The new game-changing process that brought fantasy thriller Harmony: The Five Frequencies Part One to life
CONSIDERING MOST FILMS and TV series cost a mint to produce, the golden question invariably must be this: can you actually make a project flop-proof?
Determined to prove it possible is Australian “Audience Producer” Peter Drinkwater, the CEO of audience-driven studio Cowlick Entertainment and its off-shoot Screen Audience Research Australia (SARA), a research body that aims to bring together art and science by testing audiences at the development stage before the megabucks start getting spent.
“The net is bringing creatives and their audience closer together and you can’t be scared to involve them in co-creating,” Drinkwater says. “That approach plus research helps mitigate risk, and investors love the fact you’re so close to the audience all the way through, shaping it together.”
Putting their money where their mouth is, Cowlick’s first feature Harmony: The Five Frequencies Part One – a Ya-style fantasy thriller about a girl with the ability to absorb fear from the people she touches – has been put through the SARA process.
“We began by testing the title and the concept to ensure they were as strong as possible, and then surveyed people here and in the US to find out who our target market was,” says Drinkwater. “Once we had a script we were happy with we did table reads with actors and had members of the core target audience in there – it’s like getting an audience pass on the script and doing a sense check with the people we want to spend their money on seeing it. You quickly learn what they like and what they don’t, which really helps everybody at every level of making the film.”
It doesn’t stop there: once Harmony’s core audience of teenage females were engaged, their voices were heard on everything from casting to marketing to the rough edit of the film. “It’s been a dialogue with them the whole way through,” explains Drinkwater. “They love it because they can have a real sense of ownership over it. Young people don’t want to be served stuff – they want to be part of it from the beginning.”
Is there a worry that some creative folk won’t be as open to such a radical approach? “Producers, writers and directors are starting to realise the benefits,” says Drinkwater. “TV is used to writers rooms and being very collaborative already so they’re more open, whereas with film it’s more often a single writer, so there can be some initial resistance. Ultimately though it builds their confidence and enhances the creative process.”
With the imminent release of Harmony, the first round of results will soon be in. Drinkwater is optimistic: “It’s upping the chance for success and it makes sense on every level, particularly from the perspective of an investor or a distributor. You can’t afford to have a flop – there’s not enough money in the ecosystem anymore!”
Clockwise from main: Jessica Falkholt as Harmony (the film is dedicated to the late actress, who tragically passed love interest away Mason last year); (Jerome Meyer) hits the bench; Harmony washes off the black goo she gets covered with from absorbing other people’s fear... ; ...which can be an exhausting process; Cowlick Entertainment’s Peter Drinkwater.