Just after launching Transmission Films three years ago, Australian distributors Richard Payten and Andrew Mackie were sent the script of a London play as a potential film project.
They got the script from Iain Canning, the London-based co-founder with Emile Sherman of See-Saw Films, the Sydney-headquartered production company in which Transmission is a shareholder. No director or stars were attached but Payten and Mackie undertook to help finance the movie, putting up a 'significant' minimum guarantee for the Australian/New Zealand rights.
After a long struggle, the £8 million budget ($A12.6 million) was raised, the balance coming from the UK Film Council, The Weinstein Co., which secured the US and several other territories, and UK distributor Momentum.
The gamble paid off handsomely as The King's Speech has earned a lucrative $12.3 million after its fourth weekend in Australia and $US46 million in the US, with heaps more upside worldwide, particularly if it's rewarded at the Oscars next month. Here it will expand from 107 to 170 screens on Thursday to satisfy exhibitors who were clamouring for prints.
It's Transmission's biggest success financially and a vindication of its strategy in partnering with See-Saw and aligning itself with Paramount's powerful Australian distribution arm, with which it has a first-look deal.
Payten told SBS Films that Fox Searchlight was keen to finance The King's Speech but that deal would have lessened the creative control enjoyed by Canning and Sherman, and Transmission would have lost the Oz rights. He said director Tom Hooper, whose mother had seen the play in London, was interested in making the film but hadn't signed when Transmission got involved, and the casting of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush was then a long way off.
Joint Managing Directors Payten and Mackie ran Dendy Films for six years, demonstrating a shrewd eye for acquiring quality art house movies. Benefiting from Paramount's clout with exhibitors, the brief at Transmission has broadened to include specialised movies with cross-over potential as well as mainstream releases such as Charlie & Boots, Beneath Hill 60, Streetdance 3D and See-Saw's The Kings of Mykonos: Wog Boy 2.
Transmission typically releases 10 films theatrically a year via Paramount and five in its own right. Already it's amassed a library of more than 100 titles, including DVD product.
A strong backer of Australian movies, its upcoming slate includes Griff the Invisible, Sundance festival entry Mad Bastards, Sleeping Beauty, which stars Emily Browning, Burning Man (Matthew Goode, Rachel Griffiths) and Fred Schepisi's The Eye of the Storm (Judy Davis, Geoffrey Rush, Charlotte Rampling).
Also in the hopper are See-Saw's Shame, a New York-set sexual drama starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, directed and co-written by Steve McQueen (Hunger), plus Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights, Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Inhabit, Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method.
Despite a general softening of the DVD market in Australia and elsewhere, it can still yield sizable numbers. Payten cites Charlie & Boots, which sold 150,000 units in Oz, more than Star Trek and Terminator Salvation.