Los Angeles QUT Study tour 2016



Today we commenced the formal teaching component of our study tour at UCLA. It was so amazing to be taught by Hollywood veterans who have decades of experience in the business. Our first speaker, Tom Nunan, was the executive producer of three-time Oscar winning film, Crash, among other outstanding credits in both film and television. Tom’s lesson was about the business operations of the major six studios and how they differ from mini-majors and independent companies. Below, are some particularly interesting facts I learned from Tom today.

  • The marketing budget for most Hollywood films is 50% of the total production budget
  • Box office revenue typically lowers by 50% during the second weekend of theatrical release
  • China and Africa represent huge markets for the future of the industry
  • The big six studios have a number of sub-labels to give investors options in terms of how much money they invest and what kind of content they invest in i.e blockbusters or independents
  • The big six Hollywood studios are almost exclusively interested in financing franchise films
  • The studios are looking to create films from existing intellectual property

I was most surprised by the last fact listed above. I was, of course, aware that modern Hollywood is heavily into superheroes and book adaptations due to their easy selling points and lower financial risk, but I did not realise the extent to which Hollywood has become IP obsessed. Tom explained that the studios will not consider original ideas unless they can be linked, in some way, to existing intellectual property, as existing IP guarantees an audience. It makes sense that the studios would mitigate risk in this way, but as a filmmaker it’s a little disheartening to learn that the big studios are not willing to take a chance on an original idea.

Our second speaker was independent film producer Ron Yerxa, who had produced some great movies such as Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks. Ron’s lecture focused more on the content of filmmaking rather than the business side. Having produced many quirky comedies throughout his career, Tom stressed to us the importance of using film to express something of importance about the human condition, even in comedy. I really appreciate this kind of advice as I hope to make films that achieve this exact goal. Both of our speakers today were fantastic and I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to learn from them.

ABOVE: Timelapse of the walk from the dorms to class at UCLA.


The second day of UCLA classes was even better than the first. We were lucky enough to have seven industry professionals present four different sessions to us and they were all incredibly engaging and inspiring. To begin, Tom Nunan, who we met yesterday, taught us about the business operations behind the American television networks. Tom has spent a decent portion of his career in executive roles at some of the major networks, so hearing this information from him was particularly special. I learned three major lessons from Tom’s lecture today:

  • TV networks make money in two ways: advertising and retransmission fess from cable companies
  • Reality television provides great opportunities for emerging filmmakers to begin their careers, as producers of these shows are simply looking for hard workers
  • When it comes to pitching, the buyer is always picturing the pitcher in the film. In other words, it’s important to pitch content that is familiar or relatable to your personal life.

Our second speaker was Neil Landau, a successful television screenwriter, who spoke to us about modern television content. “Niche is the new mainstream” was the major lesson in Neil’s lecture. He explained that with the advent of hundreds of specialised cable channels as well as SVOD platforms, the television business is aiming to create as many different content offerings as possible, to attract the widest range of audiences. In other words, they are looking to ensure that there is some sort of content for everyone. Neil also gave us a few tips on how to create this kind of content:

  • ORIGINALITY – audiences and buyers want BOLD new ideas
  • RELATABILITY – all successful shows are about families and their dynamics
  • SUSTAINABILITY – make sure that your story can continue to evolve
  • AUTHENTICITY – draw upon material that relates to you personally
  • DIVERSITY / DIVERSIFICATION – try multiple pathways to sell your film

Next, we were treated to a visit from three members of the marketing and distribution team at Fox Searchlight. This session was without a doubt my favourite so far. It was fascinating to see how this team designed a print and media marketing campaign, which completely aligned with the tone, style, theme and story of the film, Birdman. I was especially excited by the chosen case study, as Birdman is a fantastic film and I actually remember watching all of the trailers when the film came out. It was great to see the inner workings that went into the marketing strategy behind the Oscar-winning film.

To end the day we had the tremendous opportunity to have a Q & A with two fantastic entertainment Lawyers, Carlos Goodman and David Boyle. These two represent some of Hollywood’s greatest talent including, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese.

UCLA at sunset


Class today consisted of two sessions. Paul Green, the chief operating officer of Anonymous Content, presented the first session. Anonymous is a really interesting and successful company who manages above the line talent and also produces content for these clients. It was interesting to hear Paul talk about how his company operates, as I had never heard of a business model that merges management and production. Paul’s lecture was a great lesson in how to produce a feature film from start to finish. He used the case study of The Revenant, an Oscar-winning film that he produced, to take us through the producing process. It was fascinating to learn about the successes and failures that happened while making this film. Ultimately, what I took away from this session was that producers need to be persistent if they believe in a project. As long as this happens, the production will be able to withstand the ups and downs. In the case of The Revenant, this persistence eventually paid off, leading to box office success and critical acclaim.

Our second session was lead by Donald Martin, a film and television screenwriter with credits across both film and television. Donald’s lesson was not just about how to write scripts, but also how to pitch them. Donald emphasized that the goal of an initial pitch is to get the buyer interested enough to arrange a second meeting. His advice was especially appreciated, as we will have to pitch our own projects tomorrow, and many more times throughout our careers.

The tour group strolling through campus.


Today was our final day of classes at UCLA. I am sad that the classes have finished because I’ve enjoyed the program so much and have learnt more than I anticipated. To finish off the course, we had a day of pitching. Everyone had to pitch an idea to their peers and at least one industry professional. It was a daunting but useful experience. I personally felt that I did not perform to the best of my ability during my pitch today. Although I had been working on my idea all week, nerves got the better of me when it came to the delivery. With that said, Lisanne, our pitching supervisor showed interest in my idea and gave me some great tips on how to improve my pitch. I was also able to learn a lot by watching my peers pitch and hearing their feedback. Although it was a difficult experience, it was a great learning opportunity and I know I will be able to improve for next time I have to pitch.

To finish the day, Barbara Boyle, our UCLA coordinator and industry veteran, organised an informal celebration for the end of our course. It was such an honour to receive an official UCLA certificate. I still can’t believe that I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about my craft from one of the best film schools in the world. It has been such a great experience and I will carry the lessons I’ve learned over these past few days with me throughout the rest of my career.

With my UCLA graduation certificate!


Today we set out for our first industry excursion to YouTube Space LA and what an experience it was! We were treated to a private tour of the space which I had no idea even existed. Our lovely tour guide, Esteban, explained the space access program whereby YouTubers who have over 1000 subscribers can book studios and facilities at the space to help them create their content. I couldn’t believe the amount of resources YouTube provided free of charge to their users – it was incredible. We had a great time looking at the equipment cage and all of the stages. We also had the opportunity to learn about and experience virtual reality. For many of us, including myself, it was the very first time we had used this kind of technology. I had heard a lot of hype about it and I can now confirm that the experience lives up to the hype. It was truly amazing to be able to fully immerse yourself in another place through this technology. I was also very impressed by the atmosphere at YouTube Space. It was truly a place that fostered collaboration and creativity. I hope that I get the opportunity to work in this space one day.

After spending the afternoon at Hammer Museum in Westwood, we headed to Sunset Boulevard for an Australian’s in Film advanced screening of The Legend of Tarzan. Although I would only give the movie a two-star rating, it was great to experience an industry screening which included a live Q & A with Margot Robbie.

ABOVE: My first experience with virtual reality at YouTube Space LA.


Today was a lesson in film history as we were treated to the VIP tour of Paramount Studios. Paramount have been making films for over 100 years in the lot that we visited today. It was great to see some infamous sets and costumes and hear some classic anecdotes from the golden era of film. I especially enjoyed the New York sets and the film archives.

After Paramount, we headed across the street to the Australians in Film headquarters. Here he were able to speak with the people responsable for bringing offshore Hollywood productions such as Thor and Pirates of the Caribbean to Queensland. It was interesting to learn about the government tax incentives that attract these large scale productions to our local industry.

To finish the day we headed down the street to Fox Studios to see a special screening of Independence Day: Resurgence. The film itself was a bit of a let down, but it was fun having a quick walk through the studio lot. Having been to Paramount in the morning, it was great to be able to compare things such as the Fox New York sets and the Paramount New York sets.


Today we visited the American Society of Cinematography for a Q&A with a panel of accomplished cinematographers. While I am not a camera person, I found the discussion to be very interesting. The panel discussed some of the difficulties of their role such as finding a balance between executing the director's vision while also contributing their own artistic opinions. This information will help me better understand the cinematographers I work with and their point of view.

After ASC, a group of friends and I headed to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There was a very interesting mix of contemporary art at this museum. I especially loved the Urban Light installation out the front of the museum which I have seen featured in many films and tv shows such as American Horror Story and No Strings Attached.



We spent the day at Universal Studios today. To begin, we had a tour of the NBC news facilities which were a lot more complicated than I could have ever imagines. So much engineering and management goes into live television production - it truly blew my mind. The main lesson from this tour was when working in film and television and especially in live television, it's essential to have a plan B, plan C and plan D for when things inevitably go wrong. After our tour we went into the amusement park which was a lot of fun! The 3D rides were incredible. I especially loved the Wizarding World of Harry Potter exhibit which had only opened a few months ago.


A great way to finish our tour off today was a visit to Disneyland! I had visited the park as a child, but it was great to experience it again as an adult and especially with the knowledge I have about Disney as a business that uses the theme park to fund its film production. It was a lot of fun, but completely exhausting! Overall this study tour as been sensational. I have learned so much and have had a lot of fun.


Over the past two weeks I have had the great privilege of participating in a study tour to the film and entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles. The knowledge and insights I gained while on the tour have influenced my professional practice and have given me a more clear idea of where my personal skills and attributes fit within the wider industry. The purpose of this essay is to reflect upon my experiences in LA and analyse how my practice has been influenced. This reflection and analysis will focus firstly on film production, followed by television production and finally digital production.

The study tour provided me with some very interesting insights into the current state of the big six Hollywood studios in terms of feature film production. During my film studies at QUT I had learned about the big six studios and how they operate. However, I gained further insight into the inner workings of these studios through the lectures at UCLA, from Hollywood veterans such as Tom Nunan. Tom explained that, at this stage, the studios are exclusively interested in producing blockbuster feature film content based on existing intellectual property. This explains the current trend in sequels, remakes, reboots, comic book adaptions and literary adaptions. With film production becoming more expensive, it is logical that the studios would make content that already has an existing audience, as the financial risk is somewhat mitigated.

On the other hand, many cinema fans, including myself, feel that this content diminishes the originality and quality of Hollywood cinema. Renowned film critic Neal Gabler (in Waterman 2009, 207) says, “The consensus is that on average Hollywood studio movies have gotten demonstrably worse in recent years – safer, more predictable, more likely to be sequels, franchises or some other form of risk-adverse pabulum.” We experienced this Hollywood conundrum first hand on the study tour, as we attended industry screenings of Independence Day: Resurgence and The Legend of Tarzan. These films were both blockbuster reboots, meaning they are based on existing intellectual property. Neither of these films were well received by our tour group as they were predictable and clichéd. Nevertheless, these films are likely to have box office success, as they include familiar stories and characters. Although the insight into Hollywood’s intellectual property obsession was somewhat disheartening to me as a cinema fan, it was valuable to my professional practice as it forced me to think about the benefits of gaining the rights to intellectual property in my future career as a producer. Tom Nunan advised us to start by searching through public domain for quality intellectual property, which can then be produced for the screen. This is definitely an approach that I will be incorporating into my professional practice moving forward.

While the blockbuster film industry is looking to create films that appeal to a wide range of audiences, television is looking to do the opposite. This is another valuable lesson I learned during the study tour. On our second day of classes at UCLA, television screenwriter, Neil Landau, gave us an important lecture about the changing landscape of television. This lecture was particularly enlightening to me as I hope to work in this facet of the industry. Neil not only explained how television platforms have fragmented, he also went on to explain how this fragmentation has influenced the content that is being created. With hundreds of cable channels and a number SVOD platforms now available, audiences have more power than ever before to pick and choose what they want to watch. This has caused the aim of the game to shift. Television programmers are no longer looking to create procedural shows that appeal to a mass audience. They are now looking to create as many high quality offerings as possible, to appeal to smaller individual markets. Netflix, for example, has become one of the masters in this kind of programming with, “16 scripted dramas and comedies, 9 original documentary features, 3 documentary series, 12 original stand-up comedy specials, 17 original series for kids. In total…475 hours of original programming in the U.S. this year” (Goodman 2015). Neil described this shift in strategic content programming as, ‘niche is the new mainstream.’ Neil's lecture influenced my professional practice as it highlighted the importance of knowing the audience you are producing content for. In my future practice I will ensure that the content I create speaks truthfully and specifically to a target audience, rather than to a generalised mass audience.

Another facet of the industry that we explored throughout the study tour was the digital realm. The powerhouse of digital is, of course, YouTube and we were lucky enough to get a special tour of YouTube Space LA. I am an avid YouTube viewer, but previous to this tour I had no knowledge of YouTube Space. I was delighted to learn that YouTube Space is a facility that provides professional studio space and equipment free of charge to YouTubers with a certain amount of followers. I was honestly blown away and inspired by the tour. Google, who own YouTube, have clearly invested in a physical facility that fosters creativity and ultimately helps generate more professional quality videos on YouTube.

While at YouTube Space, we had the opportunity to learn about and try virtual reality. This was especially exciting for me, as I had never experienced this technology before. During my studies at QUT, many guest lectures had been telling us to get in on the VR game, but I had never really understood why until I had the opportunity to try it in LA. I now completely understand how this piece of technology could change the way audiences consume media. YouTube are clearly investing heavily in this technology and will likely be one of the major players when VR reaches the mainstream audience. In fact, “YouTube has been working on the content front to beef up its 360-degree video catalog. The number of 360-degree videos uploaded to the site are already doubling every three months” (Roettgers 2016). This advancement in the industry is very exciting for emerging practitioners such as myself, as it potentially offers a huge amount of new opportunity. After experiencing VR I am extremely interested in developing content for this platform and plan to seek local opportunities in this field when I return home.

The LA study tour provided once in a lifetime learning opportunities that have truly influenced my professional practice and my understanding of the film, television and new media industry. I found the classes at UCLA to be the most beneficial facet as we were taught by people who had decades of experience in Hollywood. I also found exploring LA as a city in itself to be educational as many areas are laced with film history, from the Hollywood sign, to the studios and the Walk of Fame. I hope to use the experience and knowledge that I gained while on this tour, to build a long and successful career in the industry.


Goodman, Tim. 2015. “TCA Journal No. 1: Don’t Drown in the Stream.” The Hollywood Reporter, July 29. Accessed July 14, 2016. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/bastard-machine/tca-journal-no-1-dont-811954

Roettgers, Janko. 2016. “YouTube’s Plans for Virtual Reality: A Dedicated App, Content Partnerships and 360-Degree Video Ads.” Variety, May 19. Accessed July 14, 2016. http://variety.com/2016/digital/news/youtube-vr-app-content-partnerships-ads-1201778834/

Waterman, David. 2009. Hollywood’s Road to Riches. London: Harvard University Press. Accessed July 14, 2016. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/qut/reader.action?docID=10312746


Below are screenshots which serve as evidence of my active journaling during the tour.

Created By
Taylor Deen

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