Many of you have been following my difficult journey to make our movie Danger Close about the Battle of Long Tan for many years, and some of you even tried to help me by writing letters to politicians, and much more. I can honestly say without your interest and engagement via our Battle of Long Tan Facebook page, I would have probably given up many years ago. Without you, the veterans, and their families, our movie Danger Close would simply never have been made. So thank you!
But after 16 years of hard work and over $500k of my own money bringing the story of Long Tan to people all around the world, I am flat broke. I have less than $500 in the bank, I have been left with over a hundred thousand dollars of debt and I can't pay my rent. I can’t even afford to buy a ticket for myself to attend any of the upcoming awards events where our movie Danger Close is a finalist. It is humiliating to end up in this situation and having to ask for some help from other people.
To top things off, a few weeks ago I fractured my left knee and did an acute grade 2 injury to my left calf and have been on crutches since then. I had to use most of the last $2k I had for doctors and physio, but I haven't been able to afford to see them again for the past couple of weeks.
I have cried quite a few times over the past few months reflecting upon this long, extremely tough and emotional journey, where it has left me financially, and whether it was all worthwhile. But I think telling this story and bringing it to the small and big screens has helped many veterans and their families, and it has also helped to showcase our ability to make great Australian documentaries and movies.
Every spare cent I have earned from my full-time jobs over the past 16 years has gone into telling the Long Tan story and helping veterans. In order to make my documentary in 2006 and our movie Danger Close, I had to go into significant debt to ensure they would both be made. Over this entire period I have only been able to afford one, one week holiday in 2012, and I have not been able to buy property or other assets as absolutely everything I have been able to muster has gone into telling this.
I know there is nothing special about my situation and there are plenty of other people in much worse situations and more deserving than me, but any help would be greatly appreciated.
In order to try and finally get the movie made, I quit my full-time job and my career in March 2017 to raise the private investment for the movie, or to die trying. I had a little bit of savings up my sleeve to just scrape by and pay my rent and expenses for a few months, but that was it. I was always counting on getting my full producer fees to cover the past 2.5 years of full-time work, but also cover my living costs for a bit more time to help me get my other projects up.
With a lot of hard work and help, and dozens of presentations and pitches throughout 2017 all around Australia, I was able to successfully raise the private investment. Then with the help of my producing partners we secured the investment commitments we needed from Screen Queensland and Screen Australia. We green-lit and announced the movie in Los Angeles alongside the Queensland Premier in February 2018.
Unfortunately in return for making my documentary, developing and making the movie, and for telling and promoting this story over these past 16 years, I have only ever received a total of $67k in return. This was my fee for producing our movie Danger Close over the past 2.5 years full-time. Unexpectedly, we were forced to reinvest the majority of our intended producing fees to make the budget and financing plan work in order to get the movie across the line.
Even though we made a fantastic movie, it was a very difficult and ambitious film to achieve on screen. We were basically trying to squeeze a $40 million script into a $25 million budget. However, through the incredible work of our crew, our heads of departments, our line producer, myself and my producing partners, we somehow got the budget and financing to work.
But the last link in our financing chain was satisfying and securing our completion bond (think of it as comprehensive car insurance for a film). They did not believe we could make the movie on time or on budget and they would not proceed with the crucial bonding of the movie unless we substantially increased our contingency. By this stage there was absolutely no fat anywhere on the film to cut, and any further cuts would have really hurt what would be seen on screen. The only place left to increase the contingency was from our producer fees and so we were forced to reinvest almost all of our producer fees into the film, to be repaid only after our principal investors, and only if the film makes enough money. This could be at least two or more years away, if ever.
I also received the majority of this $67k after we’d actually made the film but most of it has been used to repay most of the money lent to me by some kind friends. Money which allowed me to pay my rent and living costs over the past 2 years while I actually made the movie.
On top of this, I have never received a single cent for making my award winning documentary because I was ripped off by the person I brought on to Direct, and later Produce the documentary with me. We didn't receive any money for the documentary until we delivered it to FOXTEL. As such I had to provide $200k (almost all debt) to help cash flow and finance the documentary, but none of it has ever been paid back. Prior to making my documentary, I had never even owned a credit card or had ever needed to take out a personal loan but they were the only options available to me.
At that time in 2006 I was working full-time as the Head of Digital for Microsoft and I used the small amount of savings I had and then took out three personal loans and two credit cards to fund it all - a short-term solution. I was to be paid my fees, and repaid my cash flow funding when FOXTEL handed over their payment once we delivered the documentary to them. Unfortunately my documentary Director and Producing partner took all the money and ran off to Los Angeles, hiding and transferring his assets through multiple shelf companies, not just to avoid me, but to run and hide from other creditors and other people who he’d scammed. I then wasted tens of thousands of dollars of my own money and time over many years trying to recover the money, all to no avail. It was a heartbreaking, and a substantial kick in the guts.
It took me a bit over six years of extreme financial hardship to repay the loans and credit cards, plus the substantial credit card interest, from whatever I could afford out of my full-time salary after my living costs. It makes me feel ill whenever I think back to that period of my life as sometimes I could not pay my rent or even buy groceries.
The period between 2006 and 2012 was a very stressful, depressing and distressing time in my life, particularly after the documentary was so well received. This act of betrayal scarred me, and it has forever effected my ability to trust other people and make close friends. In fact all these things are a key reason why I've been single for so many years and not had a family of my own - I just couldn't begin to imagine burdening another person with all of this.
In 2012, I published my documentary 'The Battle of Long Tan ' on YouTube for people all around the world to watch in high quality, instead of seeing the scores of shitty pirated versions. It has been up on YouTube for people to watch for free and without any advertisements since then. It is still the highest rating documentary ever broadcast on FOXTEL, it has generated over 2 million views on YouTube with 80% coming from outside Australia. It is also one of the highest rating documentaries on IMDB. I've also curated and shared dozens of other historical Long Tan and Vietnam videos for people to enjoy online as well in addition to researching, building and paying for the www.battleoflongtan.com website.
I never took on this long, difficult journey to make money. I took on this responsibility to tell this story for all the right reasons and I have always put the veterans, our crew, cast, investors, partners and audiences first. It has always simply been a mission of mine, a personal obligation I felt I had, to honour our Long Tan and Vietnam Veterans as nobody else would take it on. I also wanted Australians, New Zealanders and other people around the world to see our own, and more contemporary ANZAC stories on the big screen. I had only ever hoped that I’d be repaid some of what I’d put into this journey and maybe get something back for some of my time and effort.
I am a grown adult and I made these choices to tell this story and to persevere when I probably should have given up, especially after the hundreds and hundreds of rejection letters, emails, phone calls and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have tried to do something good and right for the veterans and their families. I wanted them to be properly recognised, honoured, and to feel pride in their service and sacrifice. And I have hoped some of them would be proud of me and what I've achieved.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d be ripped off along the way, I’d only ever be paid $67k for producing the movie and the documentary, or that I’d actually end up in debt at the end of it all.
I am now 52 years old and I have been trying to get back into my old marketing career to try and earn some money, but it's been a very frustrating exercise. I am not getting anywhere as I've just had three years off from my career and because of age discrimination (I never thought it was real but it very much is). But I am still trying and I'm even trying to sell my last, valued possession. my car.
I do want to make more great movies and documentaries and I hope I have demonstrated my ability to identify and produce great stories and films.
I have four very exciting projects I’d like to produce over the coming years, but I can’t do any of that without first getting back on my feet. I am hoping in return for producing my documentary and making it freely available online, all the work I've done telling this story and supporting the veterans, and finally making the movie, that some of you might be able to help me.
A bit of history about me and this journey….
I am the oldest of three boys who were raised by a single mum. It was pretty tough when my mum and dad suddenly split up when I was seven years old and I never saw my dad again until just a few years ago. I always had to be home first to prepare dinners and look after my younger brothers until mum came home from work and I didn't have any time for a lot of social / sporting activities. A few years later mum married again and we moved to Indonesia. Tragically he turned out to be a violent alcoholic and it almost became fatal. Our mum had to quickly sell up everything we owned so we could escape him and come back to Australia. Due to all this early childhood trauma, I eventually ended up leaving home when I was 15 years old. I didn’t have any contact with my family until just five or so years ago.
I lived on the streets for a few years, often not being able to eat for a few days or able to find somewhere comfortable and safe to sleep. I took on any jobs I could get such as a bus boy, bartender, retail sales and as a labourer. Eventually I took a leap and joined 2 Commando Company, 1 Commando Regiment, Army Reserve as I was looking for someone and something to belong and I thought I was capable of more. This special forces experience ended up giving me the confidence and the will to go back to school, and after being rejected a few times as I didn’t have any HSC or under graduate qualifications, I eventually got accepted by Swinburne University, and I then went on to complete my post-graduate qualifications part-time. After a few more tough and turbulent years, I eventually found my calling in marketing, and that’s what I've done as a full-time career until March 2017. Without my day job I would never have been able to afford to make the documentary or develop and then make the movie.
I actually formally began the journey to make a movie about the battle of Long Tan in November 2004. However, I first learned about the story way back in 1990 when I was loaned a copy of Lex McAulay’s book on the Battle of Long Tan from our unit library whilst serving in 2 Commando Company.
Fast forward 14 years and my formal Long Tan journey began by developing, writing and producing my award winning documentary ‘The Battle of Long Tan’ narrated by Sam Worthington for FOXTEL/The History Channel between 2004 and 2006. I pitched the documentary to FOXTEL in December 2005 and it premiered on The History Channel on August 16, 2006 just in time for the 40th Anniversary of the battle on 18 August 2006.
From 2006 after the documentary premiered, I tried everything humanly possible, and then some, to try and get the movie off the ground. I came close and could have got the film up in 2008, but I just didn’t believe the script was right and I always promised myself that if the story couldn’t be told well and at scale, I would never do it.
I then came close again between 2011 and 2012 when I secured Kriv Stenders to Direct the movie and with the help of my producing partners we secured acclaimed Australian Writer Stuart Beattie to write our script. Sadly I could not secure the support from any of the state film screen agencies or find the private investment needed, and once again I had to outlay a ton of money to pay for the script, legal fees, develop budgets, schedules, location scouting and much more.
A bit like it was between 2006 to 2012, it was a very depressing and frustrating time between 2012 and 2017. I tried absolutely everything I could think of to try and secure support for the film, all the while watching hundreds of millions of dollars of exceptional, one off support being given to Hollywood films by the Australian Government. I think I wrote to, emailed and called over a thousand people over those years, from politicians to high net worth individuals, distributors, studios and more, but nobody was interested, or people would just waste our time.
We then spent 2018 and early 2019 making the movie, and we proudly made it on time and on budget. The movie Danger Close was released in Australia on August 8 and we have high hopes for our release in the USA on November 8 and in other countries.
I had five very simple outcomes I wanted to achieve from this journey to tell this story:
· Properly honour Australian and New Zealand Long Tan and Vietnam veterans by immortalising them on screen
· Create our new ANZAC myths and legends and modernise the ANZAC narrative
· Employ and engage veterans on the film to create new career pathways for them
· Showcase the extraordinary potential of our talented filmmakers and set them up for further success
· Reset Australian audience expectations for Australian films
Wherever possible I have used my documentary and the movie to raise funds for veterans charities such as Soldier On and Cam’s Cause, so far I've helped raise over $50k. Alongside a friend of mine Graham Cassidy, we also successfully helped Harry Smith secure the government inquiries into the Long Tan medals, and we got the Vietnam War and battles like Long Tan included in the school curriculum. Graham and I have done all the media and publicity over 16 years to increase awareness of Long Tan and the veterans. We partnered with News Limited, 60 Minutes and FOXTEL to drive all the media behind the 40th Anniversary of the battle in August 2006, and we've continued to do do since.
I also created, fund and manage all of the Danger Close movie and Long Tan social accounts and websites; Facebook , www.battleoflongtan.com, Instagram , YouTube and Twitter and I’ve personally paid for all the web hosting, advertising and domain names for over 10 years.
Over many years I have also organised and paid for airfares and accommodation for Long Tan veterans, as well as organised and paid for surprise events for Long Tan veterans like Harry Smith and Morrie Stanley:
The day after the media preview of my documentary back in August 2006, I’d secretly organised a surprise for Harry Smith with the Commanding Officer and RSM of 1 Commando Regiment. Harry thought he was just having dinner with me and a journalist, but I took him to 1 Commando Regiment in Sydney. He was given a briefing on all the modern weapons being used in Iraq and Afghanistan at that time (2006) and along with some of his former comrades from his time as Commanding Officer of 1 Commando and contemporary soldiers, I gave a special advanced screening of my documentary. We then had dinner in the officers mess.
In 2010 when I received the sad news that Morrie Stanely was terminally ill, I organised a surprise event for him in New Zealand. Morrie thought he was just having lunch with me, his two sons and his wife Alva at the Palmerston North RSL, but I’d secretly flown over from Australia Harry Smith, Bob Buick and Dave Sabben. I had worked secretly with Barry Dreyer who was 161 Bty during the Battle of Long Tan and the Commanding Officer of 16 Field Regiment, RNZA for the event. Some of Morrie’s former comrades, soldiers from 16 Field Regiment, the media, the Deputy Chief of NZ Army all attended and it was a total surprise to Morrie. As D Company, 6RAR were recently awarded the Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry, I’d also worked with the Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard and NZ Prime Minister John Keys, the Australian and NZ Ambassadors and each countries respective honours and awards offices to get the award for the NZ Forward Observers. Within just 48 hours I was able to get formal approval for the awarding of the Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry to be given to Morrie Stanley, Willie Walker and Murray Broomhall who were the three Forward Observers attached to D Coy during the battle. Harry had a special plaque made up with the citation and a special message from Delta Company. When Harry, Bob and Dave appeared from behind the curtain and Harry with the special framed citation, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
You can view one of the NZ TV stories on the surprise event here on YouTube - Long Tan Rare Award for Morrie Stanley
When Morrie passed away just four months later, I quickly organised for a special letter of recognition from the Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers for Morrie’s family, and I secured the NZ Minister of Defence to read each letter at Morrie’s funeral and then hand the original copies to Morrie’s widow Alva. Here are those letters -
Long Tan Veteran Major Morrie Stanley - Australian Prime Minister Letter
Long Tan Veteran Major Morrie Stanley - New Zealand Prime Minister Letter
- Stephen Connor
- Roberto Taglienti
- Gary Dellow
- Sean Lynch
- Michael Finn