The Waiting City Q&A


Last Friday night, I was lucky enough to host a question and answer session with Australian stars Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) and Radha Mitchell (Finding Neverland) at the Brisbane premiere of their new movie – The Waiting City.


I have to confess that it’s pretty cool to get such an opportunity.  I didn’t really know what to expect but I have to say that they were both really nice people.


We had about 20 minutes to have a drink before the Q&A and we spoke about everything from Dr. Patel (they hadn’t heard of him before so I thought it an opportune time to enlighten them) to an interesting experience Radha had on the set of recent movie (which is a bit too crude to mention in this blog).


I had a quick chat to Joel about Animal Kingdom and whether he knew it would be such a success.  He always thought they were making a good movie but yes, not even he could believe how good it was when he saw it for the first time.  Must be a great feeling as an actor.


You can view a picture of the three of us outside the cinema by clicking here.


The Q&A was great.  It went for almost an hour and the audience (around 200 people) had some interesting questions to ask.  It’s not my favourite film of the year but it will get people thinking and generate discussion.  The stars then snuck off for an evening of relaxation (I snuck in one more chat with Joel about Acolytes) and then jetted off the next morning.  Joel was heading back to the States and Radha was off to visit some friends at Maroochydore (a favourite holiday destination of mine).


What the whole process had me thinking about was the importance of these events for the promotion of small Australian films (well, just about every Australian film is classified as “small” these days).


The Waiting City was shot in late 2008 and premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2009.  One of the reasons it has taken so long to reach our own shores was that both Joel and Radha were busy shooting other films.  They were waiting until they both had some free time so they could tour Australia and promote the film prior to its release.  The first week in July 2010 was the best time they could slot in.


Some films market themselves (aka Twilight).  Others need all the help they can get.  Brisbane was the last stop on their Australian tour.  They had visited a number of capital cities where they had Q&A sessions and numerous radio interviews.  Here in Brisbane, they had a chat with Kelly Higgins-Devine on 612ABC a few hours before coming to the premiere.  It must be tiring for the stars getting the same questions over and over again but they know the importance of it.  A poster in a handful of cinemas won’t get the job done.  They have to get out and sell the film.


If it’s good, then you’d like to hope that all the interviews and Q&A sessions will help spread the word.  That’s the plan anyway.  It doesn’t always work that way.  I recently attended a screening of an Australian film where the director was going to be in attendance to answer questions afterwards.  Just 10 people showed up for the screening and 5 left as the credits started to roll.  I too snuck away.  I wasn’t a big fan of the film and I had another one to catch.  I did feel sorry for the director though – putting your heart and soul into a movie that no one seems to care about.


Such is the reality of Australian cinema.  I’ll continue to support it however and do my best to drum up interest.  I’d rather pay to see a mediocre Australian film than a mediocre American one.  It’s crucial that our industry remains healthy and with the more films we make, the more chance there is for actors, directors, writers, cinematographers, editors, etc to find their feet and show what they’re made of.


Australian International Movie Convention


In other quick news, the Australian International Movie Convention is coming up soon on the Gold Coast.  It kicks off on August 15 and runs for approximately a week.  All the major distributors are there trying to sell their upcoming films to cinema owners.  I went along briefly for the first time last year (for the premiere of Charlie & Boots) and it was fun to see how the system works.


It promises to be a big convention this year with Tomorrow When The War Began having its Queensland premiere with a big red carpet bash on August 15.  Many stars will be there and I’ve organised an interview with director Stuart Beattie (who wrote the script for the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies). 


Three days later, Will Ferrell and Mark Whalberg will be there to promote their new film called The Other Guys.  I’m not sure who else will be popping by but it should be a pretty big convention this year with these two stars in attendance.


That’s it from me for another week.  Inception is out next Thursday (July 22) and the early critic reviews from the States are fantastic.  It’s my most anticipated film of the year and the media preview for folks such as myself is on July 21.  I can’t wait to tell you all about it!



Movie Tixs To Give Away!


I thought I’d start off this week by announcing I’ve got some free movie tickets to give away.


Thanks to the friendly folk at Icon Films, I’ve got 5 double passes to a preview screening of Creation on Wednesday, July 14.  It’s at the Dendy Portside cinemas for a 7pm kick off.


The film stars Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany and Jeremy Northam.  Here’s a quick plot overview from the IMDB – “What happens when a world-renowned scientist, crushed by the loss of his eldest daughter, formulates a theory in conflict with religious dogma? This is the story of Charles Darwin and his master-work "The Origin of Species". It tells of a global revolution played out the confines of a small English village; a passionate marriage torn apart by the most dangerous idea in history; and a theory saved from extinction by the logic of a child.”


I’m yet to see the film myself (hoping to see it that same night) but you can see the trailer by clicking here.


If you’d like a double pass, shoot me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and put “Creation Tickets” as the subject heading.  The first 5 people to respond will be allocated the tickets. 


Twilight Mania


Twilight mania has again swept the world with the release of the third film.  It has taken in $161m in its first five days in the United States which is a solid total.  It’s below New Moon but I wouldn’t be complaining if I was an investor.    


What surprises me more though is that The Last Airbender (the new film from M. Night Shyamalan) still managed a $57m opening long weekend despite some of the worst reviews ever seen.  It has averaged just 4.5 out of 10 on the IMDB and scored just 8% approval from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.  Perhaps Roger Ebert summed it up best when he described it as “an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.”  The film is being released in Australia on September 16.


We’re now halfway through the year and the box-office leader for the year is still Alice In Wonderland.  Despite lukewarm reviews, the film made $334m in the United States.  It won’t be number 1 for long though.  Toy Story 3 has taken the world by storm.  It’s notched up $289m in just 3 weeks in the U.S.  It may set a target which won’t be beaten in 2010.  Considering that the original Toy Story made $191m and the sequel made $245m, this is one series which continues to grow in popularity.  Incredible.


Mid-Season Report Card


The school kids are on holidays and so the time has come to release my mid-season report card.  Here then are my thoughts on the first half of 2010…


Best Films:  A Single Man, Crazy Heart, Up In The Air, The Stoning Of Soraya M, Food Inc, I Am Love


Best Performances:  Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Peter Capaldi (In The Loop), Noomi Rapace (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), Katie Jarvis (Fish Tank)


Proof That Foreign Language Films Can Be Successful At The Box-Office:  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – still in the top 20 in Australia after 14 weeks with $5.4m


Proof That Australians Will Support Local Cinema If You Have An Interesting Story:  Animal Kingdom – still in the top 10 in Australia after 4 weeks with $3.4m


Proof That Jesus Died In Vain:  Sex & The City 2


Another Great Year Foreign Language Films:  The Secret In Their Eyes, I Am Love, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The White Ribbon, The Stoning Of Soraya M


Another Dismal Year For Formulaic Romantic Comedies:  The Back Up Plan, When In Rome, I Love You Too, The Bounty Hunter, It’s Complicated


Reasons Why I Like Family Films Which Are Animated:  Fantastic Mr. Fox, Toy Story 3, How To Train Your Dragon


Reasons Why I Like Family Films Which Are NOT Animated:  Tooth Fairy, Percy Jackson, Nanny McPhee 2, The Spy Next Door


Films I Surprisingly Liked:  Remember Me, She’s Out Of My League, Kick-Ass, The Karate Kid


Films I Surprisingly Disliked:  Invictus, Alice In Wonderland, The Men Who Stare At Goats, Micmacs


Saw It In London At It Was Great:  The Ghost Writer – out in Australia on August 12


Saw It In London At It Was Disappointing:  The Killer Inside Me – out in Australia on August 26


Films Looking Forward To In The Months Ahead:  Inception, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, Wall Street 2


Films Not Looking Forward To In The Months Ahead:  Killers, Step Up 3D, Piranha 3D, The Last Airbender


Personal Highlight:  Interviewing Mia Wasikovska on 612ABC about her roles in Alice In Wonderland and In Treatment


Personal Lowlight:  Paying to see Sex & The City 2


Best Movie For Memorable Quotes:  In The Loop – also worthy of an award for its excellent use of profanity


Worth The Wait :  Rocket Science – released in Australia more than 3 years after it premiered in the United States


It Took 15 Years But I Finally Saw A Decent Sandra Bullock Performance:  The Blind Side


Total Films Seen:  100


Total Films Seen Worthy Of An A+:  0


Greetings for another week.


Nothing screams self indulgence than naming an award after yourself.  Well, maybe it’s naming a bunch of awards after yourself.


Back in 2000, I started up my own awards as a way of recognising my favourite films and performances of each year.  I tried to recognise those who didn’t always get the love they deserved from the Academy and other major critic groups.  The great news is that since I am the only voting member of the Toomey Awards (it’s has tough membership criteria) then I usually find myself happy when the results are released.


This year, I’m decided to remove all the minor technical categories from my list.  I like to mimic the Academy but the time has come to confess that I know nothing when it comes to sound, make up and visual effects.  I have retained best original score though given my love for that craft (and my ever growing soundtrack collection).


It wasn’t easy picking some of the categories given I saw 221 films over the past financial year.  Hopefully some of your own favourites are amongst the nominees.  It might inspire you to get out a few DVDs which you’ve been leaving on the shelf for a while.


All the winners will be revealed in four weeks time.


To view the list of nominees, simply click here.


Last week, I had the chance to speak with Simon Allen – an Australian born animator who worked on the recent Toy Story 3.  He has a long list of other credits too as you’ll soon see.


I’ve always been intrigued as to what goes on behind the scenes of an animated film and this was a chance to find out.


If you want to hear the interview which went to air on 612ABC Brisbane with Spencer Howson, you can listen to it by clicking right here.


If you don’t have the luxury of sound and you’re looking for a transcript, here’s the best I can offer.  Enjoy!



Matt: “Simon Allen was born in Australia and he works for Pixar Animation Studios.  He worked on films like Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up – all amazing animated films.  Now he’s an animator who worked on Toy Story 3 which is coming out here in Australia on June 24.”


Spencer: “We’re very excited to have you on the show.  What a resume, what a CV you have there.  You must stand very tall Simon?”


Simon: “Thanks very much guys.  It has been a lot of fun.  A bit of an adventure.”


Matt: “Now I’d like to ask about what your role is with Toy Story 3.  Every time I see an animated film I see hundreds of names listed in the credits.  What exactly do you have to do for an animated film?”


Simon: “I am one of the animators and I’m animating a lot of the original characters – Woody, Buzz, Rex, Mr and Mrs Potato Head, Jesse and Slinky.”


Spencer: “Does that mean you do the whole of the film for those characters or is it divided up into a certain number of minutes or scenes? How do you split the work?”

Simon: “We have about 60 to 70 animators working over 6 to 8 months.  We normally try to produce around 5 seconds of film a week per animator.  It’s normally broken up into chunks so an animator will get a section of the film and they will do up to a dozen shots.  If they finish those and there’s time, they can move on to something else or they can help out with another character.”


Spencer: “How do you make sure Woody walks the same way and talks the same way for the whole film if you’re dividing it up like that?”


Simon: “We do a lot of work before the movie is in production and so someone will devise or design the style of the animation for that character.  Often we’ll be able to take that animation from our library.  So if it’s a walk or something specific like that, we can grab that and put it in our scene.  But for the characters, we just feed off each other and also we feed off the voice talent.  Luckily for us with Toy Story 3, we’ve grown up with these characters so we know how they act, we know their personas and we have a lot of experience and lot of reference material to draw from.”


Matt: “You say it takes a week to do 5 seconds worth of work as an animator.  Is that frustrating?  Do computers not help you out in any way?”


Simon:  “They’re not that fast, no.  It’s a bit of a process.  About a second a day is what we get.  That’s why we need so many animators.  By the end of the week we might have 3% of the movie done so yeah, it does take a long time.”


Matt: “Every time I see an animated film and I’m reviewing it, I keep saying that the animation is getting better and better.  How do you keep up with all these changes in technology?   Or is been pretty much the same over the years?”


Simon:  “No, it’s getting better and better.  The computer power is getting better.  Also, the demands are becoming higher.  People want to see fur, they want to see a lot more characters, they want to see fantastic lighting and so it does take a lot of processing power to produce these images.  When Toy Story first came out it took around 4 to 5 hours per frame to render, to actually make that frame.  On some of these new movies we’re getting so technical.  On Cars, it was taking between 13 and 16 hours just to make one frame so there’s 24 frames per second and for us to make that frame, it takes that long to render.”


Spencer: “There must have been times when someone pulled the cord out of the wall by mistake just before its finished rendering.  You must have stories like that?”


Simon: “We have a designated generator just to make sure that if there’s a blackout, we can keep going.”


Spencer: “Back to the technology, with the demand for 3D and high-def, one of my observations is that early on with computer animation there seemed to be a struggle with creating human faces.  Maybe that’s why the early movies were about cars and toys and the like.  Matthew and I both saw Shrek Forever After the other night and for the first time, I think they nailed it with their witches’ faces.  Do you think I’m on to something there?  Of all things you animating with a computer, are human faces the most difficult?”


Simon:  “They really are very difficult.  There is this thing called the ‘uncanny valley’.  It’s when you start to try to produce a human character in a computer.  It never really looks quite right.  It just kind of looks weird.  But with the Toy Story, the reason we started it was because of John Lasseter’s passion for toys.  When he was first doing animated short films back in the 1980s, one of his first films was Tin Toy and it was about these toys coming to life.  He loves toys and I think it was his passion for that which inspired him to do Toy Story.  I think that’s also the same with other directors.  He loves cars so he also did Cars as well.  Brad Bird loved superheroes so he did The Incredibles.  Andrew Stanton loves robots so he did WALL-E.”


Matt: “Can I ask about the role of a director on an animated film.  They can’t exactly tell the actors what to say and how it say it.  How does the director work?”


Simon:  “In most cases, they’re the ones that helps write the story.  They’re doing this process for about 4 to 5 years so they know this movie through and through.  They’ve done all the readings of the script and they know the movie inside out.  When it does come time for them to do the voice recordings, they can help the actors give the right information and give them the passion required for those lines.  It’s the same for the animators and every department on the film.  The director knows the colour of the nut and bolt on that chair.  They know the colour of the wall that’s over there.  They know how these characters should act.  Every minute detail is given by the director.”


Matt: “Is it a really competitive industry.  I know Dreamworks also churns out a lot of animation.  Do you go along and see the Dreamworks films and think some of that stuff is pretty cool?”


Simon: “Oh we do.  Definitely.  We also have a lot of friends who work for those other companies so we keep in contact with them.  I worked on Happy Feet back in Sydney and I definitely keep in touch with those guys.  It also helps drive us.  We’re so invigorated by what other people are doing and it helps make us more creative.”


Matt: “What’s it like to actually see it all up there on the big screen for the first time?”


Simon: “It’s pretty amazing.  You spend a long time working on these shows but they’re just in small chunks which are out of context and out of order.  It’s without editing, it doesn’t have any sound effects and it doesn’t have any music.  Once you see it all put together with all the music and it’s all edited, you’re definitely touched by it.  I remember the first time that I saw Up on the big screen, even though I had seen that movie 100 times before, when I saw it on the big screen I still cried.”


Spencer:  “These films are 3D these days.  Some are some of them are done post 3D and some are 3D all along.  I remember with Alice In Wonderland that the 3D was an ‘added on’ 3D.  What does that throw up for you as an animator having to work in 3D?  Does the computer do that for you or does it change what you’re doing as an artisan?


Simon: “I know with some of the movies out there that it definitely changes the way you approach a shot.  In most cases, it’s all about the story and creating the best possible film first.  Then, the 3D effects are an added feature so we don’t really worry too much.  It’s mainly the movie which comes first.”


Spencer: “And the director has worked out what’s going to work as 3D shot presumably and so that’s what you’re given to create?”


Simon: “Exactly.”


Spencer: “We should just ask you before we let you go that you’re an Aussie and you’re there working on what have become modern day classic movies.  For anyone listening, whether they’re a graphic artist or a child still at school, how do we get your job?”


Simon: “Haha. It takes a lot of practice and if you’re passionate about it, you need to keep practicing.”


Spencer: “Those software programs used in schools here, is it worthwhile playing with those programs?  Is that how you get a start?”

Simon: “Absolutely.  Any exposure that you can get to animation software or the process of animation is great.  Definitely dive head first into it and if you love it, you’ll just keep doing it and get better at it.”


Spencer: “And there’ll be plenty of jobs in years to come?  No sign of it disappearing as a moviemaking skill?”


Simon: “It’s a huge industry.  It’s like a $10 billion industry and it’s getting bigger and bigger.”


Spencer: “Simon, it’s been great having you on the show this morning.  Thank you very much and all the best with Toy Story 3 and whatever comes afterwards.”