Beautiful: beauty is in the eye of the investor

The creators of Beautiful told Miguel Gonzalez their secret to make the producer offset work to their advantage, and how honesty is the best way to attract investors.
“The producer offset worked for us,” admits beautiful producer / DOP Kent Smith. “One of our secrets was to make the rebate a smaller part of the budget. A mistake that producers tend to make is trying to maximise it by putting every cent of their maximum rebate expectation into the budget. It’s safer if you’re a little more conservative with your potential rebate in the final budget; we anticipated and budgeted 30 percent less than what we were hoping for.”

The South Australian Film Corporation provided approximately 10 per cent of the $1.5m budget, while the rest came from private investors.
We had some contacts and we found new ones, but it’s never easy… it’s even harder now, of course,” Smith says. “It’s always that last little bit of money that’s the hardest to find. We worked on locking down the final funds right up until two weeks before principal photography began.”
Although Beautiful was one of the first features to receive their rebate cheque from the Australian Taxation Office in late 2008, director Dean O’Flaherty believes the Producer Offset will not work for everyone due to the difficulty in cash-flowing a project.
“It’s only going to be really big companies who will be able to cash-flow their projects, which is kind of sad because a lot of filmmakers and producers may fall through the cracks.”
According to Smith, an ideal world would see funding bodies and state agencies having larger pools of money that they could use as a loan to help producers cash-flow their projects.
“But they are financially restricted, so people are forced into commercial arrangements with banks and so on. I don’t know what the solution is, other than perhaps using some of your private investment to help cash-flow the project against a larger share
of equity. We did a percentage of that, but it’s the question on everyone’s lips, ‘how do we cash-flow the rebate?’”
Filmmakers should be extremely careful when approaching investors, to avoid creating unrealistic expectations.
“Many people are getting confused with the rebate. They’re going to investors saying ‘you’re going to get this much money, and you’ll get 40 per cent back’ when, realistically, they’re probably going to get 35 per cent and it can take up to 12 months,” O’Flaherty  explains.
In a time when private investment is essential but hard to come by, O’Flaherty recommends honesty as the best policy.
“Tell them the truth,” he says. “The problem with filmmakers is that they try to sugar-coat the investment, when they’ve got to explain the pros and the cons and be really harsh about it.
“You have to find people who can play with that kind of money, real hardcore investors. There are few and far between now; many investors have been burned while others have had a good time, so as much as you want that film made, you’ve got to be honest, first and foremost.”


Beautiful tells the story of Danny (Sebastian Gregory), a social outcast living in the suburbs, and the sexy, bored and slightly older neighbour (Tahyna Tozzi) who recruits him to investigate the rumoured abductions of young girls in the area and the mysterious house at the end of the street. Needless to say, Danny’s discoveries will put him in great danger, as there is nothing beautiful about them.

With a background in distribution and acquisition, the also vice-president of creative affairs at Kojo Pictures says he wanted to create his own world for his first feature film. “Some people call it thriller, some call it drama, and others just say it’s fucked up. I don’t know  how to classify it, which is problematic for some, but for others it’s just something new and exciting.”
According to O’Flaherty, Australian audiences got bored and jaded because of the recurrence of films ‘about poor working class people that were not really honest and true, but dire and ugly’. While he accepts that every film that is made will carry certain socially  relevant elements, O’Flaherty dismisses the idea that all Australian films must have ‘a message’.
“[We must be free to make films such as] Mad Max, Strictly Ballroom and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Baz Luhrmann is a huge influence because he’s an international master that brought beauty back to Australian cinema in terms of doing something lush and stylish.

“There’s nothing wrong with beauty in the cinema. That shot of Tahyna in the rain looks great, and you hardly see any Australian films that look sexy on posters. I wasn’t being pretentious with the film. It’s not an avant garde piece; it’s fairly easy to access.”
The film will be targeted at a young audience, emphasising the sexy and intriguing elements of the plot, and presenting it as a ‘shocking, but not depressing’ experience. A Kojo Pictures Production, Beautiful is being distributed by Jump Street Films. The specialised distributor was ultimately selected because Kojo wanted to retain DVD/TV rights, a luxury that one of the majors wouldn’t have offered them. O’Flaherty has nothing but words of praise for Jump Street director Jamie Bialkower, whom he tips as a ‘future mogul’.
At press time, Beautiful had been sold to six international territories (the first Australian film to be represented by Toronto-based Maximum Films) and was programmed to open in 20-25 screens nationally.

“The major exhibitors have been very kind to us with
their screens, while arthouse venues have not been as kind as I would have thought,” admits the director. O’Flaherty is already working on his next project, a thriller that is not set in Australia, but that he hopes will be shot here.
“I’ve also been offered some television projects and another film to direct overseas, and you’ve got to eat! I’d love to stay and work in Australia. I really love the industry here, as cynical as we may be.”


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