The film industry is a tough one to crack. Some filmmakers spend years working for free on short films and indie productions in a bid to get enough experience to embark on a commercial feature of their own.
Not so for northern Illawarra resident Corey Pearson who has jumped in the deep end.
The 40-something is gearing up to make his writing and directing debut with two films, Message Man and Harmony.
It’s take around five years to get both films off the ground, though a much faster turnaround than most in Australia he said.
“In this country it takes about six to seven years to take a film from conception to completion which is a long time,” Pearson said.
The action thriller Message Man was shot in Indonesia about two-and-a-half years ago and is slated for release in coming months.
Harmony, a supernatural thriller/romance, was mostly filmed on the South Coast and set for release in early 2018.
GETTING INTO FILM
Pearson grew up on a 5000 acre farm in the Southern Highlands where his parents ran a tourist resort.
He trained horses, rode motorbikes, studied photography, was in a rock band and worked in digital content creation.
“Then I had that moment of ‘where’s all this leading’?” he said.
“I wanted to explore being a film-maker so the first thing I did was i enrolled in NIDA (the National Institute of Dramatic Art) open program.
Pearson wanted to explore the industry and also began putting pen to paper writing scripts.
“When most people make their first film they’ve got a crew of 10 odd people, the first film I made I had 200,” he said.
“The acceleration of my learning was incredible. I went from shooting with a DSLR and a few nice cameras to having a whole massive crew. I’ve got cranes, I’ve got everything and it shows in the films.”
WHERE DO YOU GET THE MONEY
“When an investor looks into your eyes they want to believe you’re going to die for it,” Pearson said.
“I want to follow my dreams but I’m also aware [the investor is] paying for me to follow my dreams.
“So to do that I’ve found a way to manage [their] risk and the way that I’ve done that is with my story.”
He said some people spend up to a decade or more looking for people to invest in a script but suggested if they can’t get any traction within two years they should ditch it and write or find another one.
Millions of dollars were spent on making both Pearson’s films - Message Man was funded by an Indonesian investor, Harmony mostly funded by an Australian.
But sourcing enough cash in Australia is difficult, according to Pearson, who said most film-makers go through screen agencies which can negatively impact the finished product.
He said film-makers often shape their script to meet criteria set by a screen agent which can mean the film’s appeal is narrowed to a smaller audience.
“A movie written for a niche market or a really heavy drama with a bad, sad ending you really pigeonhole yourself,” Pearson said.
Those that investors do like are apparently ones that have commercial appeal like action, sci-fi and thrillers.
“If people are not finding it engaging at a script level you’re not going to find it engaging at a film level. You’ve got to get that story incredibly tight,” he said.
“You’ve got to be able to raise millions on a story, so if you can do that on a script you’re laughing.”
And he is. Both films are slated for worldwide release though getting it cinemas is no longer the only way to make money.
GETTING A RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Streaming video on demand services like Netflix and Stan have opened up a new world of opportunity for film-makers to get an audience.
Pearson said his ultimate goal is to have his films screened in every cinema possible. But that exercise is incredibly costly.
“Now it’s much easier to make a film on a lot less money. So if it’s great and the execution is there and quality is high you’ve got a number of platforms that are interested in picking it up,” Pearson said.
“If it’s done well [the investor will] recoup their money and make a profit, and if it’s done really well it can do 1000 per cent, the sky’s the limit.
“Making art house films is great … but you have to ask that question as a film-maker: who am I making it for, am I making it for myself or am I making it to see a lot of people watch it.”
Message Man follows the story of a retired assassin - played by Logie-winning actor Paul O'Brien (Home and Away) - who is dealing with the "sins of his past" and who falls in love for the first time in his life.
After he comes out of hiding because his boat breaks, his identity is revealed to his enemies and they kidnap his new family. What follows is a gory, action-packed revenge plot.
The sound team used were the same crew who won an Oscar for their sound production on Mad Max: Fury Road.
Pearson calls the project his “crossover” between eastern and western culture and hopes it will open more doors to make movies in Indonesia.
Harmony is aimed at teenagers and stars Eamon Farron, Jacqueline Mackenzie and Jessica Falkholt.
It was shot predominantly on the South Coast including Sandon Point in Bulli, Little Austi Beach, BlueScope Steelworks and even in the alleyway behind Food World on Keira Street in Wollongong.
ILLAWARRA FILM INDUSTRY
Filming movie scenes in the Illawarra was far easier than in Sydney for Pearson, who is passionate about fostering a film industry on the South Coast.
“I’ve been trying to develop interest in the region for a few years now,” he said.
“I’m constantly looking for people, particularly on the development and the finance side, in the region to support what I’m trying to do.”
Pearson has a vision to set up a film studio in the region, something that can assist in making the movie and post-production as well.
So far he’s already proved dreams can come true.