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Director Alex Proyas believes he cast the right actors for Gods of Egypt

Gerard Butler in Gods of Egypt. Controversy blew up over the casting of the movie when the poster and trailer for the movie were released last year. Courtney Eaton in Gods of Egypt.
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Nikolaji Coster-Waldau as the god Horus.

Brenton Thwaites played a human thief in Gods of Egypt.

 

He may have apologised for the lack of diversity in the cast of the action-fantasy movie Gods of Egypt butAustralian director Alex Proyas remains convinced he chose the right actors.

On the eve of the Australian-shot movie opening wide in the US and this country, the filmmaker behind The Crow,Dark City, I, Robot and Knowing has a pragmatic view of the controversy that blew up when the poster and trailer for the movie were released late last year, drawing flak on social media for the predominantly white cast playing ancient Egyptian mortals and gods.

“It’s a fact of life,” Proyas says. “It’s the world we live in right now. The movie is not the best platform for this debate so I’ll leave to others to discuss inclusiveness in Hollywood movies.

“I keep coming back to the fact the movie is a fantasy, it’s an adventure, it’s not based on any historical ideas.

“I tried to cast the movie as inclusively as possible in terms of all races really – white, black and Asian – so to me it seems to be an appropriate way to cast a movie like this.”

Gods of Egypt centres on a young human thief (Brenton Thwaites from Home and Away and Maleficent), who enlists the help of the god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones) to bring his beloved (Courtney Eaton from Mad Max: Fury Road) back from the dead and battle the god Set (300’s Gerard Butler) who has taken over the Egyptian empire.

As well as a Dane and a Scot in starring roles, the $US140 million movie also features American Chadwick Boseman, France’s Elodie Yung, England’s Rufus Sewell and Australians Geoffrey Rush, Abby Lee, Bryan Brown and Emma Booth.

The outcry in November followed similar social media storms over Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, which had Emma Stone as an Asian-American character, and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, which had Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton as Moses and Ramses. It came just before the nomination of 20 white actors for the Academy Awards for the second consecutive year re-ignited the #oscarssowhite campaign.

Quickly scotching the criticism, Proyas issued an apology, saying: “The process of casting a movie has many complicated variables but it is clear that our casting choices should have been more diverse. I sincerely apologise to those who are offended by the decisions we made.”

The studio behind the movie, Lionsgate, also apologised, saying: “We recognise that it is our responsibility to help ensure that casting decisions reflect the diversity and culture of the time periods portrayed. In this instance we failed to live up to our own standards of sensitivity and diversity.”

In a detailed post on Facebook last month, Proyas said the factors behind the casting included the studio requiring “names” to finance a movie of the scale of Gods of Egypt, restrictions on importing actors and the limited pool of English-speaking Egyptian actors.

“I cast the best actors for the roles,” he wrote. “I stand by these decisions.

“The casting is an attempt to include ALL people – partly suggestive of the Egypt I know based on my own cultural heritage but clearly and most importantly a work of the ‘imagination’ … to exclude any one race in service of a hypothetical theory of historical accuracy, particularly in a film that is not attempting to be ‘history’, rather a fantasy film, would have been biased.”

Proyas’ heritage drew him to the movie, which is written by Americans Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold, The Last Witch Hunter).

“I’ve been a long time fan of Egyptian mythology,” he says now. “I’ve always wanted to make a movie about the gods of Egypt from when I was a kid.

“I was born in Egypt and my granddad would tell me these stories from a very young age. He was quite a good visual artist and he used to do drawings of Horus. Being a visual guy from the beginning, I was drawn to this wonderful image of this human form with a bird’s head.

“I remember him telling me the myth of Set and Horus [their battles to see who would succeed Osiris as ruler] which is what this story is essentially about.”

It took five months of shooting in Sydney and another year working on the visual effects to finish Proyas’ biggest movie to date.

“It’s an epic in every conceivable way,” he says. “It’s inspired for me very much by movies I saw as a kid – films like The Man Who Would Be King and Lawrence of Arabia.

“A lot of these movies that were incredible action-adventure stories set in exotic lands. This is very much a fantasy, much more so than those films were.”

Raiders of the Lost Ark was an influence on the tone of a “fun rollercoaster ride” that draws heavily on computer-generated technology to create environments and characters.

Proyas describes the movie as “a buddy story” that brought technical challenges because Thwaites’ thief, Bek, is normal human height while Horus is nine feet (2.74 metres) tall.

“They’re constantly interacting, often in a humorous way, in action sequences,” he says. “So they’re grabbing each other and pushing each other and jumping on each other’s backs and running like crazy and that’s a real technical feat to achieve.”

The movie was shot at Fox Studios, with a set built in Centennial Park for a scene featuring Horus and Bek being chased by two 30-metre-long fire-breathing snakes.

“It felt like I made the movie once as a live-action movie then I made it over again just to create this incredible epic landscape of this fantasy world,” Proyas says.

Gods of Egypt is in cinemas now.

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Facebook the biggest new advertiser on British television

Facebook, the technology giant disrupting the traditional media world, is the biggest new spender on television advertising in the United Kingdom.
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As a wave of disruption hits publishers and television broadcasters alike, Facebook contributed  £10.8 million ($20.9 million) in ad revenue – the most of the 877 new advertisers or those returning to TV after not spending for at least five years.

The social media network launched a number of TV advertisements in the UK in 2015, including this spot called Friend Request.

Along with fellow disruptors Google and Netflix, Facebook helped lift the total UK advertising market above £5 billion for the first time. According to Nielsen data provided to Thinkbox, the marketing body for commercial TV in the UK, Google, Facebook and Netflix spend more than 60 per cent of their marketing budgets on TV advertising.

Total UK television advertising revenue hit £5.27 billion, up 7.4 per cent, in 2015 – the sixth consecutive year of growth, according to Thinkbox. The spend was driven by a 14 per cent increase in ad revenue from online businesses in television to more than £500 million, which is now the second-largest spending category on TV. The £5 billion figure includes linear TV ads, sponsorships, broadcaster video on-demand and product placement.

“Advertisers of all sizes, from global technology companies to local businesses, know this and have voted with their investment,” Thinkbox chief executive Lindsey Clay said.

“Online businesses in particular recognise the impact TV advertising has and have significantly increased their investment recently. This is something we expect to continue in 2016.”

MCN chief sales and marketing officer Mark Frain said the UK television market was benefiting for a number of reasons.

“One of the fundamental reasons, which continues to underpin their growth, is they all work on a similar trading platform to what MCN has incorporated in Landmark and that’s across subscription TV and free-to-air broadcasters in that market. They’re all aligned from a systems perspective,” Mr Frain told Fairfax Media.

“Secondly, within that market, they’ve also got a trading hub that sits in the middle of the industry. In terms of automation and alignment, everything is coming through in similar formats, delivery is automated at a network end. The UK market has been like that for probably over 10 years.”

Mr Frain said the figures from the UK showed television remained an effective medium for advertisers.

“There’s been plenty of alleged discussion about Facebook and YouTube’s ambition to become part of television. I think, by all in large now, if you look at the ways the agencies are trading, they are becoming part of television,” he said.

“But, I think it’s fascinating that they are investing heavily into linear television to drive their businesses.”

Television in Australia is expected to have another lean year in 2016, but the industry’s investment in digital platforms, such as Plus7, 9Now and tenplay are leading advertisers to forecast up to double-digit growth in ad revenue in 2018, according to Starcom Mediavest’s media futures.

“The announcements and the launches that have happened this year, the announcements last year in terms of Seven and Nine’s move into more automation or greater data capabilities through the digital platforms they’re building – there is no doubt that will pay off for the TV sector moving forward,” Mr Frain.

GroupM chief investment officer Sebastian Rennie said while it was hard to draw comparisons with the UK market, the local television industry was looking to put the right infrastructure in place, such as digital streaming platforms, and hoping the ad revenue would follow.

“I don’t think there’s any questions overall about TV being a powerful medium, it’s just going through some structural shifts at moment,” Mr Rennie said.

“Most of the networks in their upfronts [an event where broadcasters showcased their shows and strategy for the coming year to media buyers and advertisers] talked about investing in their digital platforms as a way of future proofing them.”

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Macquarie Atlas seeking acquisitions after tollroad group delivers $85m annual net profit

Tollroad group Macquarie Atlas Roads delivered a full year net profit of $85 million and said it was considering acquisitions after toll revenues rose on its European motorway investment, the Autoroutes Paris-Rhin-Rhône.
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Macquarie Atlas, which has tollroad investments in the US, UK, and Germany as well as France, swung into the black after reporting a $50.6 million loss a year earlier.

Macquarie Atlas shares, which are up 30 per cent over the past 12 months, rose 9¢ to close at a new all time highs of $4.36.

Proportionate earnings before interest tax depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), which reflect income from toll roads assets and exclude management fees, rose 4.4 per cent to $523.7 million in the 12 months to December.

Traffic along the Autoroutes Paris-Rhin-Rhône (APRR), in which Macquarie Atlas owns a 20.1 per cent stake, rose 2.7 per cent in 2015 while toll revenues were up 3 per cent due to a stronger French economy, the company said.

Traffic on the Dulles Greenway tollroad near Washington DC was up 5.4 per cent in 2015, while toll revenues rose 7.9 per cent. Macquarie Atlas owns a 50 per cent stake in the Dulles Greenway, a 22-kilometre toll road that connects Washington Dulles International Airport with Leesburg, Virginia, in a joint venture with Macquarie Infrastructure.

Macquarie Atlas’ chief executive officer, Peter Trent, said the company would benefit from further improvements in the US and French economies and was considering potential acquisitions. Strong financial case

“We remain open to consider accretive opportunities where there is a strong strategic and financial case, both from within, or complementary to, our existing portfolio,” he said.

Macquarie Atlas expects to make US$95 million ($140 million) from the sale of its 22.5 per cent stake in the Chicago Skyway tollroad when the sale closes at the end of February.

Analysts have speculated that the tollroad group could use the proceeds to increase its 50 per cent stake in the Dulles Greenway.

But Mr Trent told analysts on Thursday that Macquarie Atlas was prepared to sell its stake if the joint venture – which has been trying to increase tolls on the Dulles Greenway – received expressions of interest from potential buyers.

“Everything at the right price has a ‘for sale’ shingle,” Mr Trent said.

Macquarie Atlas will consider buying more of the APRR if other shareholders sell down their stakes, which is possible in 2017 or 2018, Mr Trent added.

Macquarie Atlas has told investors to expect a full year dividend of 18¢ per security in 2016, and a first half dividend of 9¢ per security. It paid a full year dividend of 16¢ per security in 2015.

Macquarie Atlas was spun out of the Macquarie Infrastructure Group in 2010 but is still managed by Macquarie and paid the financial group a $58.2 million performance fee in the 12 months to June 2014.

The tollroad group did not pay a performance fee in the 12 months to June 2015.

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Formula one testing 2016: Qualified support from drivers for new rules

Barcelona: Formula one drivers woke to news on Wednesday morning that their sports governing body was again set to alter the way they qualified for Grands Prix, introducing a knock out format where drivers were required to stay on track until eliminated.
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Australian Daniel Ricciardo, out of his Red Bull after two days testing at the Circuit de Catalunya, told Fairfax Media that he felt there was nothing to fear from the new rules. But like most drivers he was still unsure just what effect it would have on his style of racing.

“I’ve just sort of been talking about them now with the team, he said. “It’s one of those things same for everyone, I don’t think it’s quite refined yet as to how it’s going to work, but looking at it, yeah I don’t think it will be a hinderance. I mean if it means that we get to do a few more laps in qually then yeah (that’s good).”

Ricciardo has traditionally been a strong qualifier and while it will remain a one-hour session split into three segments there would be set time limits on when the slowest drivers would be culled from the field – potentially giving spectators more on-track action throughout the duration of the session.

For his part Williams driver Filipe Massa said he needed more detail.

“I don’t know if I like or not, so I think I need to have a little bit of time to sit down to understand the change,” the Brazilian said.  “The only thing I understand is that they want to have some cars around and this will happen for sure. I’m sure it will happen that some cars that maybe qualified more at the front, they will have some problems and they need to start at the back.

“So this is something that can be interesting for you, I don’t know, but if it is better or not I don’t know yet.

World champion Lewis Hamilton was also lukewarm. “I don’t really feel like it’s going to change much to be honest. I hope it’s a surprise for us all,” he said. “Generally the format is the same … it just puts even more focus on making sure you are getting your laps in and I guess keeping people out, making sure people are out all the time so hopefully it’s good for specatators – maybe.”

Andrew Tate is attending Formula One testing courtesy of the AGPC

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Firefighter under house arrest

Accused firefighter Sidney Keogh. Photo: FACEBOOK
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A VOLUNTEER firefighter accused of deliberately starting bushfires in western NSW has been placed under house arrest.

Sidney Frances Keogh was taken into custody after police executed a search warrant at a home in Wellington on Tuesday.

The 45-year-old was refused bail and appeared handcuffed before Magistrate Philip Stewart in Dubbo Local Court on Wednesday.

Not guilty pleas were entered to two charges of intentionally causing fire and being reckless to its spread.

Prosecution facts tendered to the court said 15 deliberately lit bushfires had been reported within a 10-kilometre radius of Wellington between September 2015 and Keough’s arrest.

Keogh had responded to the fires as a serving member of the Mount Arthur Rural Fire Service brigade.

All the fires had been lit on days when the temperature was high and grass was long.

The court was told the fires burned areas of land and had potential to spread and cause significant damage and possible loss of life if they had not been contained.

Prosecution facts said Keogh had been identified as a person of interest when police strikeforce Byway was established to investigate the suspicious fires.

Keogh and his vehicle, a red Mitsubishi Pajero, had been covertly monitored by strikeforce officers.

The court was told investigators feared Keogh’s actions were “risky and escalating” and there was nothing to suggest his behaviour would cease.

Detailed information tendered to the court outlined the circumstances leading to fires on The Falls Road at 6.30pm on Sunday February 20 and the Renshaw McGirr Way at 12pm on December 14 last year.

Prosecution facts said Keogh had made admissions to police about being in both the areas around the time of the fires but he denied lighting the fires.

The prosecution asked Magistrate Stewart to refuse bail to protect the community from further damage and possible loss of life.

A solicitor made a release application and asked that Keogh be allowed to live with his mother and sisters.

The solicitor queried the “value of a curfew given the nature of the offences” and said her client could report to police three times a week.

Magistrate Stewart asked if any person was in a position to offer a cash surety. The solicitor said money could not be raised because Keogh was reliant on Newstart payments and his mother was a pensioner.

The Magistrate allowed bail with strict conditions, including daily reporting to Wellington police station and twice daily curfew enforcement checks.

Keogh was required to remain at his mother’s home and could only leave the premises in the company of an approved relative when reporting to police.

The court required a written character acknowledgement from a member of Keogh’s family.

The charges were adjourned to April 6.

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