An established print and television journalist, Renée is a familiar face on the MOVIE NETWORK Channels. She sat down a while back to give us a mass media perspective on our film and television production industries.
She started with whom she was and what she did. Stating that she started in the Print industry, she moved around TV and film developing a multiple range of skills in the industry. She still views herself as amassing skills as she spoke about herself still learning the craft of Editing film. She has ended up in the Movie Network Channel which was for her a goal in itself. She bills herself as a Producer / Presenter — Producer first though, as the modelling aspect of presenting is a tenuous and more fragile career option. She spoke of growing up only wanting to write and did Mass communication course at Macquarie. This lead to a Print career path which began with an attempt on the “Great Australian Novel” and some scripting.
When “Hard Copy” needed a presenter in which blonde hair and big boobs was a disadvantage, she discovered the Screen test was easy. This led into some very interesting interviews including a rather famous one that involved Mark ‘Chopper’ Reed who was a small time crook with ambitions of becoming legendary crime figure. The interview included a scene with a 357 Magnum in which Chopper demonstrated on screen how he played Russian Roulette. He surprised everyone when he inserted a bullet, spun the chamber and pulled the trigger with the nose pointed at his own head. Then proclaiming that it was her turn, pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger. Sufficient to say the footage became very controversial and it was a long time before a network would show it. ‘Chopper’ Reed later explained that if the chamber were overly oiled (which apparently it was) then the weight of the bullet would normally ensure the “spin” resulted in the bullet dropping to the bottom position. She eventually left the program after the chief of staff altered the facts on story lead on a missing child.
She then moved on to making films and movies until in 2000 she joined the Movie Network Channel on a part-time basis to start with and by 2001 was working full-time. She remarked that the Pay-TV industry is quite different to the “Free-to-Air” TV. It is often more important to be positive and not to alienate users with specific interests that actually pay for the viewing. By the same token she finds that she does not have to compromise or lie about what she does so she enjoys the work she does for the Movie Network Channel.
She has had the opportunity to interview actors and film makers. This has led her to realise that Australian film makers ought to consider why it is they want to do the initial release here. She suggested thinking about releasing overseas first and then ride the wave to come back on the publicity into Australia. She commented on the lack of insight when some releases in the Australian market that did not get audiences in on the first week were subsequently dropped without allowing word of mouth communication generate interest in the films. She passed commentary on “Australia” (the movie) and it’s packaging. The manner in which it mixed genres, was too long, was overly CGI’d and should have been packaged as a homage to the great American western than as a Aussie tale. Perhaps that may have had audiences appreciating it for what it was rather than for not fitting a packaged preconception.
Interviewing Stars perspective
Renee delved into the issue about maintaining perspective when interviewing stars. She thought it important not to be star struck and not forget that she is being a Journalist. She told an amusing tale about Simon Townsend being told by her that while he may be worth huge money to some film makers, when she or any member of the public was deciding which movie they wanted to see, he was only worth $15 bucks.
She said in her job it was important to find the good in whatever you are reviewing. There was an example of reviewing “Lesbian Vampire Killers” and comparing it to films like “Shane of the Dead” or “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. It seems that many fellow film makers have seen “Lesbian Vampire Killers” and despite it’s “shonky” name and the presumption of “B_gradeness”, it apparently rates as an enjoyable and watchable movie. Who’d know? [I’ll let you know when I have seen it!] She continued with the importance of being specific in your question and avoiding the generic questions. Finding an unusual angle, the importance of a set visit, and the occasional teaser pieces that are often treated with suspicion by some studios but can be indispensable in generating interest by the public. If you do get on set visits explore the options of an angle, that when the film releases, and you are allowed to screen the footage, may be something noone else may have. Think about what it is in your the media you want people to have a perspective of.
Assessments of Film Sets for Success?
She compared that analysis to checking the success of a horse by looking at the saddle. Using examples from her perspective of the set of Matrix, she said it is very difficult to go from the set to figure out what will be done in post-production. Film success has too many variables. She noted that Australian films, which were once seen by all, are nowadays not viewed unless the reviews are “Very” good. This is because of how Australian audiences developed a mistrust of reviewers in the early 90s. There was a heavy affirmative action bias in the media to positively reviewing many Australian films. After a while the public began to understand they were being lied to. It’s a classic “cry wolf” story. So skepticism creeps in. The media needs to take responsibility for the integrity of their reviews.
Professionalism of Actors.
Renee spoke about the contrasts she discovered in interviewing various actors and of variations in professionalism that these actors bring to the interview. Morgan Freeman was used as an example of someone who exhibited a completely different level of professionalism. In participating in a series of interviews with Morgan Freeman, during the promotion of the film “Along came a spider”, she found Morgan so engaging that she began to suspect that he was flirting with her. It was his ability to make her as an interviewer feel special, that she also found in other high calibre actors such as Will Smith and Sylvester Stallone, While the list of people who know how to interact at this level professionalism during an interview is not long, she includes names like Nathan Phillips, Renee Zelweger and Australian actor, Hugh Jackman.
Renee also spoke with enthusiasm about how she loved the renaissance of documentary making as a release into cinema that was instigated by Michael Moore’s documentaries about American culture. It is made documentary making a viable and commercial proposition for filmmakers in the 21st century. She encouraged filmmakers to be cinematic with documentaries and not to fall prey to the perception that you need to dumb things down for them to be understood by the public. Instead it was better to make the films accessibly smart.