Mercury Cinema keeps doors open after funding

The new board of embattled cinema group Mercury CX is confident the threatre doors can remain open after securing philanthropic and state government funding support, with a $25-a-month subscription model to be introduced in a bid to keep it afloat.

Jun 02, 2023, updated Jun 02, 2023
The Mercury Cinema. Photos: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

The Mercury Cinema. Photos: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

Mercury CX, which operates the 186-seat Mercury Cinema on Morphett Street in Adelaide’s West End, has faced the prospect of insolvency since May last year after the Malinauskas Government knocked back a request for $700,000 to $1.2 million in annual funding.

The organisation, which functions as a training organisation for emerging filmmakers and screen talent, was told that its operating model was not sustainable after suffering a funding shortfall during the pandemic.

Mercury CX’s former board and CEO departed late last year after telling the membership of Mercury CX they had “[exhausted] all efforts to find a sustainable business and funding model”.

But a new board, led by former South Australian Film Corporation chair Peter Hanlon and Emmy Award-winning producer Kirsty Stark stepped in and vowed to explore alternative business models to keep the organisation running.

It also received a $50,000 grant from the state government to “keep the lights on”.

At an annual general meeting on Tuesday, the new board presented a revised 2023-25 strategic plan to members.

The plan includes introducing a “one-ticket all access” subscription model, where members pay $25-a-month to access workshops, new production facilities and equipment, networking events and a monthly program, called “Script Club”, for emerging filmmakers.

The Mercury Cinema will also host a new South Australian-made short film series, called Heaps Good Cinema, while expanding its existing Silver Screen and Cinematheque programs.

“We’ve worked very hard with Mercury staff, members and industry stakeholders to develop a new business model and think beyond the typical income streams for arts organisations – which are philanthropy, sponsorship and grants,” co-chair Hanlon said in a statement.

The new management team also revealed that a series of philanthropic contributions have allowed Mercury CX to redevelop “underutilised” office space into “cutting edge” filmmaking facilities, including a writers’ room, edit suite, sound editing and mixing theatre, and mini studio.

The new writers’ room, which will host weekly writing consultation for emerging filmakers with script ideas, was made possible by a “significant” philanthropic contribution from Australian screenwriter and producer Shane Brennan.

Brennan, who is president of the Australian Writers’ Guild (AWG), is the creator of CBS crime drama spin-off NCIS Los Angeles and a former executive producer of NCIS.

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“The plans for The Mercury sound promising and I was impressed with the idea of facilitating AWG members to work with emerging screenwriters,” Brennan said.

“Having a supportive filmmaking environment like The Mercury gives stories the best chance of getting to the screen, particularly as writing for screen is never an end in itself.”

The South Australian Film Corporation will also continue to provide $240,000 to Mercury CX to deliver programs for emerging filmmakers, it was announced on Tuesday.

“The Mercury has been a much loved feature of our state’s screen sector for nearly 50 years and the Malinauskas Labor Government is proud to support the organisation as it transitions to its new business model,” Arts Minister Andrea Michaels said.

“At a time when South Australian films and filmmakers are shining globally, it is important to support our extraordinary film industry including our next generation of filmmakers to grow and thrive.”

Alongside Hanlon and Stark, the newly-appointed Mercury CX board also features Labor-connected lawyer Adrian Tisato, film director Madeleine Parry, Highview Productions producer Lisa Scott, UniSA associate professor Kath Dooley and Closer Productions producer Rebecca Summerton.

Nara Wilson, Arts SA senior project Manager, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts, has also joined the board alongside Flinders University screen student Daniel Tune.

The organisation has been led since December by former Music SA chief executive Lisa Bishop, who was appointed Mercury CX’s interim general manager to replace former CEO Karena Slaninka.

The Mercury Cinema celebrated 30th anniversary last year after it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992.

Mercury CX and its predecessor the Media Resource Centre (founded in 1974) used to be funded by Screen Australia. The not-for-profit, formerly located on Pirie Street, remains one of the longest-standing members of the Screen Development Australia national network.

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