The Forum Theatre on Flinders Street is a beautiful old building, dimly lit like a wine bar but lacking in that cosy warmth when it's fiercely cold outside. It's also the venue for Books at MIFF – a day that brings together local publishers and producers from Australia, NZ, the UK and the USA for meetings and events.
Held at the start of the week-long Melbourne International Film Festival, the program is in its eleventh year and seems to grow each time I visit. The doors opened at 8.30 am and the long line of attendees (a mix of familiar faces in publishing and film) included 33 publishers and agents and 130 film producers, screenwriters and distributors.
In the first session, producer Gary Hamilton joined author Yossi Ghinsberg to discuss how Yossi's book Jungle was adapted for film. Jungle was a bestseller 26 years ago, and was long out of print before it was picked up for film. The screen adaptation features Daniel Radcliffe and was premiered at MIFF. The moral of this story? Never give up on your backlist!
One of the sessions I was most looking forward to was the producer pitching session. From 132 book submissions, producers chose just seven to pitch directly to the audience. One of those seven titles was the brilliant 2015 YA novel Carousel by Brendan Ritchie. Carousel was championed by Coeli Cutcliffe, a development executive from Porchlight Films, as a contemporary Breakfast Club, 'with the potential to make audiences think, laugh, cry, be afraid and fall in love.’
No time for a coffee break, we all quickly moved to our assigned booths to start the one-on-one pitching sessions. I was able to schedule a meeting with everyone I nominated on my list – eight fantastic producers from Australia, NZ and the USA, from big and small organisations. Each 20-minute session was fast-paced and intense, yet satisfying as everyone was there because they wanted to know about our books. Just as important, though, is the knowledge I gleaned from each producer about what stories they are currently looking for so that I can follow this up.
And what do the producers want? Well, most producers are after stories with great characters and plot lines but also low-budget settings. Books with potential as TV series and opportunities for co-productions were also in demand. Crime is always of interest, but not as much this year. Many I spoke to wanted stories that would entertain the whole family – the Red Dog phenomenon. Luckily, it's not all about Hollywood action movies.
That's the importance of events like Books at MIFF. It's an opportunity to network, develop contacts and supply filmmakers with fully developed, well-written, entertaining and stimulating Australian stories. Australian audiences want Australian stories – it's been well documented – so it makes sense to grab opportunities to showcase our books to filmmakers and widen the audience reach for our authors.