more deals to come.” Razorback had been previously released in a poor quality pan-and-scan VHS. This time, the DVD promises to deliver all of Mulcahy’s visual edginess intact. (Razorback will be released on DVD in Australia through Umbrella Entertainment.)
IFM is taking these Australian films to the various film and television markets around the world, to find distributors who will pick up rights for their country, in a range of media from free to air tv to cable to DVD and other new media. In a world where independent films are struggling to find distribution paradise in cinemas, the new platforms offer a valuable alternative, both in terms of audiences and money. The box office has moved.
Published September 30, 2004
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Razorback - 1984 poster
Anthony I. Ginnane of IFM