Thursday, November 8, 2012

From the Screen Australia foyer...

Here I am, back in the foyer of Screen Australia hoping that my presence here will have the same impact as my last visit - namely that the Screen Australia Board will either ratify the ban placed on me six months ago now and provide reasons for so doing or lift the ban and explain why it is doing so. This comes down to the question: Has James Ricketson, with his correspondence, intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff? If so, if there is evidence in support of this proposition, the ban on me should remain. If not, it should be lifted today.

I have never been under the illusion that the details of my dispute were of much interest to more than a hand full of people. Indeed, I have been surprised by the number of page views I get. I suspect that the interest resides in the fact that, in amongst the details of my dispute, are be found observations that many in the industry can relate to - the most obvious being the lack of accountability and transparency that are hallmarks of the way in which Screen Australia is run. When decision making is not transparent and individuals within Screen Australia are not held accountable for their actions (or lack of action) no-one is responsible for anything that occurs in the organization - most especially the cockups.

My dispute began with a cockup - the failure of Ross Mathews and Claire Jager to view a ‘promo’ that was the centrepiece of my application. Rather than acknowledge the cockup, (minor in the grand scheme of things) Screen Australia has tried, at every level, to spin its way out of taking responsibility. Lies were placed on file and, when I tried to have the lies removed, I became persona non grata and a mole-hill dispute has acquired the dimensions of a mountain. A similar dynamic applies to decisions made by Screen Australia in relation to feature films it has developed and invested in that can most kindly be described as ‘celluloid cockups’. No one is ever responsible for these cockups. The very same people who found it impossible to distinguish between to a good and a mediocre (and often atrociously bad) screenplay and a polished one ready to go into production in 2009, continue in their jobs in 2012, their virtual tenure uninhibited by their lousy track record. The same applies to those whose job it is to recommend to the board investment in films that turn out to be turkeys. Yes, of course, it is in the nature of this business for many films to fail to find the audience they were intended for. However, it is one thing to fail with a good screenplay and quite another to fail with a screenplay that Blind Freddy and any first year screenwriter student at the film school should be able to recognize as not being ready to go into production. 

The problem is that a mediocre CEO will tend to attract mediocre senior management who, in turn, attract mediocre Project Managers, Reader and Assessors or whatever they are called these days. Not all, of course. There are some perceptive and talented ‘Project Managers’ etc, but there are way too many whose  experience in any area of filmmaking is limited and sometimes close to non-existent.  Filmmakers who have had the misfortune to have to deal with these individual shake their heads in disbelief at the twaddle that sometimes comes from their mouths. And yet they continue on in their jobs, year after year, regardless of the number of turkeys they have been responsible for developing or investing in. And, because these individuals would have great difficulty surviving in the actual industry, they must cling to their jobs in every way they can. There being no assessment of the assessors and little in the way of movement in and out of these positions, self-serving cliques form. A strong CEO would not allow this to happen but should, I believe, be seeking the best, most talented and most experienced filmmakers to join the organization on short-term contracts and then pushing them back out into the industry in two or three years. Screen Australia needs regular infusions of new blood, fresh ideas.

The challenge for the next CEO of Screen Australia is to find a mechanism whereby the very best, the most talented filmmakers occupy those senior management positions that impact on the kinds of films Screen Australia both develops and invests in. Because these individuals will be (at least I think should be) practicing and experienced filmmakers, they will not want to stay in these jobs for too long. They will want to be out in the real world making films. And this is a good thing. There needs to be a constant flow of people with different and divergent ideas moving in and out of these senior management positions. I would suggest a maximum of four years in the job but I think an argument can be made for much shorter term contracts also in order to attract the very best filmmakers (who do not want to become full time bureaucrats) to occupy these positions. They should not be held (and there is no reason why they should be held) by people who have never made a film, never written a screenplay, who have little or no experience in the real world of filmmaking or whose experience ended a decade or two ago when they became full-time bureaucrats.

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