Ms Rosemary Blight
About the speaker
Our speaker today is Ms Rosemary Blight.
Rosemary is a producer and partner at Goalpost Pictures. She is one of Australia’s most experienced producers, with film and television production for over two decades. She is the producer on ABC’s TV series Project CM and also the Executive Producer on the screen adaptation of Timothy Conigrave’s bestselling novel; Holding the Man.
Rosemary has a number of screen credits including box office smash hit The Sapphires which premiered at Cannes; the international production Felony, Clubland and The Eternity Man.; the BAFTA nominated, AFI and Logie winning 26-part family series Lockie Leonard; as well as Scorched, the major television and cross platform event for the Nine Network and Granada.
Rosemary’s television credits include event telemovie Panic at Rock Island; the ratings winning telemovie Go Big; the 26-part drama series, Love is a Four Letter Word; the AFI and Logie nominated telemovies Small Claims 1, 2 & 3 and the telemovie Stepfather of the Bride.
Rosemary is a member on the Board of Screen, Australia and she holds a Bachelor of Communications degree from Macquarie University.
It gives me great pleasure to invite Ms Rosemary Blight to deliver the occasional address.
Good afternoon graduates, Pro Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Dean, Director, Academic Board and proud parents and friends. It is a great honour to be asked to speak at this ceremony today.
I would also like to acknowledge the Gadigal people, the traditional custodians of what is now Sydney City.
When I was asked to speak I was quite taken aback; I am an independent Australian film and television producer, so what do I have to offer all you extraordinary people as you embark on this exciting stage of your lives?
Then I realised I had been offered this opportunity for a reason - I have become a leader in my industry and if I can inspire even one of you then it is my responsibility to speak.
So here goes.
I am aware you are all going off into different disciplines, with different areas of focus – different passions, ideals, and drives – but many of you will leave this hall today fully aware that your career trajectory isn’t guaranteed. I’m not going to stand here and tell you that there are a finite number of steps to take that will get you exactly where you want to go. There aren’t. What I will tell you that in my experience uncertainty is okay. Acceptance of the unknown is one of life’s most valuable lessons: It can teach you to go through life without fear.
There is no denying that you are entering a world very different to the one I ventured into. Whether your discipline is journalism, film, education, creative writing - your work is now being consumed in very different ways. It is a landscape that is exciting and can be empowering for the individual. However it can also be very hard to break through the digital noise and get your message across. There is no easy way to engage with the world except to keep focused on who you are, maintain your academic rigour and don't be afraid to be different.
Putting blinkers on occasionally and filtering out what everyone else is doing and saying is also worth doing from time to time. This does get more difficult as your career develops, so do it when you can.
It is important to have a vision, your vision - but don’t let that vision overtake the value of collaboration. Collaboration can be hard - but great things can result. My greatest achievements have come from repeated collaborations with directors, writers and even finance partners.
I recommend that you surround yourself with people you admire, and look for mentors. You will be amazed at people’s willingness to share their experiences and provide assistance to you. Do not be afraid to ask.
One of my mentors, an acclaimed Australian producer who I had worked with for two years, shocked me with an unexpected gift. He sacked me. He said: “if you really want to be a producer then get out there and do it”. At the time it seemed cruel - well it actually was, but it was a major turning point for me. It gave me ownership of my vision.
Mentors and collaborators can come from unexpected places, and they don't need to be older than you or even more experienced. When I was eight months pregnant, my partner caught me at the top of a tall ladder hanging a promotional banner for a film. I had this huge belly and was trying to negotiate these gigantic swathes of fabric. He told me I needed help – I told him to stop being ridiculous, but he went out and found someone to help me. Kylie du Fresne was 18, and came on as my assistant. She was unbelievable, an extraordinarily capable person and most importantly someone who had different stories to tell.
Whatever your chosen field, there is great joy in really hearing other people’s points of view.
Kylie and I have worked together for over twenty years. We are now business partners and the company has grown to a whole other level. Kylie has just completed the feature film Holding The Man with Director Neil Armfield – one of our greatest theatre directors.
If any of you can find a collaborator like this you will be very fortunate. Keep your eyes open for them.
Communication is about connecting with people. Illuminating an idea, delivering them something new about interacting with the world. The message that’s written in large letters at the top of our whiteboard at the office – is ‘make them care’. We have a responsibility as artists – as communicators – to tell stories that are going to affect change, even in the smallest way. It doesn’t need to be “worthy” – it just needs to say something. Communicate something that matters. Take risks.
I would like to tell you a story about our film The Sapphires. This film was a game changer for our company and for me personally.
The Sapphires came to us via a relationship with director Wayne Blair. We had made a number of award winning short films with Wayne. Also an acclaimed actor, Wayne was starring in the original Sapphires stage play. He asked us to come and see it. Opening night was so full of joy and heart, the audience were on their feet singing and dancing with tears in their eyes.
We knew we had to secure the rights to make this into a movie, which wasn’t easy as there were a number of US studios bidding for them. We proposed to the stage play owner Tony Briggs that Wayne should direct the film. A risky move as Wayne was a first time director and would be hard to finance.
What made up for Wayne’s apparent inexperience was his innate understanding of the material - he is an Aboriginal man and understood the themes of the film deeply. We believed in Wayne’s talent and our commitment to him secured us the rights above major US studios.
Over the next few years we focused on the script, getting it right and continually looking for research and development money. The film didn’t have easy comparisons and many financiers had concerns about how audiences would respond to an Aboriginal story.
We began looking for cast. We had to find four Aboriginal girls who could act, sing and dance, and who had chemistry. We built a website which girls from all over Australia could upload tests of themselves singing and performing. Hundreds of girls responded from some of the most remote areas of Australia. It took months to see different combinations of girls, and finally we ending up with our four girls. For the role of Dave the manager we had a wish list of some of the biggest actors in the world, quite an unrealistic list of course. But you have to dream.
Meanwhile Kylie du Fresne and I prepared pitch materials. We created a hard cover book to give a sense of how solid and substantial the film was and a video of the four girls in rehearsal. With the script and these materials, five years on from when we first saw the play, we were finally ready to finance the film.
We went to the Cannes Film Festival – we had our books and promo video and Wayne had a set of speakers and the song list. We lined up dozens of meetings, Wayne sang and danced and played tunes, and people loved it, however many financiers were unsure of how this film about four unknown Aboriginal Australian women would work! But we did find some friends for the film and then most importantly we received a large commitment from a British financier. It was amazing… and what could go wrong!
Like all good films, there was a second act twist.
A year later in May 2011, we were almost in pre-production and we were still trying to find our movie star to play Dave. I was not worried about this - I knew it would happen. I flew to London to meet up with our British financier. I walked into what I thought was going to be a friendly update meeting - instead it ended up with them withdrawing from the film. They had become nervous of the film’s content and had lost faith that we would find an actor for the role of Dave. Dramatically, in that instant we lost half the film’s budget!
It is the producer’s job to deal with these challenges, to lead people through them. So after I had a nervous breakdown I proceeded to try and put it all back together again.
What had become obvious was that to raise any shortfall we would need to find that very high profile actor to play Dave and quickly. We had our list and Wayne wrote heart felt letters and we wrangled agents. We had a lot of close calls with some great actors. Of course the fee we had for this actor was less than what they would normally get, so that didn't help. Also Wayne was unknown and it is often seen by agents as a risk for actors to put their careers in the hands of an unknown.
We had faith and knew Wayne was a talented and charming director but it was very hard to show this from Australia, so we sent Wayne to Los Angeles using our last frequent flyer points. At one meeting an Agent asked Wayne if he had seen Judd Apaptow’s Bridesmaids, which had opened that week. It starred a relatively unknown Irish actor called Chris O’Dowd. Wayne took himself to the cinema that afternoon and then rang us straight away and said: ‘I think I have found Dave’.
At that time the world didn’t know that Bridesmaids was about to become a huge hit. Or that Chris O’Dowd was about to become a big name! Our luck was turning! We just had to do the deal before he became a star.
Meanwhile after exploring every single high net worth individual and distributor we could think of in Australia, Europe and the US, we were still trying to fund our shortfall. We were always told that Asia was not a good place to find investment for this film, as they wouldn't understand it. But I had very few places to turn so I headed to Singapore to meet an investment company. I played them our promo video and spoke as passionately as I could about the movie. It turned out the head of the company loved soul music and we had the last of the finance in place.
With money, our star, our girls and loads of music we could now make the film. We filmed the movie in six weeks, including a week in Vietnam. It was chaotic and tough but a great feeling to see the vision finally coming to life.
During the filming we created a six-minute sales promo and took it to the Berlin Film Festival. Our office in Berlin had buyers lined up to get in - we had sales in excess of US $1m. We then closed the office and told everyone else they had to wait until the film was finished.
It was now April 2012 and we are putting the finishing touches to the film in Sydney, when US film mogul Harvey Weinstein sent a team of people to visit. The film wasn’t finished so we refused to show it to them. They hung around for a week but we kept saying no. Eventually they got bored and went home.
We entered the film in the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and were told we were close but the final decision hadn’t been made. The Weinstein Company was still calling, in fact they had anyone in Australia who knew us to call on their behalf – “Harvey wants to see the film, and you know you shouldn’t say no to Harvey Weinstein”.
But we needed to finish the film, it was hard to get the balance of the music and story right and it was taking time. We needed to stay focused and not get carried away by the hype or the hot air.
Finally we did finish the film and it was decided that I should get on a plane to London to show the film to Harvey Weinstein. What a moment in an independent filmmakers life, we chose a private screening room, and while he watched I sat up stairs. The film ended, and he came in the room, with his arms open, and said he loved it and wanted to make a deal that night. I then spent the next twelve hours doing the biggest deal of my life with the biggest independent film mogul in the world. We started negotiating at 7pm and signed the contract at 11am the next morning. It was a multi million-dollar deal.
Four weeks later, we were all on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, with the whole team and our gorgeous cast in front of the world media. The screening was terrifying, sitting there thinking that the audience didn't get it, and then at the end all 2,500 people got to their feet and gave Director Wayne Blair and his cast a ten-minute standing ovation. It took us right back to that night in 2005 when we saw the play and that audience’s reaction. It was pure gold. It was the idea come to life!
The rest is history. The film continues to play on screens in Australia and around the world. Audiences love that little Australian Aboriginal story. Wayne Blair has just finished his first Hollywood movie, with movie stars lining up to work with him. And one of those unknown girls Miranda Tapsell won two Logies this year. We are developing the story of The Sapphires into a Broadway Musical and have a Sapphires animation in development. The original Sapphires, whose story we made into film, have been celebrated and after all these years continue to be recognised for their achievements.
To see The Sapphires embraced so strongly by a wide audience – that matters. If you ever have an opportunity in your career to make something that gives people pleasure, I wish that for each of you. There’s nothing like it.
We are now completing the feature film Holding The Man with Neil Armfield, and as we speak are shooting Cleverman, a high-end genre TV series that finds us working with Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop, on a project we describe as Creatures from the Dreamtime meet District 9. This idea came to us from Ryan Griffen, a young Aboriginal man who was an intern with Goalpost Pictures. A UTS Alumnus, Ryan is now producing this series with us. A good example of why you should listen to everyone no matter where they are on the ladder. And that you should never be afraid to express your ideas.
We are working again with director Wayne Blair, and have an incredible cast, including Deborah Mailman who is joined by Scottish actor Iain Glen from Game of Thrones. What a treat for the locals when we took him to the pub last Friday night.
I don’t think I’m at the point – at least not yet – to be able to give monumental life lessons, but I can guarantee that if you pursue what you love and work hard and with passion the rewards will follow.
After you’ve woken up from whatever parties you have planned to celebrate this huge achievement, you’ll be asking yourself: what next? And that's okay, take it easy and find ways to experience as much as you can. Your passion will reveal itself. There is no rush. And find your collaborators - they could be sitting beside you; and I don't mean your parents.
Don’t stop searching for ideas. Don’t stop telling stories. Don’t stop giving a voice to those who can’t be heard. Be disruptive. Do find people who speak your language, and when you find them, don’t let go – they are rare and precious and will often understand you better than anybody. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid. And once you start to make it, as I am sure you will, don't forget how you got there, don't forget to become a mentor to others and if you are ever asked to speak at a graduation ceremony, do it.