Mercury CX goes national with careers-driven conference

The annual MCX Screenmakers Conference has turned into three inspiring interactive events to support emerging creators as they bring fresh life to the mainstream sector.
Two US writers

On one stimulating weekend in September you can watch Lorien McKenna and Meg Lefauve from the podcast The Screenwriting Life interviewed online from Los Angeles. They have extraordinary credits on titles like Up, Brave, Inside Out and Captain Marvel. 

Part fun, part insights, it is a high point in the annual Screenmakers Conference run by Adelaide’s Mercury CX. It is fully online, with 16 sessions, available all over Australia, for the COVID-friendly price of $55. It is an inspiring program, full of real success stories. 

‘Excellence in storytelling’

Benjamin and Michelle Law, brilliant storytellers with a caustic social conscience, will speak. The Hoodies – the now internationally respected team from Hoodlum Entertainment – will talk career paths. Ella Macintyre will reveal the inner workings of games studio Mighty Kingdom, whose developers want only to ‘be happy, love the work and make awesome games.’

According to CEO Karena Slaninka, the conference confronts the problems of emerging screen creatives and crew as they move into the mainstream. 

As she explained to Screenhub, ‘We are supporting people to advance from emerging to the middle level where they are starting to be commissioned to make content, to be recognised as they build their skills and expertise.’

Mercury CX is the reinvented Media Resource Centre. It bills itself as a national centre of excellence for talent development and screen storytelling. ‘We need to cultivate stories which are unique and distinctive’, Slaninka said. ‘There are lots of people who have great ideas but not many people know how to execute them with an understanding of the industry and how it works. 

‘On the other side we see an industry screaming for authentic stories, and new talent. We’re trying to bridge the gap and connect the two sides.’

‘Focusing on the people’

This is a big ask, based on a lot of clear thinking. Rather than looking at projects, or returns, Mercury CX focuses on the people working in the sector. Who are they? How do they gain mastery of their crafts? How can we embrace their diversity? 

‘I think we’re trying to support the industry to recognise that there are multiple pathways. We are trying to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together, because they all work in an interconnected way.’

Driven by the challenge of COVID, MCX Screenmakers has grown so much it has split into three separate events, climaxing with a frenzy of pitching on Friday 8 October. 

Climaxing with PITCH-O-RAMA

There will be 250 pitching slots. There will be industry round tables. The real head turner is PITCH-O-RAMA, which is a hunt for youth-friendly concepts for ABC TV iView, also supported by Screen Producers Australia, Screenworks and AACTA. Between them, they have assembled $20,000 worth of prizes to support project development. 

Karena Slaninka is delighted by the commissioning talent participating in the Pitch Market Day. ‘We’ve got the Australian streamer, Netflix and Foxtel and Stan and all the broadcasters. We have Australian distributors and international representation as well.’ 

Nakul Legha from Netflix is a good catch, along with Edwina Waddy from Roadshow, Paul Wiegard from Madman, Nick Hayes from Icon Film Distribution, a team from SBS and a veritable tribe from the ABC. Noel Manzano, the VP International Programming and Development at AMC Networks in the US is particularly intriguing.  

In between these two pillars is a TV Format Lab produced by Media Mentors. With the creators of The Block and The ABC’s You Can’t Ask That, delegates can go through the process of developing a format over the day, with their peers, supported by the panelists.

Career Mentor Sessions

Threaded through the month are over 70 slots for one-to-one half hour Career Mentor sessions with a variety of specialists from writers to producers, commissioning editors and games developers.  ‘You can get access to leading luminaries in the industry’, said Slaninka, ‘who are generously giving people the opportunity to talk about their career ambitions and their next steps to advance their careers as a professional in the industry.’

That kind of basic support is fundamental to the Mercury CX approach. As Slaninka puts the central vision, ‘We are also all about wanting to encourage people from a diverse background, or a regional centre, or they just haven’t thought about a career in the industry but they’ve got great stories to tell.  

‘Authentic stories from original voices’

‘We are very passionate about wanting to support the telling of authentic stories from original voices, and from people who don’t often have their stories heard. I think there is an incredible growing demand – the industry is hungry for unique and authentic stories. And we really want to be a pathway, and a pipeline of talent and cultivating talent into the industry.’

Go here for more information. Besides the basic package, there are combinations which allow you to engage with the other interactive elements. 

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.