In 1968, Yoram Gross brought his family to Australia from
Poland via Israel, where he had made a number of acclaimed
shorts, features and animated films. He wanted a new and safer
environment for his children.
"For the first ten years," recalls his wife Sandra,
the studio’s executive producer, "we had no way to make
a feature film in animation. There was no climate of investment.
Only the television networks commissioned work, and that was
short term, own-use programming. For ten years we served the
local market with documentaries, tv commercials and
In 1975, Yoram was among the first applicants for funding
through the then newly created Australian Film Development
Corporation, forerunner of today’s Australian Film
Commission. With the wallet-busting budget of $180,000, Yoram and
his team made Dot and The Kangaroo, as animation with live action
backgrounds. The AFDC could only provide half the budget, the
rest came from the Gross family home - by way of a mortgage.
"the budget was a joke
and many people worked on the film for peanuts" Sandra Gross
"It was unbearably difficult," sighs Sandra.
"The AFDC had no expertise as yet, the budget was a joke and
many people worked on the film for peanuts - plus, we nearly lost
By the time Yoram was ready with his next film, The Little
Convict, the Government had changed direction and new tax
concessions were in force to prompt private investment. The well
received local release of these two films did nothing to alert
the international film community to the presence of a great new
film maker in Australia. It was only with the help of marketing
loans that the studio started to attract the attention of the
world, "but it took us until about our fifth or sixth film
to command decent overseas prices," says Sandra. "But
all this time, of course, we were developing our technical and
The studio was also helped a lot by the gradual change in the
marketplace, with the emphasis falling on quality children’s
programming - and the growth of video and cable outlets around
"spent our blood,
sweat and tears convincing them it was worthwhile investing
in us," Sandra
Film making, even in Hollywood, relies for its financial
success on a huge global market, not the relatively limited
domestic population: private investors are shy of the film
business, with its relatively low average success rate (only one
in seven movies makes any profit). Private investors are rare in
Australia, but the Yoram Gross team nurtured those that came on
board early with the advent of tax concessions, and "spent
our blood, sweat and tears convincing them it was worthwhile
investing in us," says Sandra.
There was just as much effort involved in arguing for
Government investment, but as the studio became a regular
supplier of quality entertainment product to the world,
Government funding became less critical - until it became
redundant (at least for now) in 1994.
"By 1994 we felt strong enough," explains Sandra,
"to go to the market with co-production, investment and
pre-sales in combination, to raise the finance for the second
series of Blinky Bill."
And the studio has not applied for Government investment
since. "It doesn’t mean we won’t," Sandra
hastens to add, "if it was required or justified."
The Government’s long term support for the Yoram Gross
Studio has been a sound investment, and an example of how such
funding can generate tremendous returns to Australia, not only
culturally, but financially.
The productions have earned
Australia a spectacular $27 million...
In the 18 years that Yoram has been persuading Governments to
invest in his movies, the taxpayer has provided a total of $9.6
million for Yoram Gross productions. Almost every dollar of these
funds has been spent in Australia on Australian goods and
services. Yet the productions over that period have earned
Australia a spectacular $27 million in a combination of
investment (in Yoram’s films) and exploitation of rights;
that is, sales of licences to broadcast Yoram’s work
Coincidentally, at $9.75 million, the latest Yoram Gross
project, a tv series based on Skippy will have cost just a
fraction more than all of the past 18 years of Government
funding, and almost 60 per cent of it is foreign investment; the
French and German investors are putting up 25 per cent each, and
a Chinese production company is investing something under 10 per
cent. Of the balance, Nine is putting up 15 per cent, while Yoram
Gross Film Studios and private investors are staking the rest.
"kids want to be
entertained … they want to see adventure, jokes,
action…they don’t sit there looking at hundred
dollar bills." Yoram
With all that money at stake, making fun can be a very serious
business, although you would not know it when in the company of
Yoram Gross. As he says, "kids want to be entertained …
they want to see adventure, jokes, action…they don’t
sit there looking at hundred dollar bills."
Neither does Yoram Gross.
The studios of Yoram Gross also house the Guy Gross studio, a
music suite set up and operated by Yoram and Sandra’s
musician son, Guy, who is a composer of substance in his own
right. Guy is another Whizzard of Oz who will be profiled in
these pages soon.
YORAM GROSS - CAREER MILESTONES:
GOODBYE CHOPIN, HELLO JERZY
Yoram Gross celebrated his 50th year in the film industry on May
3, 1997. On this date 50 years earlier, he started working for
Film Polski as assistant to the director Cenkalski on the full
length feature film 'Jasnewany' - a realistic love story about a
city teacher and a country girl. Yoram says this film was not
well received because it addressed sensitive issues facing
working class people.
"All I wanted to do
was play Chopin," Yoram
He was 20 when, after studying music ("my first love -
all I wanted to do was play Chopin," he says) Yoram became
one of the first students of the Polish Film Institute, which was
set up by Jerzy Toeplitz, the man who later became founding
director of the Australian Film & Television School.
Yoram went on to work with Yoris Evans, a Dutch documentary
maker. They produced a film called 'Three New Democrats' - about
working class people in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and
Hungary. The documentary was originally called 'Four New
Democrats', but halfway through shooting, Yugoslavia fell down to
the communist rule of Russia.
ISRAEL AND ANIMATION
In 1950 Yoram moved to Israel and started working as a camera
operator and laboratory assistant with a Russian director. The
director was originally a pharmacist and knew the secret recipe
for 'film developer' - very rare for someone in Israel. Yoram
says he was employed purely for his ability to speak a little
In 1953 Yoram joined the Israel Army's film unit and had his
first experience with animation.
He started to make experimental films for pleasure and in 1961
produced 'Joseph the Dreamer'. The film received huge critical
acclaim, but financial rewards were few.
In 1964, he organised four film-maker and actor friends to
produce the full length feature 'One Pound Only' - a slapstick
comedy and box office hit. Yoram says he did this to
"satisfy my bank manager". The film sold out all 2000
seats in the cinema and tickets went on sale on the black market.
While in Israel, Yoram also put together a documentary called
'Hifa' - about the trade union. The documentary had no narration
and the only words that featured were in a dedication "to
all the people going to work when it is dark and coming home when
it is dark". The soundtrack was Bach, played by Anatol
Regne, an 80-year-old guitar player.
DOT AND BLINKY
In 1968 Yoram and Sandra moved to Australia with their
two-year-old son Guy. They decided that war-zone Israel was not a
good place for children. Yoram presented 'Hifa' to Film
Australia, who commissioned him to produce the short documentary
'Prelude', depicting the Sydney Opera House before its
He then landed a job on Channel Nine's 'Bandstand'. Yoram's
role included compiling video clips and commercials - he was
camera operator, script-writer, editor and director. One of the
first video clips he put together was for singer John Farnham.
In 1977, Yoram and Sandra released 'Dot and the Kangaroo'.
Yoram says that having come from Poland and Israel, he wanted to
do something typically Australian. The cinemas, most of which had
a contract with Disney, were reluctant to show the film, but the
then Hoyts Distribution was pressured by the Australian Film
Commission to show the film - which they did, on Sunday mornings
at 9.00am. This time slot didn't really pull the crowds so Yoram
and Sandra set up 'Young Australia' - a group that took the film
from school to school, charging 20 cents for a viewing.
In 1992, Yoram released the feature film 'Blinky Bill' and
organised the first Children's Film Festival in Sydney, with all
proceeds going to UNICEF.
At the end of 1996, Village Roadshow acquired a 50% interest in Yoram Gross Film Studios.