Beyond’s John Farnham: Finding The Voice has become the highest-grossing Australian documentary of all time. The result gives documentary makers and distributors encouragement that there is an audience for cinema releases.
Beyond’s co-founder Mikael Borglund told Mediaweek that the project was originally developed for a cinema release.
“This was quite an expensive project and there is no way of getting a television sale that would enable the financing to be put together. The music clearances alone were quite a substantial part of the budget.”
He added they could have even used more music but they culled a few songs. “We took a couple of hundred thousand dollars’ worth out of what we initially put into the film.”
Borglund was involved from the instigation of the project with Beyond producer Martin Fabinyi.
“We went to see Glenn Wheatley to pitch him a film about John Farnham,” said Borglund. “The more we talked to Glenn it became obvious there was also a great story about John and Glenn. The rise and fall and then the resurrection.”
One of many reasons to support this feature-length documentary is the wonderful interview footage with Wheatley. Borglund explained it was shot specifically for John Farnham: Finding the Voice: “It was shot in December of 2021. It was just six weeks before Glenn passed. He was in fine form. He went into hospital for a standard procedure and caught Covid. He was corresponding with us all the time he was in hospital.”
With Wheatley gone, Borglund said his place was filled by Wheatley’s wife Gaynor contributing more than was originally anticipated. And what a great contribution she makes to the documentary.
The Farnham family, John, wife Jill and two sons Robert and James, were involved right from the beginning. “Glenn went to John and then we worked on it for six months, bringing in Paul Clarke to work on the treatment. It was after a little while that John said he was happy with the treatment, and we proceeded.
“It was officially sanctioned even though they had no control over the editorial.”
The family is happy with the finished product. Borglund: “Jill came up to me after a screening in Melbourne and gave me a hug. I’d never met her before! John’s two sons have done a lot of promotion for the film on TV and in other interviews.”
While the sons are seen on screen, Jill’s voice is only heard with no onscreen appearance.
She is one of many interviews recorded all around the world for John Farnham: Finding The Voice. “When we interviewed Olivia Newton-John she explained she’d rather not be on camera because she was quite sick. Subsequently, the audio interview was recorded just a couple of weeks before she passed away.
“Th first half of 2022 was pretty intense with Glenn and Olivia passing and then John got cancer.”
Borglund is well aware of the importance of documenting the contribution of great Australian performers while they are still alive. “We did a major documentary on The Angels last year and we are in production on a documentary on another [as yet unnamed] big band. We are hoping to finish that in a month or two.”
The John Farnham fan club swooped on cinemas
As to the staggering success of the Farnham project, Borglund said: “We underestimated how loved John was. I don’t think Sony Pictures thought it was going to do these numbers. Yet they showed a lot of faith by releasing the movie into 250 locations which is a big release.” It has stayed on many of those screens longer than anticipated.
During the funding stages, Borglund visited Stephen Basil-Jones at Sony Pictures Entertainment along with Damien Trotter from Sony Music Publishing. “They got it straight away and we worked with them from the pitch stage.”
The Sony Pictures Entertainment investment secured distribution rights for Australia and New Zealand. In a separate deal, Sony Pictures International have rights for outside ANZ. The deals were done prior to Banijay acquiring Beyond, otherwise distribution could have sat with Banijay Rights.
The first distribution deal for the project was actually done with Seven for the TV rights. It should be available for TV viewers later in 2023, but watch it on the big screen if you can. There will also be a DVD release with bonus content.
It was a challenge for the filmmakers to find archival footage from Farnham’s early days. “We did uncover a few gems though, some really great material,” said Borglund.
Borglund on life under Banijay
After the Banijay acquisition at the end of 2022, it’s been business as usual for Borglund who continues to run the Beyond group. “We successfully merged our distribution rights into Banijay Rights and it has worked out really well. I am enjoying working with them.”
Part of the acquisition contract ensured Borglund stays with the business, something he sounds more than happy with.
Borglund co-founded Beyond in 1985 with three reporters from the TV show Beyond 2000 – Carmel Travers, Iain Finlay and Chris Ardill-Guinness – and another producer Phil Gerlach.
All-star Beyond employees over the years have included Tim Worner, Brad Lyons and Kim Dalton.
The impressive production credits over the years encompassed TV and also movies like Strictly Ballroom, Chopper and Lantana. Beyond also worked with James Cameron on Deep Sea Challenge. “Movies make a nice change from episodic television,” said Borglund.
The TV business has included programs for FTA and Foxtel here and some of the US streamers including Nat Geo, Peacock and Hulu. Beyond built Selling Houses Australia into a massive property for Foxtel. However, the format rights flipped to Warner Bros Television before the current series. Borglund said he misses working on the format. One thing he is enjoying is life without the ASX regulation that came with running a listed company.