Leading New Zealand film executive Jasmine McSweeney is joining Australian producer- distributor -streaming platform Umbrella Entertainment, as its first New Zealand-based head of sales and acquisitions, as part of the company’s ambitious expansion plans.
Umbrella had a hit with its Australian and New Zealand release of local horror title Talk To Me in 2023, released with Maslow Entertainment.
McSweeney was the head of marketing for the New Zealand Film Commission and oversaw the launch of the transactional video-on-demand platform and its digitisation programme. She has worked there for 10 years. She will start her new role on February 5.
Umbrella general manager Ari Harrison told Screen the company is aiming to double its acquisitions in 2024 and will add 10 Australian and New Zealand films and five international pictures to its slate. This will be driven by McSweeney and her Australian equivalent Nick Hayes, who joined in early 2023.
The aim is to shoot two films produced by Sanctuary Pictures, the Umbrella entity formed last year with producer Julie Ryan, in 2024. They are likely to be either a romantic comedy for which no further information is available, or Martini Mum, a drag queen comedy to be directed by John Sheedy from a script written by Christopher Gist, or 33AD, a thriller with a diabolical chef at its heart, directed by Michael Kratochvil, who co-wrote the script with Maria Collins.
Six further films are in various stages of development.
Recent New Zealand acquisition, the family film I, Object, a mix of live action and animation, is now in production. Andrew Niccol, the Oscar-nominated writer of The Truman Show, is directing and The Exchange is handling international sales.
Australian acquisition, the thriller We Bury The Dead, begins filming in February with Zac Hilditch at the helm and Daisy Ridley attached. Neon is the sales agent.
“We feel really confident in the Australian and New Zealand [theatrical] markets,” said Harrison.
“Audience habits have changed and there has to be a really great reason for someone to go to the cinema right now … We used to release films in cinemas that now we wouldn’t.”
Harrison revealed Brollie the advertiser-supported VOD service launched by Umbrella in November, was expected to confirm 100,000 account holders by mid 2024 and that it would be available free worldwide by year end. Umbrella has recently acquired world rights to the entire catalogues of the South Australian Film Corporation and Network Nine.
Part of McSweeney’s role will be acquiring more NZ library content for the VOD service. Harrison hopes the service will help attract talent by providing a pathway to make their early work available.
Umbrella was established in 2001 by Ari’s father Jeff Harrison, who remains managing director. The company’s history is rooted in genre films, and it has a thriving Blu-ray and DVD business. Harrison said that people like to be scared together. The sci-fi movie
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