Magazine article Metro Magazine

Speaking for the Dead: An Interview with Stephen Coates and Kelly Dolen

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Speaking for the Dead: An Interview with Stephen Coates and Kelly Dolen

Article excerpt

The feature film John Doe: Vigilante (2014) --about a vigilante serial killer who exacts his form of extreme justice on repeat-offending criminals--is something of an anomaly in the current Australian screen industries landscape. The Melbourne-shot film, which stars British actor Jamie Bamber {Battlestar Galactica, Law & Order: UK) and Lachy Hulme (Howzati: Kerry Packer's War, Offspring), sourced its entire budget, incorporating the Producer Offset, (1) from a private investor.

But such a unique funding model has both pros and cons. According to David Court, Head of Screen Business at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS), its benefits include 'one-stop shopping' as well as 'a level of guaranteed return'. The Producer Offset may also be regarded as income--rather than a loan, thereby allaying the need for interest payments--which reduces the financial drag on the production budget.

Barry Burgan, Academic Director at Torrens University Australia and a consultant for the AFTRS Centre for Screen Business, contributes:

From the investors' perspective, they are sure of some sort of return of their investment --the Producer Offset represents a low-risk part of the investment and cash-flowing that (with a required return) means that part of the investment is secure.

From a producer's perspective, the transaction costs involved in raising and managing the financing are reduced. The 'price' that [filmmakers] may have to pay [...] is [that] the single investor will carry more weight in the decision-making.

To understand how this form of financing can play out, I spoke to screenwriter Stephen Coates and director Kelly Dolen about their film John Doe: Vigilante as well as its accompanying online social role-playing game, Vigilante: Speak for the Dead.

Michael Clarkin: What inspired the story of John Doe: Vigilante, and can you tell me about the script-development process?

Stephen Coates: I met Kelly Dolen in late 2008. My friend saw Kel's earlier film The Gates of Hell (2008) and suggested we have a meeting. We really hit it off and wanted to work together. We kept going through our back catalogue of scripts and we kept coming back to this little short he'd written some ten years before that. There was something in it that resonated strongly for us. We had a couple of meetings and nutted out a very loose outline for John Doe. The outline was a lot thinner than what I usually like to start with but I just wanted to get on with it, so I bashed out a draft in about two weeks and then the real work started. That was about March or April 2009 and we kept chipping away at it until mid to late 2010, when we thought we pretty much had it the best it could be.

I think the creative relationship and trust came together very easily as we very much had a shared vision for the film. In fact, I think there was one, maybe two scenes in the whole film that we had a difference of opinion over, and the issues were technical issues and not story-related issues. Handing a script over to a director is part of the business; there are always going to be things that get overlooked or missed or not done 100 per cent the way the writer sees it in their head, but the other side of the coin is [that] you always get some gold that you weren't expecting. I imagine that's the same in any collaborative process.

It really was just the two of us. Once we started auditions, certain things opened up and the story grew even further, and again during the shoot and even in post. Post has been so long that we've come up with a lot of other ideas to really flesh out the story and the universe. I guess they'll have to wait for a sequel/prequel or possibly a web series.

I understand that, on the film, you performed duties that would usually be considered beyond the scope of a writer.

SC: The main thing that I was involved in was finding the finance for the film. …

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