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Ron Saunders Interview by Yuqing Li & Cindy XY Wang

Ron Saunders Interview

 

Experience

Ron Saunders is a very experienced producer in producing children’s and adult television drama, animation, feature films, game shows and documentaries. He works for public and private production and broadcasting companies in media career that spans over 30 years. He is very widely experienced in international children’s program market.

Career

Ron graduated from AFTVRS/AFTRS (Australia Film Television and Radio School) in 1973. After that he was employed as a tutor for Film Studies in Sturt College of Advanced Education for one year. He started his own company in 1974 and was an independent writer, producer and director at that time. From the 1980s, he had extensive works with the South Australia Film Corporation and Film Australia as executive producer. During that time, he produced a large number of documentaries. And also working as independent, he produced some TV series and feature films. Faire Game (1986) is an action film that Ron co-produced with Harley Manners and directed by Mario Andreacchio. That was his learning position of getting into the film industry. From 1993 to 1995 and 1995 to 1998, he managed Pacific Films Pty. Ltd. and Southern Star Pacific as Director. The well-known TV series Spellbinder (1995), Spellbinder 2: Land of the Dragon Lord (1997) and other children sci-fi TV series were produced and co-written by Ron. In the next three years, Ron worked as General Manager of Network ABC and Managing Director of Yoram Gross E.M.T.V. animation house. Since 2001, Ron started a joint venture as Pacific & Beyond Pty Ltd. He was the managing director till 2008. From that time, Ron focused on more children’s TV drama and programs. In 2008, he was appointed as the General Manager of Beyond Screen Production P/I (a division of Beyond International Pty Ltd). This division produces many children shows, e.g. Toybox; documentaries and much collaboration with the local television network and the international television stations.

Successes

Ron thinks the most successful thing for him is survive (in this industry), is keeping on working. He used to be an independent filmmaker for many years. The business is very uncertain, comparing to whom, is employed by a company or television network in the media industry. For him, working is the best thing.

Ron also mentioned about his success for the productions that he produced or made. Most of the production that he worked in, he worked in the way he wants and sold them for reasonable pay. The productions always make enough money for every party and he worked professionally as film or TV maker. He is very happy that he is still in the industry, which is a small group.  The productions run smoothly and happily. He endeavored into every production, so he would not pick the “most successful”, because he is satisfied with his productions and the time working on them. This is his accomplishment. Sitting in front of Ron, I can really feel his pride, his honor for his productions, and his happiness and satisfaction when talking about the productions.

When we researched on Ron Saunders, his Spillbinder (1995) has a lot of compliments and positive reviews on IMDb. The reviewers express their happy childhood memories of watching this TV series. Ron came up with the original idea of Spillbinder and co-developed with two writers to write each TV episode. 

Challenges

Most of his problem is self-inflected, as being too tricky. From his point of view and where he is “sitting”, he is a producer whose main job is to find projects, develop projects and pitch them to broadcast or to sales agents. His position is always at the mercy of somebody else. They need to have interests in them and then producer has to find the money. This is the condition of this job that is always uncertain. You always have times that your projects are not very much liked and that are quiet dispiriting. You may be very easy to give up for the years of rejection. Some of the shows that had been put up, they died. The challenge is always getting up after you fall.

Where does the money come from?

The TV and the film industry are very similar in the way of funding. It always involves the government funding bodies such as Screen Australia, State agencies, government rebate and some investors. For TV shows and programs, the television networks (e.g. Network Seven and Nine) are always the main investors.

In the case of Toybox TV series that Ron produces, it is fully financed by the broadcast network. There are regulations for the commercial broadcast station to produce certain amount of pre-school (and children) materials. Because this kind of stuff is difficult to sell overseas, the broadcast will pay full amount.

The film Napoleon (1995)

The film Napoleon (1995) was directed by Mario Andreacchio and produced by Michael Bourchier and Ron Saunders. Napoleon was a very special and lucky case. The writers Mario and Michael had the script well written and pitched to different people. There was a Japanese company looking for project to film and they had been listen to the pitches in Australia. Mario and Michael pitched to the Japanese and they liked the idea. Although the Japanese company wanted Mario’s script to be filmed, they want a solid party to be involved. Mario and Michael needed Ron to be their executive producer as representative from Film Australia.

Ron provided advices during the production, through the shooting, the fine cut and the selling. This film was successful for its cost about five million dollars, gross about fifty million dollars and the ROI was about ten to fifteen million dollars. It was one of the top earners from Screen Australia.

This film was a lucky case is also because it had its distribution company settle very early. The commercial distributor was a medium Hollywood company that was also looking for production to distribute. They watched the rushes and decided to distribute this film while the team was still shooting.

In terms of profit, 60% of it got back to the investors. In this case, they were the Japanese company and Australian film corporations and government. 40% of the profit went to the producers. The marketing of this film was entirely handled by the distributor and spent over million dollars approximately.

The film The Dragon Pearl (2010)

This film was a co-production between Australia and China. They went through the formal Screen Australia co-production process. Half of the money came from China. For the Australian half, the money came from Screen Australia, state government, and private investors. In addition, they had the tax rebate of 40% of the expenditures. Two sales agencies handled the marketing of this film. One of them did the Southeast Asian market and the other agency did the rest of the world.

The film was only released in Adelaide. Refering to Ron, “it was not successful”. The film has many problems in the script and story and it is neither a good kid film nor a good adult film. Marketing and distribution are expensive. Lot of expenses is in case. The releasing companies thought that this film would not make enough box office and ROI to cover the costs and the investors were not likely to risk it.  Four out of ten Australian films may not be released.

Executive producer and relationships

Ron is mostly an executive producer in both television and film industries. He usually manages a range of projects at the same time. Unlike the (creative) producer, Ron’s role is to overlook various productions and sometimes give advices. The producer works closer with the particular project.

The nature of Ron’s job is finding projects and finding funds for them. So half of his relationship network is writers, directors and producers. Within this half, most of them are producers, some are talented writers and some directors. The other half is the funding body such as broadcast stations, presale agents and private investors. He worked really hard with the TV stations that can give him presale. The last group is his close industry friends who may be working in companies or individual filmmakers. They share the industry information together.

Film and TV credits (parts)

Quest Friends (12x15mins)

Children’s’ factual program coproduced with CCTV and ABC

2012 Exec Producer

TOYBOX series three (85x30mins)

Preschool program for Channel 7

2012 Exec Producer/co-creator

Lab Rats Challenge series two (65x30mins)

Children’s science game show

2012 Exec Producer/co-creator

TOYBOX series two (85x30mins)

Preschool program for Channel 7

2011 Exec Producer/co-creator

TOYBOX series one (75x30mins)

Preschool program for Channel 7

2010 Exec Producer/co-creator

The Dragon Pearl (feature film)

Co-production with Hang Dien Studios, China

2010 Exec Producer

Milly Molly (26x30mins)

Animation series, co-production with Scrawl Studios and MDA Singapore

2007-2009 Exec Producer

Lab Rats Challenge series one (65x30mins)

Children’s science game show

2008 Exec Producer/co-creator

Emerald Falls (Telemovie)

2007 Exec Producer

Double Trouble (13x30mins)

Children’s drama

2006-2007 Exec Producer

New MacDonalds Farm Series 1-3 (135x30mins)

Pre-school program

2004-2007 Producer/Exec Producer/co-creator

Backyard Science series 1-3 (52x30mins)

Children’s science program

2003-2007 Exec Producer

Magic Mountain (53x10mins)

Co-production with ABC, CCTV, Southern Star

1997 Producer/Script Editor/co-creator

Spellbinder 2: Land of the Dragon Lord (26x30mins)

Children’s series, co-production with Polish Television, Shanghai Film Studios, Film Australia and Southern Star

1997 Exec Producer

Napoleon (Feature film)

1993 Exec Producer

Yuqing Li & Cindy XY Wang

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Creative Producing 2012 Friday Nights 6-9pm with Louise Alston

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