Sunday, July 8, 2012

Reflections on being a banned filmmaker


Not only have I been banned by Screen Australia, I have also been effectively banned by Encore. Even when the magazine published an article about my banning (http://mumbrella.com.au/australian-film-maker-banned-from-talking-to-screen-australia-91190) the online conversation about it was brought to a fairly rapid end when it too was censored. Encore will not now publish anything I write or respond to my emails. Perhaps the editor has bought the Screen Australia line that communicating with me would place the magazine at risk? Perhaps Encore doesn’t want to offend anyone at Screen Australia by publishing anything critical of the organization? Perhaps the magazine doesn’t want to receive threatening letters from the Screen Australia legal department? Or perhaps it is simply Encore’s desire (policy?) to no longer engage in or encourage robust debate online about issues of importance to filmmakers. I have no idea. I for one remember fondly remember such debates. I also think that they are important – not just @ Encore online but throughout the industry.  

As William Goldman famously wrote, ‘No one know anything.’ We are each and every one of us taking educated guesses when we sit down to write a screenplay, when we decide, as producers, to take a project under our wing and nurture it for a few years, when we make judgments, as assessors or readers that this screenplay has box office potential but that one does not, when we decide as film bureaucrats that this film will do well at the box office and this one will not.

The lack of box-office success both in Australia and overseas of most Australian films bears witness to the fact that most of us get it wrong most of the time. We are not alone in this, of course. The same applies elsewhere in the world, including Hollywood. The differences between Australia and Hollywood are many but one is that failure is not rewarded in Hollywood. There are only so many films you can produce, finance, gear into production that audiences do not want to see before you lose your job. In Australia, failure is no impediment  to advancement (and virtual tenure) – especially not amongst the senior bureaucrats in positions of considerable creative power when it comes to deciding which films get made and which are left to wither on the vine.  These people are not subject to any form of assessment – as are screenwriters, directors and producers. They can fail demonstrably year in year out to develop and invest in films that audiences want to see and keep their jobs. And both the industry and art of Australian film suffer as a result.

There is another and more serious problem with the fact that senior management at Screen Australia is subject to no form of assessment of the decisions they make. In conjunction with the lack of a functioning complaints process within Screen Australia, the lack of appropriate scrutiny leaves open the possibility that these key decision-makers can continue to fund one group of filmmakers regardless of their track records and to ignore another group – again, regardless of their track records.

God only knows what possessed Ruth Harley to actually write a letter in which she made my banning official. A ban had effectively been in place for a couple of years anyway and could have continued well into the future if Harley had not written her letter of 10th May. My own drama here will play itself out in the fullness of time. Even if it is of little interest to other filmmakers it should, I think, be of interest and concern that any filmmaker who displeases or criticizes Screen Australia can wind up on an unofficial ‘banned’ list. I doubt very much, after this one foray into banning that the Screen Australia Board will vote for another one. Best to keep who is on the ‘banned’ list (and, of course, the ‘favoured’ list) confidential! That way, if the unofficially ‘banned’ filmmaker should decide to complain, s/he can be dismissed as merely angry and embittered at not receiving funding. The way to minimize the problems inherent in both ‘banned’ and ‘favoured’ lists is to not allow senior management bureaucrats in creative decision-making positions to stay in their jobs long enough to formulate such lists.

More than one filmmaking friend has questioned the wisdom of my continuing with my battle with Screen Australia – a battle which, they assure me, I cannot win. (We shall see!) More importantly they are concerned that my life is now consumed with doing battle with Screen Australia. Not so. My life is consumed with writing screenplays and developing a variety of projects. I am not able, of course, to discuss any of these with anyone at Screen Australia as such discussion, even on the telephone, would place them at risk! Of what, you might ask? No, actually, you can’t ask. Ruth Harley has pronounced that there will be no questions answered!

I was on the verge of making an application to Screen Australia for script and other development funds for an ultra-low budget feature when Harley handed down her fatwa. Damn! Bad timing. However, there is more than one way to skin a cat, so (excuse the mixing of metaphors here) rather than crying into my milk I will make my next feature film for a close-to-zero-budget. It is entitled SHIPS IN THE NIGHT and, on the off chance that any interested actors or film crew might be following my blog, here’s a link to Act One of my screenplay. It’s set almost entirely inside a taxi so can be made on the smell of an oily rag:

https://docs.google.com/open?id=0ByvdZjgsohi3TTJaRHFGc1FBZDg
I am also in need of a co-producer.

And for anyone interested, here are the links to articles I wrote for Encore before I became persona non grata with the magazine. The articles are less interesting than the debate that followed – the kind of debate that Screen Australia hates because it has, at its heart, a demand from the film community (or at least a segment of former Encore readers) that the body (along with other film funding bodies) be transparent and accountable in its dealing with the industry.

Surely, there’s no way a simple interview request could result in an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption? Think again. Filmmaker James Ricketson says “in the Alice in Wonderland meets Kafka Comedy of Errors that is the NSW government, such things are not only possible but par for the course!”

James Ricketson finally got the answers he was looking for. In this guest post, he discusses the Aurora development program with Screen NSW.
It all began with a simple interview request: ‘Would love to talk with you or whoever the relevant person is at Screen NSW about the Aurora initiative.’

Filmmaker James Ricketson applied for script development funding using a pseudonym and a fake ABN number but the result was counterproductive, to say the least. Should artists be allowed to use pseudonyms when applying for public funding…

Imagine this: you are working as a film bureaucrat for a state or federal film funding body. You have been in the industry for long enough to be a friend or acquaintance of many of the filmmakers whose applications you must assess…

In 2012, Screen NSW will have a new Chief Executive.  Hopefully this will result in some new approaches to the development of screenplays and the funding of films being tried out. Hopefully also NSW filmmakers will contribute their own ideas…

11 comments:

  1. I enjoyed Act One of "Ships in the Night", James. Is it possible to read the rest of the screenplay?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, send me an email: jamesricketson@gmail.com

      Delete
  2. For those who have enquired and those who are curious here is the link to the Joint Venture Deed that will make all involved in the production of SHIPS IN THE NIGHT shareholders in the film – to be shot (owing to my being a banned filmmaker) for as close to zero budget as is possible.

    https://docs.google.com/open?id=0ByvdZjgsohi3c3RGRUZfemFObHM

    ReplyDelete
  3. You may like this:

    From today's Australian
    " A spokeswoman for Screen Australia did not answer questions. "

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/film/a-stand-must-be-taken-against-copyright-theft-says-producer-anthony-buckley/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. Woo, comes as no surprise at all that the spokeswoman for Screen Australia refused to answer questions. Indeed, I would have been somewhat shocked if she had – thus breaking with SA’s tradition of playing its cards as close to its chest as possible or, to use a different metaphor, making itself the smallest target possible. (PS Deletion above was made by me of my own comment owing to bad spelling error!)

      Delete
  4. James, dying to find out what happens next in "Ships in the Night" and love the whole Joint Venture idea. It would work well for a film I want to make for next to no budget. Is it OK to use your contract as a contract as atemplate?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. E.Harcourt, please feel free to use the Joint Venture document as a template. You might like to run it by a lawyer friend to make sure it works for your purposes. Good luck

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your email, EH. The budget for 'Ships', on paper at least, is $700,000. It will be produced for less that 5% of that, however.

      Delete
  5. My question the same as E.Harcourt's, so thanks for that. Liked Act One of 'Ships' but have a few comments to make regarding your use of vernacular if you would not be offended. I'll send them to your emil address so you donpt have to open it if you don't want to. PS want to read rest of script.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Novice, no offense will be taken. Feedback welcome. Will send est of script if you want to read it.

      Delete