SACHA MOLITORISZ June 10, 2012
Russell Boyd … ''It may become the norm to distribute programs this way.'' Photo: Domino Postiglione
A mini-series developed for iPad may have TV networks watching in horror, reports Sacha Molitorisz.
IN 2004, Russell Boyd won an Oscar for Master and Commander. Lately, the Sydney cinematographer has been working on a show that is more like Morbid and Cadaver.
The show is Watch with Mother, and Boyd was attracted by its bizarre blend of sketch comedy and horror. More than that, he was fascinated by the way it will harness new technology for its distribution.
Instead of airing on television, or even the internet, the six-part series will be released only via app and iTunes.
''That's why I became involved,'' Boyd says. ''I was just interested in shooting something that's going to end up as an app for the iPad.
''This is a new way of putting stuff out there, a thing of the future - or maybe of the present.''
At $1.49 an episode on iTunes, or $8.99 for the virtual box set on app, the producers are banking on at least 200,000 sales. Free-to-air and pay TV stations will be watching anxiously, keen to see if the radical new distribution strategy works.
''It's far too early to call the death of television on the back of one app, but if you have quality content, people will watch,'' says Justin Diddams, a media analyst at Citigroup. ''Just look at HBO [the US subscription network]. It will be fascinating to see whether this succeeds as an alternative distribution platform for bespoke content.''
Watch with Mother is certainly alternative. To be released this month, the series, shot late last year in Sydney suburbs including St Ives, is Freddy Krueger meets Full Frontal. In one recurring storyline called Killer Roo, a kangaroo takes macabre revenge for all the marsupial roadkill on Australia's highways. In another, a benign-looking music teacher tortures his pupils behind closed doors.
''All the characters have this common thread of subverting what on the surface seems kind of ordinary,'' says its co-creator, Pete Baker. Rated MA, the content is too edgy for mainstream TV. Gore, guts and skewerings feature in a joint production from a creative collective, the Glue Society, and the production house Revolver.
''The characters are all pushing the bounds of what is credible,'' says co-creator Jonathan Kneebone. ''You kind of like them, although they're doing something quite awful. The sketch format has a funny effect. Things that are innocent take on dark overtones.''
In part, the dark material explains the risky, groundbreaking distribution method. ''I don't know any shows that have gone out on the app as their principal means of distribution,'' says its executive producer, Michael Ritchie. ''Apps to date have been a subsidiary element of shows, where you can access more information or a game or other assets of a show, but in our case we're making it front and centre. And frankly, I think there isn't a better platform for it.''
Without disclosing the budget, Ritchie says Watch with Mother cost as much to make as a low-budget feature film. That means the producers need to find a lot of buyers.
''Anything between 200,000 and 300,000 people, which is a massive uptake,'' he says. ''If we're lucky, the take-up rate could be 3 per cent of those who see the trailer. That means we need to get about 8 million to 10 million views of the trailer.'' The trailer will be released this week. The producers hope early adopters and opinion shapers will link to it on their blogs and websites.
''This is a brave new world,'' says Ritchie, ''and anyone who says they know what they're doing is full of shit. I think people will be waiting to see if this is going to work.''