Ian Collie on startups and taking productions to the next level

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Screenrights
Doctor, Doctor (season 2). Photo John Platt.

“To be honest, I think you are always learning on the job as a producer,” says Ian Collie, CEO/Head of Scripted at Easy Tiger Productions and Screenrights Ambassador.

Producers, new or experienced, always aim to take their productions to the next level.

Collie’s advice: “I think surround yourself with experienced, loyal and diligent key crew (and do your due diligence if you don’t know them by contacting others who have worked with them), because they are the experts in their chosen field — line producers, DOPs, production designers, production accountants, editors, location managers and so forth. They are the ones that make you look good!”

Collie’s road to TV drama

Collie has recently established the Australian production company Easy Tiger Productions, a drama production start up in partnership with FremantleMedia. Easy Tiger came about after Essential Media and Entertainment sold its scripted division to FremantleMedia a couple of months ago. Easy Tiger’s drama slate includes Rake season 5 and Jack Irish season 2, both in production, as well as recently completed SBS mini-series Sunshine.

But how did Collie become the CEO of a production company with no film school training? The answer — he was an accountant-turned-solicitor specialising in entertainment law who had a “slightly unusual and convoluted” journey to producing TV drama. He managed the Arts Law Centre of Australia and his own small business, then ran the Australian Directors’ Guild (formerly ASDA).

From there Collie “sounded out” ASDA board member Chris Hilton to see if his company Hilton Cordell could use an in-house business affairs person. “He and Michael Cordell took me on and eventually backed me with some documentary project ideas I pitched to them. I worked as a doco producer for about 10 years and then moved into TV drama where I was Head of Scripted for Essential Media.”

Early lessons

The quality of the catering was the only issue during the production of Collie’s first drama, a telemovie called Hell Has Harbour Views with writer/director Peter Duncan (they work on Rake together). “I now appreciate the importance of a well fed and happy cast and crew!” says Collie.

He thought the drama game was “a doddle compared to docos”, but then his telemovie went to air programmed against Lleyton Hewitt in the Australian Open tennis final. “Consequently about five people saw our program! So never get ahead of yourself in this game. You make what you think is a classic piece of TV — and we should always be proud of our productions anyway — but then there is the reality check. The reviews are great but the ratings are shite. Or vice versa.

“With each production there is always some take home, something you can learn going forward. Certainly preparing production budgets so that they reflect the reality of the shoot is a constant challenge. Often you have to prepare a budget when scripts are at a very early drafting stage due to funding agency application deadlines and chasing money from distributors and other sources. And if you can’t raise the requisite money then you have to tinker with the script, the schedule, casting and so on to cut the cloth to fit.”

Tips for startups

Collie’s advice for new startups:

  1. Think about who you are partnering with (if relevant). Is your partner compatible in terms of personality and do your skill sets complement each other?
  2. Define the projects you will focus on and ensure you have a viable business plan. Note that on the free-to-air side, both public broadcasters and networks have less income to pay budgets due to government cut backs or declining ad revenue. Foxtel is a good alternative but do limited shows a year and the global streamers haven’t shown much appetite to fully fund local shows (hopefully that will soon change).
  3. Ensure you have a good financial plan going forward. Cashflow is a constant nightmare for producers so an overdraft or some sort of short-term cash flow assistance is essential.
  4. Talent, talent, talent. You need to network and love your talent — respect and look after them, especially during hard times when a show isn’t working and broadcasters are getting narky. Don’t rip them off or treat them shoddily — cowboys are so 1980s!

Doctor, Doctor (season 2). Photo John Platt.

Broadening horizons

Collie is always trying to broaden his horizons in terms of storytelling. “That’s what excites me. Either coming up with or being introduced to a new idea that feels so fresh and resonant. Or subverting an old idea or theme and giving it a ‘new splash of paint’. That’s what gets me to work. If that new idea could work better on a different platform than the old valve-driven telly set of yore then I’m all ears, but it always comes back to story for me.”

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